The decline in traditional-age high school graduates, changing student demographics, the unpredictability of the pandemic, and student retention issues are creating what is known as a “perfect storm” in higher education. Faculty and administration have explored every possible tool to attract students and help them stay on a curriculum path so that they can graduate within a reasonable time.
Many sources show that students seek flexibility in terms of time in course planning and clarity in course content and delivery. It is also important that students recognize the logical connectivity between courses as they follow the program curriculum and that the curriculum planners think well beyond traditional teaching and learning methods.
It has been found that engineering students in particular do not respond to the traditional math curriculum. Hence, faculty and administration have explored all possible tools to attract students and help them stay on a curriculum path so that they can graduate within a reasonable time.
Three strategies have proven to be the most effective ways to make a difference:
- Create a variety of scheduling options for students to stay on a curriculum path;
- Redesign of the curriculum with logical connectivity between sequential courses (e.g. course contextualization, linked courses, integrated model); and
- Developing a wide range of delivery modes to suit learner preferences and schedules.
Strategy 1: Plan your selection
It has become imperative to recognize and understand what current and future students want and to develop innovative ways to improve student access to flexible study and certificate programs in terms of time and location. One approach is to create numerous scheduling options that differ in time, sequential course arrangements, and delivery options. Understanding that students represent different styles of preparation and study, we’ve diversified our course schedule in many directions to create expedited sequences of various general education courses that offer flexible pathways to graduation.
This was the most efficient way to use the students’ time. For example, all degrees require at least two writing and two social science courses. As a result, during the traditional 16-week semester, two-course sequences were offered in an alternate eight-week “fast and furious” format, with both courses being offered back-to-back in the same time slot and location. Students would not make any changes to their schedule in the middle of the semester and learn about their habits.
Strategy 2: curriculum redesign
Nowadays a main goal of education is the ability to find a suitable job for a decent pay after graduation. Therefore, preparing students for the workforce is an important aspect of curriculum design, but is not enough to ensure graduation. Students need to be committed and persistent in order to stay motivated and be successful at it. According to Davis, “most students respond positively to a well-organized course taught by an enthusiastic instructor who has a real interest in the students and their learning” (2009, p. 31). However, enthusiasm and expertise are not enough; The faculty must also be ready to help students meet their needs. There are two factors to consider when designing the curriculum: what to teach and how to teach it. We applied these factors in redesigning the curriculum for the Technical Mathematics I-IV sequence to motivate students through “What to Teach”. Our redesigned sequence conveys the fact that the courses are discrete and sequenced, as well as the fact that the content includes a framework.
Therefore, changes at department level have been made with two directions in mind: a) smooth connection between all courses in the sequence; and b) Inclusion of repeated review blocks of material of increasing complexity in each course in order to preserve students’ algebraic skills which normally disappear very quickly if not practiced. So the class goes in two directions – forward with new material and backward with spiral repetition. When courses are logically structured and overlap, students gain knowledge and confidence in understanding why they need to take multiple math courses to complete their prescribed curriculum. As a result, students develop their own self-motivation.
Strategy 3: Develop a wide range of deployment modes
The Open Education Database shows that nearly three million students are currently taking part in online programs and six million are taking at least one online course as part of their studies. Students who balance study with work and other aspects of their personal life may benefit from options in alternate delivery modes, especially if one of those options includes online delivery. This is especially true for the current situation, including the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 evolution, with many students looking for or being forced to use alternative modes of deployment.
The curriculum of an online program needs to be carefully considered and developed not only pedagogically, but also aesthetically and psychologically.
Our continued work has led to the realization that all three strategies can be implemented together to meet the challenge of guiding students through a curriculum pathway to graduation despite the obstacles often encountered by students enrolled in a state university. Providing choice in course planning (Strategy 1), redesigning the curriculum to provide flexible pathways to graduation (Strategy 2), and offering options to students in delivery modes (Strategy 3) increase the likelihood of student success and allow us to find a way out and thus escape the “perfect storm” that higher education finds itself in today.
Attend her live online seminar with Irina Chernikova. Overcoming STEM challenges in curriculum design and online delivery, on Tuesday, September 15 at 1:00 p.m. Central.
Irina Chernikova received her PhD in applied mathematics in 1985. She has taught at Akron University for over 20 years, teaching the department’s wide variety of math courses, from college algebra to differential equations and statistics. She serves as the senior faculty of the department and has received the department’s Outstanding Teacher Award three times. Dr. Chernikova also served as a department head.
Davis, BG (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey bass.
Open education database. 10 advantages of online courses. Retrieved from http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/10-advantages-to-taking-online-classes/
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