In 2012, department head Stu Allen was inspired to develop materials incoming MA students could use to brush up on their calculus and mathematical economics. Stu knew that not all economics departments offer a course in math econ, so he started a project to give students an opportunity to learn or review the materials provided in UNCG’s course, ECO 319: Mathematical Economics.
Known in the Department as “boot camp prep”, the first review website was made available to students on July 1, 2013 (see “Welcome to Boot Camp Prep” for a history). According to the usage statistics collected through the Blackboard course management system, the boot camp website was accessed over 500 times during its first month.
During a feedback session with graduating MA students, Stu got confirmation that the boot camp prep site was a valuable tool for students. While not all of the students made use of this resource, a few students worked their way through all of the tapes and told Stu that they were extremely helpful as both review and teaching tools.
The boot camp prep project was successful, but there was room for improvement.
In Fall 2014, Jean Rosales, who oversaw the creation of the first Math Boot Camp prep, met with IT consultant John Cocking to discuss how to revise and improve the boot camp prep site. John recommended changing the location at which the videos were stored to YouTube, which would reduce the likeliood of their being lost or unavailable.
They also agreed that the videos themselves needed more editing, preferably into bite-size chunks 3- to 8-minutes long that focused on one concept. Using shorter, focused videos would allow students to find and view just the material they needed to review.
In addition, Jean wanted this second version of Boot Camp Prep to have more supporting materials like step-by-step solutions to problems.
Finally, it was important to maintain accessibility for all students by including captions and transcripts of the videos themselves.
Enter Lynne MacDowall, student worker extraordinaire. Lynne is an art student at UNCG, who is particularly interested in ceramics and is known around the Bryan Building for her creative cartoons featuring animals. Lynne’s professional background is in working with the hearing-impaired. Her first undergraduate degree is in interpreting and she has extensive experience interpreting classroom lectures for students in schools in Minnesota.
According to Lynne, “Interpreting and captioning for students doesn’t have to reflect verbatim what’s being said. When teachers speak, they frequently repeat themselves or begin one sentence then switch to a different thought. When you’re listening to the speaker, that’s not distracting.
“But when you’re watching someone sign or reading captions or a transcript, it can become confusing. It’s okay to delete some of what is being said from the captions so the material flows better. As long as the captions contain all of the important information, a little judicious editing is in order and makes the experience better.”
A final planned improvement to the video lessons involved using “callouts” — graphic overlays in the video material that supplemented what Steve was saying and writing on camera. The callouts range from inserts that repeat the equations or models that appear on the blackboard to notes that clarify or correct small errors.
Replicating the graphs had to wait until Jean and John could find a program that was both easy to use and inexpensive. “John found a shareware program called Graph,” Jean says. “It took me about five minutes to figure out how to use it, so it was a great addition to our software library.”
The real master of the graph program was James Frizzell, a first-year MA student who accepted a GA position in the Department during Summer Session I. James figured out how to draw vertical lines with Graph and how to insert labels and colors on the graphs. James trained Jean and Steve on how to use the new software.
This edition of Math Boot Camp prep includes Test Yourself Questions. Incoming students can test themselves on the questions to see if they already know how to solve the problem at hand. If their answers match the ones provided by Steve, they can move on to another concept. If they made a mistake in their solution, they can watch the relevant video and learn step by step how to apply the concept and answer the question.
The new boot camp prep, now called ECOMAth Review, went live in a WordPress site on June 1, 2015. The site has links to 123 YouTube videos and includes a 344-page PDF document with the transcripts of every video. Students can download other PDFs that have the Test Yourself Questions and the solutions to the TYQs.
Version 2 of boot camp prep involved over 600 hours of staff time, but the new site was worth the effort. Steve reports, “One of my students in ECO 319 (the undergraduate course on which the prep materials are based) was browsing YouTube and came across one of our new videos. He told me it was a great study tool and encouraged me to make all the videos available to current students.”
What’s next? Steve has proposed developing an online version of ECO 319 that can be made available to UNCG students and to other undergraduates in the UNC system. He hopes to have the online materials available to students in his Spring 2016 offering of ECO 319 and to make it a fully online version ready for enrollments in Summer 2016.
Curious about the final product? You can check it out for yourself at ECOMAthReview.