Monday, January 17, 2011

Tips for Math and Science Faculty Using Blackboard

The Center for Academic Technology recently facilitated a workshop on Using Blackboard for STEM Courses.  This posting is meant to be a complement to that offering.
  1. Try Scenario/Problem Based Learning: Problem based learning allows students to learn while doing.  We have all heard the adage, "Talking isn't teaching and listening isn't learning", well PBL is its antithesis.  Once students become active about their learning, many of the communication tools in Blackboard (journals, discussion boards, voice board) become feasible options for the STEM instructor. 
  3. Create Learning Resources: Use podcasts and screencasts to discuss they "why' of math/science: According to the most recent release of the National Survey of Student Engagement, most STEM instructors use 'low tech' means to commiunicate with students.  The use of voice tools (Wimba ClassroomEcho 360,  and podcasting) can allow students to hear and find their 'math voice'.  The voice which provides the reasoning, the 'why', for problem solving.  
  4. Learn to Use Notations in MathType, WebEQ Editor or Equation Editor in MS Word: Many instructors cite the lack of math symbols in Blackboard tools as a reason for not using them.  In fact, Blackboard includes math notations in its text editors and there are also features available within MS Word via a downloadable called Equation Editor.  Microsoft also has an informative website for students to learn about the editor.   One trick I like to use is taking a screen capture of a math equation and then importing the image into Blackboard.  It's a nice way to 'recycle' math problems too.                
  5. Familiarize yourself with Internet resources: Math and science textbook publishers often include free resources for faculty.  Depending on their level of sophistication, these resources can be directly loaded into your LMS or shared with your students electronically.  Many publishers offer paid services which include homework and assignment tracking, as well as online tutoring assistance. Blogs and online presentations which deal with teaching math and science can also be useful. has a great repository of math and science related simulations.
  6. Invest in a pen tablet or tablet computer: Several faculty members at UDC employ tablet computers in the classroom and for online instruction.  A tablet allows you to write directly onto the computer screen, thus eliminating the need for math symbols to be entered via the keyboard.  You can also use a pen tablet which offers the same functionality, but does not provide the screen to act as a point of reference.  
  7. Discuss Learning in the Classroom: As a former math teacher (I didn't retire, just not doing it right now:), I value the conversational aspect of math over 'drill and practice'.  Students spend so little time 'talking' about math, it really is our responsibility to nurture that practice.  This blog post speaks to an emerging practice where profs give students lecture work online and leave classtime for discussion.  The only issue here is that most profs are used to lecturing in class and porting that effort online is not a trivial undertaking.  [see point 2 above]
  8. Enhance their "Math toolbelt": Ira David Socol of Michigan State coined the term which suggests:   "that we must teach our students how to analyze tasks, the task-completion environment, their own skills and capabilities, an appropriate range of available tools… and let them begin to make their own decisions." [excerpted from his blog].  This is especially important when students are taking stand-alone courses.  Learning skills which will help them beyond the classroom (read: 21st century skills) can help set a path for lifelong learning.  I think we all agree that learning which only lasts one semester isn't our goal.  Dr Socol's theory has been tied to universal design theory... worth the read.

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