Faculty Spotlight


The Instructor:
Undergraduate Adjunct Instructor - Mathematics

ilanit pictureIlanit Helfand shares some best practices for teaching math online and how she incorporates video lectures as a way to help students find shortcuts and solutions to math problems.

The challenge

Though math textbooks can be difficult to learn from, they are often the easiest thing for students to reference when working on homework or tests.  Video lectures can be very clear and engaging, especially when breaking down complicated math problems into basic steps, but they often seem disconnected from the formal definitions given in the textbook.

How did you solve it?

I created video lectures which were based on the textbook and explain what the book means. In addition, I gave my own spin on the materials and tried to explain it as clearly as possible, but I always try to relate my approach to the way that the textbook explains it. This allows students to go back to the book as a reference and understand it.

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For example,the best way to really understand partial fraction decomposition is to simply see problems done.  However, if I only did problems, then the students would likely look at the technical statements in the textbook as gibberish. Therefore, I actually go through technical definitions as they are seen in the book, and break them down so that the students can understand when reviewing the book.
Additionally, as I demonstrate in my video lecture, my preferred way to do the problem here differs from the book. If I had simply done this problem the way I think is best, the students would have been lost when reading the book.  Therefore, I first presented a method which is consistent with the book, then I present an alternate way to do the problem as a shortcut.

What was the result? What made it a success?

I think that the reason this has proven successful is that it really creates a unified course. All too often (with ground courses in particular) I hear students complain that it is as if they are taking 3 different courses– that the lectures are presented one way, the textbook presents the material another way, and the assessments phrase things yet another way. Keeping a unified approach between instructor, written materials and assessments allows students to learn the most effectively.  

Best practice recommendations:

Every week my students have around ten 5-minute videos to watch.  I think that breaking down the material into smaller chunks, rather than one long lecture, really helps the students focus on the different objectives without getting overwhelmed.   When working on assignments, students can easily go back to the video which specifically covers the material that they are working on.

Any additional tips or tricks you’d like to share with other faculty teaching online?  

Keep tabs on your students.  It is easy for students to fall behind when taking a class online.  You should check in with any student who misses (or does not complete) an assignment, since sometimes all it takes to get them motivated is knowing that you care.


Faculty Spotlight Archives:

Darin Detwiler: Engaging Students with Video