Pedagogy Profile: Professor Kate Poirier

Headshot of Professor Kate Poirier.This week we’re profiling Professor Kate Poirier who teaches in the Mathematics Department. Prof. Poirier joined the City Tech community as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2013.

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

I taught an Honors Calculus class in Spring 2014 and, since it was a small group of enthusiastic students, I thought it would be a good time to experiment with something new. The experience was so positive—it worked for me and for the students—I’ve never looked back.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

I’ve maintained my own course websites before and I’ve used Blackboard for communication with students, but I found both of those to be somewhat clunky, annoying to set up, and still not exactly what I wanted.

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices?

I use the OpenLab to communicate with students throughout the semester, but often the communication is one-way (I’ll post something and they’ll read it; maybe they’ll comment on the post). So I like to experiment with giving students assignments to submit posts of their own on the OpenLab, as well to help them understand that it’s *our* site, not *my* site.

My favorite assignment comes at the beginning of the semester. I ask students to submit a post introducing themselves to the class and to comment on each other’s posts. I usually submit an introduction of my own as well. This has the advantage that students quickly become familiar with how easy it is to use the OpenLab and it gives us all a chance to get to know right away who’s in the class and why they’re taking it. I’ve found out some interesting things about my students this way!

Other assignments depend on what class I’m teaching. I’m teaching MAT 1275 right now. Before each test, students are posting sample exercises from the homework with their full solutions. Students can comment on these posts if they suspect there’s an error or if they have a question about what’s written. These posts all are categorized as “Test Review” so the category serves as a crowd-sourced review sheet for the whole class. Students are submitting similar posts categorized as “Test Solutions.” What I like about these assignments is that they force the students to work together as a team to produce a usable resource and they also force the students take ownership and responsibility for their own test preparation, rather than looking to the instructor to do this for them.

How has the OpenLab transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice?

I used to feel like I had to cram so much into my lecture since it was the only time I had real contact with my students (except for those who came to office hours). The casual blog format of the OpenLab especially allows for more conversations that aren’t necessarily directly related to course content. At times, I’ve used the OpenLab to try to make connections between material from the course and other topics that might be useful for students even if it’s outside the required content. It’s also helpful for sharing events around the college or even just articles  or resources I’ve come across on the internet that might be of interest the students. I taught a Math Education course recently where the conversations we had as part of the course were so stimulating, they continued on the OpenLab well after the course had ended.

All of this helps to enhance the human aspects of teaching and learning that are more about making connections and not necessarily about specific content delivery. Such connections can be harder to achieve in a traditional setting—sometimes the only opportunity is during office hours with the handful of students who happen to be there at any given time—and I’m grateful that the OpenLab makes it so easy to make these connections public.

Something that is new and particularly useful is the integrated “Ask for Help” feature in WeBWorK. WeBWorK is an open-source online homework program that many instructors in the Math Department use as part of their course. In the past, there was a button students could use to email their instructors with help with particular WeBWorK questions. This was helpful, but instructors might end up answering the same question over and over again. In MAT 1275, now, this button has been replaced with one that takes students to a page on an OpenLab site that serves as a question-and-answer forum about that particular WeBWorK problem. This connects not just the students in a class and their instructor, but *all* students in the college taking the course and *all* instructors teaching it. Students can ask and answer their own questions but they can also see the discussions surrounding the exact problem in mind. This further serves to connect students and instructors to the broader college community, which is certainly in line with the spirit of the OpenLab.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

The OpenLab makes it so easy for any group that is working collaboratively. I’ve used it extensively in all my roles at City Tech for dynamic, effective, and efficient communication among collaborators. I hate using email to work on something with a team, but I love using the OpenLab.

The OpenLab also makes it so easy to collect important resources and documents into a single repository. I work closely with the math tutors in the Atrium Learning Center and have created an OpenLab site with all the resources they might need in one place. The site was so easy to set up and has worked so well, that we’re planning to put together something like it for students seeking tutoring too. One of the things that can be hard for students—especially young students—is knowing where to look for the resources they need—indeed knowing which resources they might need. By putting these things in one predictable place and making them available to everyone, we make it easier for students to navigate college life so that they can focus more on succeeding in their programs and finding their place at CityTech.