Online Professional Enhancement for Instructional Practices in Undergraduate Mathematics

Doug Ensley
Professor of Mathematics
Shippensburg University

Need: This project will serve the national interest by implementing, assessing, and understanding effective practices in delivering online, teaching-focused professional development (PD) to instructors of undergraduate mathematical sciences. Current PD models limit potential impact by tacitly restricting participation, largely because those models require travel or other support that is neither universally available nor sustainable in the long term. To this end, the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) will implement and study a new online PD program that will reach higher education professionals, including those less able to participate in traditional models.Guiding Questions: We will determine effective use of online tools and practices to deliver professional training around themes of active learning in the mathematics classroom, leading to a broad impact on mathematics instruction. Furthermore, we will incorporate explicit efforts to build PD capacity, seeking to have a lasting impact on undergraduate mathematics instruction by training new workshop providers and broadening participation in PD leadership. Our project design is firmly grounded in scholarship on effective instruction, professional learning, and system change. The investigators from UCB’s Ethnography & Evaluation Research (E&ER) group will apply a research-with-evaluation approach to measure impact of online PD, considering both individual instructors’ growth and implementation and how these depend on their professional backgrounds and instructional contexts. Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior, coupled with a component perspective of Century to implementing innovations, will provide conceptual frameworks for these measurements. E&ER will also track the growth of PD leaders who take part in project trainings, and will evaluate, research, and disseminate findings on effective evidence-based techniques for online professional development.Outcomes: The project will operate at multiple levels for which the underlying goals include: planning, implementing, and evaluating the workshops to generate new knowledge regarding effective practices for online PD models; creating processes and structures that align community needs with content expertise; implementing a communication plan to reach into underserved areas of the community; emphasizing research-based approaches to instruction, course design, and assessment; and, overall, developing effective models for intensive and extended online workshops. All workshops will emphasize creation of active, inclusive classroom environments under the framework offered by the MAA Instructional Practices Guide (2018), a compendium of research-based approaches to teaching that includes cross-cutting themes on equity, diversity, and inclusion.Broader Impacts: The project will activate levers for change at two levels: (1) empowering individuals to make research-based changes to their teaching that will enhance student learning, and (2) shaping departmental and disciplinary cultures to support those changes. By hosting over 40 workshops and directly serving some 1000 mathematics instructors, the project will make a lasting impact on participant knowledge, skills, and uptake of research-based instructional strategies in inclusive undergraduate mathematics instruction, which will in turn impact many thousands of students. The additional attention to capacity-building, institutional change, and transfer to other STEM disciplines will exponentially increase the level of impact.


Sandra Laursen, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado