CSUN Receives $2.3 Million Grant For Math Program

CSUN receives grant of more than $2.3 million from Next Generation Learning Challenges

CSUN received a grant of more than $2.3 million from Next Generation Learning Challenges.

California State University, Northridge has received a grant of more than $2.3 million from Next Generation Learning Challenges to expand a program that helps students bridge the “math gap” in the transition from high school to college.

The grant supports a hybrid model of entry math courses Cal State Northridge’s Department of Mathematics developed about five years ago to tackle what they saw as a disconnect between the math students retained from high school and what they were expected to know as they began their college studies.

Katherine Stevenson

Katherine Stevenson

“This is not remedial math,” said CSUN math professor Katherine Stevenson, who is overseeing the project. “What we are talking about is dealing with the ‘state of knowledge’ that in some sense is not reflected in the students’ transcripts. They may have passed all their math classes in high school, but still don’t know, or grasp, some of the math concepts that we depend on in college. The courses are designed to get all of our students, regardless of what high schools they went to or what resources they had available to them, on a more even playing field.”

Stevenson, with the support of a $250,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges grant last year, developed a hybrid model for entry-level math courses that includes classroom and lab work, online homework and individualized remediation of prerequisites. Pass rates in one of the new CSUN model courses, business math, have climbed from 35 to 40 percent to about 66 to 70 percent since the program’s inception about five years ago.

“There’s this thing called disruptive change,” Stevenson said. “I would call what we’re doing constructive change. We’re respecting everybody’s contributions, but at the same time we’re asking everyone to do something a little different.”

Professors are asked to participate in the development of common lecture notes. These are partially complete, meaning that the definitions and word problems are written out, but space is left blank for the calculations and explanations.

“This leaves faculty flexibility in their classrooms. Students use the common lecture notes as the foundation of their lecture notes by ‘filling in the blanks,’” Stevenson said. “This allows both students and the instructor to spend more time working out the mathematics rather than just ‘scribing.’”

Teaching assistants oversee lab sections in which students work in groups to review coursework, identify areas where they are having problems and get more individualized attention. The labs transition students from passive to active learners and ready the students for doing homework independently, she said.

Additionally, each student works on his or her areas of prerequisite weakness in an online, tailored and adaptive tutorial. Students are pushed to complete this remediation in the first weeks of term. Throughout it all, data management tools collect and compare grades, exam scores, homework and remediation so that the faculty can see what areas they need to work on and where they are succeeding.

All of the lower-division math classes at CSUN—from college algebra to the calculus sequence—now are implementing parts of the hybrid model structure. Several courses at Cal State Long Beach, Humboldt State and Pierce College have also adapted the model.

Stevenson said the new Next Generation Learning Challenges grant will enable CSUN to share what it is doing with other campuses in the CSU system and community colleges. CSU Channel Islands and Monterey Bay have already signed on.

“The whole process is designed to be flexible so that it takes into account the culture of the campus, the needs of the students on that campus and resources that are particular to that campus,” Stevenson said. “It’s easy to say, ‘since it’s such a success in Business Math CSUN, everyone else should be doing what we’re doing.’ But we’re not cookie-cutter campuses and the model needs to be flexible enough to take that into account. We think ours is.”

Stevenson said she hopes that by January of 2015 a quarter of the CSU campuses and at least 15 percent of campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District will be involved in the program.

“The CSU has 420,000 students enrolled on its 23 campuses statewide and there are nine campuses in the L.A. district enrolling about 250,000 students,” she said. “A successful follow-on project will have an impact on approximately 68,000 students annually in the CSU and 20,000 students annually in the community colleges.

“What works for one course does not necessarily work for another. There is no silver bullet,” Stevenson said. “But we can provide a model that campuses can shape to meet their needs, help close that gap when it comes to math and help our students succeed.”

Next Generation Learning Challenges accelerates educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. This multi-year program provides investment capital to expand the use of proven and emerging learning technologies, collects and shares evidence of what works, and fosters innovation and adoption of solutions which will dramatically improve the quality of learning in the United States, particularly for low-income students and students of color. NGLC is managed by EDUCAUSE in partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Funding for Wave III was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

California State University, Northridge is a regionally focused, nationally recognized university serving more than 36,700 full- and part-time students in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas. Founded in 1958, Cal State Northridge is among the largest universities in the nation and is ranked among the top universities for bachelor’s degrees awarded to minority students. It has nine colleges and more than 2,000 faculty members who teach courses leading to bachelor’s degrees in 69 disciplines, master’s degrees in 58 fields and doctorates in education and physical therapy, as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Continuously evolving and changing to meet the needs of California and the nation at large, the university is home to dozens of acclaimed programs where students gain valuable hands-on experience working alongside faculty and industry professionals, whether in the sciences, health care and engineering or education, political science, the arts and the social sciences.


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