Friday, September 28, 2018

Artificial Intelligence Helps Boost Math Skills of BTVI Students

Students being guided on how to use technology in Math class.

The idea of math was always daunting for Darian Smith. Since high school, he always struggled with the subject and it was his least favorite thing to practice. That fear followed him into the classrooms at the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).

Though Darian has had several Math teachers in his academic life, he always felt like he was struggling alone. It was not until he was introduced to the Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) system at BTVI, that he began to understand and appreciate Math.

“The idea of having to take Math at BTVI really intimidated me. I was like, ‘Ah! I’m going to fail again.’ But after doing my prep classes and being introduced to ALEKS, it was smooth sailing from there”, said the Information Technology Management major.

ALEKS is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. It uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine what a student knows and does not know in a Math course.

The system allows instructors to create lessons based on their course outlines. On the students’ initial log in, they are given a knowledge test to assess what topics they have mastered and what topics they need to work on. Based on those results, ALEKS creates a personal learning plan that teaches and assesses students’ mastery of content and skills.  The system also regularly tests and retests the same skills to make sure that students retain knowledge.

Because of ALEKS, Darian is much more confident in his Math skills and has even become a tutor for BTVI Math students who face the same struggles he once did. He tutors students from Prep Math to College Algebra.

“A lot of the students I tutor don’t understand the fundamentals and that’s what ALEKS helped me with,” said Darian who has now completed all levels of Math at BTVI.

Like Darian, Ashley Wright also had a fear of Math that followed her from high school.

“With Math, I just completely never understood what was going on. Even after having tutors I didn’t know what was going on,” said the Cosmetology student.

Using ALEKS awakened an appreciation in Ashley for Math that she never knew she had. Not only that, but she prefers using ALEKS, as opposed to sitting in the classroom.

“ALEKS alleviated some of the pressure in Math for me because I actually thought I was going to fail my last Math class and I ended up getting an ‘A’ - thanks to ALEKS. It’s even still helping me in my current Math class,” said the 22 year old.

“I feel as if the foundation is what I was really missing and because of the constant practice in ALEKS, Math is easier for me now,” said Ashley, who no longer needs a tutor for the subject. She is confident that with ALEKS on her side, she can conquer Math.

BTVI instructor, Ron Clarke credits ALEKS for changing his students’ attitudes towards Math and making it easier for him to focus on those who need special attention.

“I have been teaching Math at BTVI for the past eight years and ALEKS is the best program that has ever happened to us,” said Mr. Clarke.

“In ALEKS, I can see every mistake the students make and how many times they’ve made it, so I can then go and give individual attention to students with problems. So everybody moves at their own pace,” he said.

“Students love technology. They can get on to ALEKS from their smartphones or tablets and sit around campus and just practice Math. They love it,” he added.

Mr. Clarke has noticed a substantial increase in the percentage of passing students during the past two semesters using ALEKS.

Since the implementation of ALEKS in spring 2017, the overall Math pass rate has steadily increased from semester to semester with an overall increase of 11%. In BTVI’s Math Prep course alone the average initial knowledge test score was 57% and at the end of the semester the average score increased to 98% - all thanks to the assistance of ALEKS.

Students being guided on how to use technology in Math class.

BTVI’s Chair of the Math department, Archilene O'Brien is passionate about using technology with Math and is proud of the progress she sees in students. She is also impressed with the change in their attitudes towards Math and their excitement to use ALEKS in every class.

“A few semesters ago, there were a few students whose Math gaps were so extensive that we contemplated recommending that they be transferred to another institution.  After two semesters on ALEKS, the students have moved from a dismal "F" to "C" average - an achievement that would not be possible without their long hours of persistence and commitment to working on ALEKS,” said Ms. O’Brien.

In April, the Math department held an awards ceremony for all those who received passing certificates from ALEKS. Over 80 students received awards.

In spring 2018, the Math withdrawals decreased by 50% from spring 2017. This is the lowest the withdrawal rate has been and it is accredited in part to the students’ success in ALEKS. 

ALEKS is used to assist students in BTVI’s Prep Math, MAT 0100, MAT 1100, College Algebra, Statistics, and Business Math courses, and is available 24/7 for students to learn at their own pace and in their own environments.