Category Archives: Professional Development

Summer 2014 Upgrade to MathXL – New Features

Pearson, our textbook publisher, upgrades their MathXL system twice a year. Today I attended one of their Webinar animated by Donna Densmore. She showcased the new features that are part of the Summer 2014 upgrade for MyMathLab, MyStatLab, MathXL, and MyMathTest. 

In addition to new support for tablets, there was an upgrades to the Study Plan Manager and the addition of a new Reporting Dashboard in the Gradebook area. Click on the News link at the bottom of the page at for a summary of all the new features.

MathXL uses Adobe Flash for its assignments. Flash does not work on most tablets. They now are making the assignments available with HTML 5 which does work. I have tested this out on my iPad and it works well.

A new feature allows you to assign Study Plan exercises before a student attempts a quiz or test. This would be particularly useful as a review before a major test. The student could be prevented from writing the test until they had completed the assigned Study Plan exercises.

The Reporting Dashboard, available in the Gradebook area, provided detailed graphical reports on progress in your online classroom. These reports can be shared with any colleagues who have a MathXL login id.

Tomorrow I attend a session on Strategies for Adaptive Learning. The old version of MathXL already allows me to pre and post-test students and then assign Study Plan assignments based on their results. I will be interested in seeing how the upgraded MathXL system improves on this.

Keynote Speaker William Rankin

This keynote was a highlight of the conference for me. It picks up a number of themes I wrote about in my masters’ project almost 20 years ago.

Dr. Rankin is the Director of Learning on the educational team at Apple Inc, with special responsibility for promoting and enhancing innovative teaching and learning. Before that he was a professor of English at Abilene Christian University.  His keynote was on New Dimensions in Learning and Sustainability in Education

He presented a graph of student brain activity of students in various contexts. Students are least active when watching TV and when in class. Both are passive activities. If our goal is to engage students, then lecture is not the way to do it. Other educational activities like labs and homework engage learners. He challenged us by asking, “Does your school offer opportunities to engage learners?”

To illustrate active, engaged learning he showed a YouTube video of Fun Two (aka Jeong-Hyun Lim) playing Pachelbel’s Canon on his electrical guitar. He had taught himself to play guitar. You can see him playing the piece at this link.  This New York Time article tells his story.

Students can do astonishing things because, thanks to the Web, they have astonishing access to recording studios and printing presses. Taps into the value of doing something real. Participatory culture, as opposed to consumer culture is the term that describes what Fun Two and other 21st Century learners are doing.

In participatory culture “young people creatively respond to a plethora of electronic signals and cultural commodities in ways that surprise their makers, finding meanings and identities never meant to be there and defying simple nostrums that bewail the manipulation or passivity of “consumers.”[1]

In a participatory classroom our task as professors is to design is a plan for arranging instructional elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose . If we want to make a sustainable and creative learning environment, how do we do that? Key elements are structure, orientation, flexibility, equipment and infrastructure.

What does the classroom space we’re in communicate? The lecturer is in charge. We need to turn the traditional classroom structure on its head.

Another illustration . . . Dr. Rankin asked us who Sugata Mtra was. He gave us a few minutes to query our smart phones and tablets and we had the answer. He is famous for the ‘hole in the wall‘ experiment. He realized kids can teach themselves. Learning happens when you give access and community. The students in his project figured out how to use a PC on their own and then taught other kids. You do not need a teacher. They emerge naturally out of the group. This is particularly true for the younger generations. How many of us professors have had an Internet connected device in our pocket for half of our lives? Mitra has taking this to the next level with his call to help him design the School in the Cloud where children can use resources and mentoring from cloud computing to explore and learn from each other.

Control & Isolation

r + c / x time t = learning over teaching.

Seth Godin

Maria Montessori seeking reles of human potentials

Considering engagement

Edgar Dale Cone of experience The richer the experience the richer the learning. Imagining least rich. Seeing is a richer experience. Richest is when I actually do something.

Lev Vgotsky — How do you learn things you don’t already know? Really about conecting to other people. The distance betwee the actual developmental level as determined by independ problem
Ability to perform. Zone of proximal development.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — Flow where you become so engaged you forget about your own physical needs. Function of challenge and skill.

Learing dimensions Content and community. Other dimension not done in school is context. To design new and sustainable learning exerpences we need all three dimensions. Add ZPD. Keep adding. Content becomes a commodity. Instructor provides challenging context. Content is no longer a problem. Context – creating
content – curation What is still relevant?
community – collaboration

Right now we are mostly burning off student energy.

2009 Half a Zetabyte. of internet cntent
2016 8 zetabye
2020 Internet will be doubling every two years.

We have to work together. The last thing we need to do to our students is to create a mono culture. Don’t turn students in standardized items. Douglas Adams Anything invented after youre 35 is against the natural order of things.

Fractals — itneratiwe design

Our task to to transform the future of learning by making it sustainable.

Keynote Innovations 2014

Martha Kanter  was the undersecretary of education for President Obama. She spoke about the chronic under funding of post secondary education. For the next election, there is a focus on getting out the student vote so that politicians who are in favour of post-secondary funding are elected.

The one take away I had from her presentation is innovation comes from creating environments where people connect.


LA Community Colleges Adopt Hybrid Lab Courses for Core Mathematics.

This project was funded by Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). It is working to enhance college completion of ow income learners. Today’s presentation is by leaders of a successful Wave I project. Something proven on one campus can be scaled to other campuses. One of their key points is good data is critical to demonstrating the success of projects. Their Powerpoint presentation is available at

Their approach is to invest in innovation to support student success. They seek to multiply impact and then accelerate adoption.

