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Assessing Student Oral Presentation of Mathematics
Dick Jardine and Vincent Ferlini, Keene State College
Like many colleges and universities, the overall mathematics program at Keene State College (KSC) includes programs supporting the mathematics major, teacher preparation, developmental mathematics, general education, and service courses for other departments. For our initial assessment effort, we decided to focus on our major, and on one particular aspect of that program specifically.
One of the department’s goals is that our majors graduate with an ability to communicate mathematics effectively. We identified a specific learning outcome tied to that goal: that students demonstrate an ability to communicate mathematics effectively by giving oral presentations. This case study will address how we planned and implemented an assessment of that learning outcome in the fall semester of 2002, to include how we intend to use the assessment results to modify our program.
Background and goals
KSC is a public liberal arts college, a Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) institution. We have 4,200 undergraduates, and we graduate 8 to 10 mathematics majors each year. The core of our mathematics major includes a statistics course, the first two courses of the traditional 3-course calculus sequence, a transition course (Introduction to Abstract Math), and linear algebra. Students then choose an option (another 8 or more courses) which focus on teacher preparation at the middle or secondary level, pure mathematics, applied mathematics, computer mathematics, and math-physics.
Our department established the following goals (based on our department mission, at Appendix A) and provides the environment to enable students to accomplish those goals while a mathematics major at KSC. We expect that a KSC mathematics major will possess:
•Technical skill in completing mathematical processes;
•Breadth and depth of knowledge of mathematics;
•An understanding and appreciation of mathematics and its relationship to other disciplines;
•An ability to communicate mathematics effectively;
•A capability of understanding and interpreting written materials in mathematics;
•An ability to use technology to do mathematics.
Our initial assessment effort focused on our graduates’ ability to communicate mathematics effectively. A specific learning outcome tied to that goal is that our students demonstrate an ability to communicate mathematics effectively by giving oral presentations. There is consensus in the department that this is an important outcome, and as a department we chose to focus attention on that objective to begin the overall assessment of our major. Attached (Appendix B) is an outline of the assessment process we implemented.
Many of our students begin making formal presentations early in our program; all of our majors make presentations later in the program. For example, students in an Introductory Statistics course make brief but formal PowerPoint presentations on group projects they have completed. One such project involved the use of descriptive statistics to compare populations of trout in local streams, based on data from the NH Fish and Game department. In those early courses, students are acquainted with the guidelines for making presentations and the rubrics instructors use to set the standards for student presentations. Our faculty use variations of the rubric in other mathematics courses that require presentations.
Students in most of our upper level mathematics courses make longer presentations of their project work, and some of those presentations are made not only before their instructor and peers, but also before department faculty as part of our weekly Friday Faculty Seminar. Additionally, our students have made presentations outside the department at our college-wide Academic Excellence Conference, at MAA Northeastern Section regional meetings, and at the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. As an example, a student in a recent history of mathematics course presented his project on fractal geometry in the course, at a department seminar, and at the college Academic Excellence Conference. By formalizing the assessment process, we have improved our students’ ability to make effective mathematical presentations through implementing a well-thought out strategy to ensure student success.
Description: What did we do?
We identified two courses for implementation of this initial assessment effort: MATH310 History of Mathematics and MATH463 Complex Variables. Students in those courses comprised a large percentage of our majors. The department agreed that students in those courses would make presentations at the end of the semester in the weekly Department Seminar scheduled last week of classes. Faculty attending the seminar would evaluate the student presentations using the rubric (Appendix C) already in use. The results were assembled by an assessment team and briefed to the department at the beginning of the spring semester, with recommendations offered by the team for improvement of our program and in the assessment process.
At the beginning of the fall semester, students in both courses, all mathematics majors, learned of the department mission and majors program goals. They understood that oral presentation skills were to be developed and assessed over the course of the semester, with evaluation of their presentations in the Department Seminar the last week of classes.
Several steps were taken to develop student presentation skills. They were given a brief presentation on the effective use of PowerPoint in making presentations. Their instructor explained the rubric (Appendix C) to be used to evaluate their presentations, to eliminate misunderstanding of the standards. Students were encouraged to attend the weekly Department Seminars to observe faculty presentations. Over the course of the semester, students in both courses made several informal and formal presentations, some of which were assessed using the rubric, to increase their experience and comfort level with public speaking.
At the end of the semester, their instructor, other faculty members, and their peers evaluated the final student presentations of course projects. The rubrics were accumulated, and many students were interviewed for their self-evaluation. The data was analyzed by the assessment committee (two faculty members) and presented to the department for discussion at a department meeting.
Insights: What did we learn?
First, we learned that our students give good presentations. In general, they are confident speakers who enjoy talking about mathematics. They have a very good ability to generate very effective visuals.
Some general areas that students need to improve:
As a result, we will continue to require students to include introductory and concluding comments in all their presentations, and we will encourage them to rehearse with a clock to ensure the time limits are met. We recommend that we continue to include oral presentations by our majors in as many of their courses as is purposeful.
Second, with regard to the assessment process, we learned that we needed a better rubric (e.g., to include the time requirement. See Appendix D). Also, it would be better to schedule the assessment earlier in the semester so that more effective feedback can be obtained from the students and given to the students. Additionally, students would not be burdened with so many competing end-of-semester requirements. The end of the semester also made it difficult for faculty to come together to discuss the student presentations.
We gained useful insight into the assessment process as a result of this initial effort. One significant lesson learned in the process included the need to have a rubric briefing for all faculty participating in the assessment prior to the actual evaluations. It is important to get consensus by the graders about what distinguishes a score of 1 from a score of 2. Additionally, there is no need that the one rubric be the department standard for every course. For our students’ sake, there should not be wide variation from course to course with regard to format and standards for presentations, but instructors should be granted the flexibility to modify the rubric appropriately, based on their own emphasis. Videos were made for some of the student presentations, and those were marginally helpful to the students involved, but did not contribute significantly to the assessment results. Most importantly, getting all our faculty together to talk about this issue helped create a common sense of purpose toward improving an aspect of our program that we feel is very important.
APPENDIX A: Department Mission
In keeping with the mission of the
college, the Mathematics Department of Keene State College provides and
maintains a supportive intellectual environment that offers students mathematical
experiences appropriate to their individual needs and chosen programs of
study. The department provides an
in-depth study of mathematics in preparation for either an immediate career,
especially teaching, or graduate school; supports the mathematical needs of
other academic disciplines; and maintains a program available to all students
to enhance their ability to think mathematically and to reason quantitatively.
APPENDIX B: Assessment framework for oral presentation outcome
APPENDIX C: Initial rubric
ORAL PRESENTATION CHECKLIST Student:_______________
General Comments: Grade: ___ out of 30
APPENDIX D: Revised rubric
ORAL PRESENTATION CHECKLIST Name(s)_______________
General comments: Presentation Grade______