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Adapting my ‘programming for mathematicians’ module for teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic

When teaching moved online due to COVID-19, we had to quickly work out how to deliver our modules online. The main options used to replace in-person classes were:

  • pre-recorded videos followed by live online tutorials for students to get support while completing exercises;
  • live online classes offering a mixture of lecturer delivery and student activity.

The first option is good for a module with lots of content delivery, such as when learning new mathematical techniques. In modules with some content delivery but a focus on interaction and discussion, such as mathematical modelling, the second is a good choice.

I felt neither was quite right for my second-year programming module. I opted instead for delivering notes and exercises which students could work through when convenient (which might be in a designed class time or might not) and used my time on the module to write responses to student queries and give feedback on programs written as formative work.

In class students tend to say they’ve done an exercise correctly and because you’re walking round a computer room it can be hard to examine their code in detail. Spending time looking at what they submit as ‘correct’ code in greater detail, it became clear that often there are subtle issues which can be usefully discussed in considered feedback.

Overall, I think this semi-asynchronous delivery was much better use of time and I was able to view more code and give better feedback than I would in-person.

I wrote about my experience delivering this module through the pandemic – the end of one academic year and the whole of the next – with Alex Corner in an open-access article which has just been published as ‘Flexible, student-centred remote learning for programming skills development‘.

This is part of a special issue of International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and TechnologyTakeaways from teaching through a global pandemic – practical examples of lasting value in tertiary mathematics education. There are loads of articles with useful reflections and good ideas that emerged from pandemic teaching.

If you are interested in pandemic literature in higher education teaching and learning, I’m aware of two other journal special issues you might like:

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