A Improving Your Math Skills Course Education Essay

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INTRODUCTION

Improving Your Math Skills was offered over the period January 12th to March 6th (8 weeks) to facilitate the new cohort students at the Open Campus January intake. This was the second offering of the course for students entering the BSc Management programme across the Open Campus Country sites. Prior to summer 2008, this course was available to students at Trinidad and Tobago sites only.

As with the previous offer of the course during summer 2008, the eight weeks of course delivery was site based with local face to face tutors providing 6 hours of instruction per week for a total of 48 contact hours. Two student/course coordinator and two tutor/course coordinator audio conferences were also conducted. The course coordinator, Mr. Roger Charles was responsible for posting online course updates and responding to administrative queries and related questions in the Tutor/Student Exchange Forum. 118 students were registered for this offer of the course across 19 Open campus sites. The faculty advisor to the programme Mr. Martin Franklin of the Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, continued to provide support to the course coordinator as required.

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Course fees remained at the rate of US$180.00 per student for a total income of US$21,240.00.

Course Assessment

The January/March offer of the course saw a change in one of the components of the in course assessment, with an online graded quiz replacing the face to face mid course examination. The participation mark for completion of weekly online quizzes as the other component of coursework remained unchanged.

The shift to fully online coursework components means that problems associated with the receipt of scripts and marks sheets from the OC sites have been eliminated, and students were able to view their coursework marks well in advance of the end of teaching. The shift also realized some savings for the Open Campus, as tutors will no longer be required to mark scripts as part of the position responsibilities, and the associated US$5.00/per script costs will no longer be incurred.

Course Materials

The course material remained unchanged for this offer of the course. At present this consists of photocopied extracts from a variety of sources in chapter format. The material is not unit based, learning objectives are not stated and there are no worked examples to guide student activity in the course.

Two copies of a recommended Pre calculus text per site were provided for student use as part of the course resources available at the respective site locations.

The overall cost for purchase of the recommended text, production and shipping of the course materials was approximately US$4,400.00 broken down as follows:

Photocopying and shipping of 43 page booklet to 19 sites - US$3830.00

Purchase of recommended text - US$570.00

Course Tutors

Most of the face to face tutors were returning tutors, the exception being the tutor at the Mona, Jamaica site. As stated previously, the tutor support continued to be site based, with online interaction limited to that between the students and the course coordinator. No teaching took place online.

During the previous offer of the course, local tutors expressed concern over the lack of access to the online components of the course (weekly online quiz for which a participation mark is awarded), given that their students frequently requested explanations/clarification on some of the areas covered.

The Learning Support Supervisor agreed to facilitate viewing access for tutors during the January/February offer, however the opportunity was not followed up by most of the tutors and the focus of their efforts remained on face to face interaction at the respective local sites.

In regard to remuneration, prior to the January/February offer, local tutors were paid at the hourly rate specific to their sites, up to a maximum of 48 hours. Rates varied across the site locations ranging from US$27 to US$37.50 per hour. The January/February offer saw the contracting of tutors in accordance with the standardized arrangements in place for tutor services, and introduction of the flat rate of US$950 for the period of engagement. The flat rate was reviewed during the period of course delivery in response to concerns expressed by some site coordinators on behalf of the tutors that the remuneration was inadequate given the number of hours of instruction required. The Director APAD agreed to an additional payment of US$160, for a total remuneration of US$1,110.00 per tutor.

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The overall Open Campus cost for provision of local tutor support was US$15,540.00.

REVIEW OF COURSE COORDINATOR'S REPORT

Specific aspects of the course coordinator's report (see attachment) are discussed under specific headings below.

Course Outcomes - Pass/Fail Rates

Of the 118 students registered for the course, the final mark submissions indicate that 61.6% attained the pass mark of 50.

In regard to the pass/fail rate for the course, four sites recorded poor student performance with in excess of 50 percent of the students failing the course: Cave Hill (66%), Mayaro (63%), Mona (55%) and St Lucia (84%).

One student from each of the following sites attempted the course without local tutor support and was not successful: Bahamas, BVI, Cayman Islands, Montego Bay and Montserrat. Note that these sites were advised prior to the start of teaching that local tutor support where the number of students was small would not be cost effective and those students should be encouraged to take the course in the summer.

