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NWSCC math lab adding up to success
By Jennifer Edwards -
Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Pamela Williams works on a math problem in the math lab at Northwest-Shoals Community College.

MUSCLE SHOALS — Students in math classes at Northwest-Shoals Community College get a personal instructor at no extra cost.

The instructor is in videos designed to teach the math curriculum at a student’s pace in the math lab.

The computer lab doesn’t eliminate the teacher-student interaction, but gives students the opportunity to master math skills at a pace with which they are comfortable, said Crystal Ingle, learning specialist at Northwest-Shoals.

It’s a setup that has generated one success story after another, Ingle said.

Ronnica White, a first-year student at Northwest-Shoals, credits the math lab for her success in math classes in particular, but she said the program has also led to her academic success in other classes.

“Because the math lab has relieved the stress of taking a math course, I have more time to focus on my other classes,” she said. “And if you feel confident in one area, it carries over to other classes.”

Students enrolled in a math lab course have one classroom section with an instructor each week but also are required to spend at least an additional one hour and 15 minutes working in the math lab curriculum each week.

The computer-based system leads students through homework, quizzes and tests — immediately returning results and pointing out mistakes.

“You know immediately if you missed something and the program will give you another similar problem to complete correctly,” White said. “I don’t see how anyone who takes this seriously could be unsuccessful.”

The program has been so successful that other schools visit to figure out the secret.

Since its inception, Wallace State Community College-Hanceville, Bevill State Community College, Atlanta Technical College, Florida Keys Community College, Three Rivers Community College, Pensacola State College and LSU-Eunice campus have all visited the math lab.

Miami-Dade College, the nations largest community college system, plans to visit the math lab during the spring semester, Ingle said.

The program began in 2009 as a quality enhancement plan required for reaccreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Timmy James, associate dean of instructional programs, said that when determining the schools quality enhancement plan, input from faculty, students, community members and administrators all pointed toward improvements in developmental education. James said the school chose to focus particularly on developmental math.

“At that time, math seemed to be the dropping-off point,” James said. “We saw this as a way to lead students to be successful.”

Since its implementation, student averages in the math lab courses have risen 10 to 15 percent, James said.

White, who has a 4.0 GPA at Northwest-Shoals, didn’t come in as a believer in the program. She was “terrified,” she said, of completing a computer-based math course, especially after less-than-stellar math grades in high school.

“After the first lesson, I was convinced I could do it,” she said. “It was like I had my own teacher. I could pause her, rewind her.”

And when that wasn’t enough, the math aides in the lab were there to help.

Ingle said math aids are paid tutors who assist students with work in the lab. They are Northwest-Shoals and University of North Alabama students and members of the math faculty.

“Math builds on itself,” Ingle said. “The program is set up so that you must master one skill before you can move on to the next.

“I ask all of my students ‘If I gave you a road map to success in math, would you follow it?’ ” Ingle said. “This program really is that road map.”

Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or

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