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The Power of Community: Transitioning to Remote
Teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Tuyin An

Dr. Tuyin An is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Georgia Southern University.  Her main research interest is pre-service secondary mathematics teachers' conceptions of geometry theorems. She is a Service, Teaching, and Research (STaR) Fellow of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) and a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Fellow at GSU for 2018-2019.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the University System of Georgia decided in mid-March 2020 that all 26 institutions would have to move to online instruction for all courses for the remainder of the spring. Faculty members were given one week after spring break to promptly prepare for this sudden transition. This preparation included but was not limited to modifying and restructuring teaching materials, learning and adopting new teaching strategies and technologies, acquiring necessary teaching devices, and developing new communication and assessment methods for remote teaching.  

In the face of this challenge, our department of mathematical sciences quickly shared a variety of resources for remote teaching, including general information provided by the university (e.g., Center for Teaching Excellence) and broad mathematics and education communities (e.g., American Mathematical Society and The Chronicle of Higher Education), technology tutorials, teaching strategies, and thoughts from experienced online instructors in the department. Despite a limited budget, the department also strived to provide faculty members with the most needed remote teaching devices, such as tablet styluses and document cameras.

Meanwhile, faculty members started an email thread to share ideas and experiences about designing and teaching online courses. One colleague even made some YouTube tutorials to help others pick up some of the essential remote teaching technologies. Also, our mathematics education faculty group shared updated syllabi and a set of resources that are particularly relevant to teaching mathematics education courses. I am also a member of the departmental Faculty Learning Community (FLC), and our FLC quickly modified our learning goals this semester to equip everyone with the most needed knowledge and skills for remote teaching. We have been meeting weekly/bi-weekly to discuss efficient teaching and assessment methods and technologies before and during our transitions. Within a week or so in mid-March, we compared and piloted multiple free interactive teaching/learning apps (e.g., Jamboard), scanning apps (e.g., Adobe Scan), and video conference software (e.g., Zoom) as a group, which helped ease our anxiety before taking on this new remote teaching task. We particularly focused on using free resources to avoid adding any more financial burden on students during this difficult time. It is worthwhile to mention that several big education companies (e.g., Pearson) and internet providers have opened their resources to students for free until the end of spring. The university libraries also provided a limited number of laptop computers for students who need them the most to use at home.    

I have also been keeping myself informed about nation-wide remote teaching and learning transitions. I feel grateful that both the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) reached out to their fellows from the beginning and have been providing very handy and theory-based knowledge regarding remote teaching through organizing distance learning communities, webinars, podcasts, and email discussion threads. For example, AMTE’s webinars about synchronous and asynchronous online instruction helped me understand the pros and cons of each of these two teaching approaches and adapt them to my online lessons.  

Engaging students in scholarship has always been an important component of undergraduate and graduate education. However, many unexpected factors during this pandemic made it difficult for both faculty and students to participate in scholarly activities. Many academic conferences have been canceled or postponed; students who are learning at home are more easily distracted by financial issues and family/job duties. Thankfully, opportunities to participate in efficient and low-cost virtual conferences emerged as a practical solution in some cases. For example, my research mentee and I were able to present a virtual poster about K-8 mathematics teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes in geometry learning and teaching at our university’s undergraduate research symposium in April.

Within a week, our university tackled the enormous task of moving more than 5,000 classes online. I feel proud because my students and I are part of this accomplishment. I also understand how complex and challenging the transitioning process has been. Issues like integrity in remote testing and equity in online learning are still unsettled and need the entire mathematics education community’s intelligence and effort to find a better solution. To better understand what equity means in remote learning environments and better meet students' needs in the future, my colleagues and I designed and surveyed our pre-service teacher students at the end of this semester to gain deeper insights about challenges and successes in their remote learning experiences. We hope to share our study results with the mathematics education community soon.

Looking back at our seven-week remote teaching transition so far, I did feel a little overwhelmed in the beginning by having to digest such a large amount of new knowledge and skills in a very short period. I believe many faculty and students felt the same way. It was crucial to classify and narrow down all the information and focus on a few manageable technologies or teaching strategies. I also kept in mind during my lesson design that no matter how ambitious my teaching goals are, not all students have equitable resources for remote learning. In addition, keeping a regular work and exercise schedule helped me maintain my physical and mental health. Most importantly, it was the power of a united community of mathematics, education, and society that supported me to move forward and breakthrough. 

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