The math emporium is a lab at the University of Texas at Arlington created by The National Center for Academic Transformation, a nonprofit organization that creates experimental, technology-focused learning environments for institutions. Arlington will use the lab to dramatically pivot algebra instruction: one third of class time will be spent in a traditional classroom setting and the remainder of class will be spent in the math emporium where students can work on math problems at their own pace using the lab’s 102 computers. When instructors are not in the lab for their scheduled class times, there are always at least four graduate students available in the lab to help students and answer questions whenever the lab is open.
The math emporium focuses on the principle that we learn by doing. U.T. Arlington recognizes that it takes students varying lengths of time to complete algebra problems. The math emporium model allows students to receive individual attention from their instructor and graduate students during class time. This arrangement can reduce costs by allowing more students to enroll in a class. The National Center for Academic Transformation claims that similar restructuring efforts have, "increased the percentage of students successfully completing a college-level math course by 25 percent on average while reducing the cost of instruction by 37 percent." Math is a very challenging subject for many students and rethinking traditional teaching methods may be just what students need to succeed in algebra.
Some faculty members at Arlington have expressed concern about student motivation in the lab. Working on math problems individually requires students to be self-motivated and focused on problems in the midst of distractions from technology and other students. Moreover, the initial cost of building a lab and training instructors might be daunting for an institution unsure about the effectiveness of flipped classroom models.
The flipped model may have many benefits, but cutting two-thirds of traditional class time is a bold move for universities to make. The math emporium is shifting the focus of instruction from the professor to a computer. This shift should be approached with caution, but if the math emporium at U.T. Arlington and programs like it are successful they have the potential to positively impact the cost and reach of education. The increased flexibility and high yield promised by the flipping movement could make education more efficient for all learners by putting the pace of instruction in the hands of students and helping teachers allocate their assistance over a greater number of students. The math emporium may encourage other universities to move away from traditional teaching models and experiment with restructuring courses to be uniquely challenging for each student.
The Bottom Line:
The math emporium is using technology to reformat classes while retaining and focusing in-person support from teachers.
Image: Logo (via University of Texas Arlington)