Mathematics Pathways Stories
Excerpts from interview with Professor Alycia Marshall, Anne Arundel Community College
Editors’ note: This post is excerpted from the transcript of an interview with Dr. Alycia Marshall, Associate Vice President for Learning and Academic Affairs at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, near Baltimore.
Dr. Marshall began teaching mathematics in the College in 1999 and was chair of the mathematics department at AACC from 2013 to 2017.
The interview was conducted in December 2016 as part of the Mathematics Pathways Stories video series produced by the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways.
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity; […] indicates omissions.
Tell us about your background.
I came to teaching mathematics as an undergraduate at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I was actually a biology major, but I was taking a calculus course in my freshman year, and I just loved the opportunity to go up to the front of this lecture hall class and go over a problem and explain to the class how to do it. I felt so empowered by that.
As you know, the Dana Center seeks to ensure that all students in higher education will be prepared to use mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills in their careers and personal lives; enabled to make timely progress toward completion of a certificate or degree; and empowered as mathematical learners. What do you see as the barriers to achieving this goal?
So the major barrier I think to most students, particularly the students who aren’t even considering a career in STEM, is that when they come to our campus the majority of them are placed in developmental courses And once they start that path, if they’re not successful in their first course, then they have to retake that course, and if they’re not successful, then maybe a second time, a third time.
They are looking at two, three, four, five semesters that are not even at a credit-level course, and I feel that for most of our students that is very discouraging. Particularly at the community college, we have a lot of nontraditional students, students who are working full time. Imagining them signing up each semester—over and over for the same course, not being successful and not moving anywhere toward progress to degree completion—was just a depressing thought.
What promising solutions have you seen address these barriers?
In our department at Anne Arundel Community College, we’ve installed a co-requisite model. This allows students to take a credit-level course and a developmental course in the same semester.
And we have found with this model that our students are much more successful than they would have been taking the courses in isolation. They’re much happier, because they’re getting to their goal more quickly. And in most cases the way we’ve designed the courses, they’re actually paying for a lower number of credits, so it’s even a cost savings to them. So that’s very exciting.
Aligning required math courses with the student’s program of study
And then if you looked at [a student’s] program of study, the math that was in that course was not necessarily something that they needed for that major, or that program of study. So what we’ve tried to do is think about what math the students actually need to be successful in the math course that they need for their program, but more importantly that the course is aligned with their major and their program of study.
Collaborating with colleagues in other disciplines to align course requirements
So, when we started to talk to other disciplines [at our college] about other [mathematics course] options instead of what we had at the time, which is a college algebra course and a trigonometry course—which was a terminal math course for a lot of majors—they were open to that discussion. I mean, we all wanted the same thing. And it was kind of like, let’s bring our colleagues in other departments’ attention to the idea that there’s a way around this.
Yes, your students are struggling, you’re not graduating as many students as you want, and you’re upset because of this college algebra course, but what if that’s not the course that you really need? And it wasn’t necessarily trying to tell them what they need, but to open the door for a conversation for them—for us to sit down and say, what is it that your nurses (for example) really need to be competent in that field?
What advice would you give to people in the field?
I think the best thing to do is to make sure that you share the successes of what is happening across the country. Let people know how it—math pathways—works.
For example, we now have a common course outline for elementary statistics in the state of Maryland, as well as a course outline for contemporary mathematics…and, from what I have heard from my colleagues, this type of statewide collaboration in terms of determining what a course is going to look like, is not something that typically happens.
Typically, many math departments have been that elephant in the room that is holding everyone up from success. And most recently as we looked at statistics from one of our co-requisite models (which is what we call an accelerated intermediate algebra course that we run concurrently with an elementary statistics course), we found that our success rates were in the high 80 percent, and that was above the college-wide average for success for all of the courses in the college, and we also found evidence that we had eliminated the achievement gap in that particular course. So obviously our administration was very, very excited about that, and as a department we were very proud of that.
For your complete resource guide on mathematics pathways implementation, please visit Dana Center Mathematics Pathways.
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