Lessons learned from an online college algebra course.
Borrowed from bravothree.com.

Almost two years ago now, I wrote a series of blog posts dealing with the lessons learned from an online college algebra course.  I was in a second or third season as an online instructor and thought if I added the right ingredients, the course would turn out well.  I wasn’t correct but I wasn’t completely incorrect, either.

Let me bring those links to light and then I’ll share some thoughts on what I’d do differently.

Lessons Learned from an Online College Algebra Course

Here is the series of articles that I originally wrote.

  1. Online College Algebra Debut
  2. Online College Algebra Debut, Part Two
  3. Online College Algebra Debut, Part Three

I’ve gone back to reread these articles multiple times and think they’re a fairly accurate description of what I did.  All the right things are there, in some regards.  Yet, the course didn’t have a good turnout.  Why?

The DFW rate was high (painfully, so) and reflects poorly on me and probably left a poor but lasting impression of what an online course is to be (and shouldn’t be).  What could have been done differently?

Changes I’d Make

I feel like there are so many changes that I see now that we need to make.  I’m going to talk about ones for my class and then some for the institution.

In My Class

Here are some of the things I recognize about my own class that could have been changed.

  1. Use strong publisher content or OER.  In two years, I feel like publisher content has exploded in terms of variety of need and in terms of quality.  However, the counterbalance is that some students never bought the book because of cost.In these case, a great book with excellent resources didn’t positively impact their performance because they never sought the course resources.  Perhaps OER content (from sites like oercommons.org) could solve this.  In either case, I would definitely work harder to find a book than to revise what I built.
  2. I would not use WebAssign.  We used the wonderful WebAssign tool. But one student knocked it out in a day or so.  I am uncertain of whether that means he paid someone to do it or used sites to get the answers for him.  But, his final grade did not reflect his high WebAssign score.
  3. I would include more video discussion.  I would like to see the students discuss and teach each other.  That would have been cool.
  4. I would have assigned mini-projects.  I would create assessments where the student must connect his/her studies to something around them–in the real world.  Algebra is a useful tool but it’s abstraction makes understanding difficult for many.
  5. I would have assigned a basic skils quiz.  Many of the students in the class weren’t on par with the skillset needed.  In the future, I’d give a quiz right away that would help the students to measure their readiness for the course.

I’ve thought about this class for two years and see a great many of the faults that I exhibited as a teacher.  But there were other things that could have helped, as well.

Institutional Changes

There are changes that are institutional which need to be addressed.  I can think of a few:

  1. Many of the students in the course simply weren’t prepared for college algebra.  For whatever reason, many of these students simply weren’t up to snuff.  This may imply that we need to better test them for readiness or that there needs to be significant remediation.  In either case, there’s no shame–only a corrective path.
  2. Many of the students in the course weren’t prepared for an online course.  Online courses have long been identified as “easier” or “simpler”.  This stigma often hurts our students.  Students have to know what expectations are being levied against them and may need some aid in understanding how to take an online course.
  3. Students need a dedicated testing facility.  We were instituting a game change regularly by offering students flexibility in course delivery and digital homework but then requiring them to take paper tests during one of only two testing times.  We did this because we didn’t have the software to test them at a distance, realistically, and because we didn’t have a testing facility that could accommodate large quantities of students.

Basically, my thoughts can be simmered down to preparation (in a variety of ways) and support.


Were there lessons learned from an online college algebra course?  Absolutely and they’re helping me to improve how I do other aspects of my job regularly.  I hope to improve as both an instructor and as one who leads the charge for online and digital instruction at my institution.

I learned that I can do a much better job as an instructor and that there are ways to get my students to learn that I wish I had used when I taught the course.  I also learned, from an operations standpoint, that our students need training and then support throughout the entire process.

Now, the trick is to learn from the past to improve the future while handling the present.

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Lessons Learned from an Online College Algebra Course
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