TEACHING MATHEMATICS IN TIMES OF CRISIS. A CASE STUDY ABOUT DISTANCE LEARNING AT ALMA MATER STUDIORUM - UNIVERSITÀ DI BOLOGNA
In this article we analyze the strengths and weaknesses of mathematics teaching through Distance Learning in three mathematics courses of the University of Bologna aimed at students of Mathematics, Educational Sciences and Engineering. We interviewed the teachers and invited the students to fill in a questionnaire we wrote. We also compared the final marks of the same three courses in the academic years 2018-2019 (traditional classroom teaching) and 2019-2020 (Distance Learning). Finally, we compared the teacher evaluation questionnaires that the students fill out during the year, always in the two cases in question.
Distance Learning brings greater transparency in learning processes than in the classroom. The teachers recognize that they have dedicated more work to preparing the lessons that they can no longer "improvise" on the blackboard. The relationship with formalism also changes, which can no longer be so exasperated and which must be dosed to correspond to different levels of attention. In fact, the students probably have less attention even if they exercise it in greater numbers than in the classroom.
Teachers perception about students is of a greater and more widespread involvement, with more students asking questions and participating (especially among those in some sense weak). In the lessons in which participation tools were offered (chat), there was a more intense and prolonged dialogue over time, even beyond the official lesson time. Conversely, lessons that are totally focused on presentations are more sterile and less profitable: in the face of a top-down approach, students tend to isolate themselves and be passive. An engagement-centred approach instead leads to their unusual participation.
The students for their part declare that they felt more comfortable in a 1-to-1 relationship and that they were more involved and pushed to an active job: distance learning has for some reason increased their sense of responsibility (even if this could be the result of the climate of crisis due to COVID19 and the social distancing that ensued). This has an objective counterpart in the final marks, significantly greater than the previous year.
In the three courses there were cases of students who got involved by proposing exercises and mathematical reflections to the teacher (something particularly exceptional especially in the course of Education), as if the remote context had pushed them to be more involved. Our conjecture is that there is group pressure in the classroom that hinders the expression of some "categories" of students.
Even if we are aware that the results of our investigation cannot be automatically extended to any academic context (not even within the University of Bologna alone), we believe that they can contribute to a reflection on the academic teaching of mathematics both in the remote and in the in the classroom.