Northern Arizona University: Modified math emporium for first-year students

In episode 1 of our e-Literate TV case study on Northern Arizona University, we gave a broad overview of the suite of initiatives (primarily) targeted at helping first-year students amidst the tensions coming from growing enrollments.[1] In episode 2 we covered their advising and student support, including work with IPASS initiative. In this episode we look at their modified math emporium approach leveraging the Lumberjack Mathematics Center.

Math emporia have a mixed reputation, occasionally described as “the place where all the non-math majors are generally sent to virtually teach themselves subjects” or that “we’ve outsourced jobs for professors to a bunch of students on hourly wage”. Yet studies have shown positive results in many cases. Just saying there is an emporium approach doesn’t tell you much – some are run well with plenty of support for students, and some leave students on their own with poor support. So it is useful to see a specific case. How has NAU implemented a math emporium approach, what does it look like, what support is provided, and what are the results? NAU has implemented a modified emporium, and they have invested in a new facility to support this model.

(Video source:

In the NAU case, there is significant investment in the support structure for students – continuing lectures mixed with lab time, trained student coaches, faculty support, and of course self-help options through the software. And Amy Rushall (principal lecturer) provided an interesting comment at the end [lightly edited].

What surprised me was I thought we were just going to put kids in front of computers, and it would be very impersonal. But I find that we actually get a lot of opportunities to work one-on-one with students, and it’s more interactive that I do in a traditional face-to-face class.

In a follow-up post I’ll explore some of the data on student performance in these classes. Do student outcome measures back up the claims that students perform better in the emporium class and subsequent classes compared to traditional math classes? More on that soon.

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  1. Disclosure: Our e-Literate TV series of video case studies and explainer videos is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. []

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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