Andre Freeman is a professor of mathematics at Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut and a Faculty Mentor in the Carnegie Math Pathways Network. As an experienced Statway College Virtual instructor and course designer, we asked him for advice on how faculty can establish and maintain connection with students remotely, and for general best practices for online instruction. Here is some of what he shared:

What best practices would you share with someone teaching Quantway or Statway for the first time?

I think doing a robust, thorough orientation is really important and also getting information on when students can meet for collaboration sessions with other students. Getting that information about a week before the semester begins is critically important (because) building those collaboration groups quicker, I think, will enable a smoother launch for students.

Then in week one, sitting in on collaboration sessions and being there as a support if not for the entire hour, but maybe for the first half an hour. I think really having a strong instructor presence in week one makes a big difference and can lead to the groups working efficiently and effectively for much of the term.

The other thing that I would say is ensuring that the collaboration groups are working well by reaching out to students individually to just check in on how things are going.

What strategies helped you support student retention during your Statway College Virtual course?

Email was huge. I would email students and ask them how they were doing, (if they had any) questions, concerns. Just reaching out.

Unfortunately, a lot of students dropped the class after COVID and I would reach out and try to get them to continue. And it wasn’t just in this course, but in all of my classes at Capital. Our campus was hit pretty hard due to the disruption.

For those that did receive additional flexibility and support, I tried to use my office hours to connect with students and tried to meet on Zoom. Those who did take advantage of that expressed their appreciation and said that that made a big difference.

Pathways Pointer: Pathways educators have learned a lot from their spring 2020 experience with our virtual courses, particularly amid the Covid-19 outbreak, and have helpful tips to share. Register for our free, two-part mini-webinar series for community-building and general instructional strategies that can help support student retention.

How did you initially introduce the virtual Collaboration sessions to your students?

The class orientation was a really important way of introducing the entire course, including the collaboration structure and the requirements for collaborations. In addition to that, I sent out a lot of emails that described that requirement. I emphasized the benefits to students of studying in groups and also emphasized how Carnegie Math Pathways has shown that students in many situations learned better when studying with other students and learning from other students’ perspectives. I really used those two messages to motivate students and to understand why studying mathematics in a collaborative fashion is important and something that they should be open-minded about doing.

Pathways Pointer: “Collaboration sessions” refer to the student group meetings, usually independent of an instructor, held via built-in Zoom rooms in Quantway and Statway Virtual. Holding a full-class orientation at the start of the term is a helpful way to introduce the instructor, students, and the features and structure of the course.

This course allows students to work synchronously via Zoom video conferencing independent of an instructor. How do you stay connected with your students when they meet without you?

I established connection with students by orienting them through a Zoom session (at the start of the term) which allows students to meet me, for me to introduce the course and structure, and to introduce the requirements. I also had the ability to pop in on students’ collaboration sessions. I was then able to stay connected with students through frequent video communication. I would email, post videos of (my feedback), and hold office hours. I found that through constant communication, I was connected with students.