Transforming Math Pathways within a University Ecosystem Project Framework

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

Many problems we face today in higher education involve interdependent structures, multiple stakeholders, and often stem from legacy systems that either are working together or are now left siloed. Such problems are wickedly challenging to untangle and require a systems thinking approach. We present an ecosystems framework that paved the way for Math Pathways transformation at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.


Kiran Budhrani is the Director for Personalized and Adaptive Learning at the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
J. Garvey Pyke, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the the Center for Teaching at UNC Charlotte. As part of the leadership team for the School of Professional Studies, his work involves fueling the enrollment growth at the university through online course development, creating high impact student success programs using personalized and adaptive learning, promoting faculty success and scholarly teaching through innovative faculty development programs, and overseeing the provision and support of enterprise academic technologies. Garvey is also an alumnus of OLC's IELOL program (2010) and has remained an active member of this professional community of practice and served as co-director of IELOL 2018 and as a faculty member of IELOL from 2019 - 2022. He has served on various conference committees for OLC Accelerate and has served on the Steering Committee for OLC Innovate.

Extended Abstract

Surviving College Math

Successful completion of math gateway courses is essential to undergraduate students’ progress towards graduation. Common challenges in gateway courses include a lack of alignment to student interests and needs; the narrow focus on procedures and notations rather than practical application and examples; and the lack of personalization or remediation of lessons. An additional challenge is whether math courses in sequence are truly related to student success: for example, does a College Algebra prerequisite actually prepare students for statistics courses or does it merely lengthen time to degree?  All of these challenges have led to trends in high failure rates and equity gaps. In an effort to make math gateway courses more relevant and improve student success rates, the Math Pathways project at UNC Charlotte aims to expand options for students, enabling different paths through their math curriculum, depending on a students' course of study. 

Large Course Redesign Efforts

The Math Pathways project, by nature, is a large course redesign project. When the conversation of a course redesign project begins, a great deal of time is often allotted to course outcomes, student challenges, instructional strategies, and materials selection and faculty development. While much of this work is essential to designing and implementing courses, it is often limited to a course-by-course conversation and rarely transcends to the broader systemic conversation about curriculum pathways and all the support, technology, and human resources that influences course success. 

Ecosystems Framework

“A systems approach is the secret of successful practice” (Moore and Kearsley, 2012, p. 9) and systems thinking helps identify different levels of complexity. This type of thinking drove us to engage in systemic planning and draw an ecosystem framework to create a shared vision among leaders, administrators, and project stakeholders. 

In this presentation, attendees will be able to identify complex strategies involved in the systemic planning of the the Math Pathways project with an ecosystem framework: 

  1. Stakeholder Groups: Buy-In, Mindset, Ownership, and Cultural Change

  2. Project Pillars and Values

  3. Curriculum Pathways, Prerequisites, and Placement Requirements 

  4. Faculty Engagement and Professional Development   

  5. Course Redesign, Piloting, Scaling, and Evaluation

  6. Student Support and Engagement 

  7. Project Staffing and Resource Allocation  

Engagement Strategies

We will do two rounds of “Two-way Q&A,” once after the Large Course Redesign discussion and once after the Ecosystems discussion:

  1. We will ask questions of the attendees, focusing on major concepts where their expertise could inform our processes, such as: 

    • Provide Suggestions on How to Handle Different Faculty Personas & Stakeholder Personas 

    • Suggested Feedback, Improvements, and Considerations

  2. Attendees will be prompted to ask us questions about our project, processes, and approach. 

Our experience is that Accelerate attendees have a lot to contribute to one another’s work in this kind of format.  We will also explicitly offer attendees follow-up opportunities for networking or to learn more about how to get involved in this kind of work at their home institutions