Some of my classmates have expressed an interest in what it is I do for the University at the Kuskokwim Campus (KuC). It is not nearly as interesting as it sounds, but I will share it here.
Spring and fall of 2014, I taught regular face-to-face classes. Each semester, I taught a section of PreAlgebra with fewer than a half dozen students. In spring 2015, my son was born, and I knew before the start of the semester that I would have to take time off, so I asked not to be scheduled for a regular class. Instead, I was offered the opportunity to teach online. That semester I taught a noncredit math refresher course over VTC, using ALEKS, to a cohort of students located in remote villages along the lower Kuskokwim River and coast. The week after that course ended, my son was born, and six weeks later I went to Fairbanks for iTeachU.
The next two semesters I continued to support the cohort in the villages by teaching an asynchronous math lab over Blackboard. Students would email me with questions, and I would create screencast video tutorials to answer them. You can still find some of those videos on this website. In the fall of 2016, I left my regular evening job and returned to the classroom at KuC. The following semester, our only full-time math faculty member became our Alaska State House Representative, so I taught all of the math at KuC, but I was only able to do that for one semester.
In the fall of 2017, my daughter was born, and I was again unable to teach a regular class. We decided to enroll all of KuC’s students in distance-delivered math classes. The two lower level developmental math classes were taught by a professor at the Chukchi Campus in Kotzebue; two more 100-level classes were taught by a professor at the Interior Alaska Campus in Fairbanks. All of the students, in addition to participating in distance lectures, came to a math lab with me one or two nights per week.
I originally planned to structure my math labs with projects and activities to support what the students were learning in their lecture classes. I had read some research the previous summer about successful models for supporting developmental math students, especially in predominantly native colleges. All of that was dropped about three weeks into the fall semester. What the students needed more than enrichment or scaffolding was time for and help with the assignments they already had.
I became their tutor and their advocate. I could help with assignments and re-explain concepts that weren’t clear. At the same time, I could help them to navigate technology and to communicate with their professor and other resources on campus. I was shocked to find how many college freshmen have never written an email and don’t know where to start.
This semester KuC hired a full-time math faculty member—the professor from Kotzebue moved to Bethel—so most of my students had face-to-face math classes. The students in the highest-level classes still took theirs from Fairbanks. We continued to encourage them all to participate in my math labs to make sure they had all of the support they needed to pass, and it seemed to work for most. I experimented with using Google Classroom to share support materials (notes, answer explanations, &c.), and Slack for communication, but most students still preferred to text or email me with questions outside of class and get their answers back the same way.
My role in the teaching of math and in online learning at KuC is presence—”teacher immediacy.” I make myself available to students by email, text, and Slack most hours of the day to give them a person to ask about whatever challenge they face in their math class. I think that the presence of support, encouragement, and accountability are even more important than the math tutoring I provide.