I have to admit that I’ve never been through the Math Emporium. I’d never even heard of it until the Student Government Association heard a presentation on the program by Associate Professor Dan Van Peursem. After hearing his presentation on what Emporium is, I think the program is a step in the right direction if students want to take advantage of its benefits.
The benefits of the Emporium far outweigh the negatives. In a traditional, lecture-style math class, students get one opportunity to master material. If students don’t understand a concept from the first unit, they’ll likely fail the first test.
Unfortunately for those students, concepts from the first unit will be used in every subsequent unit. So by failing to understand the concepts of the first unit, those students will likely not succeed for the rest of the class.
The number of college students who fail math is staggering. In his presentation, Van Peursem said the success rate for the classes included in the Emporium is between 50 and 60 percent. If you don’t pass math, you don’t graduate.
The Math Emporium gives students who are willing to put in the work the opportunity to pass a class that would have otherwise caused them to flunk out of college. If students don’t pass the first unit, they get to try again as many times as it takes for them to pass it.
Sure, some students will still fail, but the students who actually want to succeed are given the opportunity to do so — in a traditional lecture class they wouldn’t have that opportunity.
For students who don’t need the extra help, the Emporium offers them the opportunity to do something a traditional math class wouldn’t have — work ahead. If you feel like getting your entire semester’s worth of math done as quickly as possibly, the Emporium lets you do so.
The Emporium certainly isn’t perfect. It’s still new, and there are issues that need to be worked out.
Many of the complaints about the Emporium relate to the computer interface. When entering answers to problems, answers are sometimes counted wrong due to a misplaced comma. What students need to understand is with any new system comes unforeseen problems.
Van Peursem admitted in his presentation there are issues with the technology. He also said the publisher is willing to take feedback in order to make the system better. As the program develops, many of these issues will naturally work themselves out. While this isn’t much consolation for those currently in the program, it isn’t worth scrapping the whole program because of a few technology issues.
Another complaint I heard at the SGA meeting was tutors working with students in the Emporium sometimes are not able to help with the math problems the students are working on. Van Peursem addressed this issue bluntly, saying that if there was a tutor who wasn’t or couldn’t do their job, students should tell him so he can make sure they don’t get hired.
Many logistical problems also exist with the Emporium. Contacting professors and getting permission to retake failed modules doesn’t happen quickly enough. Space and availability of helpers in the Emporium has also been an issue during peak hours.
Once again, these are issues caused by the relative newness of the program, not by flaws in the program itself. As the math department works on improving the program and learns when the peak hours for the Emporium will be, those problems will be resolved.
My biggest qualm with the Emporium is it reduces student accountability. In a traditional math class, the students who really wanted to succeed had to put in the work themselves. They had to seek extra help if they needed it. They had to pay attention in class.
Now that accountability is being forced down students’ throats. But based on the success rates of math classes, students apparently need it shoved down their throats. The Math Emporium can only help students succeed, not hinder them. Those who would have succeeded in a traditional math class will still succeed, but those who might not have succeeded will have a fighting chance.
Reach columnist John Hines at