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New math

Every once in a while, it is valuable to see our own efforts through new eyes. That’s what I experienced during great conversations in the past two weeks with visiting administrators and academic leaders from two Chinese universities. One, Shijiazhuang University of Economics, is a potential partner—they have strong programs in geology and engineering, as well as in business. Another has been a partner for the past five years—Xi’an University of Science and Technology.

At this point I must confess my preconceptions. I know that China, like many Asian nations, has succeeded in building high student competence in mathematics (as shown in many international assessments). So I assumed these visitors would not be very interested in our own efforts to boost math proficiency, which aim to address the generally weak preparation of American students.

Yet both groups were intensely interested in our new Lumberjack Mathematics Center, especially the capacity it is providing for students to work at their own pace and to focus most intently on those areas in which they need the most practice and assistance. And they expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the concept of instructors spending most of their time working with individual students rather than lecturing.

Of course it is too early to show how student learning is being affected. And I’m curious to hear from instructors about whether they are truly able to provide more individualized support and coaching in this design. But I appreciate knowing our colleagues are creative and courageous enough to try an innovative new approach where the old simply wasn’t working well any longer.


Laura Huenneke

Laura Huenneke is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Northern Arizona University

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