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Newsletter Article November 13, 2020

College Math Instructors Praise Timely Training for Online Teaching

Reacting to the sudden shift to online instruction driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 300 faculty teaching entry-level math courses learned ways this summer to adapt their teaching to online delivery, thanks to grants from Ascendium and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ascendium funded this project through our focus area to Remove Structural Barriers to Success, recognizing that entry level math courses are major stumbling blocks that disproportionately impact low-income students and students of color. The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness finds that substantially higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students are assigned developmental courses compared to white students. Research by Strong Start to Finish finds that less than 10 percent of two-year students in developmental education graduate within three years and further, only 35 percent of four-year students in developmental education graduate within six years.

The grants supported the Charles A. Dana Center’s ongoing work designing and piloting the National Virtual Professional Learning Series. Faculty representing 117 different colleges and universities took part in 15 groups, including two comprised of faculty from tribal colleges and universities. The sudden switch to online learning, including issues of broadband access, are particular concerns for students of such institutions, and the learning series helped faculty address these concerns head-on.

Success in college math requires intense, sustained effort on the part of students and frequent interaction with instructors, which is easier to sustain with in-person classes, study sessions and office hours. "Mostly what participants wanted to learn was how to engage students in an asynchronous environment and how to encourage active learning and collaboration online," said Martha Ellis, Ph.D., interim managing director at the Dana Center.

Participants attended six two-hour sessions that comprised a mix of best-practice course content presented by a facilitator and small group breakouts, allowing peer interaction and discovery. “Our goal is to build a community of scholars and a community of practice,” Ellis continued, noting that instructors from Miami-Dade Community College and from several tribal colleges are continuing to meet with each other after their courses ended.

The Dana Center did immediate before-and-after surveys of participants and plans more in-depth follow-up later this year. One participant said that although she’d taught online previously, the switch to 100 percent online instruction “made me feel I needed to up my game. I was provided with pedagogy and tools to help me significantly improve my courses.” The Dana Center also is collecting pre- and post-course data from participants to gauge the impact of the series on student learning.

Ascendium’s $125,000 grant to the Dana Center comes from our $2 million COVID-19 Impact Response Fund for urgent needs in the field. Other grants from the fund address transfer, credit mobility, digital learning and credentials for adult learners, all of which face a heightened sense of urgency and need during this pandemic.

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