In seeking to explain student performance on the final examination the course coordinator's report discussed the inability of "several of the students" to come to terms with some of the topics in the programme. The topics that presented some measure of difficulty were cited as Graphs, Logs and solutions of simultaneous equations. All three are key areas of emphasis in ECON1003 - Mathematics for Social Sciences, the Level 1 course for which Improving Your Math Skills is designed to serve as academic preparation.

In reviewing the problematic areas arising from a review of the final examination scripts, the Course Coordinator further noted the following:

"Areas where students were most successful were sets and simple factorization. Students seem to have difficulty negotiating logs in particular. Too many students had problems determining the correct points for the graph and that was a direct result of them not being able to correctly substitute values into the equation and being able to solve (negotiating directed numbers)."

A review of the course outline indicates that the topics presenting the greatest difficulty for students are those scheduled for delivery later in the course. As a consequence, there may not have been sufficient time to cover them at the level of detail required.

Course Delivery

In regard to course delivery the Course Coordinator's report suggests three specific areas of concern, as follows:

Teaching and Facilitation of Learning, in particular the local tutor's knowledge and skill in guiding learning

Instructional Design, in particular the relationship between the course objectives, course activities, the teaching strategies, and use of online resources

Learning experience in relation to the learner's prerequisite knowledge and the ability of the course to meet their needs.

Teaching and Facilitation of Learning:

During the lead up to the first offer of the course to the Open Campus Sites in summer 2008, Sites Heads were asked to recruit local tutors on guidance from the faculty advisor at St Augustine, Mr Martin Franklin. Selection criteria included possession of a first degree in Mathematics, a minimum of 2 years teaching experience in the subject area and a teacher's diploma. However, meeting the diploma criteria proved difficult and most of the tutors selected at the respective sites have met the degree and experience criteria only. This has implications for the facilitation of teaching/learning. The course coordinator's report highlights this in part as follows:

". Some tutors may need guidance in preparing their students for some of the more problematic topics in the programme."

The knowledge of the individual local tutors notwithstanding, the above statement points to the need for managed tutor support, provision of enhanced course resources and clear guidelines on the teaching strategies to be employed.

Instructional Design:

As indicated previously, the materials for this course are not designed in a manner that speaks to specific learning objectives and outcomes. Local tutors were therefore guided by the information provided by the course coordinator during the two teleconference sessions with them, the course outline where the course aims are stated and which lists the course topics in sequence and other information provided by the course coordinator via e-mail as the need arises.

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The course aims are listed in the course outline as follows:

Engage students in learning activities involving key fundamental concepts in Mathematics.

Improve students' proficiency in Pre-Calculus Mathematics.

Build students' confidence in Mathematics prior to reading ECON1003.

Provide the basic tools needed to help students appreciate and recognize the use of appropriate basic mathematical concepts in a given problem situation.

The manner in which these aims are to be achieved is not immediately clear since these aims are not tied to specific learning objectives and stated course activities. The teaching strategies to be employed are not stated. This renders monitoring by the course coordinator or course delivery support, difficult at best.

The expectation that course delivery is occurring in furtherance of the course aims appears to be an area that will require review given the following extract from the course coordinator's report:

"After reviewing several of the scripts it would appear that many students in the various territories, were not able or prepared sufficiently to manage with the more complex aspects of the programme…"

If the course is to serve as academic preparation for ECON1003, a need is suggested for clear articulation of course/unit objectives, development of related course activities and availability of standard resources including tutorial sheets and solutions. Online resources also need to be sourced to promote ease of understanding of topics; more so in those topics which student performance indicates may be problematic.

Learning Experience:

The faculty at St Augustine recommended that all applicants to the BSc Management programme who passed O' Level Mathematics over five years ago, or who have taken O' Level Mathematics at the secondary level, but did not attain a passing grade, be required to take this course. Students therefore come to the course with different levels of pre requisite knowledge that would require varying approaches to instruction in keeping with their learning styles and ability to understand and retain the concepts taught. The entire thrust of the course is remedial, which would also require specific approaches to instruction to meet the needs of weaker students. The extent to which this is evidenced in regard to the structure of the course materials or explicit teaching strategies and guidelines is not immediately apparent.

