Readers from the baby-boom generation remember the “new math” of the 1960s and 1970s that our parents claimed not to understand. Those of us who were exposed to new math realized in time that the math wasn’t really new; the teaching techniques were, and that is really what our parents didn’t quite understand.
We’ve come full circle in the past year at Robeson Community College as “math redesign” has been implemented in all developmental math classes. The math is the same, however delivery of the instruction has changed.
The expectation that all students learn the same content in the same amount of time and with the same effort has never really made sense, yet for years traditional education models — with 25 or more students in one room with one teacher — sent the implied message that that was exactly what should happen. Anyone who has spent more than a couple of days in a classroom knows that different students learn different concepts at different rates.
It makes sense that the ideal situation would be if each student could learn at his or her own pace. Unfortunately, individualized instruction at each student’s optimal pace was not practical in a traditional classroom.
Over the last 35 years, personal computers have revolutionized the communication, business and entertainment industries, but their true promise for revolutionizing education through individualizing instruction is only now coming to fruition. RCC math instructor LaRonda Lowery served on a state task force that developed math redesign principles for the North Carolina Community College System and led the implementation of math redesign, which made use of advanced software, at RCC this past year.
In today’s redesigned math class, students report to a computer lab and log in to math software that individualizes instruction based on diagnostic testing that the students have done using that same software. Student strengths and weaknesses are assessed and students are presented tutorials and exercises in those areas in which they need work. Once a concept is mastered, the student moves on to the next assignment tailored to his or her needs.
Instructors circulate throughout the room, monitoring progress and working one-on-one with individuals who are having difficulty with particular concepts. In addition to the instructor, most of these classes also have a professional tutor available to assist students.
Now students typically spend two to three hours a week in the class with the instructor and tutor, but because the instruction and assignments are available online, students can more effectively work on their own. Students can do additional work in open labs on campus or at home.
This redesign format allows students to work more at their own pace. Some students may be able to complete one developmental course and begin a second one within a single semester. Other students who are not able to complete the first course in one semester may be able to continue where they left off in the next semester. If they are close to finishing the course early in the second semester, they may complete it and move on to the next course without penalty.
Under traditional models, everyone started and ended the course at the same time. Students who were unsuccessful in completing the course in one semester had to start over the next semester even though they may have mastered some of the concepts of the course.
So what does 2013 hold in this regard? Currently a state task force is working to redesign developmental English and Reading courses. While this project is still in the development stage at the state level, RCC faculty members, under the leadership of English department chairperson Crystal Edmonds, have attended meetings and received updates outlining the task force’s progress and have a sense of where the task force is going with the English and Reading curriculum redesign. Edmonds and her staff have chosen to be proactive and implement as many of the new guidelines as practical ahead of state mandates. RCC will be on the cutting edge, having already implemented most, if not all, of the new redesign requirements.
Dennis Watts is the Public Information officer at Robeson Community College. If you have questions about RCC or suggestions for future articles, he can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org