3 Things to Consider When Teaching Mathematics Online

Image by Alex Bierwagen

Over the last few months, most higher education institutions have managed to successfully move their courses either partially or completely online. For the vast majority, this online transition consists of a general learning management system (Canvas,Blackboard, Brightspace, Moodle etc) and a video conferencing tool (Zoom, Google meets, Panopto).

While this may work for the majority of courses, due to what we like to call ‘The Math Problem’, these general strategies simply do not do the job when it comes to teaching first and second-year mathematics and statistics courses. Through the rest of this article, we want to share with you three things you have to keep in mind to ensure that your mathematics and statistics classes are not left behind during this period of remote teaching.


Personalization

One of the main questions to ask yourself when you are figuring out your online/hybrid learning setup is : Are you providing your students with personalized help and support? These students are coming into their first year classes from a variety schooling backgrounds and all of them have varying degrees of understanding when it comes to the subject matter. The best learning strategy would be one that recognises the knowledge discrepancies in students and implements a support system that provides help to students when and where they need it on an individual basis.

One of our personal success stories for personalization is our ongoing partnership with Rotterdam Polytechnic. They were able to significantly increase their passing grades for introductory level mathematics courses by making use of our targeted feedback system.


Interactivity

Something that is related to personalization but should be treated on its own merit is interactivity. If interactivity is properly embedded in your remote/hybrid setup, a learner’s experience is improved significantly. To begin with, studies have shown that knowledge retention is much higher in interactive courses than passive ones. Apart from that, by making courses interactive, you are providing learners with opportunities to immediately test their understanding of the concepts and theories covered.

Lastly, something you have to keep in mind is that one’s attention span online is much shorter than one’s attention span in a real-life/physical environment. Only showing a recorded lecture or a pdf version of a book is nothing like the day-to-day online world that college freshmen live in. They are used to getting instant feedback from everything they interact with.

A great anecdote here for the importance of interactivity comes from our experiences with Deakin University. When they started using our tool in their classrooms, they did not make it a mandatory activity for the students. However, they were soon reporting to us that a lot of their students were making hundreds of practice exercises via the platform because they enjoyed the interactive element of it compared to the static traditional textbook.


Continuous Assessment

Another thing to keep in mind is to integrate continuous assessment into your lesson plan so as to ensure that your students don’t fall behind.

A good way to do this would be to have weekly tests that assess a student’s understanding of the topics covered in the lessons of that respective week. One of our partners, University College Dublin, implemented such a strategy for their linear algebra courses. Apart from having the weekly tests, they also further incentivized the students by having these weekly tests count towards the final grade of the course. From the feedback we have got, we also learned that the students also appreciated having these tests because it provided them with a clear idea of what was expected from them on a weekly basis and this contributed to a more structured learning experience as a whole.

Something else that is beneficial to bake into your continuous assessments, is mastery based learning. This is an instructional approach where students need to demonstrate a deep level of understanding of a topic or subject area before progressing to the next topic. An interesting example of this would be the Amsterdam Maritime College who actually have completely moved away from summative exams in their math and physics classes. Instead of summative exams, they just require all of their students to achieve a 100% mastery score on the practice material that they are offering.

Regardless of the e-learning tool you use, it is very important keep the above things in mind when planning your next lesson. If you are interested in diving deeper into how our e-learning tool has been helping teachers do this, you can learn more here.

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