Artificial intelligence program to replace traditional teaching of basic math

Britni Williams

Kent State is planning an estimated $1.2 million project that will use 250 computers to teach basic math classes next fall.

The Math Emporium is an instruction model that was developed at Virginia Tech as a way to boost success in math, said Andrew Tonge, chairman of mathematical science.

“The idea is to stop having students sitting there passively listening and not really learning and get them to actually do the mathematics,” Tonge said.

Tim Chandler, senior associate provost, said the investment is a small one in the long run because the model has been shown to be the most effective.

Tonge said the Math Emporium lab would be housed on the second floor of the University Library, where students will work through the course materials using an artificial intelligence program called ALEKS.

The program monitors a student’s understanding of math topics, Tonge said. It will be used to determine what class a student should take and create an individualized plan to reach learning goals. The program is supposed to limit repetition of topics the student understands.

Tonge said professors would be in the emporium to help students who have questions.

Tim Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said implementing the emporium model is “very much like the old image of a one-room schoolhouse.”

“In a one-room schoolhouse model, students of all levels of proficiency are in one physical area, but they are working on things at their own pace, at their own level of mastery,” Moerland said.

Tonge said the university is planning a small pilot program later in the semester, but he isn’t sure how exactly the pilot will be run or which students it will affect.

Tonge said the current COMPASS placement test has been a “crapshoot” when placing students in classes and believes ALEKS will produce more accurate student placement.

Tonge said students who currently need remedial classes are put in the Core Math sequence. Last semester, 2,670 students were enrolled in the sequence. The Math Emporium will replace the traditional instruction of those classes.

He said the name would change from Core Math to Basic Math to prevent confusion with Core Math.

Tonge said more than 50 percent of incoming freshmen need remedial math classes at the high school or middle school level. This is in line with the national average in a study done by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the National Center for Academic Transformation, the emporium model has increased the percentage of students successfully completing a developmental math course in the participating community colleges by 51 percent on average. The individual colleges’ results ranged from a 10 percent increase to 135 percent.

Moerland said other universities, such as University of Illinois, are already using the emporium model of instruction.

Alison Champion, an academic adviser at the University of Illinois, said the university has found that fewer students have dropped out of classes they have been placed in by the software.

Tonge said this model will benefit students because the software allows them to work at their own pace, rather than failing a class and wasting time to start over again.

“It’s a win for students. It’s a win for the faculty and a win for the university,” Tonge said.

Moerland said he expects a natural resistance to the change.

“The trick is to listen carefully,” Moerland said. “There’s not going to be a tone deaf element to this.”

Moerland said the renovations to the library will take place over the summer and should be ready for full implementation in the fall.

Tonge said he’d like to see a change in people’s perceptions of math.

“Change is difficult, but I think we need to change because we’re not doing well enough,” he said.

Contact Britni Williams at [email protected].