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SMART Lab prepares for higher attendance in spring

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 01:01

When the SMART Lab was first adopted as part of the curriculum for college algebra courses, about 1,060 students would visit the lab on a weekly basis.

But during the first week of classes this semester, with courses such as finite mathematics, pre-calculus, intermediate algebra and a pilot section of business calculus adding SMART lab to their curricula, the number of students visiting the lab increased to 2,300 students.

This number, Patricia Maher, director of tutoring and learning
services, said, will make the semester a learning process for SMART Lab personnel.

Ana Torres, assistant director of tutoring and learning services, and Maher said they are unsure if the SMART Lab will experience crowding issues as students begin to develop normal study patterns.

“This is the second week of the semester, so we have not yet seen a normal pattern,” Torres said. “As (students) start having homework and lab hours due, we’ll see what the normal patterns are.”

The SMART lab, open 52 hours
per week, is equipped with 324 computers. Tutors and professors are available to assist students with assignments. If there are difficulties locating an open computer station in the SMART Lab, Torres said they should visit the front desk at the lab for assistance.

“So far we haven’t had this situation,” Torres said. “(Students) can come to the front desk to try and find an open computer. We have a lab map that tells us what computers are in use.”

Maher said the SMART Lab is monitoring the number of students visiting the lab each week and if the lab notices an imbalance in the amount of space available to students, the SMART Lab will work to make changes.

“We did add tutors to accommodate (the increase in students),” Maher said. “We have a formula for how many students should be on the floor. We’re supposed to run, according to other programs that we did a lot of investigating with, a 25 to 1 ratio.”

But adding SMART Lab to College Algebra’s curriculum proved successful. The average passing rate for students who participated in the redesigned version of the course during the fall semester was 77 percent. Prior to the adoption of the SMART Lab, the average pass rate from 2007-2010 was
35 percent.

“The pass rates are up as compared to the traditional model,” Maher said. “And they’re up significantly.”

College Algebra professor Frances Hopf said she hopes many of the fears and frustrations students face because of the course will be eased by participating in SMART Lab orientations during the first week of classes.

“There are a lot of things in the next week or two that will work themselves out and make (the SMART Lab) a good learning environment for our students,” Hopf said. “Students will come and go the first two or three weeks, until they find the conditions best suited for them.”

Hopf said the volume of students in the SMART Lab tends to pick up between noon and
5 p.m., and that the lab has yet to be filled to its capacity. She also said she does not anticipate that space in the SMART Lab will become an issue.

“Even in heavier times or lighter times, it seems to be almost a bell curve,” Maher said. “It’s a little lighter in the morning, starts to ramp up as the day progresses, and gets a little lighter in the later evening, so we are going to match the tutor assignment to that flow, but we’ll be watching
(the numbers).”

The SMART Lab conducted an evaluation of the feedback of the program and its functionality, surveying students who participated in the courses using the lab.

Maher and Torres both said student feedback about the SMART Lab curriculum has been positive.

“What many students were saying at the end of the pilot was ‘You made me come every week. I had to do the work in that spot every week, so I got it done, where I might’ve procrastinated it before,’” Maher said.

Meera Pattni, a freshman majoring in biology, completed course work in the SMART Lab last semester, and is continuing to use it for her
precalculus class.

“I think it’s more efficient (this semester),” Pattni said. “With the user logs, you can record the number of hours you put in each time. You will come in and have a set record.”

Jamal Mosley, a junior majoring in microbiology, said he completes homework, quizzes and practice problems in the
lab.

“I really like the focus that all of the tutors and professors seem to have,” Mosley said. “I’ve seen them walking around in there and they’re really serious about us learning this stuff. I struggle in math, so it’s very comforting.”

Matt Maher, a graduate assistant in the SMART Lab, conducted the feedback survey to collect student opinions on the redesigned curriculum.

“(Students) were very happy about it,” he said. “Since they had to be here three hours each week, they would come and do their work and get a lot of feedback.”

As courses continue to be added to the SMART Lab, Patricia Maher said there has been talk of additional disciplines being added to the
curriculum.

“The other departments are watching now,” she said. “Honestly, this mode, with some adjustments, could be applied to probably a variety of different types of courses. Especially if they are very
problem-solving based and require a lot of practice work and things like that.”

Hopf said she doesn’t know if the model is applicable
to all.

“I don’t think there is one model that will fill everyone’s learning style,” Hopf said. “This model doesn’t fit everyone’s learning style, but it accommodates many more than the traditional method.”

 

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