Thursday, December 15, 2022

Presentation at AMATYC 2022: Equitable and Inclusive Teaching Practices

This blog post is an adaptation of a presentation I gave at AMATYC 2022, in Toronto, Ontario. Title of the presentation is “Equitable and Inclusive Teaching Practices”

The presentation is split into two parts. Part 1 is an outline of 4 lenses we can use to think about our teaching and more generally society. The second part is about teaching scenarios using the four lenses and our experiences.


First some caveats. There are more than four lenses. The four I chose are just viewpoints I chose that I find helpful in a workshop-like session. There are many other things to consider, which are beyond the scope of the presentation.


Lens 1: Math’s teeming shore

The first lens to use is about something I call the Math’s teeming shore.


"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”


In Emma Lazarus’ sonnet is the idea of all the people who were left out, gathered on the teeming shore yearning for a better life.  In one subset of America, the ideal is to bring these people in and welcome them.  In a similar way, so many people in Math have been left out. How many times have you heard, “I am not a math person” or “I am not good at math”? 


Math education has left many on the outside, and this is a major problem for our society, because this damages our ability to be a more equitable and informed society. This brings us to the second lens...


Lens 2: math literacy as a civil right, implicit biases

From the seminal work of Bob Moses and the Algebra Project (https://algebra.org/wp/), we have the idea that math literacy is a critical literacy. In fact, math literacy is a civil right. Without an ability to think and evaluate some issues quantitatively and scientifically a person cannot fully exercise their rights and be a full citizen or have equal opportunities in society.


There is a fundamental paradox in education. Teaching people to think and problem solve is a good thing in my opinion, but not everyone would agree. If we teach people to think, then they start to question the system they live in.  If we teach people to think, they start to become qualified for jobs they are not intended to have. In short that is why there exists Math’s teeming shore.


A brutal example from the past is The Native American Boarding Schools (https://www.theindigenousfoundation.org/articles/us-residential-schools).  These schools designed to “assimilate” indigenous people via their children. Assimilate of course is a euphemism for genocide, and in 2021 the first of several discoveries of hundreds of remains of children at these schools were reported (Content Warning). 


When people opine of the dearth of Indigenous people in STEM, one false myth some people use about this is that Indigenous youth are not interested in STEM, or that it’s falsely not part of their culture. Crucially what is left out as a possible explanation is our actual history.  That in itself is an indictment.  Further when people talk about culture, they are actually not talking about culture. They are really talking about power. One group had the power and the other didn’t, and that is how we got here.


The problem isn’t the Indigenous students or the black students or the women or whatever group you want to focus on. The problem is our history and our collective ignorance of it. 


How do these things relate to teaching?  History lives with us in ways we may not be aware of. For example, false assumptions can affect our daily work.  If a student requests an extension for an assignment or doesn’t turn something in, then certain assumptions can be triggered depending on a student’s identity.   A source of implicit bias goes down deep to underlying assumptions, norms, and conditioning that have formed us. Implicit biases are rooted in our history, and that impacts how we solve (or don’t solve) our problems with math literacy.


Lens 3: the shokunin or artisan spirit

I’d like to think that there’s a way out. What I’ve latched onto is starting at the core of what teaching is.  A Shokunin is an artisan with great skill who also works for the benefit of their community. This idea applies to teaching.  One way to deal with our equity and inclusion issues is to adopt a Shokunin spirit or artisan spirit when we teach.


When I started my career, I didn’t have a diversity statement in my syllabus. I didn’t intentionally think about equity in the classroom. I did not use IBL with an equity lens.  These are things I have learned over time from people who have made the case that we need to do more. 


This is one way our profession has moved forward. Some people have done the work to improve their courses and come together to form coalitions to courageously make the case to others for equity and inclusion in Math.  From there new policies were adopted and more resources and attention are being directed to make progress. 


Have we done enough? No, obviously. We have a lot more work to do. But the point still stands that if we think of our teaching practices like an artisan, we can continually improve our craft for the good of society. By teaching practices, I don’t just mean what we do in the classroom, but more broadly the system surrounding it.   If enough of us do this work at different layers of the system, we can potentially make systemic change.


