Equation for success

Most students who take a three-credit hour class would expect the course just to account for three hours of their time each week.

For students taking Finite Math, Math for Liberal Arts or College Algebra, that amount of time has been extended to five hours.

Glen Besterfield, the assistant dean of undergraduate studies, said each class was extended by adding two one-hour recitation sessions where students can practice the skills they learn each week during lectures.

“The additional two credits are sessions where students can get help on their homework, take quizzes and work problems in class,” Besterfield said.

Besterfield said the new format was needed because there was a low rate of students in the past who actually pass these classes the first time around.

According to Besterfield, the attrition rates ranged from 30 to 50 percent for the classes, which was a problem for the nearly 3,000 freshmen taking one of those courses each year.

“Math has historically been difficult,” algebra professor Marcus McWaters said. “The University has an interest in training these students so they can perform the way they’re expected to.”

McWaters said he is deviating from the recommended amount of hours for his class.

“My class is on a four-hour schedule because I have my students go to the Math Center for one hour a week,” McWaters said.

Besterfield is optimistic that performance will increase by having students meet in small groups.

“Previously, we were teaching 55 to 60 students for three hours a week,” Besterfield said. “Ideally, you want to teach to very small sections.”

McWaters said one-on-one attention from graduate students in the recitation sections should also help keep students ahead in their classes by helping them work on their assignments.

While students learn better in small groups, it’s more cost effective to teach them using large lectures, Besterfield said.

To offer the smaller sections, Academic Affairs is providing between $100,000 and $200,000. However, Besterfield said it might be a few years before the department can tell if the program works.

“You have to give something like this at least a year, maybe two, to see the results,” Besterfield said. “You can’t expect immediate and significant improvements.”

To accommodate the small-group recitations, the math department has temporarily increased the staff.

“We hired back some of our best teachers that have retired,” McWaters said.

McWaters said that while no one has directly said anything against the extra hours, enrollment in distance learning has risen.

“I haven’t had any complaints about the extra time,” McWaters said. “I have no doubt there are people who would rather not spend so much time in class.”

Besterfield said that he will adapt to the outcome of the restructuring.

“This is what happens when you try to improve things,” Besterfield said. “You get a mixed bag of results. From that mixed bag, you find ways to improve in the future.”