Polk State College’s faculty want students to know that their professors are here to help them succeed in their classes and overcome obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Math Department, this help takes many forms – whether students have questions after hours or lack a piece of technology that makes online classes more challenging.
Polk State’s Math professors have been both creative and flexible in their approaches to teaching in the online learning environment, from recording their lessons so that they are available at the convenience of the students to giving students the option to text them pictures of their completed assignments.
“I tried to think about what I would want if I was a student,” Professor of Mathematics Carolyn Orr said. “I put myself in the students’ place and made my online classes as much like being with them in the classroom as possible.”
Online classes can take place with scheduled virtual class meetings, recorded lessons that can be accessed by students on their own schedule, or a mix of both. When registering for classes on Passport, students should check the course descriptions for specific details about class formats and expectations and contact the professor with any questions.
Orr’s online classes utilize recorded lessons students can access at their convenience, with scheduled tests and due dates for assignments. She started the development of her online courses with video tutorials to help students with navigating the online learning environment. She has also created thorough note guides and brief overview videos that provide students with extra guidance and helpful study tools. Additionally, she holds office hours twice a week in which students can schedule one-on-one time with Orr, although she and her colleagues admitted that they are available practically around-the-clock for their students.
“At first, I thought timed lectures would work, but they weren’t working for the students who are busy juggling jobs and other responsibilities, so I made lessons that they can watch any time, day or night,” Orr explained of how she has developed her online classes with input from her students and with their needs at the forefront. “If they can’t join me for office hours, they can email me, and I will email them back or send them a video of how to solve that problem or tackle the concept they may be struggling with.”
Rogelio Aleman, Professor of Mathematics, has taken a similar approach by using the College’s learning management system Canvas’ conference recording tool, which enables him to post videos students can easily access when it is most convenient for them. Then he hosts scheduled live conferences that students can join if they are having any difficulty or have questions.
“We are here to help them, and I try to go out of my way to accommodate students who are having problems,” Aleman said. “I keep in touch with my students to ensure that they stay on track, and I give them my cell phone number so that they can reach me any time because some students are working very odd hours.”
He acknowledged that math is traditionally an intimidating subject to many, and this may be exacerbated in the online setting due to student concerns about access to their professors, answers to their questions, and extra help when they need it.
“I try to change students’ outlook on math and the online environment by showing them that as professors, we are here for them, and there are ways to get through this,” he explained. “The pandemic is not a reason to not move forward. Online is not something that is impossible or that has to be difficult. You can accomplish it.”
In fact, online tools have provided new opportunities for students and faculty, who plan to use some of the methods they have developed during the pandemic in their classes when things “go back to normal.”
“The videos have been extremely helpful for students because they can watch them two or three times, they can pause, they can go back, they can complete their notes or catch something they may have missed, and use them as reviews for their tests,” Professor of Mathematics Kim Hess explained. “I plan to keep this as part of my face-to-face classes in the future.”
Her classes participate in scheduled meetings via Zoom twice a week and that are recorded for students to access later on Canvas, whether they were not able to make it to the live class or missed something during the lesson that they need to go back to.
Hess also highlighted the ability for students to interact with more of their peers via Zoom and virtual class meetings than a traditional classroom setting would allow.
“I had three classes from one course in the same Zoom and the students were able to receive more feedback from each other, have more discussion in the chat, pinpoint things that they may have missed, and ask questions that other students may have,” she explained. “It can be so much bigger than my classroom and they have enjoyed that interaction. Technology helps us do more than what we are able to do when we are in the classroom.”
Within their Canvas courses, students also have access to tutoring through TLCC Online, which offers additional help from Polk State professors in a variety of subject areas even on nights and weekends.
“Here at Polk State, I believe our faculty members are some of the most caring faculty of anyone I know,” Hess said. “It’s OK to be scared of math. I was scared of math too. It takes practice, but you can do it and we are here to help.”
Enrollment has started for the summer and fall 2021 semesters at Polk State. Many classes continue to take place online or in hybrid formats which integrate in-person and online learning.
“They shouldn’t be afraid of online either,” Orr added. “It’s a little different than being in the classroom with somebody, but we are making it as close to face-to-face as we can, and we are all available to help.”