Driving Success with Differentiated Learning in Gateway Math Classes

Dr. Tammy Muhs is leveraging personalized learning to improve student engagement and success rates in critical early math courses. Her approach helped the University of Central Florida win a 2018 OLC Digital Innovation Award.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF), the curriculum for STEM majors starts with first-semester Calculus. Many students, however, must start in lower-level courses such as Intermediate or College Algebra and work their way up before they can begin their course of study. Enrollment is high in these courses, and students enter with varying levels of knowledge.

What’s more, says associate lecturer Dr. Tammy Muhs, “Math is not typically students’ favorite subject, so there has to be some sort of motivation for them to engage in the course and be successful.” Muhs’ goal: Find a way to increase course pass rates to help students move forward in their courses of study.

Creating Personalized Learning Pathways

Dr. Muhs sought a solution that would address all the above challenges while providing a high-quality – and still affordable – learning experience for students. She redesigned her Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra courses using Realizeit’s personalized learning and analytics system.

Students start by taking a pre-assessment that determines their optimal starting point in the course. They can then follow a learning path that’s personalized based on what they already know and what gaps must be addressed. As they progress, the adaptive system continuously analyzes students’ actions and performance to deliver and adjust remediation and other learning content. For example, students can see different levels of detail in worked examples based on their ability level – one set walks them through all the steps while another keeps it higher level.

Domain-specific questions also help make math feel more relevant for the diverse student base. They can select from nine program groups to get examples tailored to the context of their area of study. For example, a nursing student might see a problem related to injection rates for medications, while a hospitality student would see a problem related to planning an event.

Learning examples and questions are all variable-based, so the type of calculation required can remain the same while the specifics change. This way, if a student needs more practice, they can work through a different problem every time. At the same time, the system’s adaptivity helps eliminate busy work for students who already know some of the concepts.

Some students even completed the adaptive Intermediate Algebra to College Algebra sequence within a single semester, decreasing costs and time to degree. Additionally, because the courses use Dr. Muhs’ original learning content, students save money by not having to purchase a textbook.

Why It Works

“A student can remediate any prior knowledge that they are missing, get up to speed, and if they are able to, even accelerate and go beyond the typical course pacing,” Dr. Muhs said. In-depth, real-time insights into each student’s performance and activity further inform Dr. Muhs’ instruction and interventions, and the regular feedback students receive helps provide encouragement and build their confidence.

Course results, too, are showing a positive impact: In College Algebra, for example, success rates have grown by 20%, from 48% in spring 2014 (the semester prior to implementing Realizeit) to 58% in spring 2017. In a survey, the majority of Dr. Muhs’ students said they believed they learned better with Realizeit and if given a choice, they would take another course using the system.

The positive impact of Dr. Muhs’ courses helped the University of Central Florida win a 2018 OLC Digital Innovation Award for using innovative adaptive courseware to enable student success in gateway mathematics courses.

Find out why Melinda Gates said courses like Dr. Muhs’ could help more students graduate, and watch her interview with Dr. Muhs about the course.