MATH: EAGER: Online Collaborative Problem Solving in Remedial College Mathematics

Principal Investigator: Mark Warschauer
Co-Investigators: Di Xu, Sarah Eichhorn

Funding: National Science Foundation

Duration: 2015-2017


Lower-division mathematics courses are key for success in STEM, yet many entering college students are ill prepared to take these courses. Colleges across the country are experimenting with approaches to remedial mathematics instruction to better prepare students for success with calculus. At the University of California, Irvine and other universities, pre-calculus is offered online, so it can help the broadest number of students prepare for calculus both before and after they arrive on campus. However, low-performing students face challenges with online instruction, which often lacks the kinds of interpersonal interaction that at-risk students benefit from, including opportunities to solve problems together. 

Project Description 

This study will investigate the impact of online collaborative problem solving in remedial college mathematics instruction on learning processes and outcomes. Students in online pre-calculus classes at a major research university will be randomly assigned to one of four groups: three treatment groups that carry out collaborative problem solving using (a) face-to-face discussion, (b) an audio + whiteboard online tool, or (c) an online virtual environment combining audio + whiteboard + avatar-based interaction; or a control group using (d) individual problem solving. Outcome variables will include how students perform on the problem solving, how they engage in the tutorial-based mathematics software before and after problem solving sessions, how they perform on common mid-term and final examinations, whether they persist to enroll in the following calculus course, what grades they earn in the following calculus course, and how their attitudes toward STEM study change based on pre- and post-surveys. The study will be repeated in three different quarters to get a purposely stratified sample of higher- and lower-performing students and those taking regular and more intense summer courses.