When the pandemic disrupted math professor Dan Look's usual approach to teaching, he saw an opportunity to reimagine his curriculum with creative solutions to remote learning.
According to Associate and Rutherford Professor of Mathematics Professor Dan Look, the pedagogy of mathematics was due for a disruption. Now, after over two decades of teaching, the pandemic has given him an opportunity to recraft his approach.
“I'm forced to get outside that box,” Look says. “I don't have to teach like they did in the sixties. And when I say that, I mean from the 1460s—standing up front and imparting knowledge and then giving a quiz has been around forever. There are better ways to do it.”
Look serves on the Faculty Development Committee and is spending his summer reading, attending courses, and learning from his colleagues across disciplines to discover what those ways are and what they might look like in a virtual classroom. Some of these opportunities have allowed him to put himself in the shoes of his students so he can incorporate their perspective in his instruction.
Traditionally, mathematics is an exam-heavy discipline, but written exams are difficult to proctor when one can’t be in the same room as their students. Look believes that remote learning allows for the chance to challenge this norm by introducing one-on-one oral assessments to his examination process. This will allow him to check in with students on their mental health and wellbeing prior to administering a test and approach the exam as a conversation between friends.
"I'm excited to figure out how to serve my students’ needs, making sure they still get access to the quality education that they want and that they need and deserve... It’s more about the connection, the effort, the time you put in than the modality." —Professor of Math Dan Look
“I'll ask them a few broad-stroke questions,” he says. “Don't worry about the details. Don't worry about the notation. If you were talking to a friend who knew math and hadn't taken this course, how would you explain this idea?”
He hopes it will encourage more sustainable study habits and allow for better retention of material.
“It freaks students out at first,” Look admits, “but in the end, the way that they study changes, they're not cramming 24 hours before the exam. They're thinking more thoughtfully about what they need to know and how the pieces fit together.”
With his reframed curriculum, Look aims to meet students where they are while still providing a rewarding and challenging learning experience because he believes these things transcend the online learning format.
“I'm excited to figure out how to serve my students’ needs, making sure they still get access to the quality education that they want and that they need and deserve,” he says. “It’s more about the connection, the effort, the time you put in, than the modality.”