We are half-way into the semester and students from all three of my courses have taken at least one test by this point. In order for me to find out what they feel about the test, and the course in general, I sent out an anonymous survey a week after MATH2720 students received their test 1 score. This was done right before Wednesday’s lecture. A QR code was projected in front of the classroom. As students walked into the room, they can scan the code and still filling up the form. 41 responses were recorded so about half of the class took the survey. In Test 1, students were given about five minutes to talk with their peers right before they write the test paper and I’m curious to find out what they think about the activity. The purpose of the activity is mainly to alleviate stress. To many of these students, this is their very first in-person test since 2020 March. I understand many of them feel extremely anxious towards math tests in general. The activity offers the opportunity for students to talk it out, and to orally review the test topics with their peers. 28 (roughly 68%) of them find it somewhat helpful. I do plan to change the format a bit in Test 2: they would be able to open up the test paper, look at what’s on the test, then have a short discussion with their peers. No writing would be allowed during this period. I will do another survey afterward to see how people think of it.
I’m also curious to know which part of the course students find the most useful and the response here is so diverse that I’m having a hard time interpreting it. The number of people who find attending labs as the most useful part of the course is roughly the same with the number of people who find it least useful. So my guess is maybe some students didn’t read the instruction of the ranking question carefully: the item on top corresponds to number 1, the least useful, and the item at the bottom, corresponding to number 5, the most useful. I do feel the design of this question is a bit counter-intuitive: if something is at the bottom, I’d assume it’s least useful, but then it corresponds to the highest number so even though I did clarify what these numbers mean, my guess is some students still place the least useful item at the bottom.
Majority of the students started doing review about two days before the test and they felt the main reason they couldn’t solve a test question is due to unpreparedness. Most of them do feel their input matched their test grades and almost everyone mentioned they will practice more for future tests.
Hopefully this self-reflection activity helps students to think about how they are approaching this course. It definitely offers some valuable insight for me as an instructor though I do want to find out what happened to the ranking question.
It’s hard to believe we are in the 5th semester since the pandemic started in 2020 March. I’m still teaching online for this fall semester, and I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on my course design choices this fall, and share with you what worked, and what didn’t so far.
My focus is still building a learning community that connects students with each other and with me. In the summer I experimented with Microsoft Teams platform and found it worked well so I decided to continue using it as the main channel for communication. This fall I’m more intentional when using Teams and am able to explore more functions that Teams offer. Class Notebook was made available a week before the semester started, together with the course syllabus. Students received the link to join Teams and once they are in, they will see 10 Channels listed in the course: General, Culture Box, Introduce Yourself, Math-Memes, Pre-lecture video Related Qs, PrepGuide Related Qs, StudyTips, and Test Related Qs, Textbook Related Qs and Tutorial Related Qs. I posted the first message in the channel “Introduce Yourself” and ended my self-introduction with a question. Whoever posted after me will answer my question first before introducing themselves, and they will end their post with another question. This channel became the first contact point where students get to know each other. If you want to do something similar, bear in mind that not all students are comfortable sharing information about themselves in a public space so make sure you give your students the choice of participating or not. Since we have regular weekly discussion activity planned, after the first week, 16 private channels were set to accommodate the discussion groups. When students were first sent to Zoom break-out rooms, they did an ice-breaker activity with their TA. We borrowed a lot of ideas from Equity Unbound: https://onehe.org/equity-unbound/ and there is deliberate effort for ongoing engagement on a weekly basis whenever students work in their group. Groups were finalized by week 3 and once the bound between group members has formed, they tend to work together not only during scheduled activity, but also after class. I changed the tutorial structure of this course accordingly. Every Friday there is one 50-minute lab session and one TA who facilitates it. Instead of asking the TA to run a synchronous session with all students, I asked each group to set up their own Zoom meeting and posted the links in a shared Excel file hosted on Teams. Then whenever a group needs help, they can message the TA and the TA will join them. This has been working well: students still have the sense of working in a small group setting and the TA gets to work closely with them. We are able to address common misunderstandings by posting a message to the whole class, and the TA is open to making short video clips to clarify common mistake he saw.
Even though we are only less than a month into the semester, I can tell the class has bounded well and the attendance has been very high. I usually have 90+ students attending synchronous sessions with me on Wed and Friday on Zoom, which has never happened in the past few semesters. Usually if I get half of the class, that’s considered well-attended. I hope we can continue this trend.
The only concern I have is I don’t know what exactly happens when students work in their groups. I won’t be able to monitor all 16 groups at the same time, though they do submit individual work after each group discussion and I can at least see whether authentic learning happened by looking at the work, and reading through their self-reflections. I made sure each submission has a self-reflection question at the end, and I have received a few messages from students about how much they appreciate it. It’s important to give students the space to pause and think about how they are learning and doing math, and I plan to keep the practice going forward.