Saturday, April 23, 2011

I have an iPad. So, now what?

I got an iPad from the college yesterday. I'm still trying to figure it out. I've found that it works well for viewing media and is OK for surfing the web. However, I still find it lacking in a few areas.

It does not have have some of the tools that I used on my Palm Tungsten E2. There is not a built-in todo list. There is not an SD card reader, so syncing with iTunes is the only way to get data onto the iPad. The on-screen keyboard is easier than my Palm, but still not as good as a real keyboard. I miss the ability to right-click with my mouse.

The battery life of the iPad is good. I've been on it now for a few hours and still have 69% of the battery left. The media playing is exceptional.

I've been able to get some apps for playing around, but not many for work. The NASA app has some stunning pictures, and the Weather Channel app was good for tracking the tornado warning back home. (I am in Cincinnati for Easter.) I haven't found any apps that will help with my teaching. I was really hoping to use the iPad to help with course management.

I'm still on the fence whether this will help me be a better teacher. I'll keep updating my progress.

Monday, April 11, 2011

American Pennies are Biased? My Students' Contributions

Inspired by Dr. James Tanton's Video, posted below, I asked my students to do a few experiments with pennies. 

The first was to flip a penny twenty times and count the number of heads.  The second was to flip three pennies twenty times, and record the number of heads for each trial.  I am leading to Bernoulli trials, and I'll be using their data when we get there.  The raw data can be found at this link.  Using the probability calculated in the first experiment gives good predictions for the distribution in the second experiment.  Our experiment shows that the probability of flipping heads with a penny is around 0.54.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Course Redesign: Who's Behind It?

Photo Credit: ianmcgibboney.blogspot.com
I'm not about to go on a long, conspiracy-filled rant about who is attempting to take over American Education.  I won't even mention George Saros.  However, there are a few organizations behind the current trends in course redesign that I would like to highlight.

The National Center for Academic Transformation
The NCAT is a non-profit organization that:
... provides leadership in using information technology to redesign learning environments to produce better learning outcomes for students at a reduced cost to the institution.
That quote is from their website.  Two of my coworkers went to a workshop hosted by the NCAT this February in Orlando.  One coworker said that the information in the workshops was already available from their workshops.  The emporium model was featured heavily.

In my opinion the NCAT mentions cost savings too much.  Often class sizes or teaching loads are increased.  My concern is that the academic support/pressure for course redesign is motivated more by cost savings than student learning.

The student learning improvement statistics that are sited are usually about course pass rates.  Many redesigns incorporate mastery learning, which means that students must pass every unit with a given percentage to move to the next unit.  Mastery learning muddies the pass rate measurement for self-paced classes, making them an inaccurate measure of long term learning.  Unfortunately, testing true mastery takes more time than is available during one semester.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Gates Foundation is the philanthropic organization run by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.  The Gates Foundation partners with the NCAT, and the Gates Foundation funded the NCAT's Changing the Equation Program.

My concern with Bill Gates is that he has a world view that computer technology can solve all of the world's problems.  The emporium model may (or may not) work with adults, but the natural progression will be to incorporate it into classrooms for younger and younger students, where it is no longer developmentally appropriate.  Gates has shown his support for the Khan Academy, which is aiming for an audience younger than adults.  I like the Khan Academy videos as a resource, but not as an entire curriculum.

Textbook Publishers
Textbook publishers are becoming to teachers what the pharmaceutical industry is to doctors.  I like our textbook publishing representative, but I would like to have a redesign meeting without him.  The emporium model makes heavy use of computer homework systems, like MyMathLab by Pearson and MathZone by McGraw-Hill.  That means that a textbook publisher will get a licencing fee from every student enrolled in a redesign course.

I realize that textbook publishers are fulfilling an need, and I have no problem with that.  Unfortunately, they are starting to drive academic policies instead of serving the needs of students and educators.

These are the players in the course redesign trend that I feel deserve some attention.  My advice to departments who are considering course redesign is to look at the needs of your student bodies, and remember that the solution that worked for one college may not work for your students.

P.S.  Glenn, I would have used "Youth Movements" to get the "Y" you needed for "OLIGARCHY".  You're on your own for the "C".

