Using data mining to differentiate instruction in college algebra



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Kansas State University


The main objective of the study is to identify the general characteristics of groups within a typical Studio College Algebra class and then adapt aspects of the course to best suit their needs. In a College Algebra class of 1,200 students, like those at most state funded universities, the greatest obstacle to providing personalized, effective education is the anonymity of the students. Data mining provides a method for describing students by making sense of the large amounts of information they generate. Instructors may then take advantage of this expedient analysis to adjust instruction to meet their students’ needs. Using exam problem grades, attendance points, and homework scores from the first four weeks of a Studio College Algebra class, the researchers were able to identify five distinct clusters of students. Interviews of prototypical students from each group revealed their motivations, level of conceptual understanding, and attitudes about mathematics. The student groups where then given the following descriptive names: Overachievers, Underachievers, Employees, Rote Memorizers, and Sisyphean Strivers. In order to improve placement of incoming students, new student services and student advisors across campus have been given profiles of the student clusters and placement suggestions. Preliminary evidence shows that advisors have been able to effectively identify members of these groups during their consultations and suggest the most appropriate math course for those students. In addition to placement suggestions, several targeted interventions are currently being developed to benefit underperforming groups of students. Each student group reacts differently to various elements of the course and assistance strategies. By identifying students who are likely to struggle within the first month of classes, and the recovery strategy that would be most effective, instructors can intercede in time to improve performance.



Data mining, Math education, Clustering

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Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Mathematics

Major Professor

Andrew G. Bennett