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Precalculus Mega Section: Efficiently Assisting Student Engagement and Completion with Communications and Information Technology

Precalculus Mega Section: Efficiently Assisting Student Engagement and Completion with Communications and Information Technology

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Published by Dania Warhol
Estudio realizado en el RUM con una mega sección de Pre-Cálculo (clase de la cual más del 50% de lxs estudiantes se da de baja) donde al cambiarse distintos elementos estos resultados fueron totalmente distintos.
Estudio realizado en el RUM con una mega sección de Pre-Cálculo (clase de la cual más del 50% de lxs estudiantes se da de baja) donde al cambiarse distintos elementos estos resultados fueron totalmente distintos.

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Published by: Dania Warhol on Apr 10, 2012
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Student Engagement and Completion in Precalculus
Precalculus Mega Section: Efficiently Assisting Student Engagement andCompletion with Communications and Information Technology
Rima Brusi
1
, Arturo Portnoy
2
, Nilsa Toro
3
 
AbstractThe Precalculus Mega Section project was developed with the main purpose of improving theoverall performance of the student body in Precalculus, an important gatekeeper course thataffects student engagement and completion, with typical drop/failure rates of over 50%.Strategies such as integration of technology and additional practice time with TA support, helpedsignificantly reduce the withdraw and failure rates that prevail today in this course. Although itwas carried out in a large group (150 students) format, the experimental sections had betteroutcomes than current, traditional sections in smaller groups taking the same tests. Resultsshow the design choices and underlying assumptions to be promising and cost-effective, andrecommendations include testing the model as a substitute for current remedial coursework oncampus and beyond.
 1 Introduction
The University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez is the second-largest and STEM flagship campus ofthe University of Puerto Rico system. The students in most of its majors have to take or test outof the introductory math course, Precalculus. Each semester over half of them fail to pass thecourse, either finishing with a D or an F or withdrawing from the class altogether. In the Fall of2006, for example, a total of 1298 students took the course, and 55.86% failed. These highfailure rates represent a tremendous human, academic and administrative cost.To date, before the intervention described in the present paper, high failure rates in this classhave been addressed through remediation efforts formalized in a so-called
pre-basic
no-creditcourse that consumes a good amount of institutional time and resources. This remedial course
1
 
Department of Social Sciences, University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez2
 
Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez3
 
Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez
 
 
aims at giving the students the content that, due to pre-college educational problems, they lackand need to successfully tackle entry level college mathematics. Remedial courses, however,have shown mixed results at UPRM (Bartolomei, 2006) and elsewhere (Armario, 2010 andRedden, 2008.)Because the budget situation in the public university translates into administrative demands forfrugality, especially when advocating change, the idea behind the design and execution of theintervention described here was straightforward and relatively inexpensive: We wanted todesign and implement a pilot, experimental section of the course that 1)improved studentlearning and passing rates in the pre-calculus course and 2)was cost-effective in terms of theallocation of institutional resources. To make the course cost-effective, we gave it a largelecture format. To make it more effective in promoting student learning and achievement, weimplemented a set of technological supports, including the use of clicker technology in theclassroom to provide instant feedback to the lecturer, and added an additional hour of TA-guideddiscussion and problem solving.
2 Research Design
Given the context and boundary conditions, the intervention had to engage students in theclassroom, be gentle enough to prevent massive drops, be simple and cost-effective enough tobe replicated if successful, and still provide tools to improve student learning. We wanted to testits impact relative to the other, traditional sections. We also wanted to test whether such anintervention could have an effect on future learning, with the idea that the habits acquired in thesection may carry over and increase the students
chances of sustaining success afterwards.Because we were developing an intervention that, if effective, would hopefully turn intoinstitutional policy, the design had to be amenable to comparison with other sections of thesame course. The Academic Affairs Division on campus assigned a randomized, representativesample of incoming freshmen, stratified to include proportionate numbers of students percollege (Arts, Sciences, and Agriculture) and family income. To facilitate comparison, thestudents enrolled in this experimental course used the same textbook and syllabus and took thesame departmental examinations (three midterms and one final) used for the traditional small-section course.Regular, traditional sections had the following characteristics: Syllabus and content standardsare centrally designed and were the same for all sections; The most common section size is 30students per classroom, although some large lectures are usually added to accommodatedemand; there are a total of three contact hours per week.Our pilot, experimental section had the following characteristics: Syllabus and content standardswere the same as regular sections; section size was 150 students, and this large-lecture formatwas reinforced with the use of technology (see below); there was an additional hour of class perweek, with groups averaging 25 students meeting with TA
s to practice problem solving and
 
Student Engagement and Completion in Precalculus
study habits;
departmental examinations (3 midterms and one final) were the same as regular sections.
The technology to support lectures included lecture notes and problems projected for thestudents from the instructor
s tablet computer. Notes were later uploaded to a course website forstudent use during individual study hours and also during the additional weekly hour with theirTA
s. In addition, each student was assigned a clicker. The clicker
s role was to encouragestudent active participation, to prevent anonymity from dulling student engagement, and toprovide feedback to the instructor about the students
level of understanding. It was also usedto take attendance and so that students could interact with the instructor and obtain immediatefeedback. The instructor could make use of this feedback in real time and alter the pace andcontent of her lecture as needed.To incentivize engagement, an 8% bonus was offered for consistent participation with correctanswers through clicker use. This bonus, however, was not counted when tabulating grades forcomparison with regular sections. Congratulatory e-mails were sent to students who constantlyprovided right responses in class, while those who consistently provided wrong answersreceived e-mails to alert them of their performance and suggest more practice of specific skills.In addition, weekly electronic quizzes were required from the students, where the specificrequirement was to pass (60%) every weekly quiz in order to gain access to the each partialexam. No points were awarded for the quizzes, passing them was a required to take eachpartial exam; not passing one quiz resulted in automatically failing the corresponding partialexam.
3 Results of the Mega Section
This experimental Mega Section format was implemented for 4 consecutive semesters. Duringthe first three, it was implemented in the Precalculus I course. The last semester it wasimplemented in the Precalculus II course. Only during the first semester were we able to obtaina randomized, stratified sample, but results were consistent throughout, as can be seen in thesummaries (below and in tables 1-4.) In all four semesters, the experimental section wassignificantly more effective (p<0.05) than the others when comparing grade distribution betweenall other sections (expected) and the Mega Section (observed) using a chi-squared test. Resultswere significant (p<0.05) as well comparing A, B or C (pass) vs. D, F, W (no pass), except forthe second semester, where the significance level was 0.104. (see tables 5-12.)In the 2008-2009 Fall semester, 960 total students took the course, and 147 students wereassigned, in a random sample, to the experimental section. 26.18% more students passed thecourse in the Mega Section than in the traditional sections.
Failure
includes drop (withdrawal)rates. This first Mega Section was a stratified, randomized sample taken from the incomingfreshmen class, and all participating students were taking the course for the first time. This

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