A Guided Pathways Approach to Improving Learning and Teaching in Introductory College Mathematics
Posted on by Lisa Savčak
By Lisa Savčak, Assistant Director with the Carnegie Math Pathways, a network of faculty members, researchers, designers, students, and content experts committed to increasing student success in developmental mathematics and overall college and career outcomes. This article first appeared on the Carnegie Math Pathways blog and is posted here with permission.
In 2019, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) embarked on a campus-wide Guided Pathways reform effort to create more equity-minded, student-centered systems to improve the learning experience and help more students reach their completion goals. MATC’s math department took advantage of this opportunity to rethink their introductory math offerings, which were proving to be a barrier to many students. Using a Guided Pathways lens to focus on both the structure of the offerings and the way they were taught, the math department was able to make dramatic changes to better serve students.
MATC is the largest technical college in Wisconsin, serving a diverse population of 25,000 students annually. Each term, MATC was seeing up to 1,500 students—a large majority of whom were from low-income households, first-generation, and/or traditionally underrepresented students in higher education—enroll in their developmental math courses. For these students, the courses extended their time to graduation and were an expense that didn’t count toward their major. And with perpetually low outcomes, these courses were contributing to achievement gaps between White students and students of color at the college.
MATC’s math department decided to do away with their developmental algebra sequence entirely and instead offer more credit-bearing paths to success. They introduced a math reasoning option for college credit that did not require prerequisites and better aligned with many of MATC’s applied programs of study.
Alongside the shift toward more credit-bearing math options, the department also worked to move away from lecture-style teaching to evidence-based active and collaborative instructional practices that could better engage and support students. They sought a solution that would build on the investigative and group-based instructional model of their Math for Elementary School Teachers course, an approach they hoped to apply across all their entry-level courses.
This led to the adoption of Quantway Core for their math reasoning course. They believed the collaborative, discovery-based learning approach and relevant contextualized curriculum of the Carnegie Math Pathways design would better engage non-STEM students with math that is meaningful to their college and career goals. Additionally, they’d seen how the use of Quantway at neighboring schools like Madison College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had drastically improved outcomes.
Since launching Quantway Core in fall 2019, MATC has served over 800 students and seen their course outcomes increase substantially. Previously, only 50% of students passed pre-algebra, the first step on their path to college-level mathematics. Now, 74% of students are earning college credit directly in Quantway Core. The new approach is not only helping more students enroll directly in and succeed in credit-bearing math, it’s also reshaping students’ relationship with math.
Faculty are seeing students in Quantway Core gain greater confidence in their mathematics abilities than in previous courses. MATC’s math faculty attribute this to the curriculum itself, which they believe empowers students. The embedded social emotional supports strengthen students’ beliefs in their abilities while the relevant problem contexts connect math concepts to issues related to students’ lives and decision-making.
This change is also having a positive impact on faculty. As MATC has expanded sections and increased the number of instructors teaching their Quantway Core course, they’ve seen more math faculty come to value group learning and recognize this approach as improving their practice.
As math instructor Eric Hagedorn, who leads the Quantway Core implementation, puts it, “What I see [Quantway] doing is not only powerfully impacting our students, but I feel like every member of our team is a better teacher. Because this curriculum requires you to learn how to interact with your students in a way that facilitates the learning, rather than just doing the math for them. It’s not about us lecturing.”
By engaging in Guided Pathways planning, MATC’s math department has eliminated a system of courses that weren’t working for their students. With a greater focus on the students’ learning experience, MATC has not only introduced new pathways to student success, they’re scaling a solution that is helping all of their students build a more positive and productive relationship with mathematics.
In fall 2022, MATC will expand their math pathways with the introduction of Quantway College–a transfer-level course option to support those students looking to advance to a 4-year institution. According to MATC’s Dean of General Education Academic & Career Pathway, Dr. Sadique Isahaku, the impact of this program has been powerful and worth the investment: “This is closing equity gaps and giving more students a fair chance to advance academically toward their goals.”