Mathematics Undergraduate Program Narrative Report University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Joe Yanik

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1 Mathematics Undergraduate Program Narrative Report University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Joe Yanik Part 1 Program Outcomes How would you rank this program with similar ones in the state, region, and nation? Although I am not familiar with programs in the Tennessee region, I do have some familiarity with programs in Kentucky, Virginia, and, of course, in Kansas, where I am currently located, and other areas of the Midwest. In addition I have been following the development of the upcoming Curriculum Guide for the Mathematical Association of America, which seeks to develop guidelines for mathematics undergraduate programs throughout the nation. I found that the undergraduate program at UTC ranks well in comparison to mathematics programs throughout the nations. The course requirements and standards are appropriate for the program and the students are graduating with a thorough preparation in mathematics. Are the intended program and learning outcomes clearly identified? The program and learning outcomes are clearly identified and are appropriate for an undergraduate degree in mathematics. The department is particularly well-suited to achieve its goal of encouraging and supervising student research in undergraduate research projects and I would encourage them to expand this effort and, in general, the effort to get students involved in other out-of-classroom experiences. The focus on undergraduate research experiences and other forms of student engagement is something that has been an increasing area of emphasis in the mathematics community. What criteria does the department use to evaluate sufficient achievement of intended program outcomes? Are the criteria appropriate for such evaluation and/or for the program? The department has a number of ways of evaluating achievement of the intended program outcomes including student results on exit exams, tracking student success after graduation, and student results on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). I did note that the number of respondents for the NSSE was quite low, only 4 students. I would suggest that, if this is going to continue to be used, an effort should be made to get a higher response rate. A significant number of their student majors are in Secondary Mathematics. They have not been tracking the performance of these students on licensure/certification exams. I would suggest that they begin taking advantage of this potential measure of the success of their program. Does the department make use of evaluation information and/or information obtained from student, alumni, and employer surveys and/or data from institutional research to strengthen the program? I did not see evidence that the department is collecting much information from alumni or employers. Of course, the department is receiving continual feedback from current students in the form of course evaluations but there was no indication of feedback from alumni. 1

2 Part 2 Curriculum Is the current curriculum appropriate to the level and purpose of the program? Is it adequate to enable students to develop the skills and attain the outcomes needed for graduates of the program? Does it reflect the current standards, practices, and issues in the discipline? The curriculum is well in line with the level and purpose of the program and with the current standards, practices, and issues in the discipline. It contains the core elements that every mathematics major needs but maintains the flexibility for students to focus on the courses that are appropriate for their intended career. Does the department regularly review and revise curriculum content and organization to ensure that it is appropriate and that it prepares students to meet the specified learning outcomes? Will the department need to update the curriculum and/or develop new or alternative offerings in the near future? There is clear evidence that the department regularly reviews and revises its curriculum content and organization. In recent years, it has made a number of important changes to the courses that are important for the program including a revision of the calculus sequence and a new combined precalculus course. These revisions were appropriate and necessary to keep up-to-date with changing circumstances. Some other curriculum revisions were made in response to external factors. In response to the Complete Tennessee Act the department revised its College Algebra course in a number of ways. One revision was to lower the minimum ACT score required for the course from a 22 to 19. I was interested to note that in 2010 it had lowered the minimum ACT score from 24 to 22. In a span of 3 years the minimum ACT score requirement was lowered from a 24 to a 19. It also revised the way that it teaches the class. It moved to a system in which College Algebra is being taught in very large lecture sections (200+). This is supplemented with a recitation section but even the recitations are often too large (40 students) to encourage significant interaction between the student and the instructor. There are a couple of concerns with teaching College Algebra in such large sections. The first concern is that it is difficult to maintain the attention of the students in that environment. I was interested to note that some faculty had experimented with the use of clickers and they are to be commended for that. This may be one way to mitigate the effect of such a large class. The other problem with this is that with the recitations so large the classes are forced to depend completely on online homework for feedback on their work. Online homework is a wonderful tool for teaching lower level mathematics courses. When all the help tools are turned on it provides a method for the students to get immediate feedback with helpful hints at their fingertips. However, the students can become reliant on the help tools and can be fooled into thinking that they understand the concepts when they really do not. This can result in a rude awakening when they take an exam in which those tools are not available. The best solution may be to have online homework for practice with some form of relatively frequent paper and pencil assignments, such as in-class quizzes, so that they can demonstrate that they really have mastered the concepts without the online help. However, with the large sizes of the recitations, this is not practical. This will have to be carefully monitored and almost certainly revised. This system may be setting up the department for failure. College Algebra is often the face of the department to many areas 2

