Computer-based program aims to boost math grades at UNM

About 250 students will take part in the UNM pilot program this upcoming semester.

Math 120 — usually the first foray students make into college math at the University of New Mexico — has a failure rate of at least 50 percent.

This means students not only have to repeat the class, which sets them back, but it can also cause them to drop out, President Bob Frank said.

Frank said he hopes a new and innovative program that will revamp the way math is taught at UNM will increase the student pass rate while helping to increase the school’s below-average third semester retention rate, which is about 74.1 percent, and its six-year graduation rate, which is 45 percent.

“The ultimate goal is to have our students succeed, and we know that this is a stumbling block for many students, because they’re not well-prepared in math,” Frank said.

The Math Learning Lab, which will launch as a pilot program this fall and be fully in place in January 2013, will replace lectures with a computer lab in which students learn at their own pace, with backing from teachers and tutors.

The course is separated into three sections, each of which must be “mastered” before moving on to the next, said dean of arts and sciences Mark Peceny.

For some students, that can be two weeks, but for others, it could be two months, Peceny said.

No matter — the point is for students to finish the course successfully.

“(Students) will move more swiftly through their (degree) programs. They’ll be more likely to graduate within six years. And they’ll be more likely to get wonderful jobs in the New Mexico economy,” Peceny said.

UNM’s Math Learning Lab, also known as MaLL, is modeled after the Math Emporium, a program that’s proven successful at Virginia Tech, and, in its one year so far, at Kent State University, where Frank was provost before becoming UNM president.

The arts and sciences department, under which mathematics falls, had already been studying the Math Emporium and its success rate when Frank took on the presidency, but he was essential in pushing the project forward, Peceny said.

Frank was instrumental in developing the Math Emporium at Kent State, which he said so far has seen a significant drop in failure rates.

About 250 students will take part in the UNM pilot program this upcoming semester. Once it’s launched fully, some 2,500 students annually will participate, Peceny said.