The University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada requires students to take at least one basic math course, whatever they are majoring in, before they can graduate. For many students, this is their final course before graduating in their program. Also, many students find they often do not have the necessary prior mathematics skills needed for some courses in different subject areas. As a result, there are more than 1,000 students per year who need basic math support.
Darja Barr is one of several faculty who teach Math 1010, Applied Finite Mathematics for students needing to meet the requirement of a university-level mathematics course. The course introduces students to modern applications of discrete mathematics, with topics including mathematics of finance, linear programming, graph theory, and game theory. Her section has between 120-140 students each session.
She taught the course in class for several years, dealing with students’ questions during standard office hours. However, she finds students in this course in particular have many questions and are often frustrated if they have to wait for an office appointment to resolve their difficulties.
Similarly, she wanted to provide many other students wanting refresher or basic math help with the necessary resources.
In response to these challenges, Darja Barr introduced two innovations.
1. Math 1010 fully online
First, she moved one of her sections of Math 1010 to fully online delivery.
The online course has the following features:
- Introductory videos she specially created;
- Course notes in the university learning management system;
- A standard Wiley textbook with an associated website with online exercises and assignments, and immediate online feedback on the assignments;
- Frequently asked questions and responses;
- A discussion board for students to share knowledge;
- Previous years’ discussion areas which students can access;
- Students can e-mail questions to her at any time, which she attempts to answer immediately; she often handles around 50 questions a day; and
- A mid-term and final exam (invigilated on campus).
Math 1010 online is basically a question and answer course, where students learn something, are tested using the textbook’s online assignments, and receive immediate feedback.
A screenshot from one of Darja Barr’s videos
Darja Barr, with the help of a grant from the University, designed LevelUp, a fully online resource for those students who need to refresh their math knowledge and skills. University of Manitoba students can self-register for this resource through the university learning management system. LevelUp covers almost all undergraduate math topics.
The resource is self-paced, including instructional videos, exercises, and quizzes aimed at getting students up to speed and refreshed on basic mathematical skills. Everything from basic number sense to trigonometry and logarithmic functions is covered. Students can self select as few or as many topics as they wish to cover to get them up to the necessary prior proficiency level of whatever course they are about to take. Quizzes and tests are automatically marked. Although the resource is fully online, instructor support is also available in the form of extra e-mail help, if requested by a student.
LevelUp is now running with approximately 1,000 students a term taking it as a requirement for the University of Manitoba calculus courses. Between 500-1,000 non-credit students a year also use LevelUp.
Screen shot from LevelUp
Benefits and Outcomes
The most immediate and important component, of both Math 1010 and LevelUp, is the immediate or very rapid feedback available online, either through self-assessment questions or through direct e-mail communication with the instructor.
The second benefit is the instructor can manage much larger numbers of students than if either Math 1010 or LevelUp were delivered through the classroom.
A higher proportion of her students now successfully complete the online version of Math 1010 than in her former classroom version, and many students return again to take other components of LevelUp.
There is considerable sharing of resources between the online course and LevelUp, even though they are designed for different purposes.
Darja Barr receives extremely high ratings for Math 1010 on student evaluation systems such as RateMyProfessor.
Challenges and Enhancements
The university learning management system is limited for teaching math, especially in terms of notation (hence faculty members increasing use of video, using marker pens on a whiteboard).
For Darja Barr, the teaching workload is heavy, but the online environment enables a good deal of flexibility, both for her and the students, and saves time in commuting.
Recent studies show many graduates leave Canadian universities without the minimum level of math needed in today’s society.
Self-paced, fully online courses and self-directed study resources, with immediate feedback, enable students from different backgrounds to increase their level of basic math, giving them increased confidence in their mathematical abilities.
Darja Barr’s experience indicates such courses/resources can be offered effectively at scale.
For Further Information
Department of Mathematics
University of Manitoba