Survey of OpenStax online text, Desmos, and location of MS 101/3 Algebra and Trigonometry personal technology classroom at term end


Students found the online textbook to be generally useful and the students, by and large, recommend continued use of online texts. The students found Desmos to be a powerful and capable graphing tool that algebra and trigonometry classes should use. Some noted that Desmos was easy to use, including one noting Desmos was easier than using a scientific calculator. Roughly two-thirds of the students felt the classroom being used was a good place for MS 101, a third want to see the class held only in a computer laboratory.

Possible recommendations
  • Continue the use of online texts
  • Continue and expand the use of Desmos in mathematics courses
  • Consider retaining MS 101 in a computer laboratory environment
  • Improve WiFi performance and reliability
  • Empty, open classrooms are potentially the "student study space" that the college generally lacks. The dining hall could also be a study space during non-meal hours if WiFi were available there: WiFi availability is what makes a space useful.
  • Screen real estate is important when multiple on line technologies are being used in a course, this should be a consideration both inside computer laboratories and in bookstore purchases of technology for the students. Larger screens are better, small screen smartphones with older, slower operating systems are less academically useful to students. 
  • If smartphone technology is going to be increasingly relied on in courses, then the bookstore might want to stock in styluses.
For the first time in roughly twenty years, MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry had a single section taught outside of the A204 mathematics and natural sciences computer laboratory. The single section began the term with 26 students. Eight students would stop attending by midterm and were withdrawn from the course. For one student who withdrew, the class conflicted with a work schedule. Another student noted she had a morning class and then a long break until MS 101 during which she would become bored and go home. The reasons for the other six withdrawals were not able to be determined.

Some students had phones with cracked or broken screens, which complicated usage

Of the remaining 18 students, one would stop attending after midterm explaining that she wanted to focus on her other classes and planned to take MS 101 again next term. Of the remaining 17 in the course at term end, sixteen completed a survey that explored student reactions to the online textbook, the use of Desmos graphing calculator, and their reaction to the physical space.

At the outset of the class the intent was to use a newly installed outdoor antenna to provide Internet access within the B201 classroom. The classroom was not wired for Internet and had only WiFi access to the Internet. This would drive the class requirement that students would have to bring their own technology. The give was that in lieu of purchasing the nearly $300 textbook, the class would use an online textbook. This was made clear at the outset of the class. The students were to purchase technology rather than a textbook.

Screen real estate was very limited on the low end phones used by many students

The students were given the option to bring personal technology of their own choice. Although technology is expensive on Pohnpei relative to a mainland location, the concept was that capable technology was available on island in the same price range as the textbook. That was the trade-off, no need to buy an expensive text but a student without personal tech would have to acquire tech.

Although this need to have and bring their own technology to class was made clear at term start, and term start informal in class surveys suggested students all had their own technology, end of term surveys suggested that a couple students had not been entirely honest about their ability to acquire their own technology.

In the term end anonymous survey one student confessed,

Using this technology in class is very useful, but at the same time, sometimes I can't do homework, not sometimes because I haven't had enough money to buy my own cell phone, because it was my mom's cell phone I've been using from the beginning of the semester. So most of the time I didn't have time to do my homework because my mom always uses her phone.

The stylus being used was purchased personally by the instructor. All students were given a stylus by the instructor. Students reported the styluses helped when working with their smartphones.

Another student also confessed to complications with having to use their own personal technology, complications that had not been revealed at the start of the term.

During the first day, I remember thinking about how I will tell my father to buy me a new phone for this class because he is so against me having a phone. He said that it will ruin me. So I ask my sister instead. My sister sent me some money from the states so that I can buy myself a new phone for this class. It helped a lot. I learned many ways of solving math problems with mobile devices instead of a scientific calculator. 

Surveyed at term end, the students had the following responses to "I had the following personally owned technologies available to me for use in this course:"
Some students had access to multiple devices and would on occasion, such as during tests, use two devices to increase screen real estate. Previous articles have noted the challenges limited screen space create.