Lens 4: IBL methods 

IBL can help with equity and inclusion, but only if the instructor focuses on these things.  IBL methods are a pathway, not a panacea. 


The artisan spirit should be connected to tools and practices that work. There is a body of scientific work that establishes IBL methods as effective in learning and leveling the playing field.  Here’s a link to work by Laursen at al. I won't go into details of what IBL is or what the literature says, since these are well worn paths that have been talked about elsewhere.


Part 2: Scenarios

With these lenses in hand, we looked at a few scenarios at the session, and discussed what we could do. The second was a little more than half the session in terms of time, and participants offered good ideas for how we could move forward with their teaching.  We discussed the ideas at our tables and then shared with the whole group, which was about 50 people.


Scenario 1: The same 3 or 4 students raise their hands first when it’s time for student volunteers. What can you do to make sharing more equitable?


Scenario 2: What are the positives and some pitfalls of randomly assigning groups of 3 or 4 students to work on a problem?


Scenario 3: In this scenario, put on your “implicit bias” lens. How can implicit biases and social frames amplify the comments left on student work?  Compare the following two responses.

  1. “Good start to a solution. I noticed that you didn’t use the definition of… Consider using the definition…”

  2. “It’s obvious you didn’t do the reading or put in a good effort…”


Task 4: In the spirit of being like an artisan/shokunin with your teaching, consider how to improve/update…

  1. Syllabus statement, pronouns, resources for marginalized groups

  2. Course content

  3. Deadlines (hard vs. flexible)

  4. Assessment

  5. Small groups, pairs

  6. Students with disabilities/accessibility

  7. Department/college level


Outro

Even for large classes, like the ones I teach at the University of Toronto, we do something significant with respect to equity and inclusion. I coordinate a course with 1500 students, split into 8 lecture sections, and 35 tutorials/recitations.  We have 8 instructors, 24 TAs working together to provide an equitable and inclusive class.  Large class sizes are not an obstacle for equitable and inclusive teaching, see the list below where most of the items are orthogonal to class size.


What are we doing?

  • Diversity statement in the syllabus, and visible inclusion in class, in Canvas announcements.

  • TA training on equity at the start of the term.

  • Teaching using IBL with a focus on equity.

  • Online option with recordings for students with disabilities.

  • Grading for growth to the extent possible, with group reports with resubmissions without penalty.

  • Offer online office hours.

  • Collect weekly feedback to adapt to students’ needs and to uncover issues that we can address early in the term.

  • Eliminating biased problems and images from previous iterations of the course.


Those are some of the things we have implemented, and these are just the start. We need to improve each of these items and create norms and a department culture where students feel they truly belong.


Each of us has some power as instructors.  To the extent we have power, we should use it to do good in our classrooms and at our institutions. We should be the hope we want to see in the world.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Interview: Professor Daniel Reinholz, San Diego State University, Gender Equity in Math Classes

It's a great pleasure to be able to interview of Professor Daniel Reinholz, San Diego State University about a vital issue, gender equity in the academy. As it happens, how we teach using active learning matters very much. This interview is based on a recent 2022 publication, When Active Learning is Inequitable: Women Participation Predicts Gender Inequities in Mathematical Performance, Journal for Research in Math Education, Volume 53, Issue 3.

The authors of this article are Daniel Reinholz,Estrella Johnson, Virginia Tech, Christine Andrews-Larson, Florida State University, Amelia Stone-Johnstone, California State University Fullteron, Jessica Smith, Florida State University, Brooke Mullins, The University of Virginia's College at Wise, Nicholas Fortune, Western Kentucky University, Karen Keene, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Niral Shah, University of Washington-Seattle.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The great 8 pillars of IBL teaching and grading for growth

It's time to connect the pillars of IBL teaching and grading for growth (alternative grading). The idea here is that these two sets of pillars go together and help provide a holistic framework of teaching. The combo is better than the individual components.  Peanut butter & jelly. Peas & carrots. Mac & cheese. 

