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U Phoenix E-Textbook Pilot Improves Adult Math Engagement

A pilot at the University of Phoenix found that a well-designed interactive textbook can help people stick with their math studies. The university worked with zyBooks from John Wiley & Sons in a two-course undergraduate sequence on quantitative reasoning.

The pilot began in October 2019 and was transitioned into full implementation beginning in December 2019. The adoption involved 800-plus adult learners with an average age in the mid-30s.

ZyBooks are applications that replace traditional textbooks with a combination of interactive tools, animations, questions integrated into the content and, for some subjects, embedded coding tools, to increase student engagement in STEM subjects.

The quantitative reasoning course is intended to teach students how to apply advanced reasoning skills to solve real-world problems. To reduce math anxiety and make the material more relatable, the university's College of General Studies worked with zyBooks to reconceptualize the curriculum.

During the pilot, course withdrawal and failure percentages decreased and performance on both the midterm and final exams was markedly improved. The results also showed increased persistence, with nearly half of students continuing their math curriculum. In addition, students reported they felt more engaged with the subject matter and less stressed, while faculty noted a noticeable improvement in student attitudes.

"You could see them using math and liking it. It was just really cool to see," said Jacquelyn Kelly, associate dean of the college, in a statement. The way the concepts are introduced and grouped makes learning feel more intuitive and natural."

Prior to the pilot course, students often said in end-of-course surveys that they were "scared," "nervous" or "dreading" general education math courses. But feedback quickly changed once the new pathways were introduced. Students involved in the pilot left remarks like, "I am no longer scared of math, " "I use math a lot more than I realized," and "I feel like I am being set up to succeed."

"These are students who make decisions using math every day that matter, like choosing health insurance plans and deciding on the best loan to refinance their home. This is math in action, and these kinds of real-life problems use quantitative reasoning to determine the solution, " Kelly said. "Changing math instruction to better reflect their lives can help students perform better in class, improving their chances significantly of staying in college and can improve their lives in other ways."

"This pathway pilot is an example of how curriculum developers can work with higher education to holistically and authentically support students," Kelly noted.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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