Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus - Phase I

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This project will enable us to identify what works in college calculus instruction, to understand why it works, and to disseminate this information to improve student success in calculus throughout the United States. Phase I of the study is a large-scale survey based on a stratified random sample of calculus programs; Phase II involves in-depth case study analysis of eight highly successful programs in a variety of types of colleges.


Phase I will survey approximately 600 2- and 4-year undergraduate programs across all types of institutions. Phase II will select two institutions of each of the following four types: 2-year colleges, small undergraduate colleges, mid-sized comprehensive universities, large public research universities.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is cross-sectional and comparative and is designed to generate research which is descriptive (case study, observational) and associative and/or correlational (statistical modeling based on survey data). This project collects original data using: assessments of learning and achievement tests; personal observation; online self-completion questionnaires; face-to-face structured and semi-structured interviews; and focus groups.

For the Phase I survey, data will be mapped to metrics so that multiple linear regression and its variants can be applied. Propensity matching will be employed to even out the differences between, for example, those who did and those who did not study AP Calculus in high school. For Phase II, we will employ pattern matching to compare rival hypotheses regarding explanations of the observations, explanation building through iterative construction of a narrative that explains student success, and cross-case synthesis, comparing narratives across different institutions.


Findings will be added as they become available.

Publications & Presentations: 

David M. Bressoud. 2009. MAA to Probe Calculus I. MAA Focus. vol 29, no. 4, August/September, page 7. www.maa.pubs/augsept09pg7.pdf

David M. Bressoud. 2009. MAA to Probe Calculus I. Launchings column for July.

Other Products: 

In addition to the publications that describe the findings of this research, there will be a publication of the Mathematical Association of America targeted to departments of mathematics describing what works, why it works, and how it might be implemented at different types of institutions. There will also be workshops to disseminate this information and provide networked support for those who wish to implement the ideas that work.