Online Teaching – As Satisfying As Face To Face?

I recently overheard an instructor say that he does not want to teach online classes because he would miss the interaction with his students. My first thought was that if you are not interacting with your students in an online class then you are doing something wrong. The level of interaction betyween myself and my students has really skyrocketed over the last two years, to the point where students comment on how effective I am as an instructor despite the fact that we do not see each other on a daily basis.
I have started to use Facebook group pages as a way to increase interaction. It’s a great place to post supplementary information, photos, and videos. My students use it to ask each other questions and to provide support. It’s also nice to have a backup site to communicate through in case the course server crashes.
I chose Facebook because an overwhelming majority of my students use Facebook. I have found that students are much more likely to check their Facebook account than they are to check their email.
My class has an in-person orientation that I use to help build a connection with my students, and I also host a face-to-face review session prior to the midterm and final exams. The level of interaction in those sessions is very high, often much more interactive than a traditional classroom.
So, if you are unsure about teaching online because of the lack of contact, please consider it. The level of contact and interaction depends completely upon you. The contact and interaction are there, just in a different format.

How do you increase the interaction in your online classes? Please comment or alert me to a website detailing your strategies.

– George

August 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm Leave a comment

Getting the Most From Homework

Here is a blog I have cross-posted from my Elements of Game Design in Math Class blog:

I think it’s important to consider why we do homework, and to make sure our students understand that the goal is learning and understanding, not just accumulating points or doing busy work. Let me know what you think – George

Leveling Up, But Not Passing?

Now that the dust has settled from the first exam …

Between my 3 courses I had 63 students level up, and 55 of them (87%) passed the exam. But what about the 8 students who leveled up but did not pass? Obviously I understand that this can happen, but the goal is that if students are doing their homework with the goal of learning and understanding the material they should pass the exams. Of the 8 students, most were in the upper 50′s or 60′s. To me, that is close enough that they may have understood the material and had a bad day. It was their first test with me, and that can be an adjustment period.

In the past I have had a handful students who leveled up (90% or higher on all online homework, 70% or higher on all online quizzes), but score really low on the exam. In fact, the scores are so low that it’s hard to believe that the homework scores are true reflections of what the student knows. One problem is that many students have trained themselves to do the homework to accumulate points rather than knowledge. Using MyMathLab, students can over rely on learning aids such as “Help Me Solve This” or “Show An Example” and be tricked into thinking they are learning when they are not. They can have their resources available while working on their homework or quizzes, and may not realize that they can only solve the problems while using reference materials. Unfortunately these materials and the MyMathLab learning aids are not available during the in class exams.

Another problem could be the overuse/reliance on a personal tutor. I had a student who did the homework with a tutor, and I am fairly confident that the tutor was doing a lion’s share of the work. This will always show up on exam day.

At the beginning of the semester I make a big deal about the purpose of the homework. I use homework to allow my students to practice, to learn, to explore, to understand. Their goal should be to use the homework to gain a thorough understanding of the material, NOT to accumulate points. Since my students can only earn points by passing exams, they (for the most part) gain the correct perspective. I’m afraid that many students in our classes do homework because it’s something they are supposed to do, and have no idea about the goal of the homework.

In the past I have noticed that two things occur on the second exam. First, more people will level up because they understand how important that is. Second, the proportion of leveled up students who pass the exam increases, because they get the message that “understanding the math” is the goal and they make the necessary adjustments. Time will tell …

September 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

The Blog Is Back

OK, I couldn’t stay away. I’m getting away from my “BlogSpot” blog and will get back to business here.

I have started a second blog that describes how I am incorporating elements of game design into my developmental math classes. I will document exactly what I do as the semester progresses as well as giving the rationale behind the system. You can see it here:

I’ll be in touch …


September 4, 2013 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

Moving This Blog to a New Site

I have decided to move my blog to Blogger.

New Site:

Latest Blog on Sampling:

August 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

Mastery Learning – Grading System

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have started using a mastery learning based grading system in my developmental math courses.


I give 6 tests in each course.
These tests are worth 0 points if the student scores below 70% or 1 point if the student scores 70% or higher.
If a student has satisfactory online scores (90% or higher on each exam and 70% or higher on each quiz) then they can earn bonuses on their test score. In that case, a student earns 2 points for a test between 70% & 79% and 3 points for a test that is 80% or higher.
A student who earns 0 points on a test but has satisfactory online scores earns the option to retake the test the following week for 1 point.

Take note that the online scores do not directly count to a student’s overall grade in any fashion.

There are 6 tests, so a student can earn up to 18 points from their tests.


For one exam (the one that students historically struggle with) I double the points for students with satisfactory online scores. That means that there are an additional 3 points up for grabs here.


