Step by Step: Broward College Mathematics Professor Improves Student Success, Builds Classroom Community

Can seemingly minor adjustments to teaching practices, such as the introduction of peer-to-peer instruction and detailed scoring rubrics, make a difference in learning outcomes? Dr. Kyla Williams—a Broward College assistant professor who has taught mathematics for more than 15 years—intended to find out.

“As a math teacher, I was interested to see how these changes could really shift the dynamic of my classroom,” Williams explains.

Williams created a scoring rubric to include on her tests to show students how their exams would be scored. It took some creativity, she said, to apply a rubric-style scoring system that is more commonly seen in English classes to mathematics problems.

“I’ve historically given partial credit when a student shows his or her work, but I laid out in a rubric on their test sheet how I would give a certain number of points for the derivative, a certain number of points for the algebra portion, etc.,” Williams says. “I didn’t anticipate my students’ scores to go up from something so simple, but they did. I think that rubric, which shows my students how each step of the process would reward them additional points, forced them to show their work—making them less likely to skip steps and make minor errors in their calculation.”

Beyond testing, Williams, an ACUE-credentialed instructor, also saw classroom participation and engagement go up based on cooperative learning techniques.

“I started incorporating more group discussion and collaboration where my students learn together as a whole and team-teach one another,” Williams explains. “I teach with my iPad and often walk around the room and write on it and project the work on the board. I started letting my students take my iPad and write answers themselves and give them the opportunity to explain their answers and help teach their classmates.”

That sense of collaboration, Williams believes, has built a level of camaraderie among her and her students.

“My associate dean and colleagues always laugh because there’s constant stream of students popping by my office to chat,” Williams says. “But I think it’s because I’ve created more of a community in my classroom. I’m not just standing at the front of the class talking at them for an hour and a half. It’s more like we’re learning together as a group.”

Williams’ embrace of best-practices in education are reflective of a larger trend happening within Broward College, which is consistently recognized as one of the most innovative community colleges in the nation – due, in part, to partnerships with organizations like the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) to introduce evidence-based teaching practices that promote student engagement, persistence to graduation, career readiness, and deeper levels of learning.

Recently, Broward College was named among 10 finalists for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Broward was also recognized as a finalist in 2016 and 2013, and in 2017 the college was recognized as an Aspen Prize Finalist with Distinction, which included a $100,000 award.

There are various approaches to studying the impact of teaching on student success. For instance, Carl Weiman, Nobel Laureate and champion of effective teaching, believes student learning outcomes are best measured by asking the students directly if they are experiencing proven teaching approaches. For Williams, the feedback from her students shows her that her new approach is working.

“Shortly after I started implementing some of these new teaching practices, I’d have students tell me, ‘I’ve never had a professor who teaches like you do,’” Williams laughs. “These practices have resulted in a more comfortable and productive classroom environment.”

View ACUE’s Broward College Research Brief.

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