Blog Post

Thoughts on Student Success

This is my first semester teaching as a full-time instructor.  And even though I have only been in my position a few months, I have already begun to push like mad for the initiatives that I want to implement that I believe are best for my students.  I have chosen to do to this because I really care about the success of my students and I want the very best for all of them.  I want my students to look back at their college experience and be satisfied because they know that their instructor invested time into doing what is best for them as a student.  In this post I want to share some of the things that I have been up to this semester.

1.  Math & Technology Workshop — In August I went to a week-long Math & Technology workshop in Muskegon, MI.  I thought that I knew a fairly decent amount about technology before attending the workshop, but I was wrong.  Ultimately, I realized that the best way to learn about technology is to network with others about what works and what doesn’t work.  From this, I set out to organize a Math & Technology workshop on my own college campus.  I have had quite the positive response about this workshop both from the administrators and the other instructors on my campus and other local colleges.  I foresee this workshop becoming a launching pad for networking to happen among faculty like never before.  And many of my current students have expressed interest in having a similar workshop geared toward how they can use technology to help them succeed in their course from a student level.  I have already left hints with a few of my students that I am highly considering putting something together like this, but I really want there to be some layer of support for the students for questions that they may have after the workshop.

2.  Mathematics On-Target Tutoring (MOTT) Sessions — At my college we have what is called ‘Innovation Awards,’ where instructors can apply for funds to pilot projects that might not get a chance otherwise.  Part of the stipulation of applying for these awards is that your project must have a collaboration component.  All of my ideas for projects all involved technology, such as getting Vernier products or iPads in the classroom.  I know they are all things that would help enhance the experience for my students and it is my belief that an engaged student is more likely to be a successful student.  It came down to the last minute, but I was able to get a project proposal in on time.  Simply put, MOTT Sessions will be similar to Supplemental Instruction at other colleges, but it is an idea that is new and innovative at my college.  And as part of the proposed budget, I asked for two iPads that will be used to assist tutors in enhancing the experience for my students. This is an initiative that I truly believe in, especially the social component where students get know each other in a less formal setting.  I believe that student success will also come from students explaining the course material to each other.  For me, it is all about student success.

3.  Mathematics Social Technology And Retention (MATH STAR) Rooms — At my college, when I enter the classroom, it is just me and the chalkboard.  If I am lucky, there may be an old-style overhead projector in the room, but not a media projector.  However, this is not nearly as big of an issue as the fact that there are chalkboards on every wall, but they all cannot be used because the rooms have desks that are in straight rows blocking access to the wall.  Another project of mine this semester has been to apply for funding to pilot tables in the classroom.  And by tables, I mean instead of 35 individual desks, have 7 tables in the room that seat 5 students each.  By reducing the amount of furniture in the room, there would no longer be a need for the furniture to block access to the chalkboards.  The implications of this would be huge.  Not only does this make classroom management easier, but I could also have students actively engage in the class by working problems on the board, and have students work in groups at their tables.  I know, there are many counter-arguments to this.  However, for me, it is a matter of student success.

4.  Online Homework — This may be the most controversial one of all.  But I want to say it loud and clear that the number one reason I why I even support online homework is that it provides the students with immediate feedback (and depending on the specific homework system used, other support features as well).  In fact, if an instructor is utilizing an online homework correctly, it is actually possible for it to be more work for the instructor rather than less work.  But for those instructors whose primary motive for implementing online homework is to have a reprieve from grading homework —  I want you to know now that you are making all of us look bad and I despise you.  When choosing to implement online homework, you should only have your student’s best interest in mind because above all, it is all about student success.  Implementing online homework at my college has been an uphill battle because of those who abuse the system.  So, to those people, I say, “Shame on you for abandoning your commitment to student success.”  

5.  Adjunct Instructor Resources — Ohhh, boy.  I have to say that coming to my new position from part-time positions where part-time instructors were given resources to assist them in teaching their courses, I assumed that this was something that every college had for some reason.  But I was wrong.  I firmly believe that supporting part-time instructors properly is important because the more prepared our instructors are in the classroom, the more time they will have to focus on the success of our students.  But for an under-prepared instructor who is struggling to prep a first day handout and lessons before the semester begins, the last thing they are thinking about is student success.  Student success has to start with the instructor.  The instructor has to motivate the students to want to be successful in the course.  A well-prepared instructor is certain to be better able to do this than an under-prepared instructor.  To this end, I have started gathering resources to distribute to part-time instructors.  And speaking of part-time instructors, I have also volunteered to assist in interviewing candidates at the upcoming adjunct recruitment fair at my college.  I have to admit that the number one thing that I will be looking for in the interviews is a person’s commitment to student success.

6.  Preparing for Next Semester — Over the course of this semester, I have also been actively gathering resources for the courses that I am scheduled to teach next semester.  This is something that as an adjunct instructor, I was never able to do since I never knew what courses I was teaching this far in advance.  I believe that the time that I am putting into to selecting resources for my students is very important in their success in the course.  Next semester I am teaching some very specialty-type courses, such as Math for Elementary Teachers, Everyday Mathematics, and Statistics.  I already have my orders in for meter sticks, manipulatives and journal subscriptions (so that I am up-to-date myself on what is new in the field).  I believe that my commitment to staying current so that I can bring the newest and best information into the classroom is an important step on the road to helping my students be successful.

I would love to hear your thoughts on student success initiatives at your college.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

By Jon Oaks

College Math Instructor. Tech Enthusiast. Visionary. Creative Genius. But above all, I enjoy what I do. That is why I am a teacher. Because I like to teach.

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