IBL pillars:

  1. Deep engagement in rich mathematics.
  2. Frequent opportunities for students to collaborate with peers and their instructor(s).
  3. Instructor inquiry into student thinking.
  4. Instructor focus on equity.
Alternative grading pillars:
  1. Clearly defined standards.
  2. Helpful feedback.
  3. Marks indicate progress.
  4. Reattempts without penalty.
Both IBL and grading for growth are frameworks or "big tents," within which are a set of tools for each. Instructors can select tools to address the needs and challenges in their teaching context.

When you are planning your next course, use the great 8 pillars

Disclaimer The number of pillars can change over time.  So this might be the fab five or the nine pillars someday. The number doesn't matter. The combination of IBL teaching and grading for growth is what matters.


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Grading for growth in large classes: a first attempt

Here's the context. 1000 students are in first-year Linear Algebra, split into 7 lecture sections with 7 different instructors, and 14 TAs, who teach dozens of tutorials/recitations.  That's a lot of people!

We started the term online due to the omicron wave in winter 2022, and then taught the second half of the term with a mix of in-person and online. At the beginning of the term, we did not know when or if we would return to in-person learning, and had to setup the course in early January with the uncertainties of the pandemic. This post focuses on the assessments for the course and some initial thoughts.  

TL;DR You can implement grading for growth even in large, coordinated courses.

Here the assessment setup:

  1. First a major constraint... An in-person final is mandatory and "owned" by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and has to be at least 35% of the grade.  The other 65% of the grade was based on the items below.  Also note that in Canada, 80% is an A-, 70% is a B-, and so on.  So the weight of the final is not as immense as it would be in the U.S.  In the U.S. 25% is a rough conversion.
  2. I gave a two-part final. Part 1 tests core standards worth 25% of the course grade. Part 2 of the final had challenging problems worth 10% intended for students who want to improve their grade to an A or A+.  
  3. In lieu of midterms (which would have been online for at least one of them), students submitted 4 graded group reports. (Two additional assignments were reflective writing assignments for a total of 6 reports.) Group size was set at 2-3 students, and some groups were allowed to grow to 4 due to special circumstances (e.g. adding a student to a group). 
  4. Group reports (30%) were submitted online (Gradescope) and the TAs and instructors graded 2 or 3 of the 4 or 5 problems.  The ungraded problems were checked for completeness.  Problems that were graded, were graded with a rubric for mathematical correctness and presentation.  The entire assignment was out of 10 points, and written feedback was given to students.
  5. Students could resubmit group reports at least once.  For the early group assignments, we had the capacity to accept up to 3 resubmissions. The last group assignment, which was due near the end of the term, allowed us to accept one resubmission.
  6. Online homework (20%) was assigned on MathMatize, and the due date for all assignments was set for the end of term. Students were allowed to redo problems as many times as needed, and were given suggested completion dates that matched the pace of the course. 
  7. Because the course was a flipped, IBL course, students were required to do reading assignments (15%) before class. Reading assignments were done on Perusall, where they were graded using "threshold" grading with instant feedback.  If students made 3 or more comments they would get credit for the assignment.  Reading assignments had a hard due date, because we expected students to read the sections before we would do activities in lectures.  The 4 lowest scores were dropped, which allows students some flexibility. 
Lectures were centered on activities to support student learning of the core ideas. Tutorials were a mix of activities, practicing basics, and preparing students for their group reports.  I won't go into further details about how classes were organized, since the focus of this post is grading for growth.

Students could pass the course if they did all of groups reports, online homework, and reading assignments. Students would need to perform well enough on the final exam to earn an A or B.

The Whys? 
I wanted to accomplish a few things. One is to reset incentives towards learning and intrinsic values.  Another is to center honest, hard working students who want to learn, and reduce incentives for cheating.  A third is to avoid using creepy proctoring software (where students have to ask a proctor for permission to move if they need to vomit), which also use biased algorithms

One aspect of grading for growth that I appreciate is that the honest students, who do their own work and submit their mistakes are not penalized or behind, compared to people who lookup answers or pay for services that give them the answers.  Students who make mistakes receive feedback, and grow from the process.  These students appreciated being able to update their reports and fix issues.  Their grades aren't being negatively affected by those who cheat. The students who cheat will learn less and be less prepared for the final, future courses, their lives, and careers. Online cheating is a reality at the University of Toronto and sadly almost everywhere, when things are setup the old way with timed, rigid, high-stakes (online) tests as the bulk of the grade. 

