Finding a Smarter Solution for Math Education

In 2013, Salt Lake Community College collaborated with Lumen Learning on the Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative, a Next Generation Learning Challenges project to explore the impact of open educational resources (OER) on student success at institutions serving high proportions of disadvantaged students. SLCC math faculty members had become interested in OER after seeing many students struggle to pay the $200 average cost of the commercial materials the department required previously.

Starting with four math courses with lackluster passing rates, SLCC introduced MyOpenMath, an OER math solution supported by Lumen. It provides automatic access to course materials for every student, including instructional text, videos, and an online homework system. SLCC faculty members use community-contributed OER content to design courses, and they share new assessment items and other content improvements back to the MyOpenMath community for others to use. 

Evaluating efficacy after the 2013-2014 academic year, the impact on the 257 students in OER sections was significant. Together they saved over $47,000 in textbook costs. Students passing with a C or better increased from 59% in non-OER sections to 63% in OER sections. A quarter of students received A’s in OER sections, compared to just 15% in sections using commercial materials. Just 13% of students failed OER sections, compared to 20% in non-OER sections.

Making Success with OER Sustainable

Anxious to take a stand on textbook affordability and the benefits of OER, students lobbied campus leaders to make OER a sustainable part of the college’s curriculum strategy. Today they happily pay a low-cost materials fee to support OER courses, replacing the cost of expensive textbooks.

This OER fee helps ensure SLCC can continue to add OER courses and sections. It also ensures SLCC students and faculty can on a professionally-supported online homework system with enterprise-quality attention to security, availability, and technical support response times. In fall 2017, more than 7,500 math students used OER, saving approximately $700,000 on the cost of course materials in a single term. Year over year, this figure continues to grow. 

Achieving Systemic Improvement in Quantitative Literacy

On the strength of their early success with OER, the SLCC Math Department decided to complete an OER-based redesign of all courses in the math sequence pathways students follow to meet Utah’s state Quantitative Literacy (QL) requirement for non-STEM majors. Initially, SLCC faculty were drawn to OER to address textbook affordability and day one access. Lumen OHM gave them flexibility to design each course in the QL pathway to fit how they want to teach, with lots of practice, immediate feedback and learning by doing from the first day of class.

The SLCC team completed this systematic course redesign effort in 2017, with phenomenal results. 

According to Suzanne Mozdy, SLCC’s associate dean of mathematics, “From fall 2016 to fall 2017, we saw a 22% increase in Quantitative Literacy pathway completion, after putting OER options in place for all pathway courses. With over 6,400 students enrolled in our primary Quantitative Literacy pathway during that term, 22% represents a large number. Our students can go through the entire Quantitative Literacy path with no textbook cost, because it is open.”

This success continues: 25% more students per semester are completing the QL requirement since SLCC completed the shift to Lumen OHM. By helping many more students overcome the common stumbling block of the QL requirement, SLCC’s math department is eliminating an important barrier to college completion. Each fall, over 80% of SLCC’s 9,000+ math students enroll in OER courses. Mozdy also credits OER with improving learning. “Starting on day one, they’re using Lumen OHM to do math, and we see them carry that standard through the rest of the semester.”

Award-Winning Results

Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) received an institutional Digital Learning Innovation Award of $100,000 for its use of Lumen OHM to redesign quantitative literacy (QL) pathway courses with a focus on improving student success. They also use OHM to support a “Mulligan Project,” an initiative that offers intrusive assistance to help students who struggle early in the QL pathway to change study habits and increase their likelihood of success.

“Our arrangement with Lumen Learning is not a traditional vendor-customer relationship,” said Jason Pickavance, Director of Faculty Development and Educational Initiatives at Salt Lake Community College. “Instead, it feels like we are both part of a fundamental shift towards a future where faculty have greater control over how course materials support student learning.”