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Boot camp shortens path through developmental math

​Photo: HACC

​A math boot camp at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) has given students a chance at bypassing some developmental mathematics courses.

“Trying to shorten that path through the developmental sequence is really big at the moment,” said Jason Rosenberry, associate professor of mathematics at HACC.

HACC offers four levels of developmental math courses. Many students “are spinning their wheels” trying to work through the sequence and losing money while they’re doing it, Rosenberry said.

A second chance

In fall 2012, and again in summer 2013, HACC offered a free weeklong boot camp to students whose ACCUPLACER scores were within five points of the cut score for testing into pre-algebra or beginning algebra. The program combined in-person instruction and online tutoring via Pearson Education’s MyFoundationsLab.

Instruction took place for four afternoons. Students completed homework online. On the fifth day, students retook the ACCUPLACER test, free of charge.

Results were promising. About 80 percent of students in both boot camps advanced one or two levels of developmental math. Arithmetic scores on the ACCUPLACER jumped 16 points and elementary algebra scores increased 5 points in fall 2012 and 8 points in summer 2013.

The students who did not advance missed one or more of the classes.

Hybrid learning

“Face-to-face instruction made this program successful,” Rosenberry said.

Before beginning the program, members of the HACC math department met to determine the skills a student needs to succeed in math.

Getting instructors was fairly easy, according to Rosenberry. He had at least two instructors from each of the college’s five campuses offer to help.

“They all see the benefit in this,” Rosenberry said.

The addition of online learning with MyFoundationsLab allowed students to practice what they learned in the classroom, strengthening their skills. The online tool was tailored to fit the content areas for the boot camps.

“Students want instantaneous, immediate feedback,” Rosenberry noted.

The online component gave them that. If students answered questions incorrectly, they were directed toward resources to help them.

Lessons learned

HACC will continue to offer the boot camp, but an altered version of it. The boot camp pilot was made possible through a strategic planning grant from the college. Because grant funding is no longer available, the college likely will turn it into a one-credit course and charge students to attend. Rosenberry doesn’t think that will deter most people, since the cost is less than that of a developmental math course.

“When students put it into perspective, I feel like they’d be willing to pay for a one-credit course,” he said.

HACC may lift the ACCUPLACER scoring requirement and open the boot camp to all interested students.

The timing of the boot camp also may change. The 2012 pilot program was held in December, right before Christmas. Attendance was lower than anticipated. Attendance was better in summer 2013, but asking students — many of whom have jobs and families — to attend every afternoon for a week was also a deterrent. There’s been talk of holding the boot camp for four consecutive Mondays.