Transitioning to
Online Introductory Math


The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place orders enforced throughout the country prompted a rush to emergency remote learning in spring 2020.[1] As institutions enter the next phase of planning with a substantial share of their courses expected to be delivered in hybrid or fully online formats, there is an urgent need to move emergency remote instruction toward more sustainable and intentional models that incorporate evidence-based standards and practices for online learning. It is imperative that higher education institutions capitalize on this pivotal moment—when more people than ever before are talking about teaching and learning—to bring their communities of stakeholders together to lead a meaningful change that will have a lasting impact on student learning while navigating these unprecedented times.One area worthy of immediate attention is college-level introductory math, which has an outsized impact on the likelihood of students continuing their postsecondary education and earning a degree.[2] As a core part of undergraduate general education requirements, introductory math courses serve as important pathways for students to enter a wide range of study fields, including those that lead to high-wage and high-growth careers.[3] Given the prevailing racial, ethnic, and gender inequities in the world of work, particularly those in STEM fields, math is a critical area of focus to promote greater access and social mobility for all students.[4] The pandemic-induced economic downturn and anticipated budget cuts throughout higher education make this focus more dire. Without a strategy and coordinated action, the current outlook threatens to substantially reduce students’ success in these introductory math courses and consequently their success in today’s increasingly dynamic knowledge economy

To that end, this report aims to be a resource for department chairs, academic administrators, and senior leaders involved in decisions about the structure, delivery, and modality of introductory math courses. Although specific strategies around pedagogy and technology are inevitable in the transition to online learning, this report targets the institutional decision-making process to move introductory math courses online and explores possibilities for doing so at scale. Resource suggestions are provided that may be useful once the decision to transition online is made, but this report is not intended as a “how to” guide for teaching online and will not address specific pedagogies, technologies, or the individual decisions of instructors and their courses.


  1. For a detailed account of student and faculty experiences with emergency remote learning in spring 2020 at a large public institutional system, see Christy McDaniel, Catherine Suffern, Jenna Joo, and Rayane Alamuddin, “Student and Faculty Experiences with Emergency Remote Learning in Spring 2020: Insights from an Exploratory Qualitative Study,” Ithaka S+R, forthcoming; also see Melissa Blankstein, Jennifer K. Frederick, and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, “Student Experiences During the Pandemic Pivot,” Ithaka S+R, June 25, 2020,; also see Doug Lederman, “How College Students Viewed This Spring Remote Learning,” Inside Higher ED, May 20, 2020,
  2. Colleen Moore and Nancy Shulock, “Student Progress Toward Degree Completion: Lessons from the Research Literature,” Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, 2009,
  3. Stella Fayer, Alan Lacey, and Audrey Watson, “STEM Occupations: Past, Present, and Future,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017,
  4. Anthony Martinez and Asiah Gayfield, “The Intersectionality of Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin in the STEM Workforce,” US Census Bureau, 2019,