This blog post is based on our recent webinar "Online Teaching & Assessment for Mathematical Sciences". Click here to watch the recording.
Teaching mathematics and statistics is never easy. Teaching it to non-math/stat majors for their first and second year course requisites is harder still. Add to that, teaching it over video calls and preparing for an uncertain fall semester, and now you have got yourself an herculean task.
Teaching mathematics and statistics has always been hard. This is mainly due to the fact that the majority of students who take mathematics or statistics are not taking it necessarily because they enjoy it or have a natural curiosity in the subject but rather because it is something that is needed for their future academic or professional aspirations. On a higher education level, many study programmes require a foundational understanding of mathematics even though mathematics is not the main focus of the programme. Subjects such as Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Business, all require mathematics or statistics to a certain extent. During the first year of most of these subjects, students are required to complete foundational math or stats courses in order to progress in their respective study programmes.
On the student side, these courses end up becoming massive hurdles for students who lack confidence, ability or motivation in mathematics or statistics. Which in turn, affects the progression that can be made in their broader field of study, subsequently affecting their future career choices.
On the teacher side, due to the mandatory nature of these modules, first-year mathematics or statistics classes tend to be always significantly larger than regular classes. On top of that, these larger classes often house a broad cross-section of students from different academic backgrounds and varying levels of mathematical understanding, especially if you take into account international students coming in from different schooling systems. In other words, teachers end up having the difficult task of guiding large, diverse and unmotivated groups of students to their desired learning goals while building a foundation of knowledge and skills necessary for them to succeed in the rest of their studies.
To top all of this, all these courses need to be taught and learned under a very narrow time window.
Due to COVID-19, many countries have cancelled their central high-school exams, making the mathematical skill level of the newly admitted fall 2020 students even less clear. Going hand in hand with this, many higher education institutions are also observing unprecedented levels of enrollments for the upcoming fall semester, which consequently results in fall class sizes being even larger than before. Another factor that is to be taken into consideration is that several countries have requested their respective higher education institutions to open up more enrollment seats as a way to combat the rising youth unemployment rates due to COVID. As a result of all this, the 2020 fall freshmen cohort is looking to be larger and more heterogeneous than we have seen in a while.
On the other hand, you have to take into account the general uncertainty when it comes to what classes are going to look like in the fall. Be it face to face/mask to mask, online or hybrid, properly setting up a class environment that ensures learning goals are met and social distancing protocols are observed will require several extra hours of work from the teachers.
Although it has been a chaotic few months for higher education, most institutions have managed to successfully move their courses either partially or completely online. For the vast majority, this online transition was in the shape of a heavier reliance on their existing general learning management system (Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace, Moodle etc) paired with a virtual conferencing tool (Zoom, Google meets, Panopto) that could be used to replace in-person lectures.
While this may have worked for the majority of the courses, due to the factors mentioned earlier, these general strategies simply do not do the job when it comes to teaching first and second-year mathematics and statistics courses. Students are finding it even harder to engage and stay motivated since teachers are finding it even more difficult to provide personalised support via online quizzes and pre-recorded lectures. Supporting these students and keeping them engaged in their classes while making sure the teachers are not overworked, requires more than the default e-learning toolkit. It requires adopting specific teaching strategies and integrating specialized online tools that explicitly address the issues outlined earlier.
Bolster Academy exists in the edtech niche that aims at mitigating this math problem. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be releasing a series of blog posts that provide an overview of the learning strategies that can be adopted to solve this problem as well as specific case-studies where teachers have implemented these learning strategies within their classroom.
Make sure to read our latest article “3 Things to Consider When Teaching Mathematics Online” to learn more.