Tag Archives: mastery


Welcome to Martin Buck’s blog.

photo of Martn Buck
Martin Buck

Here you will find postings I have made about different professional and schedule development activities I have been involved in over my recent time as a college math instructor at Camosun College. You will also find posts at my Google Plus account. See below for a link to that.

I have been an instructor at Camosun College since 1987. In that time I have been an active participant in and evaluator of the use of educational technology to help faculty, staff and students gain digital literacy skills.

In 1995 as an outcome of my master’s degree, I began Learning Webs, a project to develop and deliver online instructional materials for adult upgrading students. These are currently being delivered both online and in a blended mode in partnership with local community learning centres.

My passion is helping create a ” . . . world made transparent by true communications webs (Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, 1971, p. 157).”

In my spare time, I like to read fiction and biographies as well as restore vehicles. I recently built a shop to facilitate that passion. You can read about the summer 2011 project at http://www.carbucks.ca/?p=11. Next up is an 83 Honda Magna V65. At the time it was claimed to be the world’s fastest production motorcycle. While I still have a need for speed, that bike is now up for sale, as I has been sold so I can focus on more practical machines. In that vein, I also have two Triumph TR8s, an ’80 that needs a new water pump and paint job and an ’82 that is in ‘collector plate’ condition.

Historical Context of the Problem

In the last decades of the second millennium the world has experienced significant transformation. Few sectors of North American society have remained unscathed by the movement from a territorial, industrial order to a global information community. In Adults as learners, Cross (1986, p. ix) writes,

Lifelong learning is not a privilege or a right; it is simply a necessity for anyone, young or old, who must live with the escalating pace of change — in the family, on the job, in the community, and in the world-wide society.

With the corresponding increase in world wide competition, industry has had to resort to greater and greater automation to increase production and cut the largest expense item — employee wages.

A Vancouver Island, British Columbia example will serve to illustrate the effects of the information age on blue collar workers. Just north of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada is the town of Chemainus. For most of this century Chemainus has been a lumber mill town. In the early 1980’s the mill, which employed over 600 workers, was closed. When a new, more highly automated one opened up a year later, just over a hundred workers were required to produce the same amount of lumber. Of those hired for the new mill, few were original employees. The new workers required skills in team building and information technology, skills that were not called for in the old mill but critical to productivity in the new. The major employment in the town is now in the tourism industry that sprang up around the murals the town put up to celebrate its logging industry past.

Blue collar workers are not the only ones experiencing the discomfort associated with change. More recently middle managers have experienced similar pressures. Traditionally this sector has been charged with managing the information flow to the executive decision makers. However, today’s electronic information technology allows company operating officers direct, personal access to essential data. In Victoria, “(t)he Bank of Montreal has fired up to 24 employees who the bank said couldn’t keep up with the changing banking industry (Helm, 1995, September 12, p. B3)”. Thus displaced white collar workers must also find other employment. Typically this new employment is in some form of small business which, as the engine of the new economy, is providing the majority of new jobs (Times-Colonist, 1994, p. B11). These shifts in employment and related job security were confirmed by Canada’s Minister of Human Resources, Lloyd Axworthy. Two decades ago a student could complete university and step into a job that promised job security. Now, according Axworthy (1995), today’s graduates have far more difficulty. Even those professionals with job security such as lawyers, doctors and teachers are faced with knowledge explosion problems brought about by technology. According to the encyclopedia Encarta ’94 (1994), historians have observed this phenomenon before.

Many historians of science argue not only that technology is an essential condition of advanced, industrial civilization but also that the rate of technological change has developed its own momentum in recent centuries. Innovations now seem to appear at a rate that increases geometrically, without respect to geographical limits or political systems. These innovations tend to transform traditional cultural systems, frequently with unexpected social consequences. Thus technology can be conceived as both a creative and a destructive process.

At the turn of the last century the application of creative industrial paradigms to schooling helped humans make the transition from the agrarian age. Perhaps information age paradigms can help educators facilitate this current transition.

Those actively involved in research in adult education, like Patricia Cross (1986), recognize that transformations brought about by new technologies have brought major social and political changes to the work force.

The explosion of knowledge means that almost all professionals are self-directed learners; but most are also spending increasing amounts of time in a wide variety of organized learning activities.

The American Society for Training and Development estimates that by the end of this decade, 75 percent of the work force will need retraining (Twigg, 1994). Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs are experiencing the increasing effects of this transformation. Adults, many ill-equipped to be the life long learners today’s economy demands, are returning to school in increasing numbers. What has caused this migration? In most cases these students come with an educational background that has not prepared them to be the lifelong learners today’s world demands.

