Integrating Developmental & Introductory Math at Columbus State University

A Modular Approach Encourages Student Progress & Continuity in the Curriculum

(Photo courtesy of Columbus State University)

One of the first things students do when they are admitted into a new degree program is take a placement test. And how they do on the placement test determines whether they need to enroll in remedial coursework before they can start earning credits in college-level courses.

Given the poor stats on the success rates of students who start their college careers in developmental education, the placement test is one of the highest of the high-stakes tests out there.

But what if the placement test was integrated into the first required college-level course, and instead of taking the complete test in one sitting, students took it in smaller chunks where the material on the placement test was broken into three parts? And what if students who pass the first part of the test could immediately take the next part? And the students who don’t pass the first part could spend time learning (or re-learning) the material and then take it again?

And, what if, once students pass all three parts—with or without instructional support, they seamlessly move right into the content of the college-level course?

In this scenario, students wouldn’t have to take a full course of remedial material if they didn’t need it, and they wouldn’t need to wait for the next semester to begin before they started working on college-level material and starting their journey to degree completion.

This is precisely what Columbus State University’s breakthrough model program, Degreein3, has done with its introductory math course called math modeling. Degreein3 was developed in partnership with the University System of Georgia.

The course, as described in Next Gen Tools: Degreein3 Math Modeling, is broken into seven modules.

  • The first three modules address material from two traditional remedial math classes. If students pass a pre-test at the start of each of those three modules, they can move on to the next module. Otherwise they must complete the lessons and pass the module’s associated post-test before they can move on to the next module.
  • The last four modules address the college-level portion of the course and there is no option to bypass the lessons, assessments, and proctored tests through the pre-test.

Degreein3 has removed the high-stakes barrier to making progress toward a degree that a placement test poses, while simultaneously ensuring that students have the background knowledge and skills to be successful in college-level learning. As described in the Next Gen Tools brief:

“Keeping the pre-college and college-level math concepts together in one course enables continuity of curriculum, and helps prevent students from forgetting precollege concepts over time until they enroll in the college-level course.”

The modular approach may be catching on. Last week, MIT released a recommendation, among a set of 16, from its Task Force on the Future of MIT Education that encourages adding greater modularity to the curriculum. The final report states:

“Much like a playlist on iTunes, a student could pick and choose the elements of a calculus or a biology course offered across the edX platform to meet his or her needs, but for most effective learning, modular units must be integrated into the whole. Thus, while the effort to study and complete a module may be more accessible, the effort to integrate the information into a complete class remains significant but may be facilitated by incremental learning.”

The two-page brief on CSU’s Math Modeling course dives into other benefits—such as allowing students up to three sessions (each session is seven weeks) to complete all seven modules—and the challenges—such as the impact of federal financial aid requirements on the design of the course. The brief also includes flow charts of the first year course sequence for the degree program and for the Math Modeling course’s modules.


The ongoing Next Gen Tools series describes the innovations that breakthrough model developers—in K-12 and higher ed—need to create in order to make their completely redesigned academic and organizational models function effectively. View all published briefs in the series in the EDUCAUSE library.

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