MOOCulus for Calculus Fun: An Interview with Tom Evans

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter/Facebook

nowthats160With all the news and debate surrounding MOOCs, I have been looking for examples of people breaking the mold. In this, the first installment of Now That’s What I Call MOOC (bear with me, we probably won’t get to installment 73 like the CDs), we visit with Tom Evans of Ohio State University, discussing MOOCulus, platforms, student response, and more.

What is MOOCulus?

MOOCulus is an online platform, developed at Ohio State, to provide students a place to go to practice Calculus problems. The key to learning Calculus is to do problems, tons of problems. Over and over and over and over…


Our MOOC platform provider, Coursera, didn’t offer an engaging method for students to simply practice problems so we built MOOCulus to provide that opportunity for Calculus fun!

How was it developed and on what platform? Tell me a little bit about the tool itself and how students have responded to it.

Jim Fowler, Ohio State University

Jim Fowler, Ohio State University

MOOCulus was developed by Jim Fowler, a Math lecturer in our Math department at Ohio State. He and his team used Ruby on Rails to build the platform, which we host locally on campus. He initially used the Khan Academy as underlying framework to build the practice problems in MOOCulus and is working on branching out from that to build truly randomized practice problems that progress in difficulty as students master content. As they answer questions correctly, the progress bar moves to the right and turns green; as they miss questions, the progress bar begins to move to the left and turns red.

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Don’t Blame Teachers for the Poor State of STEM

[The following is a response to colleagues’ comments, in ETCJ’s staff listserv, re the need for change in the way science is traditionally taught. The discussion was spurred by the 2 Feb. 2013 report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” by the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. -Editor]

You have to remember, I got thrown out of schools for doing all of the things that we talk about that are going to be the future. I worked with the White House. The principal called me in and said, “You can’t do this technology stuff in Arlington Schools if you want to stay.” That was not a choice to me. Teachers who did what they were told are still probably working. I was not what the schools wanted, an innovator using technology. You are preaching to the wrong person.

I can’t demonstrate my skills right now. I don’t have a place to do it. Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, CA, is where I worked to help establish advocacy. My benefactor died.

Nysmith School in Herndon, VA, and a few other schools and projects do what I love. NCLB took the steam out of STEM, the science out of the classroom, and the focus away from what was called SMET, now STEM. NCLB took me out of the classroom. I will always remember the discussion.

I was with people who are STEM evangelists in the Nysmith School, which I visited in the NIIAC times. We as a council visited the school back then. Both of the schools are not mainstream. Tracy School is a charter school, K-12, mostly minority kids, very minority. Because the school has a longer day, with another month in the school year, it has to be a charter school. We had a plan.  Continue reading

Study Suggests the Need for an Intergrated Learning Styles Approach to Calculus

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter

This week, I had the chance to talk with Dr. Daniel McGee (CV), former middle and high school teacher in Francistown, Botswana, Peace Corps volunteer, and researcher/biostatistician for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. McGee’s work in creating a free, public access online learning system for primary and secondary students in Puerto Rico has gained traction in recent years, becoming the basis for online pre-calculus materials that will now be used in schools throughout Puerto Rico.

As his projects began generating larger and larger data sets, he became interested in exploring the insights they might provide on learning styles, learning types, and learning in general. This interview provides an overview of the motivations behind the study as well as a brief discussion of some of his key findings.

Daniel Lee McGee, Professor, Mathematics, University of Puerto Rico

Daniel Lee McGee, Professor, Mathematics, University of Puerto Rico

JK: What did this study find, exactly? Why is this important?

DM: There were two important results of this study.

Result 1: In general, most efforts to define the categories for learning types have been a priori in nature. Researchers will start with a set of learning types and then will categorize students. This study takes an a posteriori approach to student learning types. We gather a great deal of data on a lot of students. The data comes from questionnaires and results on quizzes and exams from an online learning system. Rather than starting with predefined categories for students, we look for natural groups of students based on similar responses to questionnaires and similar results on quizzes and exams. These natural groupings lend insight into the natural learning styles of the students taking the course. The first result of the study was that students were not scattered randomly, they did form natural groupings. So the vast amount of information available with online learning systems does allow us, at least in Puerto Rico, to identify student learning types in an a posteriori manner.

The vast amount of information available with online learning systems does allow us, at least in Puerto Rico, to identify student learning types in an a posteriori manner.

Importance of result 1: Our results indicate that large groups of students seem to organize themselves into distinct clusters. The ability to identify these clusters and their associated strengths and weaknesses will allow professors with large groups of students using online systems to better address the particular needs of the distinct learning types that are in their class at a particular time.  Continue reading