The pandemic is a major factor still (and will be next year too, imo), and impacts students and their families. The gradient of risk also skews heavily towards the more vulnerable and marginalized.  Grading for growth with opportunities to resubmit work without penalty gives students more time to learn the material during the semester and crucially creates a more level playing field.  If students get sick or have to deal with a family emergency, flexibility is built into the course to help students get their work done during the term. It should not matter, if a student learned something in week 8 vs. week 10. 

Students who don't invest in the learning will not do as well on the final exam or in their future work (or life). The final exam is one of the ways that students are held accountable during the term.  More broadly, students need to learn the course material as well as learn how to learn, and the course philosophy is talked about with students. Students will need both the content knowledge and the improved thinking in their lives, and cheating/looking up answers won't help them become better and smarter.  

Group reports are focused on why questions or having students explain why things work the way they do. Sample questions on group reports:

Give examples of a plane in $\mathbb{R}^3$, using vector form, normal form, and standard/cartesian form. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of each representation.

The setting for this problem is $\mathbb{R}^3$.  Suppose you have a plane $P$ and two vectors $\vec a$ and $\vec b$ in $P$.  The task is about the general question, ``If you add two vectors in a plane, is the result still in the plane?''  More specifically, using examples, diagrams, and sentences, find characteristics of planes, $P$, such that $\vec a + \vec b \in P$.  Additionally, find characteristics of planes, $P$, such that $\vec a + \vec b \notin P$.

Some things I'd like to change  The reason why we have to have group reports vs. individual reports is due to TA hour limitations.  Without constraints I would have students submit individual reports and have all problems graded.  But that is way beyond the budget for TA time. 

Practically speaking, reducing the number of group reports to 2 per term could allow for individual reports, with 1 rewrite each.  The pros would be that there would be more individual feedback, and less incentive for students to divvy up group report problems and focus on fewer problems.  The downside of going down to 2 reports is that you have fewer topics covered and higher stakes per report.  There are other options such as 3 reports done in pairs or 3 reports done individually.   I'll have to sort this out this summer. One takeaway here is that there are options and tradeoffs.

Reading assignments and online assignments generally work as they are intended. They focus on basic skills and fundamental concepts.  The one issue that is specific to the University of Toronto is regarding Perusall and reading assignments. There are local tutoring services in Toronto that sell Perusall comments that customers can copy-paste into the system.  Some of these get flagged as "plagiarism" by the Perusall system, but students can make slight edits and work around the issue.  One way to get around this is to switch to reflective writing assignments submitted via Canvas and grade these for completeness. 

Tweaking the final into more sections to make clear what the standards are and what students are expected to know for the final is another area that will be worked on.  One idea is to have three parts to the final with specific themes. 
  1. Part 1: 10% of course grade is based on core skills (e.g. computing determinants, determining if a set of vectors is linearly independent.)
  2. Part 2: 10% of course grade on demonstrating conceptual understanding of core concepts (e.g. answering concept questions via short answer or sentences.)
  3. Part 3: 15% of course grade on applying ideas and skills to solve more challenging problems. (Prove why a given matrix is/is not diagonalizable.)
Students will be given a final exam guide with the details, sample problems, and a list of standards that will be covered on the exam.   Students who do all the term work would go into the final with 65% of their course grade in hand (or a course grade equal to a C).  Getting 80% of parts 1 and 2, will net 16% or a total score of 81% in the course, which is an A-.   Students who want an A or A+ will need to solve some or all of the Part 3 problems (or get 100% on parts 1 and 2 to get an A).

Setting aside the details of the scheme above, the main takeaway is that instructors can set percentages for the term work and final exam parts in ways to fit the assumptions and values of their institution.  What I did was try my best to think of something that would work and then I'll adjust as I learn and get feedback. 

Places to start A couple easy places to start with grading for growth is to make homework online with infinite attempts (WebWork, MathMatize, or whatever is bundled with your textbook) and setting up a standards-based final exam using.  I am unable to implement a standards-based (formerly called mastery-based) final at UofT due to policy restrictions. 

