Posted by: Ellie Kutz | October 15, 2012

New Teaching Practices: Blackboard Discussions to Support Mathematical Reasoning

How are faculty expanding their uses of Blackboard in their teaching?

In a recent CIT/EdTech Forum on”Creative Teaching with Blackboard,” Dennis Debay (Mathematics) and student tutor Rob Moray shared the ways in which they have been using Blackboard discussions  in Math 114, Quantitative Reasoning.  Blackboard discussions provide a space where students can do collaborative problem-solving, contribute to each others’ reasoning, and learn to focus on how one might reason through complex problems vs. focusing narrowly on right answers.

Many students in this entry-level general education course have avoided math courses or have been away from math for a long time, and Dennis’s concerns are to help them see how math can be relevant to their lives and let them better understand the world around them, to help them build their capacity for mathematical reasoning vs. focusing only on getting the correct solution to a problem, and to help them build a supportive community and contribute to each others’ reasoning through collaborative problem-solving.    To support these goals, Dennis has been using the Blackboard discussion space to have students respond to prompts that might ask them, for example, to compare alternative ways of setting LeBron James’s salary.

Students post their responses and respond to others’ posts as an alternative to the “exit ticket” prompts that Dennis used to give at the end of each class—with written responses that only he and the tutors would see.  Now students, instead of working in isolation, can see each others’  thinking and make alternative suggestions or affirm the connections between others’ thinking and their own.

Dennis finds that students gain confidence from seeing the thinking and learning processes of others who are also learning the material for the first time, and they find a community of support and a safe place to ask questions.  Their Blackboard exchanges have led them to form new groups in class and to appreciate a collaborative problem-solving process that is aimed at understanding rather than just a correct answer.   And at the same time, they are acquiring some of the discourse of mathematics that will support their future work in this discipline.

Dennis plans to build on this approach, considering ways to better motivate student participation and considering other tools that can contribute to such sharing (such as having students create and upload videos in which they both show and describe their process  of reasoning about a problem).  But he has already demonstrated how the Blackboard discussion space can contribute to learning in mathematics.

A video of an earlier version of this presentation can be found in the May 2012 CIT/EdTech Conference Proceedings Session 1.4 starting at minute 25:45.

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