New AI-based math placement tool will help guide students

Math problems on chalkboard

Beginning May 1, a new campuswide, artificial intelligence-based mathematics placement tool, Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces, or ALEKS, became available at no cost to students, new or continuing, who wish to register for a math class.

ALEKS is an adaptive assessment tool that uses artificial intelligence to recommend course placement based on a minimal set of tasks, according to Mike Price, assistant mathematics department head. Using adaptive questioning to determine what a student knows and doesn't know, it creates a "knowledge state" based on questions that target a variety of learning objectives.

Virtually every student will see a different combination of tasks during their placement, yet the system will have a good sense of the knowledge and abilities possessed by each user. ALEKS was recommended by the math department and is one the student success initiatives supported and implemented by the Division of Undergraduate Studies.

The UO Testing Center will host the ALEKS website and provide support to students using the assessment.

"While many placement tools are one-off events, recommending placement after the assessment concludes, ALEKS also includes a learning module in which students are able - and required, if they want to retake their assessment - to develop skills in areas of need," Price said.

Because it is important to determine where students should begin their studies, evaluation across a number of content areas, particularly in mathematics, is essential, according to David Espinoza, director of the Testing Center.

"It was not unusual to encounter students who did not do well on one of the previous versions of the math placement test and have them comment that the math looked familiar but they just did not remember how to do it," Espinoza said. "In the past, we did not have any helpful resources to provide to students in this situation. With ALEKS, we do."

Although there will be some students from other institutions who transfer math credits that will meet prerequisites and therefore not require ALEKS, most should expect to take ALEKS prior to arrival at IntroDUCKtion, the UO orientation program. More than 4,000 students are expected to participate, Espinoza said.

Preferably, students will have participated in ALEKS prior for their IntroDUCKtion advising appointment. With the results from the assessment tool, advisors will be better able to guide students on options and create an academic program that is responsive to a student's goals and lays the foundation for timely progress toward a degree.

Other institutions in the state have successfully switched to ALEKS placement, including Portland State University and Oregon State University, according to Price.

"We look forward to joining them in helping students achieve the most efficient path to success in this notoriously challenging subject," he said.