Guest Editorial: How I Transitioned My College Algebra Course to Digital Platforms

The world is currently in the midst of a deadly pandemic caused by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID – 19).  In the interest of the public’s health and well-being, COVID – 19 has required most industries to make changes to their operations, procedures, protocols and in some instances policies. This is certainly true for institutions of higher learning.  

The most notable change for traditional Institutions of higher education has been the (hurried) mid-semester transition from traditional classrooms to teaching on an online platform. This transition could bring about a set of problems such as a lack of human interaction that may hinder the learning process of the students.  In addition to direct connection with the instructor being lost in the online environment, researchers indicate that problems may arise in applied courses such as mathematics due to the lack of interaction and motivation.

So, as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Dillard University, this is the dilemma in which I found myself as I prepared to move my college algebra course online with seven days of lead time.

I knew I wanted the course to be interactive, so I (re)developed content to incorporate active learning in the online environment. Developing the online version of the Math course included creating modules for each section.  Each module had a PowerPoint presentation, resources materials, and practice problems.

YouTube videos were also added to the resource material packages for students as related to modules and handouts. Ideally, the modules would be available 48-hours before the class meets, and notifications were sent through Canvas. Students were encouraged to review the material before the class met. The class would entail a combination of tools available in Canvas and PowerPoint; questions would be given throughout the class requiring them to respond to polls or private discussions to answer the questions.  

The first day of class (March 16) arrived. Visual cues were immediately ruled out as only one student had an activated camera. I started to deliver the content and casually asked a question.  Three responses were received.  Mind Blown! I am encouraged, so I provided them a poll.  They all answered it. I was thrilled!   Although not all answers were correct, the poll informed the teaching process. 

It let me know that some areas of the content needed further explanation. Students were provided with mathematical problems to work and provided their proposed solution in a private chat. I also took this time to provide praise and positive feedback to students with the hope of boosting the student’s confidence in their mathematics skills and abilities.  During the next class, the students became more engaged and asked questions in the private chat window. 

Over the past four weeks that we have been meeting online, I have theorized a hypothesis: ‘The anonymity provided to the students in the online platform greatly improves class participation and the learning process.’  As long as communication is between the instructor and the student, they are willing to ask questions, solve problems even at the risk of submitting the wrong answer. As illustrated with a direct quote from one of my students when encouraged to communicate.

“I really think my problem is asking questions and getting them wrong in-front of the class…….. I need to get over that and I will start using the private chat”

It leaves me to wonder whether the initial connection with the students made during the beginning of the traditional semester influenced the interaction received once the course was transitioned to an online platform. Would the infusion of interactive software that allows for anonymity in a traditional classroom setting encourage interaction? This experience leads to considerations of using websites such as Padlet in the traditional classroom setting to continue to provide the comfort of anonymity in the learning process. 

COVID -19 has caused a significant amount of changes and emotional distress. It has also forced higher education to be creative educators in the 21st-century online classroom.  It has opened up new avenues of research on the utilization of technology in the traditional classroom, online and hybrid formats to improve student interaction and inform the learning process.

Dr. Ebony Turner, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Dillard University and has over 20 years of experience developing and managing federal grant programs.  Dr. Turner is certified in Effective Teaching Practices with a concentration in Career Guidance and Readiness Issued by ACUE.