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Western Oklahoma Serves Up Blended Math

At Western Oklahoma State College, students in a single classroom, with one instructor present, can be taking either of two introductory algebra classes. That's just one of the advantages the college has discovered in offering computerized online instruction to augment several of its developmental mathematics courses.

The rural college has hundreds of distance learners, many of whom are serving in the armed forces or are adult learners working on changing careers.

According to math instructor Larry Huntzinger, the "stacked" class format allows the college to offer more choices to students, keeps classes fuller, and makes better use of faculty. Western Oklahoma, a two-year institution serving students in Southwestern Oklahoma and the surrounding area, is able to do that with software from Plato Learning called Academic Systems Algebra. The software uses animation, graphics, audio, video, and other tools to present math concepts in an online learning environment that can be accessed at any time via an Internet connection.

Huntzinger said he likes the software for other reasons as well. For one thing, it makes what is traditionally a tough subject for many students--basic algebra--much more accessible. Not only does the Academic Systems Algebra software offer another method of learning and reviewing for students who don't catch concepts the first time around in class, the self-paced instruction also lets different kinds of learners grasp math concepts at their own pace. Students with a computer and Internet access can use their registration codes to access Plato lessons online over the Internet or from the college's servers at any time, day or night.

Western Oklahoma began using Plato's Interactive Mathematics package years ago and has had great success; because of that, the college recently adopted the new Academic Systems Algebra into its curriculum.

Exploring linear systems in Plato's Academic Systems software.

The Plato software gives the rural college flexibility in how it offers courses to its 1,500 undergraduates. Basic algebra classes--a prerequisite for many degrees--are offered in three formats, each of which includes some use of the Academic Systems Algebra. Students can enroll in traditional on campus courses, in which the learning software is used to augment face to face instruction; they can take a blended course in which some concepts are taught online-only via the Plato system and some in a lab on campus; or, in a new offering, they can elect to take a self-directed, Internet-based class that uses the Plato product (with an instructor available only as needed).

Those choices, Huntzinger said, allow some students using the Plato system to wrap up more than one required math course per semester.

"Students who really work at it can complete a 16-week class in 12 weeks," he said.

Some students have finished the most basic math class in just a few weeks, for example, allowing them to take a second required math course during the same semester and moving them that much faster through the four basic math courses required for graduation.

In Western Oklahoma State classes in which the Plato system is used for instruction, the software is available to each student individually at a computer in class; Huntzinger then roams the classroom to answer questions but otherwise lets the software do the teaching.

Another advantage of the system, Huntzinger said, is how well it caters to the schedules of students, some of whom work, have families, or are in the military, and thus may unavoidably miss a lecture. "If they miss my class, they've missed the whole 50-minute lecture," he said. But with the Web-based tools, students can make up a missed class by reviewing the materials online literally anywhere in the world at their convenience.

The Plato system is used at Western Oklahoma for students taking beginning, intermediate, and college algebra; students typically spend about four hours a week on the software, including class time.

Huntzinger, who has taught algebra for years, said he appreciates the ability to easily remove content from the Academic Systems Algebra package or to rearrange the order. When students recently struggled to work out volume and area problems, he created a slide presentation explaining the concepts and dropped it into the Academic Systems lesson that dealt with the geometry formulas they were having trouble with. That ability to customize the software, Huntzinger said, is "one of the unique things about the program."

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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