STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State's department of mathematics and statistics is taking a byte out of the challenge to master algebra.
In an effort to encourage more student initiative in learning, a first-floor Allen Hall space that once housed the university admission's office has been restructured into a computer-based mathematics tutorial and homework center for students taking college- and intermediate-level algebra.
Dubbed Math Domain, the recently opened facility features nearly 100 computers at which students complete class assignments and take quizzes and tests. The center is open 50 hours each week so participants can pace their own learning, said interim department head Michael Neumann.
The facility will be dedicated formally Sept. 3 during a 1:30 p.m. open house. The Allen Hall event will follow respective groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for Bryce Griffis and Roy Ruby residence halls. All precede the 6 p.m. opening home football game between MSU and Murray State University.
Neumann said MSU's computer-based learning is "a multiple step approach," which he described as a hybrid of its predecessors. The new approach combines two hours of classroom lecture with two hours of math laboratory at the center.
The concept underlying the Math Domain was birthed at Virginia Tech University and has been spreading around the country, Neumann explained. "The idea is that the students should do something themselves instead of sitting passively in the classroom," he said.
He said Virginia Tech math department head Robert Olin, who first implemented the computer-based math program, brought along his new program when he accepted a faculty position at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
Neumann said UA no longer offers classroom lectures in beginning level mathematics--all instruction is computer-based. Nevertheless, he continued, the institution has recorded a significant increase in the number of students passing with a C or better, with statistics showing women and minorities benefiting the most.
"This (Alabama program) may be cost effective, but it's not as successful as it could be," he said. "We feel the personal touch is extremely important for the learning process; most people can't just read and understand."
For those reasons, MSU's Math Domain is equipped with tutors to help students when they don't understand homework problems. "The moment students need help, someone will be there for them," Neumann said.
Phil Oldham expressed praise for the department's plan. He's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, of which Neumann's department is a part.
"This is far from throwing students into the deep end to sink or swim," Oldham said. "The program is self-paced and the responsibility is heavily on the student, with plenty of support from instructional staff."
Neumann said, "It's a clear structure of the whole material that will be covered." Students choose at what hours they want to do homework and pace their own learning, but computer homework lays out specific deadlines to prevent last-minute cramming, he added.
Oldham said that while cost benefits may not be significant, the new process will allow the department to better manage its resources
Oldham also said the college hopes to expand computer-based learning to other appropriate disciplines in the future. After Math Domain's first full term, college officials will make an assessment that includes student feedback about the program.
"This is just a start for us," Oldham said. "We've got to find what works at MSU for our students and faculty."