The modern education system for the masses is a relatively recent innovation, the origin of which can be traced to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today’s public schooling is a product of the industrial revolution. In the previous agrarian age most learners received whatever education they needed in the home, or workplace. Fathers passed on their skills to their sons, mothers to their daughters. Those who desired a more formal education either paid for a tutor or joined the church. The beginning of the twentieth century brought the industrial age to Canada. With it came factories and, by necessity, the public school system. Fathers first, and then mothers, began working outside the home often in a highly structured and specialized environment. The family unit gave way in importance to the factory unit, complete with a supervising foreman. What was to be done with the children?

North American and western world societies developed the factory model of schooling based on the division of labour model that made industrialization so efficient and successful. Each teacher, like a factory foreman, was responsible for supervising a group of students. Just as in the industrial age factory, there were bells, buzzers and clocks to tell the student-workers when to begin and end their day. Again, just as in the factory model, obedience to the foreman was critical. Thanks to the melding of citizens schooled in this industrial age manner with industrial age technology, western society prospered. Thus, for as long as the world remained in the industrial age, the factory model served society well. Much of this system remains in place in today’s schools. However, with the advent of the information age, increasing criticisms of the factory model of schooling began to be heard.

Next – – Current Context of the Problem


The last presentation I attended at the Learning College Summit 2010 was probably the best of the bunch. In a conference year marked by a paucity of faculty practioners, Prof. Betty Frost’s presentation on Jackson State Community College’s (Tennessee) Bellwether Award winning SMART (Developmental) Math program was inspiring. SMART stands for Survive Master Achieve Review Transfer. Camosun members of the department formerly known as ABE may find some remarkable similarities to our own late and lamented Open Lab at Interurban.

SMART Math’s goals are very similar to our own developmental math goals here at Camosun:

  • Improve Student Success
  • Increase Learning
  • Prepare students for career and educational goals – not just remediate high school deficiencies

Like our old math lab, the SMART Learning Environment incorporates two class sections of 30 each into a large learning centre. They are open six days a week as well as four evenings and staffed by instructors, professional tutors (possibly equivalent to our instructional assistants?) and student tutors. As MyMathLab/MathXL plays a key part in the instructional process, the centre is equipped with 76 computer stations, including an area set aside for proctored testing.

Before the ‘redesign’, they taught Basic Math through Intermediate Algebra in traditional classrooms. Students had to complete all three courses before enrolling in certain college level courses. Each instructor designed their own course materials and the class time was inflexible. If a student failed to complete in one term, they had to start over the next term. The pass rate was 42%.

The SMART Math objectives are based on mastery of competencies, not just self-paced. It provides more frequent opportunities for success with accommodation of learning styles, on-demand individual assistance and immediate feedback on tests and homework all offered in an environment that provides opportunities to progress more quickly (or slowly). The three original courses have been modularized with multiple exit options to fit individual student requirements based on educational and career goals. As a result, there are more frequent opportunities for successful completion.

Modularization was accomplished by separating the three traditional courses into 12 modules. Procedures were set up to provide students with multi-exit options based on their career choices. Rather than have students register for each separate module, three ‘shell’ courses were set up with a student completing four modules in each. Their grade for each course was the average of their four highest module scores. Students needing to complete more modules could register in a fourth shell course. Roles have changed for faculty. They are now facilitators and evaluators of student learning. As well as guiding each student’s study through developmental math, they also lead small group instruction on difficult topics.

New students begin with a pre-test on Module 1 which requires 80% percent mastery to move on. If they score less than 80%, they complete the MathXL assigned homework, a practice test and then a post-test. They require 80% mastery to move from one homework assignment to the next. Seventy-five percent mastery is required on the proctored post-test.

The program has been successful. Mean post-test scores have increased by up to 20% over traditional instructional approaches. More importantly the overall success rate has increased by 45% and overall retention by 14%. Cost savings have come to both the students and the college. Students can complete developmental math requirement in one term and also adjust their schedule to suit family and work commitments. In addition to reducing college costs per student by over 20%, college enrollment numbers have increased as students are now able to more readily meet course prerequisites for credit courses.

The model is certainly applicable to our developmental math courses at Camosun. While more exploration is needed on how this model could be adapted for our own essential skills agenda, it is certainly a way to respond to identified community partner learning needs.