For the last 10 years, The University of Alabama has offered a technology-centered learning approach for students in the Mathematics Technology Learning Center.
All introductory math courses offered at UA are taught in the center, a part of the department of mathematics in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences. The center combines computer-based instruction with flexible learning times and styles and one-on-one faculty tutoring.
Statistics show that students who participate in the center, known as the MTLC, have increased success rates over traditional courses in math.
“The MTLC supports student learning by giving them flexibility in how they progress through course material, immediate feedback and assistance via computerized lessons, and one-on-one tutorials,” said Dr. Robert Olin, dean of the College. “The MTLC is designed to remove obstacles to success in math.”
In the fall of 2000, a $200,000 grant from the Pew Foundation’s Learning and Technology Program at the Center for Academic Transformation helped fund a redesign of UA’s Math 100, an intermediate algebra course, which would be taught in a large computer facility known as the Math Technology Learning Center. One year later, the facility was moved to its current location in Tutwiler Hall, which houses more than 240 computer stations.
One semester before the MTLC opened in its new location, the success rate of students in the traditional form of Math 100 was approximately 36 percent, which means 64 percent of the students enrolled in those courses failed.
By the fall of 2001, the success rates rose to more than 60 percent. Passing rates continued to increase, and they have been as high as 78 percent in some semesters. Although success rates fluctuate between semesters, they have continued to remain above pre-MTLC passing rates.
The MTLC received a Judge’s Special Recognition Award in 2002 from the Alabama Quality Council for “exemplary results from effective benchmarking and improvement of best practices for creative responses to student mathematics needs.”
In 2009, MyMathLab, the software used in the MTLC and developed by Pearson Higher Education, won a Platinum Award – the top honor – in the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Learning Impact Awards held in Barcelona, Spain.
Part of this success is the way that courses are presented to students. Students take their courses on a computer, and the course can also be accessed online. Computer-based lessons in the Center demonstrate math concepts to the student who can then take diagnostic quizzes to test their learning. This allows students to progress through the course material at a pace the student is comfortable with, and it supports them with faculty interaction and tutoring sessions.
The MTLC is modeled after the nationally recognized Math Emporium at Virginia Tech University that was established in 1997 by Olin, then chair of Virginia Tech’s department of mathematics. Olin and his colleagues developed the model with a level of “built in persistence,” which caters to students who might normally fall behind in a traditional math class.
Olin is known nationally for his innovations in educational technology. He has served on numerous national councils for the advancement of educational technology and is the recipient of the national 2002 Virginia B. Smith Innovative Leadership Award given to individuals who demonstrate their ability to foster changes in higher education that result in substantial improvements.
The MTLC has been the subject of numerous national presentations at higher education conferences, and it frequently provides orientation tours to representatives from other universities interested in adopting the model.
In a traditional math class, if a student misses significant class time they often have difficulty catching up with the course material. In the MTLC model of teaching, the course is right where the student left it, and faculty members are always ready to assist with any segment of the course.
The MTLC also supports learning styles such as whether a student is more alert in the morning or in the afternoon. Since the courses do not have set hours, students can do the work when they are most prepared to do well. Also, some individuals use numbers to understand concepts, some use pictures or words. Courses in the MTLC communicate the concepts fully in various ways to accommodate these individual learning styles. Also, the technology provides instant feedback to students so they know the areas in which they need to improve.
Today, the MTLC instructs over 10,000 students each year. The course offerings have expanded to include seven different math courses in beginning algebra, intermediate algebra, precalculus algebra, precalculus trigonometry, trigonometry and beginning calculus.
The Math Technology Learning Center is part of the department of mathematics in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.