Kate Stevens is a California State University. The California Math Consortium developed a hybrid math lab. It is based on a web of connection to colleagues around the country. The issue is 60% of arriving students need help with developmental math. See slide 5 of the Powerpoint for a graph of students with A/B grades compared to DFU grades.

The reasons for these differences include weak prerequisites, poor transition between classtime and work. (e.g., Time on task) and poor coordination of course material and instruction. An illustration of the latter is  students looking for the least amount of work they have to do.

By ‘killing herself’ (including  adding supplemental instructions and remedial materials), she was able to flatten out graph between A/B DFU students. She scaled this out to other classes. She then discovered a glitch. Students had trouble with mid-term exam which some faculty had made more difficult. Students dropped out. She looked at data and found problem. Graph flattened out again. 50% passed, 50% failed.

Pasadena City College was experiencing similar issues with student success. It was taking six years for students to complete a two year program. They would spend four years repeating high school content. Students who start at the high school level had difficulty completing. If they placed in pre-calculus they did well. If they came from pre-algebra they did not succeed.

The first solution was a one size fits all curriculum. They were training everyone for calculus. Then they asked a critical question. Do all students benefit from taking algebra? They created SLAM, stats for liberal arts majors. Then a separate course for STEM students.

They then looked at Accuplacer and decided to ignore placements and look at the last course they took in high school. This still did not solve the problem.

Then started using Kate’s model. The key is a dedicated counselor who supports learning, manages at-risk students and be proactive. They also created a four day boot camp for students to remediate holes in their math. This set the tone for the entire semester. It was called boot camp for a reason. The students were organized in groups. They stayed together beyond the boot camp. This made them realize there was a commitment that need to be made. Their success rate increased to an 80% success rate.

They realized they were not challenging their students enough. By challenging them and providing them support they reached this success. They went from a one day boot camp which was not as successful to an  Accelerated Intermediate Algebra (AIA) program which includes support. See slide 36 which show an 80% success rate for Pasadena City College taking  AIA. They discovered students constantly have to have remediation. They use ALECS facilitated by f-2-f.

What’s in the pipeline? They are working with General Chemistry to make math more relevant and increase STEM majors. Stronger collaboration with K-12. Just in time learning with other departments.

Students do not pay for boot camp, but they must come. Boot camp pays for itself as it allows students to jump over several courses. No need to repeat.

My take away from this is I need to increase the use of  Khan Academy for remediation. It would also be go to to use podcasts, twitter and blog to direct and encourage students.

Essential Online Instructor

In online classes, instructor presence, instructor immediacy, and a sense of community are essential for successful student completion and retention. Improve student participation and satisfaction by making the online classroom inviting.

Karen Liebhaber, an online adult upgrading English instructor from Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, AR presented in the Learning and Teaching stream. The full title of her presentation was The Essential Online Instructor: Present, Immediate, and Community Facilitator. It is available online at 

She is an experienced online educator who was concerned about the low retention rate, poor completion rates, poor grades and poor student satisfaction that many online courses report. Her goal became to improve student retention and completion by being more present to her online students. That involved being available ‘almost 24/7’ to her learners. She reports that the result of this immediacy is that students feel supported, encouraged, important and part of a community of learners. She now feels she knows more about her online learners than her face-to-face learners on campus. She had created trust between herself and her learners. There is more accountability. They now realize their absences will be noted and they are less likely to squeak by. She did this by increasing instructor presence online, giving students a sense of immediacy and community. This increased visibility of the online instructor comes through course design, facilitation and direct instruction.

Course Design

Organization of the course is critical to student success. The course needs to be logically setup, with material grouped according to context. Grading turn around time is also critical. Response to student inquiries needs to be immediate. While she may take time to mark essays, she provides them with timely feedback on when they can expect to have marked essays returned. It is also important to provide quality feedback.


Facilitation of students in the online classroom is important. Be a ‘tour guide’ to your online classroom. Once you get a second question on a particular topic, post your response in the course announcements area. In your course design as well as with your interactions with students set the class culture. Encourage interactive versus passive participation by encouraging student participation in activities. Acknowledge student responses right away. Be timely in your correspondence. Provide quality feedback.

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction shows your personality. This can come from your personal course materials including videos, audio, written lectures and written notes. Your tone, language and word choice in your instructional materials, forums and feedback all have an impact and help improve student motivation.

Instructor postings and just being visible in the class are statistical predictors  of student success. Baker, 21. Elements of High Value to Students (Sheridan & Kelly, 767) include :

  • Communication
  • Instructor Responsiveness

Elements of Low Value to Students

  • Synchronous communication
  • Face-2-face communication
  • Being able to see the instructor

 Other Related Issues

  • Clearly state course deadlines and timelines.
  • Create rubrics. They are important so that students understand grading system.
  • Regularly report to students about their progress
  • Create a weekly summary abut the coming week’s important topics.
  • Provide the opportunity for personal conference by phone or email.
  • Provide prompt feedback that is clear and descriptive. This can be written text or provided via audio or video.
  • Create reminders for deadlines. Some participants are using Remind 101. Others use Twitter to send out reminders to students. The announcements forum can also be used for this. Many course platforms have a calendar tool.
  • Create short instructional videos.

The presenter reiterated the importance of instructor immediacy. Further, can students relate to you? Can they trust you? Do they feel supported and encouraged or discouraged by you?

Watch your words. Give clear constructive feedback. Reaffirm students’ feelings. Create a sense of community in the classroom. An introductory video can help with this. Encourage student groups. Create survey, polls and questionnaires to gather student feedback.