The pivot to online/remote teaching has caused me to reflect significantly on what my role, as an instructor, is for this ever-changing instructional environment. Like many of you, I find myself leveraging content created by others — such as videos, narratives, project ideas, etc. And this has me wondering: What is our role as instructors in online teaching and learning? Even though I’ve been able to create many of my own instructional videos, I’m still leveraging the creation of others. The swiftness of our pivot means we need to be more curators of the content that we provide our students, rather than full creators. As a result, it seems that we have to take a more collective, crowd teaching approach to our craft as mathematics instructors.
As we navigate these new teaching “waters”, we find ourselves with an urgent and emergent need to make purposeful instructional decisions that allow the story of mathematics to unfold for students in the online/remote world in coherent and meaningful ways. This is where we need to reimagine our role as instructors and the critical engagement we need to have with our students to help them succeed. So, I challenge all of us to consider these top 5 ideas for embarking on purposeful crowd teaching:
1. Resist the urge to only use direct instruction techniques. In the online/remote environment, a place that many of us have little to no experience as instructors, we still need to continue pushing the boundaries of teaching and learning in mathematics to embrace active learning and high levels of student engagement. As part of the NSF-funded Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL) project, we are reminded of the following 4 active learning guiding principles:
- students’ deep engagement in mathematical reasoning;
- peer-to-peer interaction;
- instructors' interest in and use of student thinking; and
- instructors' attention to equitable and inclusive practices.
Research has shown that leveraging active learning techniques can not only significantly improve student performance (Freeman et al., 2014), but they also have disproportionate benefits for underrepresented students (Theobald et al., 2020). Let’s find creative and innovative ways for students to experience our online/remote courses where they are engaged in the learning process, engaged with their peers, and engaged with us as instructors! A few ideas follow. What others do you have?
2. Vary assignment types. As with everything, “variety is the spice of life.” Providing students with a variety of assignments in online/remote courses will greatly improve students’ experiences and contribute to improved success. Here’s a few ideas for assignments:
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Teaching in the online/remote world requires, perhaps, even more carefully thought out and meaningful communication and feedback to students. Imagine all the little side conversations that you have with students — before, during, and after class. And imagine all the time you spent with students in face-to-face classes. This time and communications now need to happen online. There’s no such thing as over-communicating with students, so reach out to them often!
- Use Desmos Classroom Activities that can be completed synchronously or asynchronously, in groups or individually,
- Build in group projects on sustainability goals or other real-world applications of mathematics,
- Create study groups of 3-4 students so they have a smaller network of peers to reach out to during the course. Require that each study group meet weekly to complete a “problem of the week”. Their work could be captured in interactive whiteboards, such as Google Jamboard or Whiteboard.fi, and
- Design a Google Slides presentation around a mathematical topic where they need to find or create content in the form of videos, narrations, graphs, equations, reflections, and other creative forms of knowledge sharing. Having created such an assignment for my students, I have learned that the creation of the slides is where the real learning occurs — this is where the thinking, reasoning, creating, and decision making are needed.
4. Provide consistent, frequent, and meaningful feedback: Unfortunately, many students have experienced online courses that are designed more as “check offs” where students complete assignments for completion only rather than receiving any kind of meaningful feedback about their thinking. Certainly, the craft of teaching mathematics involves us, as instructors, in diagnosing students’ thinking and guiding them on their learning path. Without consistent, frequent, and meaningful feedback from us, their learning will likely be underdeveloped and certainly their experience will be lessened as students need to feel that their submitted work is honored and valued by their instructor. In my experience teaching this summer, along with my colleagues, we found that students appreciated the specific, personal feedback they received. Many students commented that they were thrilled to have someone actually review their work! This is a reminder that our moment to shift online instruction from passive to active is definitely now — and that we have an opportunity to raise expectations and empower students through meaningful online learning.
5. Engage in online conversations through myAMATYC. I am so thankful to have the myAMATYC platform to connect with colleagues — whom I know and do not know! — across the nation! Having this connection allows for me to learn about others’ ideas, successes, challenges, and it serves as a reminder that we are an AMATYC family!
As we embark on this journey of online/remote teaching, let’s collaborate together to provide top-notch experiences for students learning mathematics. The notion of crowd teaching can be leveraged so that we are sharing ideas collectively through our platform of myAMATYC and we can all move forward together in incorporating the above 5 ideas for succeeding in our new roles as instructors.