I have a 34 question review quiz associated with a 136 question personalized homework assignment that serves as a review for the final exam. Students who score above 90% on the homework and 70% on the quiz earn 4 points to their total.

Final Exam

The final exam is worth 100 points.


There are 125 points available in my course. Students need 100 points for an A, 88 points for a B, and 76 points for a C. I set up the C grade by reasoning that a student who did not do the online homework but managed to pass all 6 exams and the final exam should pass the class: 6 x 1 + 70 = 76. I then escalated the grades from there.

Last Semester

Last semester I started with 47 students, and managed to keep 46 of them. 28 of the 46 passed (61%), with 15 of those grades being A’s. The pass rate at my college is in the mid 40’s for reference.

My students took a common final with four other classes, and the grading was shared between instructors. (I graded problems 1-7, another instructor graded 8-13, …). Students in my class had a mean score that was 12.5 points above the other classes, and the median was 14 points higher. 65% of my students scores 60 or higher (control: 37%), and 35% of my students scored 80 or higher (control: 7%). This shows that my students understood the material at a higher level than those not participating in the mastery learning approach.

In the next blog I will talk about some of the game design elements that really help make this work.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –

March 29, 2012 at 8:55 am 2 comments

Mastery Learning – Doing Homework For The Right Reason

Homework has always been an issue of contention between math instructors and students. Instructors believe that students must do homework in order to learn the material, and I believe that statement is essentially true. Except I would change it to “If students want to learn, doing their homework with the appropriate approach can help them to learn and understand.” Many students view homework simply as a task that they must complete, they do not understand that it is supposed to help them learn.

We live in an age where it is easy to incorporate online, self-grading homework. There are all sorts of learning aids available to our students within these online homework programs, and when you also include online resources, videos, and tutors, we often assume that our students will learn the material by simply working through the homework. But if homework scores directly impact a student’s overall grade, students are encouraged to grind through the homework for the points rather than for learning. If 20% of your overall grade comes from online homework, students will try to earn as many points as possible in an effort to lower the scores required on the exams that make up the other 80% of their grade. (By the way, this is just as true if you use traditional pencil/paper homework.)

Some instructors decide not to even include a homework grade in their grading policy for this reason, but this will not motivate students to do their homework. Students do not do optional, even if we as instructors feel that it is necessary. Sure, we’d like our students to realize that it is necessary to do mathematics in order to learn mathematics, but few students will perform tasks that they do not understand the purpose of.

Last semester I began to work with a new grading system that incorporates mastery learning. Online homework and quizzes do not directly count towards my students’ overall grades. Instead, they do help them to earn bonuses and perks based on their test scores. I grade each exam out of 100, and students that score 70 or higher get 1 point for that test and students that score below 70 get 0 points for that test. 1 or 0, pass of fail. The perks?

  • Students who meet performance benchmarks on the online work and score above 80 on the exam earn 3 points on their exam instead of 1.
  • Students who meet performance benchmarks on the online work and score between 70 and 79 on the exam earn 2 points on their exam instead of 1.
  • Students who meet performance benchmarks on the online work and score below 70 on the exam earn the opportunity to retake the test the following week for 1 point.

So, homework only impacts my students’ grades when they are passing exams. Now the goal of the homework is to learn the material, because if they don’t learn the material they cannot do well on the exams. And the exams generate all of the points in my class.

In the next blog I will go through the point system for the entire course and share some data.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –

March 28, 2012 at 8:38 am 1 comment

ICTCM & What’s On The Way

I just got back from the 24th ICTCM, and, as usual, I am full of great ideas that I picked up. There were two trends that I saw – Pencasts and Simulations.

There were several talks on using smart pens. I recently received one as a gift, and I think that it is becoming a very important tool for me as an educator. They can be used to communicate to students who email questions, post supplementary materials online, or even as a note taking tool. I will share my approach in future blogs.

There were also several talks that incorporated the use of simulations in introductory statistics. This is a BIG idea that will one day revolutionize the way we teach inferential statistics. Resampling and bootstrapping are effective ways to show our visual students what is really going on. I usually use StatCrunch for this purpose.

Matt Davis (Chabot College) did a great job, and he has some fantastic simulations. You can find him through a quick Google search for “Matt Davis Chabot”, and he seems pretty willing to share. (Tell him I sent you.)

I gave a talk on my new mastery based learning approach using MyMathLab, which incorporates elements of game design. I think that my students have changed their focus from doing homework to earn points to doing homework to learn and understand mathematics. I will be putting together a blog series on this new approach that will share last semester’s results, explain exactly how I set my class up, and share the elements of game design that I have incorporated, as well as some commentary from my son.

One other blog series that I will put together is one on my MyMathLab top 10-ish features. Now that most classes have gone to the new design of MyMathLab, it’s time to go over these features.

I’m looking forward to getting this blog rolling again. I hope you have all been well.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –

March 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

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