Another phone with a shattered screen

The course used the OpenStax Algebra and Trigonometry text. The text was available as a free PDF format download, as an online text that could be viewed in a browser, and via an Android app. Homework was generated electronically - students could opt to use a word processor including apps such as Google Docs - and submitted using Schoology LMS. The online textbook, Desmos, and Schoology meant that students had three online technologies to access as a part of the course.

When asked, "As a result of this term, which do you prefer using, a hard copy printed textbook or an online textbook?" the students predominantly preferred the online textbook.

When asked whether they would recommend that this class use the online textbook in the future, the numbers shifted by one:

While the online text remains a dominant choice, this is not a unanimous opinion. And one student who prefers an online text recommended a hard copy text for future sections. Questions three to eight on the survey explored the use of the online textbook in more detail.

3. Did you read the textbook?313
4. Did you consult the textbook for help working homework problems?6811
5. Was the textbook helpful?106
6. Could you understand the explanations in the textbook?691
7. Did the instructor refer to the textbook in class?124
8. Did you study other algebra & trigonometry books (for example, those in the library)?1384

Insight into the above numbers may be provided in part by comments the students made on the textbook. The comments lead off with those that are generally negative. Five students did not make any comment. The comments were transcribed as written.
  • Using online textbook is kind of hard for me, because it was my first time using online textbook. As a result, I ain't got not time to understand whats in the book.
  • Of course one would say it is not resourceful but I say it is better because we do not charge it and also keeps us in good shape on financial standings.
  • The textbook do not give much help with my learning. Most of my learning come from instructor's feedbacks and lectures.
  • I prefer if we use the textbook instead of the online textbook. It will be easier to understand that than the online one.
  • No comment, it was somehow useful.
  • The online textbook was helpful for it sometimes provides us with answers in order for us to know how to come up with the correct answers.
  • Using the online textbook is much better than the hard copy, printed textbook, because it is cheap and worthwhile. I solve my own problems from the online text, by taking a look at it. It is more specific than the printed one.
  • The online textbook is very helpful and easy way to use it. You can view it on your phone or anywhere you could access to the Internet. Most importantly it is free.
  • It is really helpful for it allows more specific according to each chapters. It shows more steps to each problems and it is more easy for me to see and just follow solving the problems.
  • The textbook online was really helpful.
  • The online textbook was useful for me. It allowed me to carry it around wherever I go. All I have to do is to download the chapters or pages that I need to read and then its done. I don't have to worry about carrying extra weight in my bag or losing it because it's online. It also has many examples and exercises that are really helpful just like the regular textbook, and it's free. Having it in my pocket everywhere I go, I can access it anytime, anywhere. It is super easy to use and more portable than the textbook.
The section innovated on many fronts during the term. In addition to piloting a dependence on the college WiFi and the use of an online textbook, the section also used a relatively new online graphing calculator, Desmos. Desmos is not simply a graphing calculator. Desmos is fundamentally a environment in which one programs in the language of mathematics. This is not like a Mathematica which has a command line language with functions and arguments in a programming language format. Desmos is different: there is no command language other than mathematics. One uses mathematics as the programming language. No command line commands. That said, in this course Desmos was used as a graphing tool.

Desmos as a programmable environment: an animated projectile motion demonstrator

Students were asked whether the use of Desmos was helpful for them. Note that only 15 students answered questions 10, 11, and 12, which were on the back of the survey paper. One student chose not to fill in the backside of the survey.

