Multivariate Calculus at Missouri S&T

Guest Post by:

Associate Teaching Professor Dee Leach – Mathematics and Statistics

DeeLeach-doccamSeveral new resources involving technology aimed at improving student success and course availability have been implemented for the Missouri S&T Math 22 (Multivariate Calculus) course.  These resources were created and implemented in support of the Missouri S&T Strategic Plan and the Calculus course redesign initiative.  One of the resources involves delivery and recording of multivariate calculus classes via the Tegrity application.  The lecture/discussion from one section of Math 22 are delivered and recorded on a daily basis using Tegrity.  These lectures/discussions are used synchronously by some students who are not physically present in the classroom.  Other students use the recordings in an asynchronous manner as review or supplemental material in support of learning the subject matter.  The recordings are made available to all 330+ students enrolled in Math 22 at Missouri S&T.  Initial feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive.  There have been over 200 viewings of the recordings in the first week.  Of equal importance, the students who are in the room while the class is being recorded report no degradation of their classroom experience.

This resource makes use of technology that is both currently-available and well-known on the Missouri S&T campus.  The system has proven to be very stable, “low overhead” and easy to use for students and instructor alike.  The challenge in this implementation has been the necessity of the instructor to use a doc cam rather than a blackboard as the writing medium.  Mathematics classes are not well-suited for pre-fabricated presentations (e.g., PowerPoint).  This is because it is very difficult or impossible to “walk” students through a proof or problem solution that has been written out in advance.  Thus, a large amount of writing on the part of the instructor occurs during these classes to help students to focus on the techniques being used.  Unfortunately, this is independent of the mode of instruction (lecture, discussion) and it a major reason why a lot of mathematics instructors prefer large spaces (blackboards/whiteboards) over an 11×17 piece of paper on which to show proofs, problem-solving methods, and worked examples of problems.  Asking a mathematics instructor to go from using a blackboard (large medium) to a doc cam (little piece of paper) is tantamount to asking that instructor to change her teaching style that she perhaps has spent her entire career honing to a fine art.

I am fortunate in that no one asked me to change anything; I made the decision to try the new approach (doc cam) with the idea that I could always go back to the blackboard if something unacceptable resulted from the change.  As it has turned out, I have found that, personally, I can deliver my lecture/discussion/problem demonstration/recitation using a doc cam and I can do this as effectively as I can do these things with a blackboard/whiteboard.  Surprisingly, it did not take long at all (a couple of days) to adjust from one medium to the other.   One aspect I find uncomfortable with using the doc cam is that I feel “chained” to the podium. My style is to walk back and forth as I write on the board and sometimes walk forward into the classroom seating area to interact with students.  I find that I am generally unable to do this with the doc cam.  One concern I had in the beginning was whether it would take additional time to write things on the small piece of paper because of neatness and readability concerns.  As it has turned out, my recorded lecture covers the same material as my later non-recorded lecture within 2-3 minutes either way.  Another concern I continue to have involves the impact (if any) on the students in the classroom with me during the classes that are recorded.  A promise I made to these students was that their experience would not be degraded or sacrificed in the name of “technology” or “progress”.  To address my own concern, I continually keep these students in the decision-making loop regarding such things as lighting in the room, color and size of pen to use, how fast/slow I’m conducting the class, etc.  I am fortunate in that I typically develop very good rapport with my students who are comfortable with giving me direct feedback on all aspects of the classes I teach and based on their suggestions (and concurrence) I have made modifications more or less “on the fly” as to how I present the material.

The implementation of synchronous delivery and recorded lectures for Math 22 has been relatively painless and trouble-free.  Students were, and continue to be, involved in the decision-making process and I believe that this is absolutely critical to the success of any strategic initiative implementation directed at students.   The transition from blackboard/whiteboard to doc cam for me was not huge as I discovered that many of my concerns quickly became non-issues.  In the future, I believe that the level of success for others in transitioning from one writing medium to another will be highly dependent on the individual instructors,  their preferences, their skills and abilities, and their respective teaching style.