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Next step for MOOCs: Helping with remedial math

UW-La Crosse developing free online math course to boost students' proficiency

Nationally, about 25 percent of high school graduates require remedial math in college, according to the UW System.

A free online math course being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse could dramatically reduce the need for students to take remedial math when they start college and put them on a faster, less expensive track to graduation, the UW System announced.

A growing number of freshmen in the UW System and elsewhere need remedial math when they start college. As of 2007—the latest data available—21 percent of UW System freshmen did not have the necessary skills to succeed in college-level math. Among underrepresented minority students, the percentage was significantly higher (40 percent).

Nationally, about 25 percent of high school graduates require remedial math in college, according to the UW System.

With a $50,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UW-La Crosse is leading the development of a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) designed to quickly boost students’ math proficiency.

The free, six-week online math course will be available to both high school students who want to assess their college readiness and nontraditional students who either are preparing to return to college or who want to improve their math skills to advance career goals, according to the UW System.

At UW-Milwaukee, 44 percent of new freshmen this fall required remedial math, according to Chancellor Michael Lovell, who spoke about his concerns last week during a UW System Board of Regents meeting. It was part of a discussion about positioning the UW System to be an engine for economic development.

“Unless we can solve the math problem we have in this state, we’re never going to get past this,” Lovell told the regents. “We have to get students math-ready.”

The skills and concepts covered in the new online math course are found on key gateway exams, including the ACT, SAT, and college placement exams. The course content was developed to align with many of the Common Core State Standards needed for college readiness, according to Jennifer Kosiak, a professor of mathematics education at UW-La Crosse.

To study the effectiveness of the learning format, the course development team will work with a partner, Desire2Learn, to design a high-quality student experience and to ensure that useful analytical data are collected.

The concept already has been tested with promising results, UW System officials said.

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