Using Online Courses to Expand Access to Algebra I: Research and Discussion
|May 17, 2012|
Boston, MA – As small, rural schools increasingly turn to online courses to expand their offerings to students, teachers and administrators want to know whether research shows that online instruction is effective. Two new studies funded by the Institute for Education Sciences explore the impact of an online Algebra I course on student achievement. While the studies tested different interventions with different populations of students, both found that an online course could be effective at helping students learn Algebra.
“What we hope these two studies will do is provide a foundation for answering some of the impact questions and then looking forward to the implementation questions,” said Kirk Walters, a coauthor of both studies and the researcher for REL-NEI’s Northeast Rural Districts Research Alliance, which hosted this Bridge Webinar on the studies. “We’re learning a lot not just about [these courses’] impact, their effectiveness, but also what it means to implement a specific online course, in terms of what the teachers do, what the proctors do, and so forth.”
Both studies examined online Algebra I courses that were asynchronous, which means that students and their virtual teachers weren’t online at the same time. Students were supported by an onsite proctor or teacher employed by their school.
The first study, “Access to Algebra I: The Effects of Online Mathematics for Grade 8 Students,” was conducted by REL-NEI in 68 mostly rural schools in Maine and Vermont from 2008 to 2010 and published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in December 2011. It found that offering an online Algebra I course to “algebra-ready” eighth-graders whose schools did not typically offer the course had a positive affect on the students’ algebra achievement and their chances of participating in an advanced math course-taking sequence in high school.
The second study, “Assessing the Efficacy of Online Credit Recovery in Algebra I for At-Risk Ninth Graders,” examines the affect of offering an online Algebra I course in the summer after the ninth grade as a credit recovery option for first-time ninth-graders who failed the second semester of Algebra I. Preliminary findings after the first summer (2011) show that students who took the online course recovered their credits at the same rate and scored similarly on the end-of-course assessment as students who took a face-to-face summer Algebra I course.
A poll during the webinar showed that 60 percent of participants’ schools currently offer online courses, similar to new national figures showing 55 percent of U.S. districts report using some type of technology-based distance learning for students.
“Stakeholders in the Northeast and Islands Region and members of the Northeast Rural Districts Research Alliance are interested in access to programs that help prepare students to be college and career ready, with a particular focus around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics topics,” said Alliance Co-Facilitator Pamela Buffington. “Online courses are one way rural districts can increase opportunities for their students to prepare for STEM careers.”
Webinar participants expressed a particular interest in learning details about the implementation and monitoring of the online Algebra I courses, and their questions included:
- What common pitfalls can be avoided in using online courses to expand access?
- Was student feedback collected in either of these studies on how they felt about the online courses?
- Did any of the researchers disaggregate results by variation in course usage?
- I’ve had parents say that eighth-graders are too young/immature to learn, in a school kind of way, online. Your thoughts?
Additional presenters included:
- Jessica Heppen, REL-NEI Senior Partner and Co-Principal Investigator of the “Access to Algebra I” and “Online Credit Recovery in Algebra I” studies; and
- Peggy Clements, Co-Principal Investigator of the “Access to Algebra I” study.