College of LAS « Illinois

Making math more attainable

NetMath, a distance-learning program, keeps growing after 28 years

Bruce Carpenter, standing, associate director of instruction for NetMath, speaks to Matthew Garcia, a student who also worked as a mentor in the distance-learning program. (Photo courtesy of NetMath.)
Bruce Carpenter, standing, associate director of instruction for NetMath, speaks to Matthew Garcia, a student who also worked as a mentor in the distance-learning program. (Photo courtesy of NetMath.)
Advanced math is critical to people pursuing countless careers, but living on a university campus and paying a full college-tuition for only a few math courses that one may need isn’t always an option. With their program, NetMath, however, the Department of Mathematics is making university-level math classes accessible to people who might not be Illinois students.

NetMath is a distance-learning program that’s been around since 1989, for people who can't enroll on campus due to financial situations, distance, age, military service, or a plethora of other potential hindrances to learning.

According to Anuradha Murphy, associate director of NetMath, the program offers stand-alone online math courses to a diverse audience of learners around the world, including advanced high school students, undergraduate and graduate students at Illinois and other institutions, active military personnel, career professionals, and math hobbyists.

It’s meeting with success on many fronts; organizers said that the program has been growing in enrollment every year.

Stand-alone course materials for about two dozen courses are offered for high school students and college students, high school graduates, and beyond. They range from college algebra and trigonometry to calculus for business, differential equations, and introduction to probability theory.

Whereas a traditional university class starts at a specific point in the year, NetMath is designed around availability, and allows students to start a course at any time. Most of these courses have a term of nine months for high school students and 16 weeks for college students, though the length of the course may vary depending on the capabilities and efficiency of each student.

Many professions require mathematics training beyond what a high school or community college can offer, and since a full university education isn’t always the right fit, NetMath ensures that people can get the education that they need, and only the education that they need. Fees for NetMath classes are generally well under average tuition costs for a full-time student on campus.

“Our program allows students to continue learning math during their junior and senior years of high school, and obtain college credit before starting their college studies,” Murphy said. “Another significant impact has been on members of the military – our flexible model allows these learners to continue their math education while they are on active deployment. We have also impacted adult professionals who need a math course toward advancement in their careers, and college students who need to fulfill math requirements in an expedited timeframe to qualify for degree completion.”

Murphy stressed that NetMath courses are rigorous and challenging, just the same as a regular U of I math course. To succeed, students have to be just as disciplined and driven as any other student taking a U of class in Altgeld Hall. To assist the students in their classes, NetMath has a mentoring program based on the concept of peer teaching.

“In most courses, each student is assigned to a mentor who regularly communicates with the student, grades all of the student’s homework assignments, answers questions and holds one on one discussion sessions with the student on request.” Murphy said. “Most of our mentors are undergraduate students at the University of Illinois – many are students who took a NetMath course and wanted to work as a mentor because they want to help new students in the program. This peer interaction eases the point of entry for new students in the program.”

In the 2016-17 school year, NetMath reached 1,500 people, and the program has no plans of slowing down. They’re currently working on a number of new, upper-level courses that will be ready for enrollment by next summer, as well as making full undergraduate and graduate degree programs, where all the required courses can be taken entirely online.

Additionally, NetMath’s Partner High School program is being taken to schools across the county and the world; a large expansion in Hong Kong and China is in the planning phases.

“I hope NetMath will be the premier online program for math courses in this country and a source of pride for the University of Illinois,” Murphy said.

Logan Weeter

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