3 of campus. The perception of the way that this course is handled can have a lasting impression on the way that the department is perceived within the university. There are a number of alternatives that should be considered, but all of them will require more teaching resources. Here are a few suggestions: 1. Maintain the current large lecture but cap the recitation sections to a size closer to 25 students. One possibility is to consider a system similar to the Studio College Algebra class that is done at Kansas State University. In the Studio College Algebra there are large lectures but these are supplemented with small Studios in which the students work on projects that apply the College Algebra that they have learned to real world data. 2. Break the course up into smaller sections of about 30 students. This might be accompanied by a focus on analyzing data using the algebra concepts that have been introduced. This is what we have done at my institution. (See the book College Algebra in Context by Harshbarger and Yocco.) 3. Introduce a College Algebra with Review class to handle those students who are at the lower end of the ACT scale. This is a class that would meet more days per week and spend the extra time reviewing the remedial mathematics skills that are needed to succeed in College Algebra. (Again, this is something that we do at our institution.) There are many other successful models out there, but I would encourage the department to explore them to find the one that would be right for UTC and for the administration to support the department with the necessary resources for this important responsibility. Is the curriculum content appropriate for UTC? Are the core and advanced courses approximately balanced? Does the curriculum ensure the development of appropriate skills in the following areas: general education, critical thinking skills, research strategies and skills, written and oral communications, and computer and technology-related skills? The curriculum content is appropriate for UTC. As mentioned above, it supplies the students with the necessary core competencies while maintaining the flexibility to pursue their own specialties. Do students have adequate opportunities to participate in research, practica/field experiences/internships, or other experiences that allow students to apply learning outside the classroom and/or expose students to professional and career opportunities appropriate to the discipline? The students do have adequate opportunities in this area but there is a trend towards increasing these types of experiences and I recommend that the department consider expanding in this area. Does the department clearly outline program requirements and offer courses regularly to ensure timely completion of the program? Given the resources available the department does a good job of offering the courses to serve the students in the program. 3

4 Part 3 Teaching and Learning Environment Are the department s instructional practices consistent with the standards of the discipline? The department s instructional practices are consistent with the standards of the discipline. There is some evidence that some of the faculty members have been experimenting with innovative ways to connect with students, particularly in those lower level classes that are very large. I would encourage faculty to do more of this and for the department to find ways to encourage and support these endeavors. One recommendation that I would have is that, when they hire new faculty, they encourage them to apply to be a Project Next fellow. Project Next is a professional development program from the Mathematical Association of America for new or recent PhD s. Through networking and workshops it helps a new faculty member in all areas of faculty development including teaching, scholarship and service, Does the department provide adequate curricular and career advising by a well-informed faculty or professional staff? What changes/improvements are needed to make advising more effective? The students were very satisfied with the advising and mentoring that takes place within the department. The recent implementation of an Advising Night was mentioned with great enthusiasm. In the Advising Night students are invited to attend and learn about the courses that will be offered in the following semester. Pizza and drinks are available. The department should continue this effort and encourage other faculty to participate. Are library holdings current and adequate to meet student needs for class projects and research? The library holdings are current and adequate for the student needs. The new library offers a wonderful environment for students to study. What curricular and/or extracurricular activities does the department offer towards exposure to diversity? Do these activities provide adequate opportunities for students to be exposed to the perspective of underrepresented groups? Although I did not see any evidence of activities specifically targeted towards exposure to diversity I did note that women are well-represented in the undergraduate mathematics major. What procedures are in place to ensure and document that the department provides students with regular opportunities to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of teaching? In each course undergraduate students are provided with an online survey to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the teaching. However, there is some concern that, with the movement to online forms in 2011, the response rate on these forms has dropped dramatically. Part 4 Faculty Is the faculty adequate in number to meet the needs of the program with reasonable and efficient teaching loads and/or credit hour productions? Are the regular to adjunct faculty ratios appropriate for the program? The number and composition of faculty is adequate to meet the needs of the program as the courses are currently being taught. However, this is done by having very large class sizes in 4

