Math recitations reform is on the way

The Academic and Curriculum Advancement Committee of the Student Government Association (SGA) is working to improve recitation classes in undergraduate mathematics courses. This is the first major action taken by the newly formed committee, which has only existed since January of this year.

The SGA passed Proclamation S-17F-001 “Request for Recitation Improvements” in early October, which was intended to officially start a discussion with faculty to improve math and physics recitation experiences. Since then, the committee has worked with faculty from Department of Mathematical Sciences to help reform recitations.

The committee aims to identify academic issues that all students face, narrow down the focus to a specific topic, and set particular goals towards a solution.  The committee found many issues with math recitations, but in order to be the scope of the reforms was narrowed down to focus on Teaching Assistants (TAs), the lack of learning from workshops, and the lack of consistency across different sections.

“We all agreed our Calculus experience was sub par,” said Committee Chair Marianna Fleming, summarizing opinions of the student on the committee who are working to improve math recitations. It is important to note that students not involved with the SGA are working alongside the committee.

The committee is working with Alexei Miasnikov, the head of the department, and Jan Cannizzo, a professor from the math department, to make changes. After presenting the student concerns to Miasnikov, Fleming was told that many of the complaints were “new information” to the math department “because nobody had ever communicated the problem before.”

When the committee decided to focus on math recitations, they first had to collect any data surrounding the class. According to the department, the number of students who either withdraw, fail, or receive a D in the classes MA122 and MA 123 has dropped over 30% in the past five years. However, the feedback that the department receives has remained the same.

According to Fleming, the math department wants “to open [a] line of communication between students and upper-level staff early [on], so they can intervene sooner.” Ideally, by the third week of classes, there would be a mechanism in place for students to provide feedback regarding recitation to the math department and their TAs. It is still being decided exactly what that mechanism will be, but implementing one would allow for the math department to resolve any problems as early as possible.

The second part of the plan is the addition of undergraduate TA assistants because all of the current TAs are graduate students. This idea comes from other departments that have found undergraduate TAs to be effective. The purpose of the undergraduate TA would be to answer student questions and make sure that the graduate student TA is prepared for class. However, the method for selecting these undergraduate students is still under consideration.

Fleming said that the ultimate goal for all parties involved is “to help bridge the gap so students enjoy calculus again!”