March 10, 2016
“Old school” versus “new school” – it’s the question at the centre of a multi-year research project lead by Chester Weatherby, assistant professor in Laurier’s Department of Mathematics.
Along with colleagues Donna Kotsopoulos, associate professor in Laurier’s Faculty of Education, and former colleague Doug Woolford (now at Western University), Weatherby and his team are attempting to quantify how new and innovative methods of teaching university-level math compare to “traditional,” lecture-based approaches. With the evolution of digital teaching tools such as clickers, smart boards and smartphone applications, Weatherby wonders if a more modern approach to math education could improve student performance and program retention.
“Digital teaching tools allow for instant feedback, for example, by providing real-time evidence on student comprehension,” said Weatherby. “This kind of feedback allows teachers to use class time more effectively to tackle the nitty gritty details of certain problems or challenging concepts.”
To test traditional teaching methods against newer approaches, Weatherby ran a control class in the fall of 2014. He taught a first-year calculus class at Laurier’s Waterloo campus in a standard fashion, lecturing from the whiteboard while students listened, took notes and wrote out definitions.
In the fall of 2015, using the same first-year course offering, Weatherby switched his teaching approach, making use of digital teaching tools and providing the students with a course pack of partially populated notes. With basic concepts addressed in the course pack, students spent more class time actively solving problems while Weatherby provided digital guidance using a tablet and classroom projector.
Weatherby’s team will analyze the data from the two first-year courses in the summer of 2016. The team also has approval to access the high school grades from the students in the study, adding depth to the research.
“We’re not just looking at qualitative surveys or personal feedback,” said Weatherby. “We’re undertaking a full statistical analysis of the data.”
Weatherby hopes to have some preliminary findings by the fall of 2016.
Since arriving at Laurier in 2013, Weatherby has been motivated by the university’s culture of developing excellence and innovation in teaching. Weatherby works closely with Laurier’s Centre for Teaching Innovation and Excellence (CTIE) to build on his current pedagogical approaches to university math education.
He has taken his passion for teaching excellence back to the math department, where he and Kotsopoulos lead the success in math committee along with Laurier colleagues Adam Metzler and Tina Balfour. The group facilitates roundtable discussions about math education and its growth for other math educators at the university.
“Laurier is an environment committed to teaching excellence,” said Weatherby. “As instructors, we have opportunities to learn how to improve our current teaching practices. This is just a great place to be a teacher.”
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