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Thoughts on Using MyMathLab to Supplement a Traditional Math Class

Although MyMathLab is widely recognized as an outstanding resource for teaching an online class, I believe its true strength is as a supplement to a traditional class. I have used MyMathLab to supplement my traditional Prealgebra, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra classes. In this article I will share my thoughts on effectively incorporating MyMathLab into traditional mathematics classes, including the student benefits that I have observed.

MyMathLab in the Syllabus

In my courses I currently assign 25% of the overall grade to MyMathLab. This is split equally between MML Homework, MML Quizzes, and MML Student Learning Outcome (SLO) Quizzes. My experience has shown me that for students to give their fullest effort from the beginning of the semester, they must see that a significant portion of their grade comes from MyMathLab assignments.

While I go over the syllabus on the first day of class, I make sure to point out that students who do not score well on MyMathLab will have a difficult time passing the class. They would have to average over 93% on the chapter exams and the final exam in order to pass the class. I also point out that a student who does well on MyMathLab work (90% or higher) will have a much better chance of passing the class, needing an average of around 63% on the chapter exams and the final exam.

Click Here to See a Sample Syllabus

One thing I am convinced of is that a student who uses MyMathLab to learn the material, who gives their homework and quizzes maximum effort, and who uses MyMathLab as part of their preparation for exams will be successful on the exams. My students feel more at ease at the beginning of the semester knowing that if they give their full effort to the online homework and quizzes that they have a cushion built into their required test scores. Their work on MyMathLab helps them to learn and understand the material, and this shows up in a positive way in their test scores. I have noticed class averages on exams increase by 10 or more points for classes that give full effort with regards to MyMathLab assignments.

I do feel that 25% of the grade is about as high as I feel comfortable assigning to work done outside of the classroom. If you were to assign 50% of your course grade to MyMathLab, your students could technically pass the class while scoring 40% on their exams.

MyMathLab Homework

In my courses I give MyMathLab Homework for each section of the textbook. My homework assignments typically contain 20-25 problems. Students get 3 attempts to answer a question before MyMathLab will mark it incorrect. Students who get a problem wrong can attempt a similar exercise for full credit. This encourages a student to remediate themselves. When a student looks in the back of the book and finds that their answer to a textbook exercise is incorrect, what are the chances that this student will go find a similar problem to see if they have learned from their error? Very little, in my experience.

I open the homework the night before I cover the material in class.
This policy encourages students to work ahead. We would like for our students to read the section before coming to class, but fewer and fewer students incorporate this strategy into their repertoire. This gives the student that likes to jump in and get started an opportunity to try the problems and find the material that is difficult for them. These issues can then be addressed in class, and students have better questions after being exposed to the material in the homework.

I make each homework assignment due on the third night after the material is covered.
I feel that having firm deadlines is important for keeping students up to date with the material. My students have no chance to procrastinate. The reason I chose the third night is to give students a chance to come back to class and ask questions. I have considered moving the deadline to the second night, but most of my students are keeping up with the homework and the third night gives some students a chance to be flexible with their scheduling.

I leave all of the learning aids available in the homework assignments.
While my students are working on their homework I feel that the learning aids help the student to remediate him or herself.

Think of it this way, if you assigned textbook homework that was to be done by your students, what would you suggest for a student that was having trouble solving a particular problem?

  • Would you tell the student to look in the textbook or their notes for a similar problem?
    MyMathLab has a learning aid titled “Show An Example” that contains a similar problem that is worked out completely in a step-by-step fashion.
  • Would you suggest that the student read through the appropriate section in the textbook?
    MyMathLab has a learning aid that takes the student to an e-book version of the textbook so they can read the relevant material from the text.
  • Would you tell the student to go visit with a tutor?
    The learning aid titled “Help Me Solve This” walks the student through the problem, asking for input from the student along the way. If I was to train a peer tutor, this is exactly how I would encourage the tutor to help a student.
  • Would you tell the student to come see you for help?
    The learning aid titled “Ask My Instructor” allows the student to email you a copy of their problem, including their answer. To me, this is a very useful aid. Sometimes a student will have trouble typing their answer in the proper format, and I can look at what they have typed and give some advice. It also helps with a student who is unsure about how to get started when solving a particular problem. I can give some pointers on how to begin.

I do not limit the number of times that students can attempt a particular problem.
In my experience, very few students need more than 3 attempts to solve a problem. This may be a good argument for limiting the number of attempts to 3 or 4, but I prefer not to limit the number of attempts so students can progress through their homework without getting stressed out about this being their final attempt. I want them to work until they are successful. I do have colleagues that limit the number of attempts to 3, and they are happy because it does ensure that students give each problem their best attempt because of the limits.

