Reflections on Teaching at EC
When I came to EC, we had one and a half full-time mathematicians – my position was split between mathematics and physics. We now have five full-time mathematicians on the faculty.
It seems that my teaching has been linked to the development of computer technology. (Other "nerds" of my generation managed to make a great deal of money from this technology – alas I always wanted to teach.)
In the early 80's many of our students were interested in computer science. I spent three summers in various programs completing the equivalent of a Masters degree in computer science and for some years I split my teaching between mathematics and computing. Probably my favorite computer science course was Operating Systems which focused on large multi-user computer systems. Computers are still a big part of my teaching but I don't teach computer science any more.
Sometime around 1990, my colleague Jerry Przybylski and I were convinced that the availability of mathematical software should fundamentally change the way we taught mathematics. We found an old language laboratory that was no longer in use at the College; we did a little creative reconstruction; and with a little help from our colleagues in IT we set up a network of a half dozen computers and began to teach calculus in a way that took advantage of the computational power that was available to our students. Adding the laboratory component of the course and pushing the envelope of what could be included in an introductory course was very exciting for us. We'd like to think that it was exciting for our students as well – they certainly worked very hard and coped with a fair amount of stress as we found our way.
The next year we joined a national NSF-funded project with very similar goals. An explicit link between understanding how students learn mathematics and the way we teach mathematics; a goal of finding appropriate use of computer technology; and a belief that cooperative learning is effective in mathematics. Jerry and I and the rest of the mathematics department embraced this program and continued to work with it for several years.
Although the program is no longer active, the principles still guide the work we do in mathematics at EC. Most of our mathematics courses include a computer lab. We try to construct cooperative group activities that push students to construct their own understanding of mathematics. Students still work very hard but the frustration level is much lower.
We should have taken photos of our original computer lab so that you could get a better sense of just how far we've come.