This past summer, the LSU Department of Mathematics opened a new 8,000-square-foot computer laboratory in Middleton Library for students enrolled in College Algebra (MATH 1021), Trigonometry (MATH 1022) and Algebra & Trigonometry (MATH 1023). The space offers students a more centralized location for the lab portion of their course experience.
Prior to its Middleton location, the lab was housed on two separate floors in Pleasant Hall. To complete their work, students had to walk across campus to the lab and traverse between two floors, which wasted time that could be used for doing math.
Navigating one lab located between floors was also a challenge for lab managers and tutors. “It was logistically very difficult to manage,” says Phoebe Rouse, precalculus mathematics director. “Our new location is much better for the students and for the faculty.”
In 2004, the LSU Department of Mathematics was selected to participate in a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) as part of their Roadmap to Redesign (R2R) program. This program was developed by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). The new course delivery model that resulted from this program was an escape from the traditional lecture format opting for a combination of teacher-directed instruction and student-centered learning.
In the three-credit-hour redesigned Math 1021 and 1022 courses, students spend one hour a week in a traditional classroom led by an instructor and a minimum of three flexible hours a week in the Math Lab doing their work with individual guidance from lab tutors. In the five-credit-hour Math 1023 course, students spend two hours a week in a classroom and a minimum of 4.5 hours a week in the Math Lab. These courses use MyMathLab, an online tutorial and assessment software, to administer homework, quizzes, and tests. Help and Example buttons guide students through the homework and the etext, and LSU-produced videos and class notes can be accessed through the software as well.
Students earn five percent of their course grade from classroom participation and another five percent from lab participation. “This model requires students to participate in class and go to the lab where they have friendly, knowledgeable people available to help them,” says Rouse. “The great thing about this model is if a student gets stuck on an exercise, there is help immediately available. With the old model, students would get stuck, become frustrated, and often quit working.”
The new LSU Math Lab has 254 student computers and can accommodate the approximately 4,000 students each week taking those three courses in a fall semester. It is open 56 hours a week and continuously staffed by a robust team of lab tutors made up of mathematics faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. The Math Lab tutor supervisor hires and trains approximately 25 new undergraduate tutors each year. During the interview process, prospective tutors have to work through a math problem and explain it to the tutor supervisor.
“They not only have to know the math, but they also have to be able to explain it,” says Lindsay Waddell, the tutor supervisor. Prior to being officially hired, tutors also have to successfully complete 300 algebra and trigonometry problems.
Waddell adds that the layout of the new lab is an improvement over the old rooms in Pleasant Hall because it allows for a more efficient use of personnel. The lab occupies an expansive space on the third floor of Middleton separated into two rooms by a wall with large glass windows.
“I can stand at the front of the larger room and see the entire lab, and the tutors are constantly circulating throughout the two rooms,” says Waddell. “It was a lot of work to get the lab up and running, but the new space is amazing.”
In addition to Rouse and Waddell, the lab’s core administrative staff consists of Debra Kopcso, Math 1021 course coordinator; Stephanie Kurtz, Math 1022 course coordinator and data manager; and Selena Oswalt, Math 1023 course coordinator.
Over the last 11 years, the redesigned courses have had a positive impact on students’ class performance and retention rates. Data shows that Math 1021 College Algebra success rate (grades of A, B, or C) has risen from an average of 64 percent to almost 74 percent. Another plus is a decrease in the cost of delivering these courses. Since the course redesign began in 2005, the cost per student per semester is 43 percent less than it was in the traditional model.
Representatives from over 25 universities throughout the U.S. have visited LSU to learn more about the redesigned courses and to the see the lab space. The opening of the new lab has triggered even more inquiries and requests for visits are mounting. The new lab and course delivery places LSU at the cutting edge of those institutions appropriately using available technology to promote student learning in math.
“We teach these courses unlike anyone else on campus. It is much better for our students than the old course model and even better now with the new Math Lab,” says Rouse. “We are putting our students in a perfect environment with people who can help them perform at their best.”