January 15, 2013

Albuquerque Journal

$1.1M lab to assist struggling math students
By Astrid Galvan / Journal Staff Writer

The new $1.1 million computer lab that will host hundreds of University of New Mexico remedial math students is up and running, and school leaders are optimistic it will result in higher pass and retention rates.

The Math Learning Lab, housed in the Centennial Science and Engineering Library, has more than 100 computers and will have instructors and tutors working with students nearly 'round the clock on a new program for Math 120, a remedial class.

The new Math 120 replaces the traditional lecture method with a computer program that lets students learn at their own pace. Students are also backed by teachers and tutors who will be in the lab at least 60 hours a week.

The class is broken up into three sections, and students have to master each one before moving on to the next. That means completing the course could take longer than a semester, but students can continue the course during the next semester instead of failing it. UNM hopes this means fewer students will fail and drop out.

The pilot program was launched last fall. "We had a lot of really good feedback from the students," lecturer Jenny Ross said.

Ross said a lot of students in last semester's program said they had failed Math 120 multiple times, including some who were taking the course for the fifth and sixth times.

More than 1,000 students are enrolled in Math 120 this semester. UNM will celebrate the new lab with a grand opening on Jan. 25.

Ross, who helps run the new program, said it's too early to show how students in the pilot program performed compared to their peers who took the traditional lecture course last semester.

But "other universities have seen when they go into the next math course they do better," she said.

The pilot was not without its trials. For example, the location and time of the pilot said "TBA" – to be announced – on students' schedules last semester, leaving many confused as to where they were supposed to go.

What's more, at one point the Aleks software system UNM uses for the program had a glitch and students' performance assessments, normally handed out weekly, were delayed for about four weeks.

Another challenge has been to keep students engaged and completing their coursework. Since the program is self-paced and without deadlines, keeping students on track has been "a little hard," Ross said.

But now that the school knows the challenges and has worked out the kinks, Ross said the program will improve student success.

President Bob Frank, who championed the program, this summer said the goal "is to have our students succeed, and we know that this a stumbling block for many students because they're not well-prepared in math."