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both the college algebra and trigonometry
course and the differential calculus course.
Many students also do their course work at
the emporium.They log onto the computer
and click the link for their course on the
emporiumhomepage. Students can take
practice quizzes to prepare for the graded
quizzes. “Most of the questions that the
emporium staff answers come from the
practice quizzes,” Bourdon said.
Bourdon does not put the entire course
online immediately, so students will pace
themselves. But after the first fewweeks,
all aspects of the course are available all the
time.
Exams are proctored and are given at
the back of the former department store,
in an area where garden tools once were sold. Quizzes are
not proctored, and students are expected to follow the same
honor code policy on quizzes as on exams. Bourdon explained
that proctored exams are weightedmuchmore heavily in the
students’ grades than the quizzes, “so there is not a serious
concern about cheating on the non-proctored quizzes.”
Bourdon, a math instructor at Virginia Tech since 1977,
has managed the college algebra and trigonometry course for
two years, the differential calculus course for three. Last fall
about 2,100 students were enrolled in her classes.
“I did have misgivings,” she said. “I said I would do it for
one year, because I expected to lose what I went into teaching
for”—that is, personal contact with students. “I also enjoy
explaining concepts in a lecture format, so I was afraid that
I wouldmiss that evenmore. As it turns out, I have been
pleasantly surprised. I have evenmore personal contact with
students, primarily due to the fact that students seemmore
comfortable asking for help at the math emporium than they
do in a faculty office. And I enjoy explaining concepts in this
environment since I am talking to students who have already
worked through the materials beforehand.”
Student reaction to the math emporium is mixed. On the
plus side, Soly Alvarez, fromBogotá, Colombia, a junior in
industrial and systems engineering, took linear algebra there
in fall 2002 and was pleased with the experience. “I think the
math emporiumwas a positive experience, because I was able
to work at my own pace, go back, reread the material, take the
practice quizzes as many times as I wanted to,” she said. “And
I was able to work frommy dorm room or go to the math
emporium if I preferred.
“Also, it served as an opportunity to develop self-discipline
skills, letting me organize my time and not having to attend
class at a certain time but rather move aroundmy schedule to
accommodate other assignments,” she added. Once Alvarez
completed linear algebra, she continued to go to the emporium
to study for other math classes or to get help from the aides.
Not everyone has such positive reactions. Said freshman
Hunter Simmons, of Fincastle, Virginia, who is taking linear
algebra and calculus, “It is saving money, but I don’t think
the savings are worth what it does.” Simmons said he had
a great math background in high school and thinks the
software computing programused in his emporium classes is
“a complete waste of time.” He would like another day in the
classroom, to reinforce concepts, rather than use that program.
In theory, Simmons said, the emporium “really works
well. But it’s hard to get to, it’s depressing to be in, and quite
often you can’t get help when you need it.” He said the huge
room, which is painted a shade of white, could be made
more attractive. “We’re at Virginia Tech—make it orange and
maroon, everything else is orange andmaroon. You could
make it more inviting.”
One of the biggest gripes is the emporium’s location, across
a busy street and a long hike from the center of campus. The
university regularly runs shuttle buses to the emporium—
theoretically it’s a ten-minute ride, but sometimes it takes
longer, and the buses are crowded.
Christie Roark, fromAlpharetta, Georgia, a senior
engineering major, objects to having courses “taught
completely on the computer at the math emporium. It takes
up a lot of time to ride a bus out there, sit at a computer and do
something that really you should have been able to do from a
computer anywhere else on campus.” For on-campus students
“it’s really inconvenient,” she said. Roark never took a course
that was entirely emporium-based. “That was by design,” she
said. “I planned it that way.”
Roark and some other students do not like the fact that all
the computers at the emporium are Macintoshes. “Engineers
are required to purchase and use PCs for school, so having to
switch over to a Macintosh at the math emporium is really just
an annoyance and doesn’t make sense,” Roark said. Software
incompatibility sometimes makes it impossible to write a
paper at the emporium and e-mail it to a professor, she added.
Chuck Hodges, the emporiummanager, explained
that Macs are used because they are cheaper, “considering
the whole package—security (fewer virus problems),
maintenance” and so on. He said there were complaints about
an earlier Mac version but few now.
MatthewVetting, a junior industrial engineering major
fromHarrisonburg, Virginia, summed up the feelings of many
students: “I think the emporium is a good idea but one that
“If they don’t do the
work, they’ll flunk.
It’s not like sitting in
the back of a class of
500 and doing your
e-mail.”
—John Rossi,
Virginia Tech math
department chairman
John Rossi, chairman of the Virginia Tech math department, thinks students learn
more at the Math Emporium than in traditional classrooms.