Exploring Features of Active Learning Instruction that Undergraduate STEM Students Appreciated

Michelle Cirillo
Associate Professor
University of Delaware

We describe undergraduate students’ perceptions of two innovative pedagogical models that were implemented simultaneously in a single mathematics course – a model for teaching foundational undergraduate mathematics and a model for an early field experience for preservice secondary mathematics teachers (i.e., preservice teachers support undergraduate students’ active learning in an on-campus precalculus course). In Spring, 2020, the COVID-19-induced shift to online instruction caused sudden and drastic changes to instruction that allowed us to collect data about students’ perceptions of the two models in ways that controlled for instructor, student, and course variables. Consequently, precalculus students and preservice teachers were interviewed in order to understand their perceptions of the two models after the face-to-face features were lost or modified. We hypothesized that the features of the models would become more salient once they were lost due to the online shift. Precalculus students and preservice teachers overwhelmingly appreciated (and missed) the opportunities they had to work together in person in small groups on mathematics tasks with course instructors monitoring their groupwork. Preservice teachers also reported missing opportunities to teach portions of whole-class lessons to the precalculus students and to observe an expert teacher enact ambitious teaching practices. These results have implications for university faculty who are exploring active learning models for foundational mathematics courses or prospective teachers. Key features of the models will be shared as well as implications of the study with respect to in-person, online, or hybrid course structures.