Electronic Courseware for Undergraduate Mathematics

Proposal

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We propose to improve the level of training in mathematics and statistics in the Kenyan university system by creating a sequence of ready-to-deploy electronic courses. Such courses would provide a number of benefits in the Kenyan context:

  • Updated curricula, in accordance with present-day needs for problem solving,
  • Stable curricula, providing a base-line of student knowledge,
  • Allow a small number of teachers the ability to effectively teach hundreds of students,
  • Increase computer and Internet literacy amongst the Kenyan youth, and
  • Simple deployment across multiple universities.

If successful, these courses could be easily deployed in any English speaking country, and, with further effort, translated into other languages for deployment anywhere in the world. The problems Kenya is facing are mirrored to some extent all over sub-Saharan Africa.

Tools and Strategy

We plan to utilize as much as possible existing tools and content repositories, the best of which are free and open source. The tools we expect to use include:

  • Moodle, an online course-management system which handles gradebook management, assignments, links to textbooks and external modules, and so on. Moodle will serve as a portal and coordinating entity for all of the following tools.
  • Video lectures, such as those available through MIT’s OpenCourseWare or the Khan Academy, giving a human element to presentation of course materials, directly linked to sections in the electronic textbook.
  • WebWork, which provides a system for giving scripted, randomized exercises for homework, quizzes, and tests.
  • Mathematica Player, a free version of Mathematica for which Mathematica documents can be ‘published.’ Maseno is currently investigating its use for schools.
  • Various free statistics packages such as Genstat Discovery, R and others.
  • CAST, a free electronic statistic textbook complete with interactive, randomized exercises and testing system.

Course material will, whenever possible, be adapted from existing sources such as OpenCourseWare to speed the development and deployment process. All materials developed in this project will be made freely available for adoption and adaptation anywhere in the world. Ideally for the Kenyan context we would go a step further by working with lecturers at various institutions to ensure that the materials can be adopted and that adoption of the materials reduces their workload.

While we must recognize that electronic teaching methods have weaknesses, we must also remember we are dealing with a system which currently fails to provide students with understanding, practice in collaborative problem-solving or communication skills. Part of the success of this project will be that even students who are not taught using the materials could use them knowing that they have been adapted for students in their situation.

In an ideal scenario, all students in a class would have access to materials and lecturers at host institutions would not need to replicate the online material in lectures, freeing time for discussion sessions or examples classes. So hopefully class time will thus become a time for dynamic interaction and problem solving, instead of an exercise in note-taking. For some local lecturers this might provide a unique opportunity to engage with the material and the students since at the moment the most conscientious lecturers spend the little time they have preparing notes to write on the board.

Long-Range Vision

If truly successful this project would have multiple phases, one dream scenario might be as follows:

  • Development of some materials along with their adoption somewhere in a Kenyan institution which leads to improvement of the lecturers working conditions.
  • Expansion of materials to cover a full Kenyan syllabus along with an established procedure to encourage wider contribution towards material creation and an international system for student access which would include relevant peer to peer discussion forums.
  • Identification of counterparts in other African countries to help with the adaptation to a broader set of needs, both of the materials and the access system. At this stage it could also be useful to look into accreditation by some international body such as AMS, LMS, etc.
  • Full internationalization of the project with Africa no longer the focus. This might now be an ideal forum for educators to create and share radically new and original mathematics courses and degree programs. If by this time some African universities have bought into the process we might even get my dream outcome that the radically different degree programs get tested first in Africa in such a way that everyone gains.
  • Opening up of the project to other subject areas. The essence of this idea is equally applicable to other educational areas but there are some good reasons for mathematics to lead the way.

It is recognized that most development projects work best when they start relatively small and work their way up. This suits our ideas very well since by starting small and working with individual lecturers there is the possibility of identifying good Kenyan partners and involving them in the growth process.

Principle Participants and Cooperating Institutions

  • Dr. Tom Denton (Contact: sdenton4(at)gmail(dot)com)
  • Dr. David Stern (Contact: volloholic(at)hotmail(dot)com)
  • Maseno University is a member of the Kenyan national university system, located 30 minutes drive outside of sunny Kisumu. It is a relatively new institution but there have been a number of initiatives recently which make this an obvious candidate to work with. The most interesting is its Graduate Assistant scheme which works like an MSc scholarship but with a high probability of being retained by the institution upon successful completion. Most of the staff we propose to work with are recent products of this initiative, and SSC University of Reading has recently set an interesting precedent by paying for one of the top students to be employed through this scheme.
  • And You?