I encourage my students to earn 100% on each homework assignment.
I often build this into my grading as an incentive. Scoring 100% on a homework assignment is as much a measure of persistence and effort as it is a measure of anything else, and these are two student behaviors that I value greatly. Students are willing to rise to wherever we set the bar, so why not set it as high as we can?

MyMathLab Quizzes

In my courses I give two MyMathLab Quizzes for each chapter that we cover. The first quiz covers the first half of the chapter, and the second quiz covers the entire chapter with a focus on the second half of the chapter. My quizzes typically contain around 20 problems. Students get 1 attempt to answer each question, and a student must complete the entire quiz before it is graded. Students can review their work, seeing their answers as well as the correct answer for any problem that they miss. This also encourages a student to remediate themselves. They assess their own mistakes, trying to figure out where they went wrong. I encourage the students to use these quizzes as part of their exam preparation.

I open the quizzes the night before I cover the last section contained in the quiz.
I do want my students to wait until all of the material is introduced before they begin working on the quiz. By opening them the night that the last homework section is opened I know that they have had the opportunity to see all of the material. Also, for the second quiz, this will give the students enough time to take the quiz before the exam.

I make the quizzes due on the same night as the homework for the last section covered on the quiz.
Again, having firm deadlines is important for keeping students up to date with the material. This is especially important for the second quiz, because I want my students to use this quiz as their final preparation for the exam.

I turn off all of the learning aids for the quizzes.
I want my students to take the quizzes as preparation for the exam, so I want them to attempt the problems without using their resources. I understand that students may ignore my suggestions, but I explain that the only way to determine whether they are ready for the exam is to try the problems on the quiz as if they were taking an exam.

I do not limit the number of times that students can attempt a quiz.
I used to limit the number of attempts to 2. The idea was that students could assess their performance on the first attempt, review the material they were struggling with, and attempt the quiz a second time. This also helped students who did not type an answer in the proper format. I have now changed my approach to allow an unlimited number of attempts before the deadline. I have a couple of reasons for this. First, a student has to rework the entire quiz – they don’t just do the problems they got wrong. Second, if a student is willing to put in the extra effort to take the quiz a third or fourth time, I should be happy about that and encourage them.

I count only the highest score, and encourage my students to score at least 85% on each quiz.
The idea behind counting the highest score is to encourage a student with a low passing grade to try to improve their score. For example, a student with a score of 70% might not want to risk their passing score in order to take another attempt if there is a possibility that there score could go down. I don’t feel that a student with a score below 85% is ready to take the exam, and I want any student whose score is below that to try again. I often build this minimum score of 85% into my grading as an incentive.

MyMathLab Student Learning Outcome (SLO) Quizzes

All of the courses at my college have Student Learning Outcomes (SLO’s) associated with them. For example, our Prealgebra course has 9 SLO’s. I have created a series of quizzes that focuses on each SLO for each of my courses. Each quiz has approximately 30-35 questions. I release these quizzes, 2 or 3 per week, during the last month of the course. These quizzes help to prepare my students for the campus wide SLO assessment, as well as for the final exam. The quizzes are wide ranging – for example the SLO “Simplify Radical Expressions” contains problems such as simplifying a radical expression, adding and subtracting radical expressions, multiplying radical expressions, dividing radical expressions, rationalizing denominators, and operations with complex numbers. Giving the quizzes in this way allows me to gather data on each individual SLO.

I open two or three quizzes at a time, over the last month of the semester.
I want my students to prepare slowly for the final exam over the last month of the semester, rather than trying to cram it all in right before the final exam. This system encourages students to start preparing early.

These quizzes can be adapted to be used by an entire department.
If an entire department gave SLO quizzes of this type, it would make the data collection required for accreditation quite easy. It would make it convenient to measure department wide performance on each SLO, which can lead to a discussion about how to improve instruction for individual SLO’s.

MyMathLab Search/email By Criteria

On the night before an assignment or quiz is due, I use the “Search/email By Criteria” feature in the MyMathLab Gradebook to reach out to students who have yet to start an assignment, or have a score that I feel is substandard. This feature allows me to select students who have yet to start the assignment, or have a score below a percentage of my choice, and send out a quick email to alert the student. I also use this feature on occasion to compliment students who have done a great job on an assignment, such as earning a score of 100% on a quiz. It is an easy feature to use, and allows me to send out several emails out all at once.

MyMathLab Item Analysis

Have you ever wanted a breakdown of your students’ performance on a question by question basis? MyMathLab’s Gradebook has a feature called “Item Analysis” that allows you to find out how many students got each problem correct, incorrect, partially correct, as well as how many students didn’t attempt the problem. I often run an item analysis on a quiz before class, so I know which problems require further discussion in class.

Summary

I hope that you find these ideas useful and helpful. I wanted to share how I use MyMathLab to supplement my traditional developmental mathematics courses. If you have any questions or comments please let me know through the Contact page on this website.

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