Learning basic skills in the lab

At five Tennessee community colleges, developmental students are working at their own pace in math or reading labs, instead of taking traditional classes, reports Kay Mills in CrossTalk.

Cleveland State Community College students learn more quickly in math lab.

“We’ve got 20 years of data to show that the lecture method of teaching doesn’t work,” said Karen Wyrick, math department chair. “We had too many kids failing. We had too many kids dropping out before they got through. This approach is quicker and saves money.” . . .  the completion rate (that is, achieving a C or better) for elementary algebra was 50 percent before the redesign, 68 percent afterward. The intermediate algebra completion rate increased from 57 percent to 74 percent.

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) is helping college redesign classes to use technology. At four Tennessee colleges, redesigns “improved course completion rates and school retention rates while reducing costs” by 19 percent to 51 percent.

At Northeast State Community College, students would fail the developmental reading class, give up and drop out.

Work in the redesigned reading course is divided into 20 modules. All students take sections on note taking and highlighting as well as test taking. The next eight units are considered priority: vocabulary, reading for the main idea, supporting details, patterns of organization, purpose and tone, inference and critical thinking. There are ten extra units that can help students not only to read better but also to increase their grades if they complete them satisfactorily. These include active reading strategies, outlining and summarizing, and time management.

. . . Northeast’s program uses a lab and web-based learning materials. MyReadingLab, a product of Pearson Education, Inc., gives students diagnostic tests, various reading assignments, tips on areas such as identifying slanted language or supportive details, and tests to determine whether the student is ready to move on.

After the first semester, planners added a reading group to give students a connection to an instructor and classmates. They also added an instructor in the lab to help students keep track of their work and scores on practice tests.

The student success rate has risen only slightly — from 58 percent to 60 percent — but more students are earning A’s and B’s in the redesigned course. The college is saving money by enlarging class sizes and using fewer instructors.

Jackson State Community College used to require the same math skills of all students, regardless of their education and career plans. Now students learn what they’ll need to move on. The pass rate in remedial math is up by 45 percent and graduates are earning higher scores in other courses. The cost per student is down by 20 percent.

Columbia State Community College’s reading and writing redesign and a math redesign at Chattanooga State Community College have been less successful.

“You can’t just stick a student at a computer,” says John Squires, who led Cleveland State’s math course redesign and is now chair of the Chattanooga State math department.

By 2013 all Tennessee community colleges must use technology to help students learn at their own pace, the regents have decided.