Creating and Implementing a Virtual Math Tutoring Lab for Undergraduate Students

Creating and Implementing a Virtual Math Tutoring Lab for Undergraduate Students

Curtis Kunkel (University of Tennessee Martin, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3962-1.ch009
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This chapter discusses the construction and implementation of a Virtual Math Lab for undergraduate students. The main technology used in the construction of the site was the Livescribe® SmartPen. Pros and cons of using this technology is discussed in detail. In addition, current usage numbers illustrate how the Virtual Math Lab has filled a need that this level of student desperately needed filled.
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From the beginning of the information age, when computers and the Internet began to demand more and more of our attention, there has been an increasing need for educational content on the World Wide Web. In particular, undergraduate students demand free educational resources in the areas of mathematics and the sciences. To this end, back in Fall 2009, The University of Tennessee at Martin (UT Martin or UTM) took it as their mission to create a Virtual Math Lab (VML) specifically designed to help undergraduate students taking a college algebra course; not only the specific course offered at UTM but any such course offered around the world. This chapter will discuss the creation of the College Algebra Tutorials (CATs) wiki (see Figure 1), the first component of their VML. The main technology used in the CATs wiki – a website that allows its users to edit content collaboratively and simply within the browser itself – was the Livescribe® SmartPen system. As such, this technology will be discussed in great detail throughout the chapter.

Figure 1.

Screenshot of the CATs wiki homepage


Background: Identified Need And Literature Review

Each year, approximately one million students enroll in a college algebra or related course (Lutzer, et al., 2007). Despite years of pedagogical intervention in general education mathematics courses, nationwide failure and withdrawal rates remain high, typically ranging between 40% and 60% (Mayes, 2004; Katz, 2007). To try and combat this seeming disconnect between where this caliber of student is and where they should be, national mathematics organizations, including the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society, have called for changes in lower division general education mathematics courses (Ganter and Barker, 2004; Piollatsek, et al., 2004). In recent years, various reform efforts have been tested, including the use of graphing calculators and other technology, writing assignments, group projects, and online resource systems (Lutzer, et al., 2007). Other recommended changes include the use of a modeling approach and the solicitation of input from certain partner disciplines whose content depends on mathematical literacy (Ganter and Barker, 2004). Most of these changes focus on classroom pedagogical approaches; few address the issue of student tutorials outside of the classroom.

UTM is typical of many colleges and universities that teach these lower division courses. Between the Fall 2008 and the Summer 2009, five of the top ten failed courses across the entire university included lower division, general education mathematics courses (Davis, 2010). A recent undergraduate research project on mathematics placement examined UT Martin student data over the ten-year period from Fall 1999 until Fall 2008. The ten-year failure and withdrawal rate (DFW) for College Algebra was 40%; for Pre-calculus, 35%; and for Elementary Probability and Statistics, 30% (Anthony, Sims, and McCullough, 2010).

The main campus of UTM offers tutoring in mathematics for all lower division undergraduate courses. However, UTM currently offers sections of mathematics courses at off-campus centers through dual enrollment at area high schools and online, with no access to one-on-one tutoring. Adjunct instructors, who generally have at most two office hours per week, teach most off-campus sections. Prior to Spring 2009, needs assessment surveys administered to students enrolled at the off-campus centers indicated that access to tutoring in mathematics was a top priority.

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