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Florida International University’s High Tech Fix for Gateway Courses

Florida international University (FIU) knew it had a teaching problem.  It even had a solution.  Bringing the two together was the dilemma.  That’s where UT3, University Transformation through Teaching, came into play.

Supported by FIU’s Transformational Planning Grant (TPG) project,  UT3 is the bridge closing the gap between teaching disconnects and persistent student failure  in 17 critical gateway courses.

TPG is a partnership between the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is supporting a cohort of seven public urban research universities transforming higher education to increase access, improve student success rates and find greater cost savings.

Early predictive analytics had shown that FIU students were 75% more likely to graduate on time if they passed College Algebra than if they failed it.  Failure rates for the gateway course had stubbornly persisted at 70% for a decade.  And College Algebra wasn’t the only gateway course derailing students.

Annually 17 high enrollment, high failure, high impact gateway courses in STEM (e.g. math, statistics, chemistry, and biology), composition (e.g. writing and rhetoric), social and behavioral sciences (e.g.  psychology and economics), and humanities (e.g. religion) subjects indicated that students performing poorly in these classes had a high probability of dropping out or not graduating on time.  In 2013-2014, combined student enrollment for the courses totaled 41,557. FIU’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Course-Specific Redesign leveraged TPG funding to focus on the problem with some 300 faculty.

The Center is managed by two, full-time staff members who support faculty innovations.  Through the support of a Title V grant, a team was convened to tackle mathematics by creating a high-tech, high-touch approach.  The result was an emporium style Mastery Math Lab.

Open six days a week, including evening hours, the Lab is supported by 168 Learning Assistants who understand students’ struggles because they’ve  also faced them.

Students use the Lab learn at their own pace and gain access to interactive web-based programs to work on math skills such as graphing linear equations or factoring and simplifying polynomial expressions.  As students’ interest in mathematics progressed, so did the results.

Over a two-year period, 7,000 students logged 320,000 hours at the Mastery Lab.  The College Algebra pass rate rose to nearly 70%.  The pass rate in Finite Math – a gateway course for non-STEM majors – rose to 88%!

As a member of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, FIU is working to transform lives through higher education.  Collectively, the three Consortium partners (FIU, University of Central Florida, and University of South Florida) serve 63% of the state’s population.

Key goals driving FIU’s institutional transformations in FIU’s teaching culture are to: 1) significantly increase the number of undergraduate curriculum administrators and teaching faculty possessing a sophisticated understanding of best practices in teaching, 2) identify critical synergies and efficiencies across departments and colleges, 3) build an infrastructure that supports campus-wide pedagogical reform, and 4) integrate the goals into the new FIU Strategic Plan, Beyond Possible2020.


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