MODULAR MATH Alternate learning model leads to increased student success

For transfer or degree-seeking students who come to Metropolitan Community College unprepared for college-level math courses, the developmental math track is where they begin to raise their skills up to college standards. But for many of these students, progressing through the developmental math sequence— up to three levels of remediation—can be one of the biggest hurdles of their postsecondary careers. Data-informed delivery models help students progress. Using data from 2009, math faculty found that 40 percent of students who started in developmental never progressed to a credit class. Students who fail to successfully complete the developmental math sequence were citing two primary problems: math classes moved too slow or too fast for their skill level. Both of these groups of students lost motivation to persist, and those who needed to re-take courses multiple times to earn a passing grade wasted precious time and drained their financial resources. In 2011, a study by the Higher Learning Commission, MCC’s accrediting body, recommended adopting a concept called modular

math, where typical quarter-or semester-long courses are broken down into modules for students to progress through at their own pace as mastery of concepts is demonstrated. Two math faculty members led MCC’s efforts to adopt and institutionalize modular math, Marcia Vergo and Mike Flesch, who now serves as MCC’s dean of math and natural sciences. Together, they broke the math sequence—three developmental noncredit courses and one collegelevel credit course—into 30 total modules. Students advance as they demonstrate mastery, meaning that students can move through lessons as quickly or as slowly as they need. This new model, relying heavily on technology, also means that class time looks different from more traditional math classes. For four hours per week, students work independently on laptops using MyLabsPlus, an online learning platform, to learn concepts and complete homework, quizzes and tests. Students watch videos instead of listening to lectures for an explanation of material and rely on the instructor and instructor’s assistant for more in-depth instruction, if needed.

“Modular math is incredibly individualized,” said Vergo. “The selfpaced format takes pressure off the student resulting in a more relaxed learning environment.” On average, students complete between one and two quarters’ worth of work in just one quarter’s time—saving them valuable time and money. If a student finishes the quarter in the middle of a class, they can enroll in the next quarter and pick up where they left off. Students succeed in modular math classes at a nearly 80 percent rate, earning a passing grade or re-enrolling in the next quarter. While 32 percent of students complete just one class, about 17 percent are able to accelerate to the next class in the sequence and beyond. In just a few years, the program has seen the percent of students progressing onto college-level math classes grow from 60 to more than 71 percent—a significant improvement. “Students are sticking with it and staying motivated,” said Vergo. “Without modular math and the flexibility to move through these classes on a mastery basis, we would have lost many of these successful students.”

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