All but one student found Desmos to be helpful. The comments reflected this overwhelmingly positive experience. Only one student shared a negative comment.
  • [Desmos was not helpful] Maybe because I don't really got on how to use or operate Desmos.
  • It is helpful but not that easy for newbie.
  • Of course Desmos makes math pretty easier.
  • It is easy to find the quick answer.
  • It was very helpful and I considered it the best calculator I've ever used for it makes graphing easier in a way that it also gives us the answers when we asks for it.
  • Desmos is very helpful. Much much more helpful than the scientific calculator. Desmos can solve almost every math problem. It has math signs that calculator doesn't have but may be  needed in the MS 101.
  • Desmos is very useful, anything that was on a scientific calculator, you could find it on Desmos. And also it is more easy to use Desmos.
  • Desmos is a perfect site where students can use, for its save more time instead of spending more time on few problems. It doesn't require a lot of work and you can download it and its free.
  • Desmos is a powerful tool that I find useful. Now that technology is advancing rapidly I believe we should too in terms of solving math problems. Desmos helped me solve long and complicated problems really fast and it provides me with a lot of a ways (graphing) and solving functions.
  • I loved Desmos. Keep Desmos in this class.
  • Makes everything simple. Like!!! 🙂
The use of Desmos received more positive responses than the generally well liked online textbook. 

A third innovation was the use of the B201 classroom to teach MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry. Since circa 1997 MS 1001 has been taught in the room A204 computer laboratory with desktop computers hard wired into the network. Speeds on the cabled network are generally higher than those seen on the WiFi where throttling occurs to manage bandwidth.

Students were asked whether B201 was a good place to learn algebra and trigonometry. They were also asked whether MS 101 should be taught in B201 again. These two questions, and the comments that followed each question, were correlated with each other. The reasons why B201 was seen as a good place for the class were echoed as reasons the class should be held again in that room.

As one who has taught MS 101 in A204, I found B201 limiting. There was no built in projection or large screen monitor capability in B201. And I deliberately chose not to remedy that situation. I wanted to attempt to run the class using, to the greatest extent possible, only the technology the students would bring through the door. If this worked, then this was a way forward for classes outside of a computer laboratory not just at the college but potentially at some of the local K-12 schools as well.

My bias being made clear at the outset, I was surprised that the students had a generally more positive reaction to the use of B201 than I did as an instructor.
Eleven of the fifteen who responded to the prompt felt that B201 was a good place for algebra and trigonometry. Ten of the eleven felt the class should be held there again. That said, a third of the respondents felt the class should not be held in B201 again. These five felt the class should be held in the A204 computer laboratory. The comments from the above two prompts provide some insight into student opinions on the physical space.

Those who answered yes to both prompts:
  • Instructor was understanding along with his teaching from online textbook. No problems encountered except Wifi connection. 
  • Because the access of WiFi is available, there is no difference between the other classes unless a student does not have a device of electronic to access to the internet or Desmos
  • Because I prefer a place that are quiet to study at just like our classroom (B201). It's quiet and comfortable you hardly bothered watch people pass by the class.
  • Because it was closest class to the antenna therefore we get to have good connection in the class.
  • Because we can catch internet access from there since the book is online. It's just the perfect place for taking MS 101 if you have your own device. [MS 101 should be taught in B201 again- so that those students who are taking MS 101 after us can experience the comfort that we had in that classroom. It's the best choice after all. Like I said, you can catch the internet access from there, since the book is online.
  • It's very bright it's close to the stairs in which it's save time to get there. It's feel comfortable.
  • Because it feel comfortable to learn math in that class.
  • We do not have to wait because we have our own tech therefore the room if free whenever we go in. [Context: There was no class in B201 prior to nor after the MS 101 class. Students could access the room before class and remain in the room after class, unlike A204 which is booked solid all day long and generally locked if not in use.]
  • From my own point of view there is no need for finding better room that has computers in because like I said we had our own technology.
  • As long as we have a good internet connection, so it is "yes." 
  • Because I've been there and its no problem to teach MS 101 outside lab. And also as long as a student has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, they can be learn MS 101 very well.
Yes to B201 being a good place for MS 101, no to future classes using the room
  • This class will be more better and easy if it takes place in a computer laboratory. So I believe it is best to be inside a computer lab, where students can just go online using the computers instead of bringing their own smartphones. Sometimes the internet is bad, [the room is] too hot, and there's no computers.
No to both prompts
  • B201 classroom is not a good place for learning because MS 101 requires a lab classroom. This classroom won't make all the students to pass. In lab there is no better way that be taught in the lab with full of computers.
  • Sometimes the connection went off, which caused us to be having trouble with our online textbook. The WiFi is slow. Maybe the class should be in the computer lab.
  • The best place might be in the mathscience lab since there are available computers for the use of assignments. In that case it will be easier every single student to access to technology use for doing their assigned works, since not every students in COM-FSM own a technology - cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc. The class should be in mathscience lab at A204.
  • WiFi is sometimes slow and there are no computers. We need strong WiFi, computers, and a projector in order for students to be able to follow along with their instructors.
In addition to the above survey students were asked to respond to open prompts. The students chose the prompt to respond to. These responses provide another set of insights into student learning and attitudes.

