___________________________________________________________________________ Michelle Imber: Final Reflections

Math 8 End-of-Semester Reflections

Michelle Imber

" 0) Have you submitted responses for weeks 5 through 13? (This is the minimum requirement for satisfactory completion of the course. Folders should be complete by Sunday May 5 at midnight.)"

A note: yes, I've submitted my responses, but not by midnight. The server has been down for most of yesterday and today and (apparently) before that also, so this is a bit late.

"1) How has your view of yourself in relationship to mathematics changed over the course of the semester?"

Well, I feel that I know a lot more about the WAY of thinking mathematically than I did at the beginning of the semester. (How appropos, as the actual title of this class is, I believe, The Mathematical Way of Thinking. In fact, there are many ways of thinking mathematically, and we have scratched the surface of a good deal of them. I think we've had an introduction to lots of interesting areas, enough perhaps to explore them some more, but I feel like actually DOING some exercises would have furthered my understanding of many of the topics.

" 2) For you, what are the most positive and the most negative aspects of the course? Would you suggest any major changes in structure or emphasis?"

The most positive aspect of the course, for me, was the interactivity. (More on that later.) I really enjoyed sharing ideas with others in the class and noting how everybody conceptualized different ideas, particularly people who approached problems and chapters from different disciplines. It certainly fostered my understanding of the material and forced me to ponder it from a number of different perspectives. The most negative part of the course? Well, as I alluded to earlier, I think that I would have been more drawn-into the course if we had exercises that we were forced to complete. Mathematical exercises, that is. I do admit that another part of math 8's charm is the astounding LACK of mandatory material--there is sort of a free, let's-explore-learning-at-our-leisure atmosphere that encourages as much independent work as possible. Had I taken it another semester, I have a feeling I would have gotten even more out of the course because there were a number of things I wanted to build/work out/think about/do more research on that I didn't have a chance to do. Exercises would have forced me to do that a bit more, but reduced the sort of comfortable atmosphere that we've built.

3) Comment at length on the concept of the paperless course. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this approach? In what ways could such an approach work in other courses?

The paperless course is in theory a fantastic idea, both from an environmental point of view and from an information-sharing point of view. I think it should be retained, with a few changes that I shall describe in answer to my next question. I do think that such practical considerations as crashing servers and limited (actually, NO) support of html by Brown make this a bit of a difficulty, but I imagine that if a number of courses were interested in exploring this option then some sort of more thorough technical support could be managed.

4) Comment on your experiences with the technology used in the course. What can be done to make things easier in the future?

My biggest problem with the course's technology was that we weren't given much instruction about how to use it. This was less of a problem for some of us than for others; I did enjoy, to some extent, having to explore and teach myself little tricks in html. However, I think that this course really suffered from a lot of people's early unfamiliarity with the technology and would benefit greatly from a couple of early interactive (MANDATORY) sessions or classes in which the fundamentals of the tech stuff could be taught. Also useful would be some sort of compilation of other places to look, i.e. resources, for those of us who want to learn to do more. Knowledge of html, searching the web, moving files around on the network, and maybe even e-mail is really necessary for full participation in this class. Our biggest problem was that everyone wasn't participating the whole time because people just never bothered to or never had time to learn the new skills necessary on their own. If everyone was given the same fundamental introduction, things would probably have been better.

5) Describe your experience with the weekly assignments and the "response from Prof. B." feature. Comment on the public nature of these interchanges, and the possibility of linkings among student work and communication with the other class members. To what extent did you read the submissions of other students (and/or the professor's responses)?

For me, this was one of the best things about the class. I enjoyed reading the responses of others and also looked eagerly for Prof. B's responses. I think perhaps a "private" option should be available for people who feel uncomfortable with the public forum, though I'm not entirely sure how this would be instituted. (The e-mail method works, though).

6) Describe in some detail your activities as part of your final project team.

My activities were mainly tech-related, probably because I was the only one in my group who seemed remotely comfortable with the technology. I hasten to mention that most of my comfort level stems from the fact that I don't mind playing around until I figure things out--I didn't come into this class with any html knowledge whatsoever, though I did have computer experience. My job was mainly turning other people's files into things that wouldn't look like garbage on the web (i.e., teachtext or simpletexting them). I also created the various pages, found and instituted some links, and (ARGGH!!) scanned the pictures. The scanning was the source of greatest frustration to me, because a) there are only four scanners available for general use on campus, b) people have a tendency to hog them for a day at a time, c) once you get them, there are many problems with actually making them work, d) not all the computers attached to the scanners have the software necessary for editing the scanned pictures, and e) SCANNING TINY POETRY INTO USABLE FILES JUST STINKS!! (Sorry, venting a little frustration here. Like Prof. B said, you haven't really enjoyed math 8 until you've been hopelessly frustrated by the technology.) It took me more hours than I would care to count just to find a working computer that would allow me to scan the concrete poetry into the computer and actually read the text. I felt that a lot of that time would have been better spent beautifying our pages, but so it goes. That really isn't a criticism of this course, but the limited resources available in some cases do affect how easy or impossible it is to do the work.

7) In the old days, the final project was mostly an individual effort, on the order of a ten-page paper. How would you characterize the experience of working on a team, and how did that affect your effort in the final project?

I enjoyed working as part of a team--first, I had the wonderful help and support of Anya Weber in exploring the technology, which was particularly nice since she'd been greatly involved in the writing also. Second, I thought it was great to have division of labor--if you're only concentrating on a smaller part of a project, you can do a more in-depth and stronger job of exploring it than you could if you were trying to complete the entire thing alone. One person can't feasibly cover all areas of a given project as well as a team can. Plus, I think there's a benefit to the exchange of ideas that happened with a group effort. I don't think I put in less work than I would have on an individual project--it was just more specialized.

I really enjoyed this course--it's a great pioneering course in many ways! I hope it keeps going and keeps growing.

Prof. Banchoff's response

--Michelle I. :-)