Another Step in the Slow Slog to Tenure

That's me at the bottom.
Go me!  (I think.)  I'm in my fourth year at MCTC, which means I've got tenure on my mind everyday.  Being elected as chair of the CRC means that I'm on the KCTCS CRC as well.  That's going to look good on my promotion portfolio in two years.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Course Redesign: The Emporium Model

In my last post on course redesign, I mentioned that the emporium model is the most common model used for course redesign.  The emporium model uses computer-delivered instruction with computer-assisted homework to evaluate the students.  Work is performed in a computer lab with the instructors helping the students as tutors.

My experience with teaching the emporium model is limited.  I taught with it once in graduate school in the fall of 2006.  I had two sections of College Algebra.  The course used ALEKS and the students worked in the lab three days each week.  I had only ten of forty students pass the course.  There were many reasons for a low pass rate, including an impossible final.  (Which I did not write.  It took me a full two hours to complete.)  Also, the course automatically failed students after nine absences.  (Again, not my idea.)

Benefits of the Emporium Model

There are several benefits to the students.  Students are forced to do the work.  The amount of time on task for each student can be recorded by the homework system.  Mastery learning is incorporated into the emporium model in most cases.  That means that the students must show proficiency in each part of the class to pass.  The emporium model is often self-paced minimally-paced.  That means that students can finish more than one course in a semester, or that students can carry their work from one semester to the next if they make enough progress. It is often possible for students to test out of part of a course, allowing them to spend time on the parts where they have difficulty.

The benefits for the instructors is that there is no prep time or grading.  Once the course is set to go, the students do the prepared assignments and watch the prepared videos.  The grading is done by the computer.  Instructors can wander around the computer lab helping students on specific topics, without having to guess on the student's level of understanding.

The benefits for the administration are that more students can be placed in the class, as only one instructor can be in the lab with several tutors to assist.  This means more students can be taught with the same number of faculty.  I've heard of one person teaching nine courses in a semester.  Also, the with self-paced classes, students will have a sense of accomplishment even though they didn't finish the entire course, which leads to higher retention.  With more students eventually passing math, that means that more students will finish their programs and graduation rates will increase.

Drawbacks of the Emporium Model

One of the drawbacks for the students is that they don't know how to adapt to the course structure.  Some students believe that the course is an online course, which means that attendance is a problem.  I had attendance issues when I taught with the emporium, and so have other instructors.  Students also have a hard time transferring math from the computer to paper and back.  When students are in front of the computer, they feel they have to do all the work on the computer.  They don't realize that they need to work on paper as well.  Also, not every student works well in a computer lab.  They need to take the initiative to get the instructors attention, which can be difficult when competing with fifty other students.  

There are also some doubts about how well students learn from computers.  Sylvia Martinez raised this issue today on her blog.  She is writing specifically about the Khan Academy, but her comments are appropriate to the emporium model.

The drawbacks to the instructors is that they have to learn to manage the chaos of the lab.  This may not be a problem for elementary school teachers, but college instructors have less experience with this type of learning environment.  Also, instructors can easily overwhelmed by increased numbers of students.  Even though there is less grading and prep time, there are still student questions to be answered.  Answering e-mail takes up a larger proportion of the instructor's time.  Also, it is difficult for an instructor to judge the comprehension of a student based solely on the feedback from a computer homework system.  There are many different aids built into the software that gives the student and instructor an inflated sense of comprehension.

The drawbacks to administrators is that there may be more students who are entering programs with an inflated sense of preparation.  It is possible for students to fail their next physics or HVAC class because they cannot transfer their math skills outside of the math classroom.  That will lead to lead to lower pass rates in other classes.  (Of course the students passed my class, so it's not my fault.)  Also, there is additional record keeping as students continue classes from one semester to the next, or enroll in classes during the middle of the semester.

Does the Emporium Model Do More Harm than Good?

One of the points that John Squires made during our meeting in Louisville is that course redesigns at different colleges have different results.  If the faculty buy into the redesign and make use of its strengths, than improvements in pass rates can occur.  It is not uncommon for pass rates to stay the same or decrease for a few semesters before increasing.  So, the amount of harm or good done by the emporium model depends on the instructors using the model.  (Of course, the same thing can be said about lectures.)

