Yona Jean-Pierre with Maurice Heiblum, president of Blackboard Collaborate and Matthew Wasowski, senior manager of customer programs
Just one year after it was introduced at Polytechnic Institute of NYU, E-Math Forum is already being recognized for its achievements: in July the program became 1 of 6 worldwide to be included in the Hall of Fame for Excellence in Collaboration established by e-learning software company Blackboard. Joining Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, and Drexel University among the other awardees, NYU-Poly was called out for its successful implementation of the Blackboard Collaborate platform, an online learning tool.
Yona Jean-Pierre calls the award "a nice recognition," but the director of the Center for Faculty Innovations in Teaching and Learning at NYU-Poly is more excited by the outreach the technology affords. "A student who's in California who may not be able to come in the summer can participate online," she explains.
Jean-Pierre is referring to a need met by E-Math Forum: in some cases, students accepted for admission to NYU-Poly are placed into the General Studies Program and so must fulfill certain prerequisites offered on campus the summer before enrollment. The prerequisites cover a variety of disciplines from writing to physics and math, but until 2010 students needing to take the classes had to attend them on site.
Hoping to be more inclusive, NYU-Poly explored its options and, in the fall of 2009, adopted Wimba Classroom as its virtual classroom solution. This full-service system offers, for instance, instant messaging, file sharing and video and audio capabilities. Since this decision, Blackboard Inc. has acquired Wimba and another educational tech company called Elluminate, and consolidated them into a single platform – Blackboard Collaborate – with varied functionalities.
Armed with the ability to further develop robust, virtual classroom experiences, NYU-Poly decided to target those students who have strong academics in everything but math because, as Melinda Parham, director of first-year programs at NYU-Poly, explains, math is the discipline most critical to a student’s success at the Institute.
The result? E-Math Forum, a 4-week online summer program that allows professors to produce video lectures ranging in length from 4 to 45 minutes, as well as to hold virtual office hours and to encourage far-flung students to collaborate with one another across distances. It offered "asynchronous delivery," said Jean-Pierre, "because the student has access to the lectures 24/7."
The platform also "allows students to coauthor the class," added Parham, citing, for example, the students' ability to post links and other content to share with fellow classmates. That kind of dynamism was the precise goal of Lindsey Van Wagenen, director of sophomore mathematics, who designed the forum to incorporate social media, teamwork and real world challenges. "E-Math Forum's creative content, in conjunction with its innovative form, have generated an unexpectedly positive buzz from students and faculty alike," says Van Wagenen.
The pilot program did very well, with 97 percent of the 91 students who participated going on to enroll at NYU-Poly. Those numbers speak for themselves, noted Blackboard Collaborate in remarks about NYU-Poly's achievement, and the Institute's administration is considering applying the teaching method to another subject — physics most likely, as it's another common discipline threading through NYU-Poly's majors. "This is a brave new world," explained Melissa Barnes, director of the Department of General Studies. "We're experimenting with the technology and trying to use it to the benefit of students."
"Part of NYU-Poly's mission is to be innovative," she continued. "We're looking to provide something that wasn't there before, and if people find it beneficial, all the better."