Studying the Characteristics of Equitable Mathematics Programs

Nancy Kress
Postdoctoral Research Associate
University of Colorado at Boulder

Need: There is a critical need to better understand what supports students, especially those who are members of marginalized and underrepresented groups, to succeed and thrive in mathematics. Active learning and inquiry-based learning have been taken up in university mathematics courses because of evidence that these instructional approaches are associated with improved persistence in mathematics among all groups of students, including those that are underrepresented. Yet there is also evidence that certain groups of students, including women and students of color, continue to describe their experiences in active learning and inquiry-based mathematics courses as less positive and less inclusive as compared to their white male peers. This project identified university mathematics departments, and instructors within those departments, where there is a high level of commitment to equity and inclusion and students who are members of underrepresented groups in math report especially positive experiences. The project to date has studied instructors’ pedagogical perspectives and instructional practices and students’ experiences in their classes. The overarching goal is to identify characteristics of instruction as well as program level policies and structures that support students to succeed and thrive in mathematics because of, not in spite of, their experiences in these mathematics learning communities.Guiding Questions:1.How do equity-oriented college mathematics instructors describe their instructional commitments and practices? What practices and experiences do they view as most important for developing confidence, persistence, participation and sense of belonging (or a robust mathematics identity), and why? 2.What instructional practices and/or learning experiences do students view as most important in supporting their confidence, persistence, participation and sense of belonging in mathematics?3.What departmental characteristics (discourse, structural supports, culture) are evident in mathematics departments with high levels of persistence through the mathematics program among students who identify as members of underrepresented groups in mathematics?Outcomes:This project has, to date, resulted in the refinement in a model of equitable mathematics instruction. This model is based on the instructional practices, pedagogical perspectives, and student experiences in case studies of early undergraduate courses in exemplary mathematics programs at two Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). These findings have been disseminated through professional development workshops and seminar talks.Broader Impacts:This work supports the design of professional development materials for instructors, professors, and department leaders to learn how to cultivate more equitable and inclusive learning communities in undergraduate mathematics. The design and focus of the professional development reflect what we have learned from this project about instructional practices, pedagogical perspectives and student experiences, and is intended to help participants to envision mathematics learning contexts that support students to succeed and thrive in mathematics regardless of identity or demographic characteristics.


David C. Webb, University of Colorado Boulder