5 lower level courses. If the department and the university determines that these courses could be taught more effectively with smaller class sizes then this would require more faculty. Are faculty competencies/credentials appropriate to the level of the program, and do they at least meet the SACS qualifications? Do faculty specialties correspond to the needs of the program? How might the program address needs for additional/different qualifications/expertise? The faculty are highly qualified for the level of the program and the specialties represent a broad spectrum of the mathematical sciences. Are faculty engaged in scholarly, creative, professional association, and service activities that enhance instructional expertise in their areas of specialty? The faculty are engaged in a number of activities to enhance their instructional expertise. I was particularly impressed by the grant activity that directly benefits classroom instruction. For example, the UTeaChattanooga Noyse Scholarship Program grant to provide scholarships to majors and the FIPSE grant to support the Center for Leadership in STEM education indicate an important effort to seek outside support for the undergraduate program. The NSF grant to fund a summer undergraduate research program is also an important achievement. This experience with undergraduate research, if expanded to other efforts during the regular academic year, has the potential to have a large impact on the undergraduate program. Does the program use a faculty evaluation system to improve teaching, scholarly and creative activities, and service? Does the system include information from the teaching evaluations of student, alumni, and employer surveys? Are the faculty evaluation procedures adequate and successfully used? The faculty evaluation system is thorough and adequate. Part 5 Support Does the program regularly evaluate its equipment and facilities and pursue necessary improvements? The department does regularly evaluate its equipment and facilities and has done a good job of keeping up to date in technology within a limited budget. One of the concerns that has been identified is that there is no regular replacement plan for existing computers. There have been periodic one-time programs to upgrade equipment but the unpredictable nature of this can make it difficult to plan for future needs. The self-study also identified the need to fill a vacant slot for an administrative support person. Is the program s operating budget consistent with the needs of the program? The operating budget is too small to meet the needs of the program. In the current economic climate this is not unusual. However, there are a number of factors that makes it particularly difficult for this department. The first is that there has been a recent significant reduction in the amount of money that is available for teaching assistants. This affects the budget available for the undergraduate program in a number of ways. First, since the teaching assistants teach in the undergraduate program it may mean that, if the stipend is not competitive, there will be difficulty in filling these needs. On the other hand, if the department decides to use departmental money to make up for this decrease it will mean that money will be lost that could be spent on other things. 5

6 The second factor is that it may happen that, after an analysis of the effectiveness of the teaching in the lower level mathematics courses, which are quite large, it may be determined that changes need to be made that would require additional instructional resources. This would cause further strain on the budget. Does the program have a history of enrollment and graduation rates sufficient to sustain high quality and cost effectiveness? The enrollment and graduation rates are sufficient to sustain high quality and cost effectiveness. One of the strengths of the program as cited by the students was the small class size and personal attention that they got from their major courses. Part 6 Summary Recommendations Overall, what are your impressions of the program? The undergraduate program is a very strong program with faculty with excellent credentials. They do face a number of challenges. Among them: 1. The loss of the remedial program due to external decisions required them to make significant changes in the way that they teach lower level courses. 2. The ramifications of the Tennessee Promise program may cause further disruption in the curriculum and in the budget that will be available. 3. The department is undergoing a significant transition. There have been a number of retirements in recent years and there may be many more in the next few years. 4. Although it seems to be improving there was some indication that the perception of the department within the university is generally somewhat negative. 5. There may be some disagreement within the department about the relative importance of teaching versus research. 6. The morale among the faculty may be low. Part of this may result from the meager salary increases and the unfilled positions that have taken place over the last few years. 7. There is a plan to move the STEM center out of the college to the College of Education. One of the strengths of the STEM concentration is that the education of the students is tailored to the discipline that they will be teaching. If this move results in a generic education in pedagogy teaching it could seriously weaken the program. What goals would you suggest the program set for the next five years? Please list goals in order of priority (i.e., the most important goal first, followed by the second most important goal, etc.) 1. Continue the progress that has already been made toward improving the department s image within the university. Some of this may be a matter of correcting misperceptions, but these perceptions, whether accurate or not, should be taken seriously by the entire department. It should be noted that it is not unusual for a mathematics department to have a reputation for having unnecessarily high standards in its courses. Most mathematics departments realize that, in the long run, it benefits nobody to give a student who is not prepared for the next level a passing grade. However, it is important to provide evidence that the department is making efforts to enable all students to reach their potential in their mathematics classes. 6

7 2. Take a serious look at the teaching of College Algebra and of all lower level courses. Experiment with some alternative methods of teaching in some sections of these courses that might improve the success rate. If these experiments are successful and can be documented as being successful, make the case for more resources to implement these methods in all the sections. 3. Explore additional ways to encourage, support, and reward successful teaching, particularly among the new faculty. For example, there is an existing program that offers release time to faculty to concentrate on their research. Consider a similar program that would offer release time to faculty who would like to develop an innovative approach to teaching. Encourage any new faculty to apply for a Project Next fellowship. 4. Make a strong case that the STEM center should remain in the college and that, in general, those who are training to be mathematics teachers are best served when taught by faculty who understand mathematics. 5. In cooperation with the administration develop a replacement plan for new equipment that will allow the department to plan for the future. 6. Investigate ways to adequately support existing faculty and to fill current and future unfilled lines with highly qualified faculty. 7. Seek ways to get additional support to relieve existing support staff. How can the program work to achieve these goals over the next five years? Some of the goals mentioned above can be done with existing resources. There may be a possibility of external funding to help, at least in the early stages. However, it is likely that, at some point, there will need to be additional resources. If a strong case can be made that these additional resources will result in increased retention rates among students, then the administration should view these additional resources as a wise investment of scarce dollars that will pay off in the future. 7

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