Improving Undergraduate Math with ALEKS

ALEKS, a math learning environment with adaptive questions powered by AI and machine learning, is embedded in the first four weeks of a first-year math for economics course to improve fundamental math skills; student performance on ALEKS is compared with performance during the remainder of the course; Robert McKeown has found that students self-reported that their time on ALEKS increased their self-confidence, understanding, and the likelihood that they would continue in a math-based discipline.

First-year students often struggle when they lack a strong foundation in precalculus maths. Instructors have frequently observed students unable to divide fractions, manipulate logarithms, or answer simple word problems. Without these skills, students are effectively blocked from many courses in economics, business, and math. To develop a strong foundation for future learning, we integrated McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS, an online learning environment, into the first four weeks of a first-year mathematics for economics course. ALEKS uses an AI tutor to diagnose the knowledge of each student in more than 300 pre-calculus topics. The AI then creates individualized learning paths that guides students toward mastery. Our study considers students enrolled in a first-year mathematics for economics course at a research university in Ontario, Canada. During the first four weeks of class, students completed quizzes, formative assessments, and practice problems on ALEKS. After these four weeks, they wrote a summative assessment on ALEKS. Students self-reported that their time on ALEKS increased their self-confidence, understanding, and the likelihood that they would continue in a math-based discipline. We then compared student activity on ALEKS with their performance in the remainder of the course which focused on calculus. We found a positive and statistically significant correlation between activity on ALEKS and performance in calculus for economics. Our intervention is scalable, cost-effective, and can be implemented in face-to-face, online, or blended learning environments. Our study contributes to understanding how technology can improve math education.

Robert J. McKeown, PhD, CFA
Robert J. McKeown, PhD, CFA
Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream

Academic Director, Student Numeracy Assistance Centre