Panel Paper: Computer-Based Instruction in College Developmental Math Courses

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Columbian (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Whitney Kozakowski, Harvard University

Many students who enter postsecondary school in the U.S. are put into developmental math, reading or writing courses which they must complete before beginning college-level work. Depending on their score on a placement test, students can be assigned to as many as three remedial courses before enrolling in a college-level credit-bearing course in a particular subject. However, pass rates for remedial courses are quite low, particularly for math courses.

Recently, a range of different approaches to remediation have surfaced in an effort to help more students pass their remedial courses and reduce colleges’ costs of administering these courses. One new model which has been adopted by institutions ranging from community colleges to flagship institutions is the emporium model. Under this approach, students spend class time working at their own pace in a computer lab on a series of computer-based lessons, practice problems, and assessments. Instead of providing lectures, instructors and teaching assistants are available on-site to provide personalized assistance to students as questions arise. This model is unique from purely online courses, in which students typically do not come to campus or interact in-person with instructors.

This study examines the effects of the emporium model in developmental math courses in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) between 2008 and 2013. I use a difference-in-differences identification strategy which exploits variation in the timing of the introduction of the emporium model across institutions and across courses within institutions. My study sample includes all students enrolled in one of three developmental math courses in a fall semester at one of the sixteen institutions in the KCTCS system.

I find that students who receive instruction under the emporium model have worse short-term outcomes than students in courses using traditional instruction. They are less likely to pass their first remedial courses, and do not complete their full remedial course sequences any faster, despite having the flexibility to do so. By the fall of the year following their entry into college, students are also less likely to have taken the gateway math courses required for earning a transferrable associates degree. These preliminary results suggest that the emporium model delays students from beginning college-level coursework. Further work will examine the emporium model’s effects on student persistence, grades in first college math courses, and effect heterogeneity across different types of students.

This paper will add to the existing literature about the effects of using online or computer-based approaches to math instruction for struggling students and will have important implications for community colleges which are considering implementing the emporium model.