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 our conversation with Dr. Fitzroy Farquharson. Over the years, Farquharson has conducted research on the effective and efficient usage of technology in education, especially in the math and science areas. Dr. Farquharson is an education software developer and technology consultant who focuses on the application of technology or instructional design in the educational setting. He specializes in UI design, along with the planning, implementation, and evaluation of technology in education. He is currently a tenured Professor of Mathematics at Valencia College and has been teaching online math courses for several years. He recently created emathready.com—an online math-readiness guide and evaluation.
The interview was conducted primarily through email.
ASP Blog: Can you start us off by describing what types of presentations/workshops you have conducted at AMATYC, NADE, ITCTM and other organizations?
Farquharson: Over the years, I have conducted numerous presentations on Effectiveness of Interactive Mathematics at Computer Mediated Learning Symposiums throughout the US. Some of the colleges and universities with which I have presented include Del Mar College, Wharton County Junior College, Texas A&M University, Baltimore City Community College, State College of Florida, and Hudson Valley Community College. I also conducted several workshops on Challenges for Online Math Students, Instructors, and Administrators and Improving Success for Online Math Students at various conferences, including American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC), Sloan C-Conference, Mathematics Association of America (MAA), National Math Summit, 19th Annual Sloan C Conference, and International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM). I have also participated in a discussion on the utilization of computer technology in the classroom at the National Symposium on Developmental Mathematics in Boston, MA.
ASP Blog: In general, how do the success rates of online math courses compare to the success rates of classroom courses?
Farquharson: The success rates of online math compared to the success rates of classroom courses. on the whole, is not encouraging. For instance, Columbia University's Community College Research Center produced nine studies covering hundreds of thousands of classes in two states, which showed over and over again that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes. A TCC Institutional Brief reported that their online success rate for developmental math courses was 49% compared to a traditional developmental course success rate of 57%. They also reported that their withdrawal rates were nearly twice as high for both college credit (18%) and developmental (21%) online courses compared to traditional courses (10% for both types of courses). It’s time we asked ourselves some serious questions. Are students online ready? And, if not, what can institutions do to assure that students are ready to take an online course?
ASP Blog: How many students are enrolled in online courses? One would think that these courses would continue to grow in an increasingly tech-based university system.
Farquharson: Well, according figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education, the number of students enrolled in at least one distance education course increased significantly between 2002 and 2007, from 1.1 million to 12.2 million—and the growth spurt doesn't seem to be slowing down. The study, "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011," also reports that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online course during fall 2010—a 10.1 percent increase over the year before. A little more than 12 percent of all students were enrolled exclusively in online courses or online degree programs in 2012, according to the latest figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics, with another 13 percent taking at least some courses online. On the whole, more than one-quarter — 25.8 percent — students took at least some courses online in fall 2012.
ASP Blog: So what you are saying is that there is and will continue to be a dramatic increase of online courses; however, national research indicates that online math course success is lower than classroom math courses—especially developmental math courses. Given that the redesign movement was meant to improve math success, how do we resolve this problem?
Farquharson: Many institutions currently use a set of Quality Matters standards based upon current literature, best practices, and national standards for online course design. These standards are typically used as a framework to design, revise and improve online and hybrid math courses. That’s good that we have established national standards for online course design; however, this is designed for the static not the dynamic portion of the online math course. Therefore, in order for us to re-assess an online learning environment, especially math, the following needs to occur:
National standards need to be established for evaluating the virtual learning space and course management system being used by institutions. The effectiveness of the learning process and efficiency in the way in which instructors can achieve what he or she does best to support/improve student learning in the virtual learning space will impact not only the quality an online math course design, but the learning outcome of the student. It seems in many cases that the best and/or most important elements that are required for an online math instructor to be effective at what he/she does best are lost when teaching an online math course.
Students, in many cases, are unaware of what will be required of them when they have made a decision to take an online math course. Therefore, it is important that institutions provide prospective students considering taking an online course with the means to assess their level of readiness to learn in an online environment. The purpose of the assessment should be to determine the degree to which they possess attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as online learners.
Institutions need to have a process in place for identifying students who are likely not to be successful with their online math course. In cases where students are at-risk of not being successful, institutions need to provide them with an understanding of the level of risk areas of learning deficiencies and how it is associated with their probable chances of success with their online math course.
Every student needs to be informed as to his or her readiness to take an online math course so that he or she is able to make an informed decision whether an online math course is the best option. Additionally, even if the student does not possess the attributes, skills and knowledge, but he or she decides to take an online math course anyway, the institution should provide the necessary remediation and support in areas of deficiencies to promote online learning.
Online math instructors need to be able to identify students who do not possess the attributes, skills and knowledge to be successful in their course. With this information in hand, online instructors who are dedicated to improving student learning outcomes with online math courses will be able to provide a range and intensity of support to help improve students' learning outcomes in online math courses.
ASP Blog: What are some of the factors that you think contribute to the poor online math success?
Farquharson: Online courses present a number of challenges particular to the format. Besides basic technological proficiency, online courses require students to possess an array of well-developed non-academic skills; students must be able to manage time, stay organized, and recognize when and how to ask for help. Online courses also require instructors to be conversant with interactive technologies that enable them to create a strong instructor presence and engage students in the virtual space.
Researchers have conducted investigations on the lack of instructor presence and its impact on student learning math online. These researchers revealed that social presence is actually a factor that contributes to building a community of learners. Some even believe that social presence is one of the first components that must be established to initiate learning math online.
ASP Blog: Before doing research on the characteristics of successful online students, what did you think was the cause of poor online math success?
Farquharson: On December 2010, I was sitting in my office after the closing of the fall term. It was not a regular working day, but I decide to go to work to review overall student performance and go through the emails I had received over the term. After going through over 40 emails I had received from a class of 100+ students, what caught my attention was that 16 students had emailed me with requests to extend the due dates at various times for assignments. Many reasons were provided as justifications for the request. Whether the reasons were legitimate or not wasn’t my main concern at that time. I wanted to learn more about these students. I wanted to find out what they thought about having due dates and why they had requested extensions. I called/emailed these students during the break and discovered that most (3 of the 16) students just did not expect “due dates” to be important before registering for the course.
Many (11 out of 16) just seemed to have forgotten or failed to manage their time accordingly. I also recalled asking one particular student, "Why did you enroll for an online course?" From the responses I received, I got the impression that many students were taking an online math course because they believed it would be easier than a traditional course. I decided to investigate further the rationale of these responses, along with the mismatched expectations between students’ beliefs about online math courses and my expectation for students.
ASP Blog: After doing the research what did you find out?
Farquharson: The key to understanding the rationale for the poor online math success is to understand the vast difference between online and the time-tested traditional learning model with well-defined operating parameters.
Overall, evidence from recent qualitative analyses suggests that online courses may not be providing the range and intensity of supports that instructors need to teach and students need to perform and learn well online.
Interview continued, here.
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