The course coordinator's report speaks to the proficiency of the students and the likely impact on their learning experience. There is a suggestion for review of the period allocated for course delivery in relation to the depth of coverage of the topics. He notes the following:

"Several of the tutors indicated that because of the low level proficiency amongst some of the students, they needed more time to properly and adequately deliver the more difficult aspects of the programme."

The question therefore arises as to the adequacy of an eight week period of course delivery for coverage of the relevant topics in the face to face setting only, given that the emphasis is on remedial work as a feature of the course design. Alternatively, the number of topics to be covered during the period and the depth of coverage required, may be too ambitious given the target audience and the varying abilities and prior knowledge students bring to the course. This poses problems for delivery when all of the varying abilities are gathered in one classroom and the tutor has to meet all of the needs in the limited time available.

The course evaluation instrument was not available at the end of teaching, therefore students taking the course were not able to evaluate the learning experience. Such information would have served as a guide to areas of improvement. However, a review of the comments posted by students in the Tutor Student Exchange Forum speaks to two aspects of the learning experience that are instructive. Comments related to the quality of the course material and the instructional design are shown below.

"The unit material was collected at the campus….I was wondering where is it that the material contains only 2 chapters and the rest of it is just exercises.  I need some examples to follow for the last 2 quizzes and was unable to get much help from the material given.  What other handouts is there?  Had some problems with indicies and powers."

"Mr Charles I'm at a lost here… I was give a copy of a booklet with 43 pages which as far as i can

tell does not really explain too much…..I'm

wondering if there is any other course material that was given out to the other sites and not here. If so please let me know. Will the cxc mathematics text work for this course?"

While these student postings speak to the need for a closer look at the design of the course material supplied to students and the supports available, they also provide limited insight to the learning experience of students and suggest a need for more contact with course instructors.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The recommendations for improvement highlighted in the course coordinator's report focus on the following:

Improved resources to support teaching and facilitate learning: Provision of worked examples and development of tutorial sheets to guide teaching/learning

Monitoring of tutor performance: Development of monitoring systems

Expanded period for course delivery

Items 1 and 2 are measures that can be accommodated as short term improvements to facilitate the next offer of the course (at the time of writing, the draft registry schedule lists the course dates as June 1st to July 27th 2009).

Item 3 may be considered as part of a comprehensive review of the course content, course objectives, the course materials and delivery mode. This will incur a cost to the Open Campus for the services of either an Instructional Designer or a substantive course writer and the services of a Curriculum Development Specialist.

For the short term, it is recommended that the following be considered in the context of Items 1 and 2 to facilitate preparation for the summer offer and these initiatives be assessed at the end of the summer offering:

Summer 2009 Offer

Improved resources to support teaching and facilitate learning: Worked examples are an essential guide to facilitate practice. These examples should build on the material contained in the recommended text and provide exposure to different combinations of the type of mathematical problems that students are likely to encounter as part of their preparation for ECON1003. In meeting this need the course coordinator should work with the Programme Coordinator to facilitate the resources required to support teaching and learning:

Identification of online resources (PC to work in collaboration with Campus Librarian)

Preparation of tutorial sheets (Course Coordinator)

Preparation of worked examples to supplement materials (Course Coordinator)

Development of guidelines for tutors on areas for focus in face to face sessions (Course Coordinator)

Consideration should be given to reduction of the emphasis on face to face classroom instruction and introduction of online teaching support to complement the instruction provided in the classroom:

Reduce face to face classroom instruction to 3 hours per week and provide clear tutor guidelines for the areas of focus. Emphasis should be placed on those topics that the review of examination scripts indicates as the most challenging for students.

Provide all face to face tutors with online access to the online environment

Introduce an Online Teaching Assistant to the course to assist the course coordinator with facilitation of tutorial sheets, provision of detailed solutions at the end of each week and general feedback to students.

A participation mark should be awarded for each tutorial sheet submission from students

Review of the 30% coursework component to provide more student incentives for participation in guided activities:

Participation mark for completion weekly online practice quiz (already a feature of the course - 7 marks)

Participation mark for submission of tutorial sheet answers (tutorial sheet to be available at the end of each week - recommended 8 marks)

Graded online quiz (component already included in course - reduction of the weighting required - recommended 15 marks).

These recommendations may be considered in the context of the costing scenarios shown in Appendix 1.