Title: The MLC TutorCasting Project

Status: Funded by the College of Science and Health, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Project Director: Dr. LeDocq

Funded by the College of Science and Health, UW-La Crosse

Project Overview:

The Mathematics Department is seeking to support the development of a new initiative involving tutors in the Math Learning Center (MLC) and the production of a large number of video podcasts. During the hours in which the Math Learning Center is underutilized, the tutors will be asked to create video podcasts describing the solutions to various problems identified as trouble areas for students. These podcasts can then be used to help students anywhere and anytime.

The Math Learning Center: The Math Learning Center (MLC), located in Whitney Center, currently employs 16 students and is open Monday through Friday and on Sunday. Click here to see the Math Learning Center schedule. Tutors, typically upper division math majors, help students that are taking the courses listed below. Students taking these courses can stop in and get one-on-one help. This is a valuable resource, and many students that utilize the MLC later credit it as a major reason that they have succeeded. The number one reason given by students who do not frequent the Center is related to scheduling—it is not open when these students plan to study or the time it takes to get to the Center is a problem. Every student at UW-L needs to complete at least one course that is supported by the MLC and many need to take more than one.

Retaining Expertise: During their time at the MLC, the tutors continue to develop into better and better teachers. Over time, they begin to recognize common misconceptions, allowing them to improve the service they provide as tutors. Having experienced tutors create podcasts of frequently asked math and statistics questions will allow us to retain the expertise of these “seasoned veterans” long after they graduate.

Assessing and Improving Quality: Newer, less experienced tutors will benefit from the project as well. Allowing each tutor to create podcasts will allow the faculty and the students to assess the quality of the explanations provided by the tutors. Completed podcasts will be submitted to the Local Content Server (within the IIURL) where they would be accessible for review prior to being made public. Some of our most experienced tutors often serve as a Peer Tutor for a particular course tutored in the MLC. These tutors run weekly recitation sessions for the course to which they are assigned, and would be well qualified to serve as an initial review board for the podcasts of problems related to that particular course. Podcasts that pass this initial review would then be reviewed by an advisory board consisting of faculty teaching the courses. Thus there would be two layers of review before podcasts are released to the general student body. This process will allow us to retain the best of the podcasts and to use the others as a way of providing the tutors with necessary feedback.

Problem Selection: The basic principle is to provide students with the information that is needed the most. With this in mind, the problems that will be turned into podcasts will be selected using two primary sources of information.

Frequently Asked Questions: The tutors in the MLC, as well as the Peer Tutor for each course, will point out the most frequently asked questions. The number of podcasts created for each course will be related to the frequency in which the students from these courses ask questions. A few questions (college algebra, for example) may be applicable to more than one course. These podcasts would be developed first.

Instructor Observations: Over the years, or within a given semester, instructors observe strengths and weaknesses in the skill levels of their classes. Instructors will be encouraged to identify the weak areas and to identify problem sets for which podcasts might help to improve the skills. In addition to solutions to common problems and specific content areas, podcasts can also be used to describe to students how to navigate through an instructor’s website, how to use a particular piece of software needed for the course, or a variety of similar situations.

Project History: Last year ('06-'07), over 50 podcasts were developed for the Math 175 Applied Calculus course. These were developed by the Instructor and made available to the students at a rate of about 5 per week. The students in the course found them to be a useful learning tool. Near the end of the course, the students were asked to “Rate the usefulness of the podcasts as they relate to your success in this course”, and nearly all students rated them high. Over 90% of the students reported to have used the podcasts as they prepared for the third exam. The use of the prodcasts was optional, so these numbers were surprisingly high.

Expertise: Faculty and students involved in the “PRAXIS Wisconsin” project are familiar with the podcasting technology. A podcast is one element of the more sophisticated Digital Learning Objects that are being created in the project. Faculty and students involved in the project have commented that the project has helped them develop into better teachers, encouraging them to consider (and research) what students will need to see and hear when they are struggling with a math or science problem.