The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science 2012-13  

Math Emporium aims to improve algebra scores

At left, Weichao Wang, a lab instructor, explains some of the Math Emporium software to James Epperson, associate professor of math. Below, David Jorgensen, associate chair of math and acting director of the Math Emporium, chats with lab instructors prior to the grand opening.
Seeking to turn around troubling statistics that plague universities nationwide, UT Arlington has instituted a new program aimed at improving students' scores in college algebra courses.
The University's College Algebra Math Emporium, a 5,000-square-foot space in Pickard Hall, opened in August and had its official grand opening on September 7. The emporium, a tutorial computer lab where students will spend two-thirds of their class time, is based on a model provided by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT).
The emporium model has students spend one-third of their class time in normal classroom instruction and the other two-thirds in the lab, where they have access to computers with specialized software and can work at their own pace. Graduate students serve as tutors and four will be available at all times when the lab is open. The room contains 102 desktop computers.
UT Arlington and NCAT began collaborating two years ago on implementing the model and the Department of Mathematics was the first unit to step forward and participate. Revising the way college algebra is taught was a perfect place to start, said Michael Moore, the University's former senior vice provost.
"This truly is a national problem. The biggest hurdle for students trying to graduate from college is math," Moore said. "We want to thank the math faculty here for really signing onto this and helping make this a reality. The president and provost are solidly on board with this. It's on their radar and you have their full support."
Other courses could be added to the program, based on the results derived from the Math Emporium.
Jianzhong Su, chair of the math department, also emphasized that algebra is the right place to begin in testing the new program, because the failure rate among students nationwide is high, and few other remedies have provided much success thus far.
"College algebra is at the forefront of the discussion right now," Su said. "The New York Times recently had an article about how hard it is and how many students are failing, and asked why not just eliminate it? I'm glad the administration understands the importance of college algebra to the next generation of students. It will be difficult, but I think by putting our strengths together, we can do it."
David Jorgensen, associate professor, oversees the emporium as part of his duties as associate chair of the department and serves as the emporium's acting director.
"Almost universally, other comparable universities implementing the emporium model report roughly a rate of students obtaining a C or higher as 75 percent," Jorgensen said. "We would like to see a similar rate for our college algebra students, while simultaneously having confidence that the students have a better understanding of the subject. I believe we can accomplish this under the emporium model.
"In the traditional model of lecture-only college algebra, the students were primarily spectators rather than participants. In our emporium model, the students do their homework in lab with numerous resources at their disposal, including those built into the software, as well as the lab instructors. Because of this structure, the students receive immediate feedback while doing their homework, and the learning process is much more engaging."