Jeff Hughes, an author and educator at Hinds Community College in Tennessee, has been involved with course redesign in Mathematics since it was first implemented on his campus. Now, he shares his thoughts in the third of our Innovators Speak series.
Please describe your experience with the corequisite model and/or Quantitative Reasoning.
My community college began piloting a corequisite model in two sections of College Algebra and two sections of Quantitative Reasoning during the fall of 2016. Since that time, we have expanded it and have sections offered on four of our six campuses. I was involved at the very beginning and have now taught corequisite College Algebra for four semesters. I really enjoy teaching the corequisite course. We are still offering our traditional developmental sequence of courses, Beginning and Intermediate Algebra too. Our corequisite model is simply offered for some of our students.
What drove the decision for redesigning your courses?
Our primary goal was to increase graduation rates. Our desire was to increase College Algebra completion rates within the first year of college by enrolling some developmental students into College Algebra and providing them with additional help. To do so, we would require a concurrent course with just-in-time Mathematics support. For us, way too many of our students were getting stuck in the remediation sequence and not successful in Beginning Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. Only a small percentage were reaching and completing College Algebra successfully.
If applicable, what types of corequisite implementation models have you explored or discussed? Please describe.
When we first began offering corequisite courses, we had different lecture and lab instructors. Now, students have the same lecture and lab instructors. For us, the second approach worked much better and both our instructors and students seem to prefer it. At my college, sections of College Algebra have approximately 30 students in them. Half of those slots are devoted to students who meet the ACT requirement to take College Algebra and the other half are reserved for our corequisite students. The corequisite students are required to take a concurrent one-hour lab course. The lab course actually meets on two days for an hour. One lab day is an additional College Algebra lecture and the second lab day is devoted to completing online homework assignments. We strongly feel that both a one-day supplementary lecture and one day of support with online assignments are needed for our students to grasp concepts and fill in Math gaps they have. We do provide a systematic lecture and then individualized assistance with homework to improve proficiency and ensure success in College Algebra. During the lab, there is remediation of Developmental Algebra concepts, plus revisiting of the challenging topics covered in College Algebra. Students receive two grades—a grade for the lab and then a grade in College Algebra.
Currently, we have not opened our corequisite sections up to all students. We require instructor permission to take the course and students must meet one of the following criteria:
- Earned an A or B in Beginning Algebra
- Have taken Intermediate Algebra but didn’t pass the course because of failing the final exam
- Fall within two points of the ACT required Math sub-score to take College Algebra
We require instructor permission because corequisite College Algebra really does require a commitment on the part of the student. Students are in class 4.5 hours a week and must also study several hours outside of class. If they are not willing to put in the necessary time, they will most likely not be successful in the course. Instructor permission helps us identify students who are a good fit for our chosen model.
What advice would you have for faculty who are considering the corequisite model? For example, what are the top 3 things to know?
1.) Be flexible or fluid. You’ll need to constantly evaluate during the formal College Algebra lecture, the concepts the corequisite students are struggling with, and then devote lab coursework around that content. Some topics will be obvious, but others will not be.
2.) Stay positive and upbeat. Keep in mind that many corequisite students will have unrealistic expectations, thinking that if they simply attend the lab, they will be successful in the course. Also, students seem to expect high grades and initially grades are very mediocre because of student deficiencies. Realistically, these students will be truly challenged to make an A in College Algebra. Students do usually see their test scores increase as they progress through the semester. Devote time to getting to know the corequisite students. Your conversations with them are really like a doctor-patient relationship. If they listen to you and apply what you share their Math skills will improve. I have found that those relationships help them move from being a “needy” or dependent Developmental Math student to an independent College Algebra student. They realize you do care and are helping them achieve their academic goals.
3.) I think that one of the best things that can be done is for faculty involved in teaching the corequisite sections to meet regularly, say once every two weeks, and discuss what’s working and what’s not working in the corequisite classes.
Do you use group work, worksheets, or any other active learning techniques in your Corequisite courses? If so, to what extent?
Yes. Our corequisite lab class meets on two days—one for lecture and one for computer assignments. On the lecture days, students are required to complete a written worksheet and submit it for a grade. The worksheets are due the next class meeting. Sometimes only a 30-min lecture is given on the lecture day and students are paired up to work with a classmate on their worksheet. We feel strongly that these worksheets are helpful in students learning how to write out solutions to problems. The problems are usually representative of the type of problems that will occur on their test.
If you had a “crystal ball” to see into the future, what would you expect the future of corequisites to look like?
In the future, I do strongly feel that more and more students will be placed in the gateway courses with greater support being provided as needed for those students lacking skills and not academically prepared for the course. Success rates in developmental courses are overall quite dismal and so our traditional approach to those courses doesn’t seem to be working. We really do need to try something else. We are also beginning to see legislation throughout our nation that would prevent us from offering development courses. Corequisite courses are on track to help us with this challenge. Finding just the right corequisite model that works best for our student population will not be easy, but will evolve over time. Colleges are now beginning to identify specific academic pathways for students and this will help Mathematics departments create better corequisite models that equip students to be successful in their specific program of study. These are fascinating times in Mathematics.