skip to main content

Title: Where’s My Whiteboard? The Challenge of Moving Active-learning Mathematics Classes Online
This research paper studies the challenges that mathematics faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) faced when moving active and collaborative calculus courses from in-person to virtual instruction. As part of a larger pedagogical change project (described below), the math department at a public Research-1 university began transitioning pre-calculus and calculus courses to an active and collaborative learning (ACL) format in Fall 2019. The change began with the introduction of collaborative worksheets in recitations which were led by GTAs and supported by undergraduate learning assistants (LAs). Students recitation periods collaboratively solving the worksheet problems on whiteboards. When COVID-19 forced the rapid transition to online teaching, these ACL efforts faced an array of challenges. Faculty and GTA reflections on the changes to teaching and learning provide insight into how instructional staff can be supported in implementing ACL across various modes of instruction. The calculus teaching change efforts discussed in this paper are part of an NSF-supported project that aims to make ACL the default method of instruction in highly enrolled gateway STEM courses across the institution. The theoretical framework for the project builds on existing work on grassroots change in higher education (Kezar and Lester, 2011) to study the effect of communities of more » practice on changing teaching culture. The project uses course-based communities of practice (Wenger, 1999) that include instructors, GTAs, and LAs working together to design and enact teaching change in the targeted courses alongside ongoing professional development for GTAs and LAs. Six faculty and five GTAs involved in the teaching change effort in mathematics were interviewed after the Spring 2020 semester ended. Interview questions focused on faculty and GTA experiences implementing active learning after the rapid transition to online teaching. A grounded coding scheme was used to identify common themes in the challenges faced by instructors and GTAs as they moved online and in the impacts of technology, LA support, and the department community of practice on the move to online teaching. Technology, including both access and capabilities, emerged as a common barrier to student engagement. A particular barrier was students’ reluctance to share video or participate orally in sessions that were being recorded, making group work more difficult than it had been in a physical classroom. In addition, most students lacked access to a tablet for freehand writing, presenting a significant hurdle for sharing mathematical notation when physical whiteboards were no longer an option. These challenges point to the importance of incorporating flexibility in active learning implementation and in the professional development that supports teaching changes toward active learning, since what is conceived for a collaborative physical classroom may be implemented in a much different environment. The full paper will present a detailed analysis of the data to better understand how faculty and GTA experiences in the transition to online delivery can inform planning and professional development as the larger institutional change effort moves forward both in mathematics and in other STEM fields. « less
Authors:
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1821589
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10299656
Journal Name:
2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Karunakaran, S. S. ; Higgins, A. (Ed.)
    The abrupt switch from in-person instruction and tutoring to remote or online instruction and tutoring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 was difficult for even the most experienced instructor. In this paper, we explore how graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) at three different institutions responded to and experienced this change. Data was collected from surveys and focus groups conducted with graduate teaching assistants at each institution, as part of our ongoing collaborative NSF-funded project focusing on equipping mathematical sciences GTAs to become better teachers. In their responses, the graduate teaching assistants discussed topics ranging from what theymore »did in their remote classrooms to the challenges they faced and supports they received from their department, university, and fellow classmates and faculty.« less
  2. Electrical and computer engineering technologies have evolved into dynamic, complex systems that profoundly change the world we live in. Designing these systems requires not only technical knowledge and skills but also new ways of thinking and the development of social, professional and ethical responsibility. A large electrical and computer engineering department at a Midwestern public university is transforming to a more agile, less traditional organization to better respond to student, industry and society needs. This is being done through new structures for faculty collaboration and facilitated through departmental change processes. Ironically, an impetus behind this effort was a failed attemptmore »at department-wide curricular reform. This failure led to the recognition of the need for more systemic change, and a project emerged from over two years of efforts. The project uses a cross-functional, collaborative instructional model for course design and professional formation, called X-teams. X-teams are reshaping the core technical ECE curricula in the sophomore and junior years through pedagogical approaches that (a) promote design thinking, systems thinking, professional skills such as leadership, and inclusion; (b) contextualize course concepts; and (c) stimulate creative, socio-technical-minded development of ECE technologies. An X-team is comprised of ECE faculty members including the primary instructor, an engineering education and/or design faculty member, an industry practitioner, context experts, instructional specialists (as needed to support the process of teaching, including effective inquiry and inclusive teaching) and student teaching assistants. X-teams use an iterative design thinking process and reflection to explore pedagogical strategies. X-teams are also serving as change agents for the rest of the department through communities of practice referred to as Y-circles. Y-circles, comprised of X-team members, faculty, staff, and students, engage in a process of discovery and inquiry to bridge the engineering education research-to-practice gap. Research studies are being conducted to answer questions to understand (1) how educators involved in X-teams use design thinking to create new pedagogical solutions; (2) how the middle years affect student professional ECE identity development as design thinkers; (3) how ECE students overcome barriers, make choices, and persist along their educational and career paths; and (4) the effects of department structures, policies, and procedures on faculty attitudes, motivation and actions. This paper will present the efforts that led up to the project, including failures and opportunities. It will summarize the project, describe related work, and present early progress implementing new approaches.« less