With standards-based finals what I did in the past is to write a Part 1 of the final with the core standards, where students need to earn 90% on it in order to keep their grade going into the final OR earn a C- (if the incoming grade is below a C-).  Students scoring less than 90% on Part 1 could have their grade go down on a sliding scale up to a whole letter grade.  Part 1 has core standards, such as basic skills and computations.  The theme of Part 1 is "If you pass this class with a C-, you should know these things."  (What is on Part 1 needs to be transparent to students with ample opportunities to practice.)

Part 2 of a standards-based final are challenging problems that are opportunities for students to demonstrate that they learned the material deeply and can raise their grade up to an A.  Part 2 problems can be proofs, explanations, or more challenging problem-solving questions.  

Again I could not implement this due to policy constraints, but standards-based finals are a way to start without having to change everything. Keeping all the other parts the same, and using a standards-based final is a reasonable starting place.   Once you get that down, then you can move onto other parts of the assessment scheme.

Final thoughts  I used grading for growth in small classes (enrollment 25-35) for many years, so the idea wasn't new to me.  Transitioning to coordinating large courses meant focusing on things like group reports, a "tiered" final exam, and then thinking about how to make things work within the TA hours constraints.  The smaller the class, the more options you have. 

One advantage of having a TA hours budget is that you have to think about what would work without spending all your time on grading.  It's not ideal or "excellent," whatever that means, but it's better.  And better is good.  More TA hours would also be good :)  

If you are teaching a small course and have no TAs, one idea is to think of your own budget in time. Set aside a number of hours you would spend marking per week or per term, and then figure out what could work in that time budget. 

I know that for many it is big step to use alternative grading, but there are major benefits to switching that needs to be emphasized again and again.  When you align assessment with learning and implement IBL or active learning, it's a much better experience for students and makes the entire course more aligned with the goals of education.  It brings us closer to our vision of humanistic math education. Thus, it is worth the effort to go down this route.

Resource Check out the Grading Conference group, their slack channel, and work with a community of educators working on this grading for growth. They are a fun, friendly group, and will help you get started. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Dual delivery: teaching in-person and online for equity and access for students with disabilities, marginalized students

Dual-delivery teaching is the idea of teaching in-person and online at the same time.  It's also called hyflex or hybrid teaching, and I am not sure how these are defined by others.  In this post, I outline why I chose to teach dual-delivery everyday for this past academic year, and why I think this is an important way forward as we continue to deal with the pandemic and ultimately provide better support for students with disabilities and students at higher risk.  I also share my tech setup and some of experiences from this past year.

Context I teach large lecture sections of 150-200 students, with TAs, access to Zoom and Zoom cloud storage, and being able to buy the necessary gear.  I teach at the University of Toronto, a large, urban, public research institution.  I am an able-bodied person with not health conditions, and my perspectives are as an ally. 

Why should we still offer some form of online option? The gradient of risk skews disproportionately towards poorer, marginalized, black, brown, indigenous, and disable people.  What this means is that they have to manage more risk and can suffer worse outcomes due to a range of factors, many of which are consequences of an unequal society that existed before the pandemic.  

Consider the case where a student is vulnerable or lives with someone who is vulnerable.  Considers the multiple layers of students who come from marginalized communities, take mass transit, lack access to good healthcare, sick leave, and options to work from home.  Additionally, when students get sick and need to isolate, they need access to the course. While these are just a handful of examples, the general point we can draw is that risks and consequences are not equally shared by our students. Marginalized, racialized, disabled student bear much more of the risks and consequences of the pandemic.  

Some politicians and administrators framed returning to in-person learning using the false binary of (A) in-person = good for mental health vs. (B) virtual learning = bad for mental health.  In reality we live in a much more diverse and complex world.  Some students are concerned about their health, and being forced to return to in-person classes is a source of anxiety. Hence, society has a wide spectrum of people and needs, and false dichotomies are by nature unequal, not inclusive, and can contribute to codifying systemic inequities.

