Oregon State University is a comprehensive, public, research-extensive university and a member of the Oregon University System serving as the state's land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution - one of only two universities with such designation in the country. OSU works in partnership with the P-12 school system to provide access to high quality educational programs.
Course: Math 111 - College Algebra - Polynomial equations and inequalities, polynomial functions and graphs, inverse functions, exponential and logarithmic functions, elementary mathematical modeling and applications.
Textbook: CUSTOM EDITION/COLLEGE ALGEBRA FOR MTH 111 AT OSU
From the Oregon State University's Student Newspaper - April 20, 2009
Math 111 continues to be slippery slope for OSU students Problems with Math 111 are believed to stem from students' inadequate grade school teaching in math
By: Shanna Woodruff
Is there any hope for college algebra?
Math 111 [algebra] has been rumored throughout campus to be one of the most failed classes at Oregon State.
"I heard from everyone that I talked to about Math 111, that it was the number one failed class in the university, so I got in the mindset that I was going to fail, and I did," said Mark Stockhoff, a freshman in new media communications and business.
The issues relating to this rumor may be caused by the math placement test, poor math education before college, class size and student effort put into the class.
"We have a placement test, which we ask folks to take, and up until last year, only about 50 percent of entering freshmen placed into a college math course," said Math 111 instructor Peter Argyres.
To address the poor scores, the math department worked to create an online test that wasn't proctored to allow students to take the test in an easier environment and time frame, but the jump in scores was so significant that it was determined students had cheated on the math test.
"I got like a 98 percent in Math 105," said Cody Zimmer, a sophomore in microbiology who was placed in Math 105 by the math placement test. "[That class] doesn't prepare you at all for Math 111."
After 10 years of teaching the course, Argyres said he felt that many students go into the course feeling they can just memorize things, but he said it's really all about understanding concepts. He said he feels that this issue originates in elementary school.
"If you never had to memorize your times tables, how do you factor a number with a calculator?" Argyres said. "I see people fail Math 111 for arithmetic issues all the time."
When students never learned the basic information appropriately in high school, or earlier, it is significantly more difficult for them to succeed when they get to college algebra.
"Mathematics is densely a foreign language with a foreign spelling routine with all these different symbols," Argyres said. "Part of [understanding the language] is understanding what we mean by the symbols."
Another difficult part for students tends to be the class size and how quickly the class moves.
With more than 280 students in the classroom, it can be very overwhelming for many students.
"This is a sign of under-funding, because if they put more money into it, they'd hire more people to teach the class," Argyres said. "We almost lost our phones one year because they were looking for cutbacks."
With budget cuts still continuing, there is little hope that the classes will get any smaller.
The textbook froze about five years ago to get the price down for students, but this has caused the class to lose online support.
"Now, we're re-looking at the text, trying to see if we can get a better text that moves in a more linear fashion as far as the structure of the course, along with online support," Argyres said.
This may cost more money for students, so the math department is looking at doing an "e-text" where students can download homework in PDF form, but nothing has been determined yet.
The math department is aware of the difficulties for students in college algebra and can only recommend that students turn in the homework, go to class, work on math daily and to get help the moment they don't understand.
Zimmer failed the first test, and had to work to maintain a C in the class. "[After the first test] I just spent hours studying and asked the TA lots of questions."
"Go to every lecture, take notes and get tutoring or work in groups to help with the class," Stockhoff said. Stockhoff is currently looking at retaking the class since he did not pass it the first time.
NOTE: Thanks to Sudhakar Kudva for drawing this to my attention - http://tinyurl.com/oregonmath