The Math Emporium offers students a space for independent, online learning.

The math emporium, a space often abhorred by those lacking exceptional math skills, is equipped with a sea of apple computers for student use and instructors to answer questions.

One of the most feared concepts to incoming Virginia Tech freshmen is the idea of taking a course at the Math Emporium. A redesigned department store filled with hundreds of Mac computers, the Math Emporium is easily intimidating and cold, but one would do well to look past the initial vibe of the place and consider the positive aspects of taking a course at the emporium.

Of course, the only obvious reward of taking a Math Emporium course is that it offers flexibility. Since the emporium is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, students can visit the emporium to do their work at any time. Unfortunately, tutoring lab hours are limited to a block of time during the mid-evening, and the Math Emporium tutoring staff checks out after 10 p.m. This means that those students too busy to make it to the emporium during the day, or who prefer to work on homework during the late evening, are often without help from emporium staff.

Despite the limitations to students posed by those limited hours, there are still ample opportunities during the week for students to come into the Math Emporium and receive help on their coursework. Students can either attend question and answer sessions, which are weekly periods of time when instructors and tutors answer student questions, or they can attend the tutoring lab on any weekday afternoon between 4 and 9 p.m.

And, unlike our many years of math in grade school if you ever had a terrible math teacher, if you have a hard time understanding your tutor, you can easily find a different one. During my course, I’ve found that there are some tutors who I just can’t understand well, but there are others who are so helpful that I can grasp the concept easily.

Another point of contention for students who have Math Emporium courses is the fact that the tests, quizzes and textbook are all online. For those of us accustomed to learning math from a paper book and being able to physically take our assessments, this is jarring and foreign, but once you get working, it is easy to get past that inconvenience. After all, we use technology for nearly everything today. We read the news online, we read e-books and we often take online courses or assessments in other courses. The format might take some getting used to, but students should take comfort that the format is not actually as foreign as it seems.

Another positive aspect of taking a Math Emporium course is that you learn in increments. Students are tested weekly on a certain topic, giving them a concrete goal for that week and only a small amount of information to master for each weekly deadline. For example, for my most recent quiz, I was only required to master about five or six different types of questions. One of the most challenging parts of math when I was in high school was that we would spend more weeks on a given subject, but were only usually tested on it once, making it difficult to track my progress and even harder to master all of the content at once over those weeks.

While the constantly creeping deadlines can get exhausting, the format of the courses forces students to manage the content and their time wisely. Not only that, but it lets students get ahead in the course if they want to by having most of the assignments open at all times.

The Math Emporium may seem like an insane concept to incoming students, but it is actually a fairly common strategy among college campuses. For example, Liberty University and Kent State are among other campuses across the nation who follow a similar structure for introductory math courses.

While I do believe that the Math Emporium could benefit from offering online teaching videos, virtual tutoring of some kind or even just more applicable example problems during the lessons, the truth is that taking a Math Emporium course is exactly what you personally make of it. If you give it the same time and planning that you do with your other courses, you are very likely to succeed at the emporium. But waiting until the last minute to learn your quiz material or cramming a week’s worth of material into a time block of a few hours is a recipe for failure.

The next time you dread walking into that hollow, buzzing room full of computers, I hope you will remember that you do not have to be set up to fail. There are actually hundreds of employees at the emporium whose jobs are to make sure that you learn the lessons and are successful in your course.