If we take a step back and think about teaching over the past several decades, we have not given much attention to people with disabilities to our shame.  The pandemic exposed this clearly.  We don't do nearly enough for students with disabilities.  And as people get tired of the pandemic and rush back to in-person only learning, we also eliminated online access in most cases, leaving marginalized students behind yet again.  Many institutions chose in person only, and if students can't make or miss class, then the message was for them to "get the notes from a classmate," as if nothing happened between 2020 and today. 

But the thing is, we know how to do it better. We learned during this pandemic how to teach online, and provide more access and more support for disabled and marginalized students.  Offering students online options provides more ways for students to manage their risk and get an education.

My current tech set-up and typical day  
  1. iPad, apple pencil, laptop, Rode Wireless Go mic.
  2. Teach class from the physical classroom, and start a zoom meeting.
  3. Zoom screen share iPad, connected via cable (for quality and reliability).
  4. Project computer screen in class via HDMI, so students in class see the iPad screen.
  5. Use a mic setup that allows students in-class and online to hear you (necessary for large lecture halls, not necessary for smaller classes.)
  6. Class is taught using Notability (PDF annotation app) used as a virtual whiteboard with prepared handouts and google slides.
  7. Record class meetings to Zoom cloud, post to Canvas with PDF notes from class.
A typical day is similar to what I'd normally do. I have activities planned that switch between students working in pairs and whole class discussion. With the zoom option open, student can join breakout rooms or depending on the attendance, stay in a whole group discussion online.  The teaching experience is broadly the same, but there are differences. 

I visit in-person students as I would normally. I go around the room and check in on a subset of groups as move around the class to different locations each time. I use this to guide the timing and to seek out questions or topics we need to make public.

For zoom students, I tried a couple of different things, depending on whether I had a TA in the lectures (AKA lecture TA). When I had a lecture TA, I would have the lecture TA manage the zoom discussions.  In my opinion, this is the best option. It's hard to manage the zoom discussions and in-person discussions (for me and my context of large classes).  Having a TA dedicated to working with the online students worked best, and it's what I recommend if possible.

In some of my classes, I did not have a lecture TA, and in that situation, I am not be able to monitor the zoom class as much.  I did try having students work in breakout rooms, via selecting their own group or assigning students to groups randomly.   Some groups worked on the problems, and other groups were less active.  My sense is that for each class of students there may be different levels of participation depending on the specific people in the class, and there isn't a single strategy that works for all situations.  My approach is to go in with a strategy to encourage student engagement, and select from a list of strategies to see what works. As I get more experience, I may be able to say more and find ways to refine my teaching so that I can check in on the zoom students more frequently.   

One advantage for students on Zoom is chat.  Chat is the most used feature and I engage with students in class on Zoom via chat.  The chats would range from welcoming students at the start of class, asking 3-2-1-go questions, soliciting responses to math questions, and answering questions.  When I give the class a task to work on, I use part of that time to check on the chat, switching between chat and visiting students in class. 

Padlet/Google doc is one way to help students in both groups to share in a single space. I have had mixed success with this.  Moving to an app on a phone or switching to another browser is an extra step. That extra step is enough to see a drop in participation.  Instructions have to be clear and direct, where we ask each group (pair) to share their thinking. (One idea I may try in the future, is to ask students in-person to have one group member join the zoom meeting with video off, in order for the group to access the class chat. Another suggestion I learned about is to use Discord/Slack during class, but that also requires using another app.)

Why post a recording? Some students truly benefit from a recording, particularly some students with disabilities. Recordings allow students to stop/start/review the video enabling them to to stay focused on the content, see the live transcript, etc., where they might otherwise get lost in a live class.  This is the main reason to post recordings. 

There are other reasons to post recordings. If you teach a multi-section course, perhaps only one of the classes needs to be taught in dual-delivery mode. For example, some instructors may not have the skills yet to teach via active learning and dual delivery, and the recording can be used by students from any section.   Sometimes students need to revisit an idea or want to review, and having a recording is helpful in these cases.  Students who get sick may not feel well enough to join synchronously, and having options for catching up. I am sure there are more reasons, and this is merely a list from my experience.

