JWCC Improves Students' Math Success with Fewer Courses

JWCC Improves Students’ Math Success with Fewer Courses

John Wood Community College dropped 1,300 credit hours in math last year and faculty couldn’t be happier about it.

JWCC was recently informed that the College will receive one of two 2013 Illinois Council of Community College Administrators (ICCCA) Innovation Awards for improving students’ math mastery with fewer courses.

In recent years, JWCC experienced an increase in the number of new students in need of developmental math courses.  Developmental courses are designed to raise skill levels of entering students who aren’t prepared to take college level classes in math or English.

Using the ALEKS software package and personalized instruction, JWCC faculty reduced a five-course developmental math sequence to two courses.  The software makes an assessment of a student’s knowledge and identifies areas needing additional work. It then adapts questions and assignments to help increase knowledge and mastery of concepts.  Students progress through the assignments with the help of professors who play the important role of mentor, tutor and coach.  The software does not focus on grades, but repeated demonstration of mastery of topics.

The innovative approach saves students time and money and provides better understanding of math.  In its first year of implementation, the new method contributed to a 37 percent decrease in developmental math course enrollment.

During the same period, JWCC students demonstrated a 76 percent success rate versus the previous rate of 55 percent using the five-course method.  JWCC professors say the new method increases students’ self-confidence as well. 

“What’s great is we’ve plugged into the motivating power of acknowledging what a student already knows and focus only on areas where improvement is needed,” Bill Fleer, JWCC associate professor of developmental education said.  “The software meets the students where they are, helps them master topics they don’t know through repetition and rewards them for what they know already.”

An added bonus to the restructured developmental math sequence is the opportunity to accelerate the course based on success.  If a student completes 80 percent of the course within the first three weeks of the semester, he or she can drop the existing courses and add the next course in the sequence, or enroll in a college-level math course.  This opportunity can save time and money for students.

Students may also have the possibility to “test through” the developmental courses and immediately enroll in an on-level math course.

The success of the “less is more” approach in math has prompted JWCC to examine how to restructure developmental English in a similar manner.

Fleer and Joyce Miller-Boren, JWCC department chair and professor of developmental education, will present their program at the ICCCA conference November 14 in Springfield.