The pandemic highlighted the critical need for academic curricula that is flexible and individualized. For core subjects like math and science, this became even more important to ensure that students can grasp what they are being taught.
While many students struggle to understand how they will use mathematical concepts like algebra and calculus in their careers, learning these concepts can help students develop skills such as abstract thinking, evidence discovery, and pattern recognition that are transferrable to everyday life. However, despite having helpful resources available, math continues to remain an intimidating subject for many students in their first transition to a college-level course.
The gap between fear and knowledge in math
With the average DeVry student typically being further along in their career and life, many might not have retained knowledge learned in their high school math courses or might not have found prior success in the subject. This previously created a level of apprehension for DeVry students, leaving them feeling discouraged and demotivated by their lack of positive results in math, thus, creating a barrier to future achievement.
Students like Kimberly Diaz, who is enrolled in DeVry’s Bachelor’s in Human Resource Management degree, felt nervous about the math classes she was required to take.
“I was never really good at math, so there was definitely a level of trepidation when I started my academic journey at DeVry knowing that there could be math classes required,” Diaz said. “My feelings of fear and apprehension were difficult to overcome, and I knew they were feelings many of my peers also shared.”
Diaz’s negative perception of math was shared among DeVry’s student population, highlighting a critical need to help students gain the confidence to achieve their academic and career objectives and successfully move through their college program.
Identifying technology as a solution
DeVry was aware of the challenges many students face when required to take math classes, especially those who are required to take a transitional or foundational math class before enrolling in their core classes. These challenges can ultimately impact students’ overall ability to complete their respective degree programs. Moreover, math faculty realized the need to create a solution that could be implemented across DeVry and that would alleviate the negative feelings students were having toward math.
Lenore Goldberg, DeVry’s Dean of Colleges and Curriculum for Business and General Education, and Associate Dean Kimberley Martin saw the need to bridge the gap between fear and knowledge firsthand, prompting them to seek out ways in which the university could make math more approachable for learners at every level. Goldberg knew that these classes were more than just names on a page. Rather, they each represented different journeys and levels of knowledge that would contribute to each student’s course success. Building off DeVry’s dedication to tech-powered education and student care, Goldberg and her team researched and tested various technologies and programs that would provide a customized learning experience to support student success.
One program emerged as the lead solution after successfully introducing students to math courses customized to meet their individual learning needs. McGraw Hill's online learning solution ALEKS® (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) is a course assistant that helps forge constructive learning paths for students—blending personalized modules with instructor-driven assignments to ensure every student always has another block to build on their knowledge base. ALEKS is purposefully designed to help math educators identify instructional gaps, personalize learning paths, and track the progress of student learning and mastery. By integrating ALEKS into a course design that included a high level of faculty engagement and a non-intimidating introduction to mathematical concepts, withdrawal rates in math classes plummeted, while student success and persistence in the subject soared.
“We knew that math courses weren’t going away, so we needed to find a way to introduce the subject to students in a manner that was approachable and fun,” Goldberg said. “We researched several programs and felt that ALEKS addressed our need as a university to equip students with the skills necessary to be successful in math while equally taking into consideration the negative feelings many students had toward the subject.”
Within the framework of ALEKS, there are visual cues that students and professors can reference to analyze the student’s progress to ensure they are reaching critical benchmarks in their learning. Optically, it is encouraging for students to see what they have learned and what they have mastered. Goldberg and her team first piloted ALEKS within DeVry’s transitional studies math course to gauge student reaction and success. The difference in student performance was astounding as students not only remained in these math courses, but also excelled. Based on the promising results, ALEKS was fully adopted within the transitional math course and subsequently integrated into several other DeVry math courses.
The proof is in the numbers
Student feedback on the platform continues to be positive, as ALEKS supports students’ individual learning needs. It provides tailored lessons that reflect each student’s current learning comprehension level, while challenging them to engage with new material to meet learning objectives.
During its initial implementation, the ALEKS platform was piloted in DeVry’s transitional MATH062 course in November 2018 and then again in January 2019. In this math course, student success jumped from 44% to 74% — an impressive 30% increase. Student withdrawal rates were slashed in half, decreasing from 30% to 15%, with persistence increasing 11% from 70% to 81%.
Given the resounding success of ALEKS in its pilot, Goldberg and her team integrated the platform into several math classes at DeVry, hoping to replicate the success for every student taking these courses. As a result, student success in DeVry’s foundational math class, MATH014, achieved a remarkable 34% increase in student success rates. Additionally, as DeVry integrated ALEKS into its standard algebra MATH114 course, withdrawal rates significantly decreased.
“Math is an integral part of day-to-day life, so as educators, it was incumbent upon us to provide students with the resources they need to overcome any fear they might have and successfully master their foundational classes,” Goldberg said. “The ALEKS platform helps meet students where they are in their math journey and guides them through lessons at their own pace. ALEKS is the perfect complement to DeVry’s tech-fueled education and focus on student care.”
Qualitatively, many students reported that when professors leveraged ALEKS in their math courses, they felt the experience was highly personalized and allowed them to complete course work at their own pace without the use of standardized tests. This removed some of the pressure associated with traditional exams and quizzes, which have the potential to incite higher levels of stress during the learning process.
“This was my first time going to college, so I didn’t know programs like ALEKS existed to make math less intimidating,” added Diaz. “What makes ALEKS such a great platform is how intuitive it is. If there were topics I was struggling with, ALEKS encouraged me to take a step back from the work I was doing so that I wouldn’t get frustrated or overwhelmed with the lesson. ALEKS helped me overcome my fear of math.”
A deeper comprehension of math is critical for students to feel prepared for the future and level up in their academic journey. DeVry’s math courses can help students successfully grasp important mathematical concepts while providing essential skills that can be used across industries and in daily life. DeVry’s adoption of the ALEKS platform is a lesson on how higher education institutions can make some of the most difficult, yet important, subjects approachable through technology, and make individualized learning accessible to students at every knowledge level.