The most common reason I have heard against posting recordings stems from a deficit mindset. The reasoning is more or less boils down to concerns that some students will become lazy and not attend class, if a zoom recording is available.  Therefore, their reasoning is to not offer class recordings in order to force students to attend class.  But let's be clear. The needs of students with disabilities should always take priority over something like attendance policies.  One of my former students said it best.
"Accessibility should never be a bargaining chip or an afterthought. It's about making something that isn't possible for someone possible, and that's not nothing for people who are disabled—it's absolutely everything, it's the whole wide world."  - anonymous student, University of Toronto
What's hard about dual delivery? It's more work, and involves a lot of juggling.  Ideally, instructors should be provided with enough TAs/learning assistants to manage the in-person and online activities. If you have small classes, then it is more doable without TA help.   For larger classes, having extra help makes a bigger difference.

I did teach a large class (enrollment 140) in dual delivery without any TA support in lectures. It's not easy, and you have to make choices with how you use your time.  What this meant in practice is that I did not have the time or resources to check on the zoom breakout rooms often. I primarily used chat to communicate with the online students, but was not able to manage group dynamics regularly.  During group work time, I would visit students working in pairs in the in-person portion of class, and the timing of in-person group work tends to go faster than online groups, which is another factor to consider.  One way to mitigate all this is to be sure that students knowhow class is structured, and they could still ask questions via chat or take their questions to their weekly 2-hour tutorial/recitation section or office hours.

Students are nearly universally understanding. In most of their courses, they do not have an online option. Thus, the existence of something and knowing that you are trying your best with the time and resources you have is well-received. The point here is that students understand when resources are limited, and offering something and knowing you are doing your best is appreciated, even if it is not ideal. 

The big institutional limitation is lack of support for the extra work this takes at the present time.  There exists solutions to helping a broader range of students in all our classes that can be implemented now.  Institutions should provide the TA/LA hours, the gear, and any necessary training and support for more instructors to do this effectively.  It's something I will be advocating for going forward so that dual delivery will become more widespread.

Technical stuff Audio is the biggest tech challenge, especially if you need to be mic'd up for a large lecture hall. The fix is to either use two mics, or to use a line splitter.  I chose the latter. 
  • Rode Wireless Go transmitter on my shirt sends the audio signal to the receiver.
  • The receiver sends the audio signal to a line splitter.  You then need two more cables to connect one line to the AV system in the classroom and another line to your computer. (The cable to my computer requires a TRS to TRRS adapter.) 
  • Good audio makes a big difference for video or zoom, so I suggest investing in a lavalier mic or wireless lavalier mic system. When audio is poor quality it can make the videos much harder to learn from. 
Technical setup time is about 5 minutes to get the AV system on, mics on, iPad and zoom meeting up and running and then all the window management that comes with zoom.  With repetition it gets easier, but it's a lot of setup time and you do have to double check each day that you have all your gear ready, batteries charged up. It's a production I repeated for each and every class meeting this year. 

I should note that there are other ways to setup your tech. What I described is a bit ad doc, based largely on the equipment I already had and what I am familiar with. If you try something like this, your tech setup might look different.

Assessment Another piece I'll only mention briefly is standards-based grading. This topic deserves its own blog post.  What I'll share is that equity and accessibility also intersects with assessment, and having flexible due dates and opportunities to resubmit work is another piece of the approach I am using.  Given the turmoil of going to college during a pandemic, students getting sick, etc., having a flexible assessment system keeps more students moving forward in their education.  I didn't have to deal with tons of emails about needing extensions or petitions for missed midterms, etc.  The assessment system was designed so that students were encouraged to learn, get feedback, and continue learning. 

Summary Now that we have the tech, skills, and experience, more of us can move forward with reaching and supporting a wider spectrum of our students.  It's more work, and it'll require some training and investment from our institutions to help us manage an appropriate workload and do it well.  The big benefit will be in creating a more humanistic educational experience for a wider range of students. 

Dual Delivery + Active Learning + Standards Based Grading + Humanity

The pandemic is not over yet.  No matter how badly we want it to be over, it's not over, especially and particularly for marginalized people.  In fact, with the way public health measures have suddenly disappeared this year, at-risk people are possibly in a more dangerous time now than in 2020.  Further many student needs (students with disabilities) will continue to exist even after the pandemic is in the past. Thus, providing dual delivery gives students the freedom to manage their risks and make decisions that work for them.  Rather than going with a one-size-fits-the-able-bodied students as some of us are being encouraged to subscribe to, we can instead use what we learned to show grace, kindness, empathy, and humanity and teach all our students.  

