Step into the Mathematics Interactive Learning Environment (MILE) on a given day, and you are greeted with the muted hush of students’ pencils scratching on paper as they work to solve Algebra (Math 1111) and Pre-Calculus (1113) problems before entering their answers online.The MILE works hand in hand with a program called MathLab, which allow professors to assign online homework and quizzes for students to complete by a set deadline. Student spend a mandatory three hours sitting in the lab and attend one 50 minute class per week, a combination which is meant to provide students with the ability to learn independently while maintaining the opportunity for one on one assistance. However, the question comes to mind, whether the required hours are the most effective method of ensuring students grasp the material.
I believe that the MILE should remain as a resource for students to use, but not as a required chore. The hours spent in the lab could be utilized for more beneficial purposes, such as studying for exams, creating study groups to review the material in a more relaxed atmosphere. This change might aid the lab’s popularity and usefulness, allowing students to view the MILE for the benefits it offers, rather than merely a location of idleness.
The official rules and policies of the MILE state that “You are expected to be doing only your Math 1111/1113 work or your math-related activities (such as scheduling a test or watching a math video) while you are in the lab”, yet many students do not take this into account, instead spending the time on Facebook or YouTube, deftly trying to avoid the gaze of the lab assistants who walk around the lab in a manner reminiscent of prison guards, presumably there to help students with questions, but are more often seen reprimanding students who are unlucky enough to get caught in the act.
However, who can blame those students? Three hours a week is a long time to spend sitting down in front of a computer doing nothing but math homework is extremely tiring, not to mention counterproductive. Regardless of the mandatory hours, the assignments are due, and while the required hours might give students enough time to finish, the rest of the time could be used doing work for other classes.
Math 1111 and 1113 are two of the earlier math courses that are used to set a solid foundation for upper-level math courses, and understandably, the point of those three hours is that the same amount time would be spent (approximately) in class, but the system leaves the teaching mainly to the computer. University teaching is just as much about interacting with the professor as it is about memorizing concepts for a test, and the mandatory time having information spoon fed to us by a computer takes away from that experience. Many students end up memorizing, but not understanding the concepts, leaving them unprepared for more advanced math classes.
Many people have different learning styles. It doesn’t seem fair to force people to complete most of their work in a certain environment- just because it works well for some people does not mean it is the best choice for everyone. In fact, the eerie silence enforced in there actually creeps me out a bit. I prefer to do my work in the comfort of my own home, where I can concentrate on the task at hand- no one breathing on my neck as I strive to complete the assignment at hand. Yet, Math 1111 (Algebra) professor Nilay Manzagol refutes this point, explaining that “We have many different instructors in the lab, PhD and Masters students as well as professors, so it is easy for students to ask around for help from different teacher, all of whom has different learning styles. After a couple of times, you find someone whose teaching style works for you.”
Oftentimes students have jobs as well as classes and must study at night, but the MILE is not a 24/7 facility, making for a rush of individuals attempting to come in and finish off their hours on Fridays, making for cramped quarters and a lack of computers. Others may find the lab atmosphere helpful, but the point remains that the MILE does not teach in a way conducive to learning, but rather creates a standard so that your ability to pass the class is based on the capability to learn in a specific way.
Either way, students must complete the homework and quizzes given online, so for them, the only benefit of the MILE would be going in and asking questions about concepts or work given. The online homework itself has options for you to view examples and how-to’s, making it easy to learn at home, or from any location. While the MILE is a great location for assistance, it is not necessary to attend in order to understand the course material.
However, those who believe that taking online courses versus sitting in the MILE might want to think twice. According to Professor Manzagol, students taking the hybrid course end up with a higher average at the end of the semester: “Online students’ grades tend to drop after the first or second exam, because most of them fail to understand that online classes require a very strong sense of time management. They wait until the last day to turn in their assignments, and with some of the concepts being a little difficult to understand without an in-class instructor, students often end up falling behind”.
The good thing is that the Math Department at GSU is eager to hear feedback regarding the program, since they are still working out some of the kinks. As Professor Manzagol explained, “We are still in pilot mode, since we’ve only been working since 2008, and the Math Department is really trying to listen to their students,” as shown by the few changes made this semester for certain courses, increasing lecture time and cutting down on the hours sitting in the lab. At this point, the best thing that students can do is to let their instructors know how they feel about the MILE, and what improvements they would like to see.