Un peu de math

A post describing some of the approaches I have used to adapt to the changes imposed by safety measures.

Adapting to blended learning


I have recently been asked to provide some text for a newsletter "about how well our academic staff have adapted to teaching in a different way ie blended learning". Apparently:

"[I] have been very successful in doing this."

Before describing what I have done to adapt to the new situation I want to pause at that comment. I asked where they'd heard that (and won't bore us with the details here) but fundamentally:

I do not know if what I am about to describe has been successful or not

I take pride in using an evidence based approach in my pedagogy. I describe it here: https://vknight.org/tch-phi/. However, with COVID I have not had the time to read what research has been done on teaching in these circumstances (and there is a growing set of literature, for example: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA168-2.html).

What I have done

I have aimed to stick to the following evidence based principles of my teaching philosophy:

To remove friction from transfer of content

To create an active learning environment

Most of the above is not necessarily different from pre COVID times

A part from the use of Zoom that's a very similar approach to what I have done in usual times.

Specific things I have done related to the COVID

I've been aware of the lack of opportunity to "bump" in to someone in a corridor and the chats that happen that way.

As such I've setup a discord server for students to chat to me but also to chat amongst themselves. I've encouraged not only discussions about the course but also general chats about pets and other things like that. This has been something I've certainly enjoyed as it has been nice to get to know some students. Probably slightly more than I'd get to know in normal circumstances.

I have used online chat services in the past but this is something that's worked far better than previous years.

Discussions about the pedagogy.

I have had many ongoing discussions with students about how the class is going and what we are trying to achieve but these have all been very informal. Examples include using an informal poll about how some things have felt for them.

What will I do when things are "normal"

One of the specific prompt questions that was sent to me when I was asked to write a few words:

"Would you continue to use any of these methods when the pandemic is no longer an issue?"

There's very little I would change. The pedagogic principles I've used still apply.

For the specific course I'm teaching the use of zoom breakout rooms as well as screen sharing and remote controlling of desktops is arguably slightly better (on some dimensions) than face to face.

The human contact of a face to face office hour session however is certainly something I'd eagerly go back to. However, I would probably change my office hours to now both be virtual and face to face. I've had a student "come to my office hours" while walking their dog. That's probably not a student who I'd have been able to help if they had had to come my office.

As I stated at the start of this rambling blog post: I do not know if this has been successful.

For the students that I notice? Yes this is going very well. There's an inherent bias there. The chat room is often TOO engaged (which is fantastic) but is this creating barriers for other students?

The above questions are no different to normal circumstances but I hypothesise that it's easier to see the engaged students in these circumstances.

Measuring the effectiveness and reactively modifying the pedagogic approach would be top of my priority list. Frankly: it's not something I personally have capacity for right now.

This is hard, everyone is doing their best.

Be there for your students, listen and speak to them.

A blog about programming (usually scientific python), mathematics (usually game theory) and learning (usually student centred pedagogic approaches).

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