  3. In higher education, Learning Assistants (LAs)—a relatively recent evolution grounded in peer mentorship models—are gaining popularity in classrooms as universities strive to meet the needs of undergraduate learners. Unlike Teaching Assistants, LAs are undergraduate students who receive continuous training from faculty mentors in content-area coaching and pedagogical skills. As near-peers, they assist assigned groups of undergraduates (students) during class. Research on LAs suggests that they are significant in mitigating high Drop-Fail-Withdrawal rates of large enrollment undergraduate science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) courses. However, there is a dearth of description regarding the learning between LAs and STEMM faculty mentors.more »This paper reports on perspectives of faculty mentors and their cooperating LAs in regard to their learning relationships during a Calculus II at a research-oriented university during Spring of 2020. Using an exploratory-descriptive qualitative design, faculty (oral responses) and LAs (written responses) reflected on their relationship. Content analysis (coding) resulted in four salient categories (by faculty and LA percentages, respectively) in: Showing Care and Fostering Relationships (47%, 23%); Honing Pedagogical Skills (27%, 36%); Being Prepared for Class and Students (23%, 28%); and Developing Content Knowledge in Calculus (3%, 13%). Benefits of LAs to faculty and ways to commence LA programs at institutions are also discussed.« less
  4. We investigated how changing the physical classroom impacted graduate teaching assistant (GTA) and student behaviors in tutorial sections of an introductory algebra-based physics sequence. Using a modified version of the Laboratory Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (LOPUS), we conducted 35 observations over two semesters for seven GTAs who taught in different styles of classrooms (i.e., active learning classrooms and traditional classrooms). We found that both GTAs and students changed behaviors in response to a change from an active learning classroom to a traditional classroom. GTAs were found to be less interactive with student groups and to lecture at the whiteboardmore »more frequently. Correspondingly, student behaviors changed as students asked fewer questions during one-on-one interactions. These findings suggest that the instructional capacity framework, which typically focuses on interactions between instructors, students and instructional materials, should also include interactions with the learning space. We suggest administrators and departments consider the impact of changing to a traditional classroom when implementing student-centered instruction and emphasize how to use classroom space in GTA professional development.« less
  5. To meet the rising demand for computer science (CS) courses, K-12 educators need to be prepared to teach introductory concepts and skills in courses such as Computer Science Principles (CSP), which takes a breadth-first approach to CS and includes topics beyond programming such as data, impacts of computing, and networks. Educators are now also being asked to teach more advanced concepts in courses such as the College Board's Advanced Placement Computer Science A (CSA) course, which focuses on advanced programming using Java and includes topics such as objects, inheritance, arrays, and recursion. Traditional CSA curricula have not used content ormore »pedagogy designed to engage a broad range of learners and support their success. Unlike CSP, which is attracting more underrepresented students to computing as it was designed, CSA continues to enroll mostly male, white, and Asian students [College Board 2019, Ericson 2020, Sax 2020]. In order to expand CS education opportunities, it is crucial that students have an engaging experience in CSA similar to CSP. Well-designed differentiated professional development (PD) that focuses on content and pedagogy is necessary to meet individual teacher needs, to successfully build teacher skills and confidence to teach CSA, and to improve engagement with students [Darling-Hammond 2017]. It is critical that as more CS opportunities and courses are developed, teachers remain engaged with their own learning in order to build their content knowledge and refine their teaching practice [CSTA 2020]. CSAwesome, developed and piloted in 2019, offers a College Board endorsed AP CSA curriculum and PD focused on supporting the transition of teachers and students from CSP to CSA. This poster presents preliminary findings aimed at exploring the supports and challenges new-to-CSA high school level educators face when transitioning from teaching an introductory, breadth-first course such as CSP to teaching the more challenging, programming-focused CSA course. Five teachers who completed the online CSAwesome summer 2020 PD completed interviews in spring 2021. The project employed an inductive coding scheme to analyze interview transcriptions and qualitative notes from teachers about their experiences learning, teaching, and implementing CSP and CSA curricula. Initial findings suggest that teachers’ experience in the CSAwesome PD may improve their confidence in teaching CSA, ability to effectively use inclusive teaching practices, ability to empathize with their students, problem-solving skills, and motivation to persist when faced with challenges and difficulties. Teachers noted how the CSAwesome PD provided them with a student perspective and increased feelings of empathy. Participants spoke about the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on their own learning, student learning, and teaching style. Teachers enter the PD with many different backgrounds, CS experience levels, and strengths, however, new-to-CSA teachers require further PD on content and pedagogy to transition between CSP and CSA. Initial results suggest that the CSAwesome PD may have an impact on long-term teacher development as new-to-CSA teachers who participated indicated a positive impact on their teaching practices, ideologies, and pedagogies.« less