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Liminal space

 “Honor the space in between no longer and not yet.” 

                          - Nancy Levin.


I’ve written this post a dozen times, and have deleted it a dozen times. I am still processing.  What existed before (pre 2019) is no longer, and what we will be in the future is not yet here. We’re in liminal space. 


Fall 2021 has been the hardest semester that I have ever experienced as an educator by far.  Even though the coronavirus is not done, some people or many people are done with it. I totally understand that it’s been hard, and we want to move on.  Along with covid fatigue I have seen less empathy and kindness, and I learned quite a few very unwelcome things about the systems and societies we live in. Many of us lost loved ones or colleagues, have had to deal with covid, or had to work in unsafe conditions and the stress that goes along with it. 


Team education is about the long game. We are educating today’s youth, as a social responsibility to them, to prepare all of them for their future lives. While some try to spin education as a commodity or individual good, I push back against this “consumer” notion of education and re-center it as a social responsibility. Using the social responsibility lens has helped me understand where we have come from and where I hope we can go.  


Where we were wasn’t all rainbow cupcakes and unicorns. Back in 2019 and before, we know we had major cracks in society from inequality to inequitable systems to classrooms that still were based on the weedout culture. 


I also understand that we want to get back to being able to do some things in person, such as see our friends for lunch. Yes, we want those basic, human parts of normal back and I am all for it. I'm not talking about that part of normal.


The other part of normal is what I hope we don’t go back to. That part of normal, brought us to how we mismanaged the pandemic in the context of a spectrum of inequities. Teachers and nurses quitting or thinking about quitting their jobs, because they were treated in undignified ways. Witnessing a non-expert suddenly in charge of managing how a campus deals with a rapidly evolving infectious disease, despite there being much better qualified people available, without enough safety precautions, and requiring students to sign waivers to release that campus of tort liability, all the while ignoring the concerns of the local community.  It’s like that time when you went to dinner with a friend, who treated the waiter terribly, and you learned that person isn’t someone you wanted to hangout with anymore. It’s that feeling times 1,000,000.


Where do we go from here? I don’t have answers, but I know a direction for the long game.  The striking thing to me as I have observed and watched people and society, is that the lack of collectivist values and empathy are things that desperately need to be addressed.  I don’t know how we accomplish this in college math classes yet, but I do know that it’s not enough to teach math as isolated from humanity. 


Sometimes new beginnings are disguised or start as painful endings. Sometimes we are betwixt and between. This time could be merely a waiting place, where we just sit it out. Liminal space, however, could be a graced period, where we create something special for the next phase.  The active learning movements were not born out of some mythical halcyon days, where students were all learning and succeeding. Thoughtful people noticed that there were shortcomings in education and that we needed to do better for our students.


So I have a direction to travel through this liminal space. That direction is towards humanistic math education.  Humanistic math education has risen in my thinking more and more over the years. Initially it was about inclusion and equity and helping students succeed at math, and I see even more now that it’s also about somehow teaching people to be more collectivist and that education must also be about all of us. Knowing math is not enough to be a moral citizen, and likewise teaching via IBL without the humanistic element is not sufficient. 


Take care and stay safe!


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Resources for Professional Developers (short post)

Note:  I've been backlogged for a few months from moving and starting at a new job. More posts on IBL topics coming. 

Last August, I gave the Leitzel Lecture at MAA MathFest.  In that talk, I shared some resources for professional developers.  Here's a link to a webpage on the AIBL site with a range of resources.

Some items you find are:

  • N things to consider when facilitating a workshop
  • AIBL Handbook for Online Professional Development: Lessons Learned from PRODUCT Workshops
  • AIBL Workshop Modules for course coordinators running department-level workshops on IBL
  • Self-paced course on Race in America
  • Links to blog posts on equity and inclusion
  • Explainers and evaluation reports for about what IBL workshops are and evidence about their effectiveness.