Last week the University of Texas’ Dana Center announced a new initiative to digitize their print-based math curriculum and expand to all 50 community colleges in Texas. The New Mathways Project is ‘built around three mathematics pathways and a supporting student success course’, and they have already developed curriculum in print:
Tinkering with the traditional sequence of math courses has long been a controversial idea in academic circles, with proponents of algebra saying it teaches valuable reasoning skills. But many two-year college students are adults seeking a credential that will improve their job prospects. “The idea that they should be broadly prepared isn’t as compelling as organizing programs that help them get a first [better-paying] job, with an eye on their second and third,” says Uri Treisman, executive director of the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin, which spearheads the New Mathways Project. [snip]
Treisman’s team has worked with community-college faculty to create three alternatives to the traditional math sequence. The first two pathways, which are meant for humanities majors, lead to a college-level class in statistics or quantitative reasoning. The third, which is still in development, will be meant for science, technology, engineering, and math majors, and will focus more on algebra. All three pathways are meant for students who would typically place into elementary algebra, just one level below intermediate algebra.
When starting, the original problem was viewed as ‘fixing developmental math’. As they got into the design, the team restated the problem to be solved as ‘developing coherent pathways through gateway courses into modern degrees of study that lead to economic mobility’. The Dana Center worked with the Texas Association of Community Colleges to develop the curriculum, which is focused on active learning and group work that can be tied to the real world.
The Dana Center approach is based on four principles:
- Courses student take in college math should be connected to their field of study.
- The curriculum should accelerate or compress to allow students to move through developmental courses in one year.
- Courses should align with student support more closely, and sophisticated learning support will be connected to campus support structures.
- Materials should be connected to context-sensitive improvement strategy.
What they have found is that there are multiple programs nationwide working roughly along the same principles, including the California improvement project, Accelerated learning project at Baltimore City College, and work in Tennessee at Austin Peay College. In their view the fact of independent bodies coming to similar conclusions adds validity to the overall concept.
One interesting aspect of the project is that it is targeted for an entire state’s community college system – this is not a pilot approach. After winning an Request for Proposal selection, Pearson1 will integrate the active-learning content into a customized mix of MyMathLabs, Learning Catalytics, StatCrunch and CourseConnect tools. Given the Dana Center’s small size, one differentiator for Pearson was their size and ability to help a program move to scale.
Another interesting aspect is the partnership approach with TACC. As shared on the web site:
- A commitment to reform: The TACC colleges have agreed to provide seed money for the project over 10 years, demonstrating a long-term commitment to the project.
- Input from the field: TACC member institutions will serve as codevelopers, working with the Dana Center to develop the NMP course materials, tools, and services. They will also serve as implementation sites. This collaboration with practitioners in the field is critical to building a program informed by the people who will actually use it.
- Alignment of state and institutional policies: Through its role as an advocate for community colleges, TACC can connect state and local leaders to develop policies to support the NMP goal of accelerated progress to and through coursework to attain a degree.
MDRC, the same group analyzing CUNY’s ASAP program, will provide independent reporting of the results. There should be implementation data available by the end of the year, and randomized controlled studies to be released in 2016.
To me, this is a very interesting initiative to watch. Given MDRC’s history of thorough documentation, we should be able to learn plenty of lessons from the state-wide deployment.
By Phil Hill
- Disclosure: Pearson is a client of MindWires Consulting. [↩]