Online College Algebra Debut
Borrowed from Online College Algebra Debut, Part II.

In a previous post, Online College Algebra Debut, Part One, I spoke of the creation of my first online college algebra course. I continued with talking about the basic structure to the course. In this segment of the article, I will give much more depth to each of the main course components and elaborate on some of the troubles that I came across.

Online College Algebra Debut

The syllabus I created was fairly traditional. Since it was meant to be for an online course, I used a shared Google Document. Each header can be used to create a link in the table of contents. Since we use the Google suite for our campus, I can choose to make the syllabus available to only students with the proper email suffix. Course objectives are clearly stated in the syllabus for each chapter. Finally, a regimented semester plan is given that aligns itself with homework.

The pre-test was set up as a multiple choice exam that could be graded easily. However, I used embedded images for the formulae and that was a poor choice. With some brief discussions with those who manage our LMS, an equation editor was added that made the process seamless.

Introductory Assignments
There are two introductory assignments; the first being just a completion of their profile. They add photos and blurbs about themselves. The second is a presentation or a video that introduces themselves. I give them a sample video to watch so they can learn what is expected of them. Alternatively, they can make presentations (PowerPoint, etc.) of length approximately 3-5 slides. I learned a few things from this process:

  • Some students took these opportunities and ran. There were amazing introductory discussions.
  • There were students who did the bare minimum. This is really no surprise.
  • But, more surprisingly, there were students who were very comfortable sharing…very many things about themselves. My discussion now includes a reminder that they should display themselves in a way which would be construed to be professional.

WebAssign is slightly clunky, but it works. The point of it was that students could get instant feedback. With eight attempts to get a correct solution, I expected very high homework scores. A discomfort with technology reared its head at this requirement. Students were not adept at setting up accounts for themselves. What also showed was the choice to not purchase a book! They did not receive the code that comes along with their book and were forced to purchase the code. They ultimately saved money, but had far fewer opportunities to learn course content.

The SMART Board is actually a wide-screen board. A newer version, this is a widescreen LCD with lots of real estate. My lecture slides were in the portable document format (PDF) and I could use the SMART Recorder tool to not only record my voice but also what I’m writing on the board. I ran into some troubles:

  1. The default recording process is to a Windows Media Video. The capture produces a ridiculously small video file. The default recording is also a relatively slow bitrate for audio and video.
  2. Since I’d be uploading to, I chose another option which was to use .AVI files. Further, I chose a higher bitrate for audio and video. These higher rates ended up causing considerable amounts of difficulty. The computer running the SMART software was a good computer, but not high end. Ultimately the higher bitrates forced a misalignment between the video and audio tracks–the video was (in some cases) 15 seconds behind the audio. This required some manual editing in nonlinear video editor.

The Moodle LMS includes a tool called “Lessons”. If you do not know about this option, although I think becoming obsolete, it’s a wonderful tool for creating a sequence of videos, text, questions, etc. You should read about Moodle Lesson Settings. Originally, when I built the lessons, I was following something that D. Koller suggested in her TED Talk

Placing questions in the lesson that give instant feedback (multiple choice, T/F, numerical) was a great idea–one that I gladly borrowed. Each lesson included lesson objectives, recommended exercises that related to a section in the textbook (it is recommended that online courses aren’t tied to a book, but we chose to keep our courses linked and on schedule), and gave a link to the WebAssign assignment and due dates. Concerning Lessons, there are two clear components of the term:

  1. In the first half of the semester, I didn’t require the Lessons to be completed. But, after the second exam, I REALLY started digging through Moodle logs. What I found was that some of my students weren’t logging on at all. Those that were often didn’t do any of the work or spent only a minute looking through the notes. Correspondingly, the exam grades had been low.
  2. Shortly thereafter, I went through and made sure that every succeeding Lesson had a mid-lesson problem/question that required a response. I also took note of the length of the instructional videos in the lesson. Each lesson was then dependent on a pass rate from the questions of the previous lesson, a completion of the previous lesson, and a viewing of the previous lesson that totaled the amount of play time of the instructional videos. All future iterations of this course will have similar requirements on all lessons. Why did I do this? Students had no incentive to do the work. I was flabbergasted at the concept of ignoring the intrinsic value of the work: learning the material.

The exams are exams similar to those of a regular term. With the regular amount of variety. Since no instruction is delivered through the giving of tests (at least for this professor), they do not impact the overall value of the online instruction. Further, having paper exams for mathematics proctored by those outside of an institution for distance learners is nothing irregular. Doing the same for our local students is only practical.

This post will continue in Part Three!

Online College Algebra Debut, Part Two
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