Early signs are promising — students’ results in pilot testing of the online courses were slightly higher than students’ results in the face-to-face Pathways courses. Those results are no small feat, given the high bar of success of the in-person Pathways courses.

Peering into their computer screens from the safety of their respective homes, a group of math instructors from the State University of New York (SUNY) system gathered virtually to share details about their abrupt coronavirus-driven shift into the world of distance learning.

The videoconference began with teachers discussing a range of concerns — from how to ensure they are addressing students’ mental states to how to proctor quizzes and tests online. One teacher recalled grappling with a technical issue in her school’s online learning platform. Heartened after a helpful student emailed her guidance on how to troubleshoot the issue, the teacher realized, “I just have to let the students know that we’re all in this together.”

These teachers are part of a weekly virtual convening set up by Carnegie Math Pathways (Pathways) to help math educators in the SUNY system collaboratively navigate their unplanned transition to distance learning. Carnegie Math Pathways is a research-based, holistic approach to developmental math, delivered through two programs, Statway and Quantway, that accelerate college math completion and redesign coursework to make it relevant to students’ lives and areas of study. The programs are taught in 90 colleges in 16 states, including 24 SUNY colleges. In addition to working with the SUNY group, Pathways staff have been helping the broader network of Statway and Quantway teachers across the country with this pivot to virtual learning.

“We wanted to leverage the Pathways network in order to help teachers move online quickly,” says Karon Klipple, executive director of Carnegie Math Pathways. Pathways staff have been offering a range of support to the national network of Statway and Quantway teachers, including facilitating weekly Faculty Sharing Sessions for teachers to collaborate and problem-solve in real time; developing a suite of distance learning resources, and creating an asynchronous online forum for teachers to share ideas and resources.

“Because the move to online learning was so sudden and unplanned for teachers, a lot of the support up front has been triage,” says Klipple. In addition to facilitating collaboration and offering resources and guidance, Klipple and her colleagues have “helped with setting expectations — what are some realistic goals for transitioning to distance learning on a dime in the midst of a crisis.”

Research-based best practices for online learning

While distance learning may be new to many Statway and Quantway instructors, as well as to many other college instructors across subject areas, it is not new to Carnegie Math Pathways staff. They have focused on virtual learning over the last two years as they designed online versions of their courses in order to ensure access to quality math learning for the growing number of students seeking online education. Developed in collaboration with faculty in the Pathways network and in partnership with the adaptive learning provider Realizeit, the first online course debuted in spring 2020 and the entire suite of Pathways courses are available for the fall 2020 term.

“Throughout our work on these new online courses, we’ve been steeped in the research on best practices for online learning,” says Klipple. “This has helped put us in a position to offer responsive, just-in-time support to educators as they’re rushing to get up and running.”

In fact, the Pathways staff members’ expertise has enabled them to offer support beyond just the math realm — they are currently providing assistance to the entire network of 15,000 faculty in the North Carolina community college system to support their transition to online learning.

Collaboration and community promote student success

In adapting the Pathways courses online, Klipple and her team made sure that the cornerstones of the program remained intact. “The online courses enable the same kind of small group collaboration around rich, authentic texts and the same cultivation of community and sense of belonging that have been critical to the success of our face-to-face classes,” says Klipple. “It’s a really different way of online learning and teaching than most people have experienced.”

With an adaptive learning platform (which adjusts content to each student’s particular learning progress) and regularly scheduled student check-in surveys, the online courses allow faculty to monitor where students are in terms of content knowledge, confidence, and self-efficacy, so they can target supports accordingly.

Early signs are promising — students’ results in pilot testing of the online courses were slightly higher than students’ results in the face-to-face Pathways courses. Those results are no small feat, given the high bar of success of the in-person Pathways courses. Over the last several years, Statway and Quantway students earned college-level math credit at more than triple the rates and in half the time compared to students in traditional developmental math sequences.[i]

Full suite of online courses available for fall 2020

Because there is so much uncertainty about when schools will be moving back to in-person classes, Klipple and her colleagues are encouraging all faculty in the Pathways network to use the virtual courses for the upcoming fall term. This gives instructors and their schools much-needed flexibility during a period of flux, says Klipple. Because the online courses mirror the in-person courses so closely, teachers can shift from in-person classes to online at any time during the term if their schools decide to.

“Our goal,” says Klipple, “is to make things as easy and flexible as possible for faculty right now.”

Schools and teachers interested in adopting the online Staway and Quantway courses this fall now have an easy entry point, says Klipple. Teachers simply need to take a four- to six-hour online training course and they will be set to go.

For more information about Carnegie Math Pathways online courses, visit https://carnegiemathpathways.org/fully-online-courses/ or contact info@carnegiemathpathways.org.

[i] Huang, M. (2018). 2016–2017 impact report: Six years of results from the Carnegie Math Pathways. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.