Transitioning Introductory Math Courses Online to Meet Quality and Efficiency Goals
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities made an almost instantaneous switch from their traditional modes of learning to remote instruction in the middle of the spring 2020 term. Although remote teaching and learning have been used and well-understood in some corners of the academic world for some time, its implementation on this scale by academic leaders and faculty with little or no experience in remote teaching, is unprecedented. The new normal requires new investments and strategies to make online instruction valuable and accessible to all, or at least many more. One area worthy of immediate attention is college-level introductory math.
Introductory math courses (e.g. pre-calculus, calculus, college algebra, introductory statistics) often form a cornerstone of undergraduate general education requirements and serve as gateway courses for many disciplines and majors. At the same time, introductory math courses are frequently an academic chokepoint, an unfortunate off-ramp from a student’s path to a degree. Introductory math as an academic obstacle is a particularly acute problem for the least academically prepared students, representing an outsized proportion of first generation, racial minority, and lower socioeconomic-status students.
Although individual instructors may have previously considered moving a single course online, to effectively respond to the pandemic and remove stumbling blocks for students requires the simultaneous transformation of multiple courses and sections. This level of academic change can only be accomplished with the sustained and focused attention of math department chairs, academic administrators, and senior leaders. To support these institutional decision-makers, Ithaka S+R has partnered with TPSE Math to develop a resource guide intended to help institutions navigate the process of bringing their introductory math courses online while attending to both quality and efficiency.
After identifying and discussing the dimensions of quality and their relationship to efficiency in the context of online introductory math, we propose three specific ways in which academic leaders can move introductory math courses online based on how institutions have done so successfully in the past. Each of these three approaches, or combinations thereof, has the potential to ease the effort of curricular change by strategically coordinating, aligning, and sharing the work. These approaches are 1) the implementation of a master course shell shared by multiple instructors; 2) collaborations among multiple institutions to design and deliver new online courses; and 3) outsourcing instruction to trusted providers working within a course-sharing consortium or platform.
There is already a wealth of resources on pedagogies for the online learning environment, but less widely available are collections of digital resources specifically for online introductory math. As an additional resource for institutions looking to make this kind of change to their curriculum, we have also assembled an archive of specific digital tools and techniques recommended by math faculty and instructional designers. These resources can be found on the Ithaka S+R website.
In responding to the pandemic, the pace of change within higher education has increased dramatically. The slow adoption of online learning for introductory math has suddenly moved to the forefront of the curriculum change agenda for many institutions. This resource guide can aid academic leaders in making that transition for the benefit of their students as well as their institutions.