Nineteen incoming students got a taste of the Yale experience online this summer, working with a professor and a team of student coaches in order to better prepare themselves for the college’s infamous quantitative reasoning requirement.
The program, Online Experiences for Yale Scholars, is one of the measures Yale has taken as part of a series of recent commitments Yale made to the White House. At a conference for higher education held in Washington D.C. in January, which included over a hundred participating institutions, the University made a five-part pledge to continue aiding high-achieving, low-income students. For this summer’s pilot edition of ONEXYS, a small group of students was selected by the Admissions Office to follow online lectures, interact with tutors via Skype and complete web quizzes.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said ONEXYS was a way for the University to reach out to students hindered by limited resources, particularly those with weak math backgrounds, and ensure that they have the opportunity to succeed in math courses or pursue STEM majors.
“Yale offers a challenging set of freshman classes in the sciences, and we have a requirement that all students take QR courses, so we really wanted to make sure kids were off to the right footing,” Quinlan said. “It’s important to level that playing field for students when they get here.”
Edward O’Neill, senior instructional designer of academic IT solutions, said ONEXYS helps dispel the myth that certain students are locked out of STEM majors due to a lack of math preparation.
ONEXYS, Quinlan said, is the online counterpart to Freshman Scholars at Yale — a program that allows incoming students to study on campus for five weeks during the summer. While FSY is an attractive program to incoming students, he added, it can only be offered to a limited number of people. In addition, many incoming freshmen find themselves unable to spend their summer at Yale.
O’Neill said that ONEXYS is the ideal way to extend the Yale experience to a group of students from as far as 2,000 miles away, while eliminating the costs and challenges of bringing them to campus.
“People work over the summer because they need to earn money to get ready for the fall,” O’Neill said. “[The program] offers convenience, allows the students to still work and becomes more like a toe dip. You’re not completely immersed in the environment, but you’re moving towards it slowly.”
Math professor James Rolf, who spearheaded ONEXYS, said that a way to measure the success of the program would be to evaluate the number of students who participate, set out to enter STEM majors and stick with the major . But access to such data will not be available for another few years. However, Rolf said two of the nineteen did not finish the program.
Rolf added that because the students come from very diverse backgrounds and have different commitments, it is difficult to create a program that perfectly suits everyone’s needs.
“You have students coming from all different sorts of places,” Rolf said. “Some have had calculus, some have not; some are native English speakers, some are not; and all of a sudden they’re dumped in the same pot, and it’s not a for-credit course, and you probably have a job, and you want to go on vacation, and you only have five or six weeks.”
Still, Rolf said he thinks the module — which currently covers about a quarter to a third of a traditional pre-calculus course — can be useful to all students, regardless of their level of experience with the subject.
Feedback from the participants indicated that they appreciated the program’s deadlines for completing lessons and quizzes, because it encouraged them to finish the problems and learn the information in a timely manner, O’Neill said. He added that the students said interactions with student coaches were the program’s greatest strength.
“The fact that there’s a current Yale student who’s coaching you and meeting with you on Skype, that’s really powerful,” O’Neill said. “And when we asked students, they said that was one of the most helpful things.”
Kenneth Jackson ’16, student coach for ONEXYS, said he thinks the student he assisted grasped the material, judging from the quiz grades she received and the in-depth questions she asked. But there are no official grades to prove this, he added.
Despite the unofficial grading, Rolf said participants probably received scores that were significantly lower than the Yale average.
“It’s fair to say that for the most part, the grades the students received on the quizzes were probably not the kind of grades you’d want to get on quizzes when you’re here in a class at Yale,” Rolf said. “But the huge difference of course is that [the module is] not for credit.”
Quinlan said the majority of the students who participated in ONEXYS are now taking one or two QR courses during their first semester at Yale.
Rachel Paris ’17 said that while she did take calculus in high school, when she re-took the class two years later at Yale, she felt uncomfortable with the material. Paris said she would have been interested in participating in an online math program to brush up on her skills before arriving for her freshman year, had it been offered before she enrolled.
Alex Schultz ’17, who also took calculus in high school, said he did not feel like the math classes he took in high school prepared him for college. Although Schultz said is not a STEM major, he would have been interested in ONEXYS had it been offered when he was an incoming student.
“Even in QR classes that are designed for non-science people, I have struggled with the math component,” Schultz said. “Having this extra resource would have been very beneficial.”
Rolf said that future plans to expand ONEXYS include increasing the number of participants to 40 and supplying additional modules, in order to cover the entire pre-calculus syllabus. He said that he would also like the program to be more flexible so that each participant can move at their own pace.
O’Neill said that now that the module has been built and a framework exists, the focus is currently on opportunities for future improvement.
“It’s an academic online program with no grades, supervised by admissions and put together by a team of IT service people and scholars and administrators,” said O’Neill. “We spent a long time planning, and we spent a long time talking about what we should try to achieve, what we could achieve and how to achieve it. Now that everything’s built, we’re talking about what worked and what didn’t.”