Teaching & Learning

CEHS Researchers: Math Digital Learning Programs Make a Difference

When the state of Utah had the chance to test-drive some math digital learning programs earlier in the school year, the Active Learning Lab at Utah State University began evaluating the results.

And so far, it’s looking like digital learning programs designed to give students individual math instruction are helpful.

Several vendors donated their products to the STEM Action Center of Utah, which were then used in a pilot program by 5,722 students in 46 selected Utah schools.

The researchers from the Active Learning Lab started tracking and analyzing the results among students who used the new products. Preliminary numbers became available earlier this month.

Active Learning Lab Associate Director Sarah Brasiel presented the team’s findings to the Utah Legislature. Students using ALEKS, Successmaker and Math 180 made as much progress as is normally expected in a whole year, according to the report. ST Math turned in only slightly lower results. Grade 10 students using EdReady made five times the progress expected.

Students who used Think Through Math did not experience the same gains, but the researchers did find that people who used it liked it.

“Due to positive teacher and student responses to the use of Think Through Math, it is important to wait to draw conclusions about its effectiveness until the state assessment results are available,” the paper recommended.

The results come with some clarifications. The Math 180 and Ed Ready data didn’t include a control group, and gains made by students may be unrelated to the curriculum used. Different methodologies were used to study some of the curricula, due to differing data sets and student assessment methods.

When all the limitations were taken together, ALEKS was the only products where a statistically significant difference was found (meaning students who used it outperformed those who did not). The study covers only a short period of time, so the data will be understood better at the end of the year assessment, Brasiel said.

Two products new to Utah in 2012-13 were also assessed using data from last school year. Significant differences were found for Grade 8 students who used ConnectEd and Mathia digital learning programs compared to similar students who did not.

The study represents a rare opportunity to independently review and evaluate math digital learning programs. Data on the effectiveness of a curriculum isn’t always easy to find, said Taylor Martin, the Active Learning Lab’s director.

The evaluation by the Active Learning Lab will help educators to make decisions based on how the digital learning program performs. What’s more, the pilot allowed for feedback from students and teachers, so that people who select curricula can know not only what worked according to numbers, but also what teachers liked.

“This is the kind of practice that’s being called for across the nation,” Brasiel said.

The Utah Legislature voted to give the STEM Action Center $20 million in funding when it approved HB 150. The bill currently awaits Gov. Herbert’s signature.

The Active Learning Lab is housed in the Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences Department within the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at USU.

Related links:

Contact: Sarah Brasiel, sarah.brasiel@usu.edu

Writer: JoLynne Lyon, (435) 797-1463, jolynne.lyon@usu.edu

USU President Stan Albrecht and faculty member Sarah Brasiel at the Utah capitol

Sarah Brasiel with USU President Stan Albrecht at the Utah capitol building. Brasiel presented research findings from USU's Active Learning Lab to state legislators.


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