By Leah Rineck, Sr. Lecturer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Recently I had a student that was taking my Intermediate Algebra course for the third time. The first time he didn’t make it past the first test and dropped the class. The second time, as he proudly told me “I earned my F,” he made it to the final but had stopped learning early in the semester because he was so confused.

This student, Jim (name changed), is a veteran. He has PTSD and math anxiety. At the beginning of the semester Jim was convinced that he was incapable of learning the math that was necessary for him to take his nursing courses. Luckily for him this was the first semester our school was piloting ALEKS with a group work approach in our Intermediate Algebra courses.

In our pilot, students used ALEKS as a weekly homework system that was worth 10% of the final grade. ALEKS was set up with weekly goals that corresponded directly to what was being taught in the classroom that week. The ultimate goal was for students to reach 100% in the ALEKS Pie by the time they took the final.

Jim came to class the first day and sat in the front row. He logged into ALEKS right away and got to work. His ALEKS Initial Assessment score was below where he should have been for that course. He had many gaps to fill before he was able to move on. After he took his assessment, he emailed me and complained. I had him come see me in my office to discuss the results. I explained that he was missing the prerequisite knowledge needed, but because we are using ALEKS he can fill in those gaps and move ahead. He was not excited at the idea that he would have to put in extra work, but he knew deep down that he needed it. He really wanted to go into nursing and needed this class to move forward.

Jim came to my office hours on a regular basis. He kept up with every single ALEKS assignment. He emailed me on weekends, even if it was sometimes to complain about ALEKS. But he ended up putting in about double the amount of time a typical student would put into an ALEKS course. Jim told me quite a few times “I love ALEKS because it makes me learn the topics, but I hate ALEKS because it makes me learn the topics.” Just like most students, he got frustrated when he had to re-learn topics after assessments. But unlike most students, he saw the incredible benefit. He was finally able to understand the math.

By the end of the semester Jim was caught up, because he was able to use ALEKS to fill in the gaps. The two times he had tried the class without ALEKS, he didn’t know where his gaps were and so he just kept spinning his wheels.

But now when new ideas were presented in class, he didn’t shy away from them and say “I am never going to learn this.” Instead he contributed to the class discussion. Jim ended up earning an A for the course, and came out of the class really knowing how to do the math. He could not have done it without ALEKS.