Category Archives: Educational technology

March 18, 2014, 4:34 pm

What should mathematics majors know about computing, and when should they know it?

5064804_8d77e0d256_mYesterday I got an email from a reader who had read this post called What should math majors know about computing? from 2007. In the original article, I gave a list of what computing skills mathematics majors should learn and when they should learn them. The person emailing me was wondering if I had any updates on that list or any new ideas, seven years on from writing the article.

If anything, over the past seven years, my feelings about the centrality of computing in the mathematics major have gotten even more entrenched. Mostly this is because of two things.

First, I know more computer science and computer programming now than I did in 1997. I’ve learned Python over the last three years along with some of its related systems like NumPy and SciPy, and I’ve successfully used Python as a tool in my research. I’ve taken a MOOC on algorithms and read, in whole or in part, books…

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July 30, 2013, 8:11 am

Can online students become socialized?

3770483632_6b6a8e83e6_mJennifer Morton writes in the Chronicle this morning about the social and behavioral competencies that students in online classes develop – or rather, don’t develop – as compared to their peers in traditional face-to-face courses. She (quite rightly) points out that MOOCs and the like present an opportunity for disadvantaged students to get the proverbial leg up into higher education at a drastically reduced price, and (again, quite rightly) notes that to the extent that traditional education sticks to outmoded lecture-based pedagogy, there’s no reason for disadvantaged students not to turn to MOOCs.  Well, no reason except this:

A college education bestows not just cognitive skills—mathematical, historical, and scientific knowledge—but practical skills—social, emotional, and behavioral competencies. Tenacious, confident, and socially competent employees have an edge over…

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July 11, 2013, 8:00 am

4+1 Interview with Derek Bruff

Derek BruffIt’s my pleasure to introduce a new series here at Casting Out Nines called 4+1 Interviews. In each of these interviews, I’ve picked out someone who I believe has something interesting to say about mathematics, education, or technology and given them four questions to ask. And at the end, the interviewee gets to pick his or her own question to answer, hence the +1. One of my favorite things about my job and about blogging and Tweeting is that I come into contact with a lot of really smart people very frequently, and I thought it would be nice to share these folks with you. I’m hoping to post about one of these every 2-4 weeks, and the lineup of upcoming interviews is very exciting.

Our first interview in this series is with Derek Bruff. Derek is the Director for Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and the author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating…

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June 25, 2013, 12:04 pm

What math topic do engineering faculty rate as the most important?

did-an-even-math-problem-by-accident-answer-not-in-back-of-bookI’m at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference right now through Thursday, not presenting this time but keeping the plates spinning as Mathematics Division program chair. This morning’s technical session featured a very interesting talk from Kathy Harper of the Ohio State University. Kathy’s talk, “First Steps in Strengthening the Connections Between Mathematics and Engineering”, was representative of all the talks in this session, but hers focused on a particular set of interesting data: What engineering faculty perceive as the most important mathematics topics for their areas, and the level of competence at which they perceive students to be functioning in those topics.

In Kathy’s study, 77 engineering faculty at OSU responded to a survey that asked them to rate the importance of various mathematical topics on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the…

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April 22, 2013, 9:29 am

The flipped classroom is not about “throughput”

The Washington Post reports this morning (apologies if this is behind a paywall) about how some universities are (finally?) moving from in-class lecture as the basis for their “large lecture” courses to the flipped or inverted classroom. Says the article:

Colleges are absorbing lessons from the online education boom, including the growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. And some professors are “flipping”  their classrooms to provide more content to students online and less through standard lectures.

William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the system hopes the redesigned courses save money and boost performance.

“The passive, large lecture method of instruction is dead,” Kirwan said. “It’s just that some institutions don’t know it yet. We do.”

This is nice to hear, but watch out for that phrase, “saves money…

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February 5, 2013, 7:45 am

Khan Academy Redux

The last thing I expected to encounter this week was a resurgence in the Khan Academy Debates of this past summer. Those, if you remember, centered around this spoof video created by my GVSU colleagues John Golden and Dave Coffey. My own contribution to those debates remains the single most viewed post I’ve ever published in nearly ten years of blogging. But honestly, I hadn’t thought much about Khan Academy since then — until Monday afternoon.

Dave (Coffey) sent me a tweet alerting me to this whitepaper published by the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank based in San Francisco. “Look at page 14,” Dave said. I did, and found that I was being used as a prime example of a Khan Skeptic. Actually I am the last in a list of skeptics whose skepticism the authors attempt to dispatch. I’m in good company, as Keith Devlin is the first on that list and Veritasium…

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December 18, 2012, 4:17 pm

Doing linear algebra with peer instruction and Learning Catalytics

I’m excited and happy to be teaching linear algebra again next semester. Linear algebra has it all — there’s computation that you can do by hand if you like that sort of thing, but also a strong incentive to use computers regularly and prominently. (How big is an incidence matrix that represents, say, Facebook?) There’s theory that motivates the computation. There’s computation that uncovers the theory. There’s something for everybody, and in the words of one of my colleagues, if you don’t like linear algebra then you probably shouldn’t study math at all.

Linear algebra is also an excellent place to use Peer Instruction, possibly moreso than any other sophomore-level mathematics course. Linear algebra is loaded with big ideas that all connect around a central question (whether or not a matrix is invertible). The computation is not the hard part of linear algebra — it…

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November 7, 2012, 7:00 am

Adopting new instructional strategies: Going with the gut

I’m really excited to be working next semester as a co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant with my Grand Valley State colleagues Scott Grissom (Computer Science), Shaily Menon (Chemistry), and Shannon Biros (Chemistry). We’re going to be interviewing a large number of GVSU faculty to try to understand why some of us adopt research-based instructional methods like peer instruction and why others don’t.

As we were putting together the grant proposal earlier this year, one statistic really impressed the importance of this study on me. GVSU is a fairly big place – we have nearly 25,000 students on multiple campuses with both undergraduate and graduate degrees offered. I don’t know how many sections of courses we offer in a given semester, but it’s got to be in the thousands. We have over 40 sections currently running for just College Algebra! And yet: How many sections…

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October 17, 2012, 7:21 am

MOOCs in Minnesota

I just completed my second MOOC, the “Securing Digital Democracy” course from Coursera. Emboldened by actually completing it with a passing grade I’ve jumped into another Coursera offering, this time “Introduction to Interactive Python“. My colleague John Golden and I are both taking it, and yesterday John tweeted:

Which got this attention-getting reply from Bret Benesh:

Further down the conversation, Bret pointed to this quote in the Coursera terms of service:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If…

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July 23, 2012, 10:36 pm

What does Khan Academy need?

Marshall Thompson writes in this blog post from a couple of weeks ago that he’s concerned over the tone of the recent and ongoing Khan Academy/#mtt2k debate and is worried about the cost it incurs. It’s a good post, and in the process of commenting on it I realized a few things. Marshall writes:

I get the impression that KA has a goal of pedagogical soundness. Is this the best way to help them achieve that goal?

Sal Khan is not a dummy. He is clearly working through some of the same pedagogical misconceptions we all worked through (and continue to work through). How can we best help him through his personal journey without alienating him or causing him to be defensive?

I have tremendous respect for Sal Khan, but I have to admit that I’m not really concerned about his personal journey or his working through pedagogical misconceptions. It would be fantastic if he began…

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