The work described in this paper is part of a larger, collaborative NSF grant. The focus of the grant is to study faculty attitudes, culture, and protocols needed to establish successful cross-campus connections between mathematics faculty and partner disciplines.
The Math department at our institution teaches an average of 20 sections of Differential Equations per year. The majority of the students in the course are majors in Engineering or Sciences. Anecdotally, students do not do a good job of transferring knowledge content or acquired skills from the math course into courses within their majors. In order to improve knowledge and skill retention, we have worked to establish systematic collaborations between Mathematics and the partner disciplines, primarily Engineering. In addition, we communicate regularly with our cohorts at the other institutions on the collaborative grant to review different collaboration paradigms and determine a qualitative process or list of best practices for setting up similar collaborations in diverse settings. The purpose of the specific collaboration between Engineering and Mathematics at our institution is to:
1. Investigate pre-existing faculty biases on why students found it difficult to transfer knowledge between different fields;
2. Develop a systematic approach to collaboration between the two departments that will lead to a better understanding of the difficulties faced by our students and thus to continuous improvement of both the Engineering and the Differential Equations courses;
3. Provide a “roadmap” that will enable other universities to develop similar collaborations between their Math and Partner Disciplines.
Using the “Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines” report as a source of discussion questions, a Fishbowl activity was held with faculty from Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Engineering. This activity led to a better understanding of what the partner disciplines could and could not expect their students to know and be able to do once they completed the Differential Equations course. The Fishbowl discussions led to follow-up activities, such as prioritizing the course content and co-developing application problems and projects so students could understand how the differential equations course is applied in their field of study.
An essential component of this project is its continuity and emphasis on the continued collaboration between Math and Engineering. The that end, the Math department hosted a general interest meeting for all interested faculty where their instructional paradigms and topic emphases were discussed and the partner discipline faculty had the option of observing a Math class. Feedback from the meeting was provided through conversations during the meeting and in follow-up surveys.
In the larger collaboration effort, the PI and co-PI of the grant visit two partner institutions to observe their activities and how they have implemented their collaborations between Math and their partner disciplines. The partner institutions are diverse and include public, private, HBCU, large and small Universities and one Community College. The purpose of these meetings is to examine similarities and differences in the collaboration paradigms and educational improvements and to assess the applicability of these paradigms to other institutions. The goal is not to create a master list of best practices for every institution, but to create a flexible prototype for helping any university improve inter-disciplinary communication.
The authors will present survey data results collected by the grant evaluators from mathematics students as well as through regular feedback through prompts to the math and engineering faculty. Preliminary results will be shared, along with details about the work going on at our institution, outlining successes, challenges and sustainability and applicability to math courses other than Differential Equations.
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