One aspect of our course redesign at MCTC is to collect data on the learning of our students.  Pass rates get most of the attention when course redesign is discussed, but little is said about student learning.  Our college is only using the emporium model for half of our sections of developmental mathematics in the coming fall.  The other half will have lecture with assignments similar to those in the emporium sections.  We will be able to test the affect of the emporium model on student learning.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Senate Bill 5 Passes in Ohio

Yesterday, Senate Bill 5 was signed into law in Ohio.  My wife was told by one of her coworkers that factoring in the pay cut and the increase in payments to health insurance, a starting teacher in Ohio with a family of four will be above poverty level by $200.  Based off the pay scale, our family is looking at a $20,00 loss in income.  My wife missed getting her continuing contract (their version of tenure) by a month.

Course Redesign: What is it?

This spring, my college, Maysville Community and Technical College, is working on our course redesign plan for mathematics.  Course redesign means adding multimedia and internet to a course to improve student learning.

A summary of course redesign is posted on the Pearson website.
Course redesign is the process of restructuring the way the content of a course is delivered. It generally involves the redesign of an entire course (rather than individual classes or sections) to achieve better learning outcomes—often at a lower cost. This is most often done by taking advantage of the capabilities of technology to deliver effective online teaching and learning experiences.
The leader in course redesign is The National Center for Academic Transformation or NCAT.  The NCAT offers six different models of course redesign.  The models are listed below, with my thoughts on each.



The Supplemental Model

From the NCAT Website:
The supplemental model retains the basic structure of the traditional course and a) supplements lectures and textbooks with technology-based, out-of-class activities, or b) also changes what goes on in the class by creating an active learning environment within a large lecture hall setting.
More info:  The Supplemental Model

My thoughts:  The phrase "large lecture hall setting" is very telling of some of the implicit bias.  Our developmental classes have an enrollment cap of 22 students.

This appears to boil down to keeping things the same with addition of videos, similar to those of the Khan Academy, or computer-based homework, like MyMathLab.

The Replacement Model
From the NCAT Website:
The replacement model reduces the number of in-class meetings and a) replaces some in-class time with out-of-class, online, interactive learning activities, or b) also makes significant changes in remaining in-class meetings.
More infoThe Replacement Model


My thoughts:  This is my favorite of the redesign models.  It allows the most flexibility in curriculum as well as use of time.  Students can work outside of class on the computationally based material, while class time can be used for higher level work and applications.  We've been using the replacement model for a while at our college for some college level classes.


The Emporium Model
From The NCAT Website:
The emporium model replaces lectures with a learning resource center model featuring interactive computer software and on-demand personalized assistance.
More info:  The Emporium Model


My thoughts:  This is the most common redesign model to be implemented.  It is so popular, that most people don't remember the other five models.  Last week, John Squires told a gathering of KCTCS mathematics faculty that the emporium model is the only successful model.  It is being implemented at most of the KCTCS colleges, including Maysville.  I'll say more on the emporium model in a future post.


The Fully Online Model
From the NCAT Website:
The fully online model eliminates all in-class meetings and moves all learning experiences online, using Web-based, multi-media resources, commercial software, automatically evaluated assessments with guided feedback and alternative staffing models.
More infoThe Fully Online Model


My thoughts:  I'm not a fan of teaching mathematics online, especially for developmental mathematics.  I only send my advisees to online math classes if all of our sections are full.  I believe that this can work well for other disciplines.


The Buffet Model
From the NCAT Website:
The buffet model customizes the learning environment for each student based on background, learning preference, and academic/professional goals and offers students an assortment of individualized paths to reach the same learning outcomes.
More info: The Buffet Model


My thoughts:  This would work well for students who are intimately familiar with their own learning.  However, very few developmental students would fit in this category.


The Linked Workshop Model
From the NCAT Website:
The Linked Workshop model provides remedial/developmental instruction by linking workshops that offer students just-in-time supplemental academic support to core college-level courses.
More infoThe Linked Workshop Model

My thoughts:  There is not enough here to have any thoughts about.

These are the six models for course redesign.  The emporium model has gotten all of the attention.  The replacement model is my favorite.  Tune in next time for more information.