The biggest obstacle for me in my learning the material was... because...
  • Using the online textbook, because sometimes I don't have WiFi at my house so its really hard for me to read the textbook and also using the Desmos, I might get how to use it one some of the problems but on some I don't really know how to use it.
  • During lectures and discussions in class because most of the time I don't get what the instructor is trying to explain. I sometimes see that he is taking shortcuts to finish some problems which is not really good because I see this class too challenging so there the instructor should do things step by step, slowly and clearly.
During the first day, I remember thinking... because....
  • It is going to be hard because we won't be using the lab
  • That this class would be super confusing because I am poor in math
  • How am I going to learn math because it was the first time MS took class outside the computer lab. So I thought that we are not going to learn more because some of the students don't have smartphone to use it online. 
  • This course is not for me. I thought to myself that I should switch to another section. Using only tech for a math class is not for me but something tells me that I should take the risk. Only there were no risks at all. You may have said so "Daina," after all it was only a matter of pressing letters, numbers, on the keyboard. 
  • What am I going to do if I fail this class, because everyday the biggest obstacle I've face was being embarrassed and sad in class because I'm the only one who always do homework most of a time. I hope and I will pray so I can pass this class. I'm trying all my best in the class.
  • That this course would be hard but it turns out to be quite fair and easy due to very clear teachings and examples from the instructor himself.
What is something covered in this course material that you can do now that you could not do or did not fully understand at the beginning of the term... because...
  • Solving graphical equations that can be done quickly using Desmos instead of solving by hand.
The activity that contributed the most to my learning was... because...
  • The homework assignments because I got chances to practice on the homework assigned by myself and probably the lectures also did contribute the most to my learning in this class. 
  • When we had to go over our assignments or test paper. It very helpful to my learning because when we go over them, we get to share with our classmates and that's could help us more understand.
My learning of the content was most helped when... because...
  • When I did not understand any of our assignments. I used it to help expand my knowledge. At first it was so confusing but I finally understand it. And it makes my life easier when doing algebra and trigonometry.
  • It helpful that we use online textbook. This help me get to understand a chapter with ease. Therefore, it also have extra examples for every chapter we covered. Desmos is really a helpful app that all students should be using. If its only the WiFi it good, then there won't be a problem. 
  • When it comes to the time I calculate my medicines. My major, there are time when we have to like calculate, so with this content it quite helps me a lot.
  • Using Desmos in all mathematical problems in solving every problems because it helps make it simpler
From an assessment standpoint sets of numbers may accurately measure where one is at on a particular metric. Numbers, however, never inform one as to how to change future numbers. Ways to move numbers are buried in the myriad of detailed responses to open questions. Quantitative data can show only the current value of a metric, a location or position on a number line. Only qualitative data can show how change that value. The recommendations either made by the students, inferred from student comments, or which have arisen during the term, led off this article.


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