Treasure Valley Community College: Virtual Math Lab Supports Student Success

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When Treasure Valley Community College was awarded the competitive Title III Strengthening Institutions Grant from the Department of Education in 2005, the college knew this funding would be the catalyst for change at TVCC. One of the priority areas in the grant was creating a way to identify at-risk students and then provide services to help them be more successful at college. Early on, the Title III team developed and piloted an Early Alert/ Intervention program. This innovative and cost-effective program was featured at two League for Innovation conferences as a model for other colleges.

The Early Alert/Intervention program continues to receive referrals for students who are identified in the classroom as academically at risk. One of the key areas quickly identified was the need to develop additional services for students who struggle with poor math and writing skills in their developmental courses. At the beginning of the Early Alert/Intervention program, all students who are referred for interventions in math and writing courses are strongly encouraged to attend math and writing labs.

Feedback from students struggling in math classes suggested that alternative strategies would be helpful. In response, TVCC Student Intervention Coordinator Jessica Breidinger and TVCC Math Department Chairperson Renae Weber developed a virtual math lab to address the needs of students who could not attend the live math lab due to time constraints, work, and family responsibilities. Funded through Title III, the virtual math lab pilot program is offered during evening hours to accommodate the busy lifestyle of the nontraditional learner, and provides the ability for students to access tutoring and supplemental instruction opportunities to strengthen math skills. The labs provide the following services:

  • Both synchronous and asynchronous discussion boards maintained in the campus Blackboard system.
  • Scheduled live tutoring sessions in which students interact with each other and with a tutor via audio conferencing, white board, and chat features in the Elluminate Live meeting software system.
  • Supplemental instruction sessions which can be recorded and made available to students in an asynchronous format any time they wish to review the sessions.
  • Elluminate Live virtual office hours are available for instructors.

The aim of this project was to develop the concept of virtual study groups and to examine their role in maintaining and increasing the nontraditional learner's motivation, engagement, and overall satisfaction with his or her math course outcomes. The project intended to provide an environment that acted as an added layer of support and services to nontraditional students who may not otherwise have been able to engage the services of support systems like the on-campus live math lab and live tutoring.

A student focus group was conducted at the end of Summer Quarter 2008 to discuss the experiences of those who participated in the virtual math lab. When asked what was most positive about the virtual math lab, students commented on convenience and flexibility. Students indicated they were glad to have help available after hours that they could access from home. One student indicated, "If I sit down to do my math homework at night, and I can't figure out the first problem, I'm pretty much done unless I can get help."

Based on initial success of the labs, a $30,000 grant from the Oregon Community College Distance Learning Association in partnership with Community College Workforce Development was awarded to Treasure Valley Community College to continue the program for the entire 2008-2009 school year. The hope is that it will continue as part of the support services offered to our students and be a model for community colleges statewide.