The University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of mathematics has received the 2022 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for Department or Program from the University System of Georgia.
The award showcases an outstanding department or program—selected from among all 26 institutions within the university system—that promotes, supports and recognizes excellence in teaching and service to students.
The University System of Georgia noted that the department of mathematics began with a clearly defined goal of reducing the rate of students who receive a D, F or withdraw in pre-calculus and calculus and then employed a set of strategies that changed the experience and learning of students taking these courses.
“Through a data-driven, inclusive approach, the department focused on course coordination, the use of instructional teams, and the reduction of large classes,” the award noted.
Award-winning teaching practices
The teaching transformation in the math department in part focuses Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes. The DFW rate in these classes dropped from 35% six years ago to 8% in Fall 2020. The average national DFW rate for students taking Pre-Calculus is 27%. Similarly, the DFW rate for students taking Calculus I has dropped by 12%. As a result, approximately 600 more students are passing Pre-Calculus, and another 150 are passing Calculus every academic year. Now, 750 more students each year are eligible to pursue majors that prepare them for high-demand careers in the sciences, business and engineering.
“Investments in faculty and small class initiatives have made a significant impact on the learning outcomes of students at the University of Georgia,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “I am grateful to the faculty in our department of mathematics for their dedication to students and congratulate them on receiving this significant honor.”
The department of mathematics has worked strategically to improve the math pathway for STEM students by using inclusive teaching practices and active learning. The department created a culture dedicated to student success.
The department began its educational transformation of introductory STEM pathway courses in 2016 as part of UGA’s Small Class Size initiative, which reduced class size from an average of 38 to 19 or fewer students in each section. To support the increased number of Pre-Calculus (MATH 1113) and Calculus I for Science and Engineering (MATH 2250) sections taught each semester, the department instituted structural and curricular changes, including flipping these courses and developing assessments as a team to ensure continuity and consistency across all the sections. Teams of instructors for each of these courses participated in an intensive course redesign institute during which MATH 1113 and 2250 were transformed from a lecture-based to a learner-centered active learning format.
New instructors are paired with a mentor from the senior instructional corps who provide consultation and guidance for the developing instructor, conduct peer teaching observations and deliver feedback, and provide a longitudinal perspective of instructional growth for tenure and promotion. In addition, each pathway course (e.g. MATH 1113) has a team of instructors who meet regularly to discuss the curriculum, assessments, and any changes to the overall instructional design of the course.
These actions have also led to increased student satisfaction. The average student evaluation score rose from 3.77 before Fall 2016 to averaging 3.89 by spring 2021. And the number of students who gave their instructors the highest rating of “Outstanding” rose markedly and was almost 42% in the most recent period.
The effort is a testament to the instructors in the department, said Bill Graham, head of the department of mathematics. “They are truly dedicated to student success, and they have invested their time and effort into implementing best practices and incorporating active learning into their classes. We are grateful to the UGA administration for their support through the Small Class Size Initiative—the outstanding faculty we have been able to hire through this initiative have played a major role in our departmental accomplishments.”