Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Today, we are proud to present part two of our conversation with Dr. Fitzroy Farquharson about online learning and his new website, eMathReady.com. Once again, the interview was primarily conducted over email. Enjoy!
ASP Blog: I know a lot of what you do involves debunking myths about online math courses. Would you mind listing a few of these myths?
Farquharson: A myth that exist among students is that online math courses are for students with busy schedules. Unfortunately it usually takes more time generally to complete an online math class than a traditional one. Students will more than likely need more time to learn the material before they attempt to complete homework, quizzes, or exams.
Another myth that seems to be common among online math students is that due dates are not important. If an instructor teaches online, then chances are he or she will receive an email from a student requesting an extension for an assignment. What students do not realize is that although online math courses offer more flexibility for them to work on their courses any time of the day or night, there will usually be strict due dates for homework, quizzes, and exams.
One of the most popular myths about online math courses is that an online math course is easier than a traditional course. In truth, online math courses cover the same material as traditional ones. However, unlike traditional classes, some online classes do not offer the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with the instructor, which can make taking an online class challenging. The good news, however, is that there are usually many resources available for students online. They can customize these resources to their specific needs, like watching videos as many times as they like.
ASP Blog: You also quite often focus on the necessity of an online math readiness survey for students who are thinking about taking an online course. You have said that you think math departments should require students to take such a survey before enrolling. Why is this?
Farquharson: For the student, an online readiness survey is not only needed to assess his or her likelihood for succeeding in an online math course, but also to give the student an indication of the degree to which he or she possesses the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner. Even when students are given online math surveys, in many cases, the faculty do not have access to the students' readiness assessment results. They need to have access to this information so that they are able to assist their students in the most effective and efficient way, which will allow them to restructure learning within the online environment to meet student needs.
In addition, teachers also need some type of readiness tools and/or tools and questionnaires that help them to assess and determine what skills they will need to make the transition from teaching face-to-face to teaching in an online learning environment. I concur with Cecilia Mercado who once said that faculty/instructors must also “possess personal attributes to perform online teaching and administration of the online environment successfully“. A successful online learning program must include a systematic process of planning, designing and creating environments where learning is actively fostered and supported (Mercado, 2008, pg. 18.2).
ASP Blog: What has your experience been with conducting these surveys?
Farquharson: Initially, when I began the work of trying to help improve the success of online math students, I discovered that little research supports the thesis that readiness questionnaires lead to better learning outcomes for students, without providing students with the necessary remediation/support in areas of deficiencies to promote effective online learning. However, there is consensus that student readiness surveys, at the very least, emphasize for students and instructors the expectations and demands of learning and teaching in an online space, encouraging the survey-taker to take the necessary steps and actions to prepare in an effort to reduce the learning curves associated with technology and teaching approaches. (See: Gascoigne C. & Parnell, J (2014). "Distance education readiness assessments: An overview and application. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration", Vol. XVII, IV).
A good online readiness survey needs to assist students with determining whether they possess the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner. Ultimately, an online readiness survey should be designed to empower institutions with the ability to make sure that their students who are planning to take an online course are actually online ready.
ASP Blog: What skills do students need to become online ready?
Farquharson: Students who are planning on taking an online math course need to understand the dynamics of an online setting, how online learning works; interaction, relations, perception, role of students and instructors, etc. Online math students need to also be independent learners, have good computer skills, and have sufficient prerequisite skills. They also have to be able to learn how to structure learning math online to match their own learning style and master competencies in a set period of time. They must have
excellent organization skills, not procrastinate, and have better than average math study skills. They must also have low math anxiety and not be fearful of taking math tests.
ASP Blog: Did you create eMathReady.com to help students achieve these skills?
Farquharson: This program has been a significant help to myself and my students. With the eMathReady Online Readiness and Support Program, I am able to, in advance, more accurately determine what students are at risk. This allows me to initiate earlier interventions to prevent some students from dropping out or not succeeding in their course. For example, being able to review all of my online students' “Online Readiness Summary Reports," along with their individualized “Online Readiness Surveys” enables me to devise an individualized engagement and support plan for at-risk students. With this program, I am also able to pinpoint reasons for student success (or lack thereof) in my online math courses.
The program is divided into three parts: a student online learning readiness survey, learning support modules, and general online learning information. The program measures a student’s readiness to take an online course and provides learning support to promote effective online learning. The program helps students to make the transition from traditional to online learning. It also provides my students with an indication of the degree to which they possesses the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner.
ASP Blog: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Farquharson: There is growing evidence to support the fact that innovative technology-based solutions can lead to more effective teaching and learning models. Technology has great power to influence teaching by restructuring the current learning environment landscape, without fundamentally changing the instructor. Technology also holds the promise of delivering virtual learning solutions in a cost-effective manner, which is crucial in a time of nationwide economic challenges and state budget crises.
Although promising solutions are emerging, most educational institutions lack the strategic vision for the innovative use of technology. Educational institutions are in the business of educating, not addressing barriers to educational technology innovations in teaching and learning. This is why collaborative partnerships are necessary to assist institutions with creating a culture of innovation that focuses on the next-generation of the virtual learning space and/or course management systems.
I am enthusiastic about the potential of technology, in combination with new and emerging evidence-based models of innovative teaching and learning, to significantly improve students’ academic achievements and completion rates in the United States. The future of America depends on us supporting our instructors in the most innovative ways and providing the opportunity for our students to develop their intellectual talents effectively and efficiently. The support we provide for public education is necessary for paving the way for tomorrow’s students with the knowledge and skills they need to find meaningful employment and contribute to their communities.
Dr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan.
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges presenter, Senior Lecturer-Modular