Use of Team Work and White Boards in Mathematics Tutorials and Seminars: Assessing Various Factors Influencing Improved Quality of Learning

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Natalia Kouzniak, Department of Mathematics

Project team: Veselin Jungic and Sophie Burrill, Department of Mathematics, and Reza Dastbasteh and Fatemeh Salehian Kia, research assistants

Timeframe: March 2019 to July 2021

Funding: $6000

Courses addressed:

  • MATH 150 – Calculus I with Review

Final report: View Natalia Kouzniak's final report (PDF) >>

Description: Tutorials/seminars in mathematics classes are usually conducted in a way that a Teaching Assistant (TA) teaches a mini-lecture and students passively sit and watch. Since attendance is not mandatory, less than half of the students attend. However, undergraduate mathematics service courses are very intense and require steadfast learning and practicing the material on a regular basis. Based on some previous experiments, a new class model was utilized in MATH 310 course tutorials. Students worked in teams on the whiteboards and the TA and instructor walked around and helped students. Preliminary surveys have indicated that in general, students considered these tutorials very helpful. This technique will be implemented in an offering of MATH 150 in the Fall 2019 as a pilot. The whiteboard-based active learning will be conducted during the 4th class hour weekly. Instructors will be guiding the students through developing better problem-solving skills and mastering the class material. This project will assess the outcomes of the course and research the effects of whiteboard-based active learning and team work on student grades and satisfaction.

Questions addressed:

  • Do students in a course with tutorials or seminars that employ active learning perform better than comparable students in a standard passive learning-based course?
  • How does a regular interaction with instructor help improve problem-solving skills, enhance learning, and reduce fear of unknown and that of making a mistake?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of teamwork in view of voluntary team composition and possibility to switch the team?
  • Which students like team work and active learning and which prefer more traditional lecture style tutorials/seminars, and how does this impact their engagement in the tutorials?
  • How does the atmosphere of joy, fun, exploration, open communication, and discovery develop in the process of problem solving and how does it improve overall well-being of the students?
  • How could team presentations (at least one question per team) impact the tutorial/seminar dynamics?

Knowledge sharing: In the Department of Mathematics, we have constantly discussed the ongoing project with the Chair of the Department, Chair of Undergraduate Studies and other colleagues who may be teaching this course in future. We have organized an informal team with Michael Pruner (graduate student) and Keith Gallagher (postdoctoral fellow) in the Faculty of Education. This collaboration allowed us to see our results from a perspective of education specialists and better understand qualitative survey results using various models (e,g. La Trobe model).

Keywords:  Whiteboard seminar, peer-tutor, student engagement, collaboration, problem solving, joyful atmosphere