You may have come across this article via Google. However, I encourage you to go back and read (pardon the informal writing style) the the two preceding segments: Online College Algebra Debut Part One and Part Two.

In this segment, I will address what I plan to change in future revisions of the course. I will then conclude with some of the things I hope that my students have learned and a great many things that I have learned.

Online College Algebra Debut, Part Three

As I have thought (and worried) about this course, I ask myself the question of the section: what will I change for this course in its first revision? I felt the primary problems with this offering were centered around the following: my lack of contact with the students; the students choosing to not access the content; and once the content was accessed, there was less effort expended than desired.

Here’s my running list of improvements to the course to address the above concerns.

  1. All of the “lessons” will have days on which they open to keep the student returning to the course. Many (if not all) of the restrictions (completion of the previous lesson, minimum score of the problems in the previous lesson, etc.) will be required to advance.
  2. I will reduce the length of video clips–and maybe outsource several of the videos. While at the Sloan Consortium’s 2013 International Conference on Online Learning, I heard Anant Agarwal talk about just this ( Videos need to be approximately 5-6 minutes. The long videos are left playing in the background or students navigate away from them. Further, why re-invent the wheel? If Khan Academy has created a universally accessible video then it’s probably pretty good and this actually works to promote standardization across institutions as more people use similar content. These things do not usurp my influential role with students.
  3. I will seek to impose a rule that states if a student hasn’t logged into the course by the “day of record”, then he/she will automatically be withdrawn from the course. This would have saved lots of my time.
  4. I plan to add regular low-stakes quizzes that can be repeated once they have opened to the course.
  5. The WebAssign homework will not be opened at the first of the course–if we continue to use WebAssign.
  6. I will schedule regular “check-ins” with the students; I have to be present in their academic life.
  7. I would like to have the students use the discussion forums. I think that forums could be used to:
    • Create a distance tutoring scenario. It’s not perfect, but it has worked for me at other institutions in large lecture courses.
    • Spark discussions about the uses of mathematics (in particular, algebra) in finance, engineering, and practical life.
  8. I am interested in the concept of using a wiki for groupwork.

Some of these ideas are clearly to be kept in store for iterations three or four. But, these have been in my list of possible improvements since early in the term.


Needless to say, this class is a work in progress. Will I be able to implement each of the improvements that I hope to employ? Probably not–not even with the help of our course designers at Learning House. The important things to take away from this first iteration of the course include those things that I’ve learned and those things that the students have learned.

Hopefully the students learned (or improved) a large quantity of algebra knowledge. Hopefully they also learned that online classes are not easy nor do you automatically earn high grades. I hope that they have learned that success and failure differ in the amount of effort they express in courses and will apply this to life (and other courses).

I have learned that a large amount of preparation goes into the preparation of a strong online course and, honestly, mine probably wasn’t even that good. I have learned that the diligence required in the maintenance of an online course is daunting. I have learned that some of my colleagues will quantify my efforts as less than their own because I wasn’t in the classroom two-three times a week. Finally, I have learned that students will survive a course that is not amazing and that I will live to create a better iteration of the same class.

Online College Algebra Debut, Part Three
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