Jessica Williams is an Assistant Professor at Converse College.
I completed my undergraduate education at a small, liberal arts college (Transylvania University in Lexington, KY), and this is the type of institution to which I have returned. My undergraduate classes were lecture, for the most part, with the occasional group work. It was only in independent study courses that I found myself presenting problems at the board. I loved all of my math courses, and in them I was a successful student. In fact, I think if I had been placed in an IBL course I would have, at least initially, strongly disliked the idea!
My next move was to the mathematics PhD program at the University of Iowa, and I became passionate about teaching during my first semester as a teaching assistant. The majority of my time as a TA was spent in lecture mode. My teaching evaluations were always very positive; I was praised especially for my enthusiasm, organization, clear explanations, and accounting for all details in the problem solving process. I felt that I developed personal connections with many of my students, and that I was relatively successful as a teacher. There was no moment where I paused and thought, “Gee, maybe I should overhaul my teaching methods.”
In my fifth and final year of graduate school I first became a Section NExT fellow with the Iowa section of the MAA. I attended the sectional meeting that fall (2014) and met many amazing educators who were using IBL in their classrooms. It was at this meeting that I became convinced of IBL as a more effective way to teach mathematics. The classroom experiences many professors spoke of were so much more meaningful and student-centered than those occurring in my classrooms. TJ Hitchman delivered a final address (with IBL flair) that left me unbelievably excited to start down the IBL path. I left this conference inspired and motivated. “I will IBL all the things!” – me, October 2014.
Then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, I applied for dozens of jobs, spent a few weeks flying around the country for interviews, finished a thesis, defended said thesis, moved almost a thousand miles, and began teaching three distinct courses as a newly minted professor. I promptly took out each of my course textbooks and wrote some nice, comfortable lecture notes. I spent the year developing a lot of notes and a handful of activities for six different courses, and before I knew it I had completed my first year as a professor. I had not succeeded in jumping off the IBL cliff (which is exactly how I envisioned it in my mind), but I had survived.
Along the way, I was fortunate enough to be a 2015-2016 national Project NExT fellow, and I continued to hear about the case for IBL. Nay, the imperative need for IBL! As I listened to mounting evidence, I began to feel that I was truly doing my students a disservice by continuing to mostly lecture. Despite the wealth of information I now had at my fingertips from Project NExT, I felt like I needed more resources. I needed some gear, preferably a parachute, in order to make the jump.
The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning’s IBL Workshop provided me with the parachute I felt I needed. I attended one of the June 2016 workshops in San Luis Obispo with the intention to prepare myself to teach in an IBL style. I cannot say enough positive things about this workshop; it was career changing. The week was spent discussing methods, challenges, successes, materials, and worries (of which I had many). In only a few days, but with endless assistance from the fantastic facilitators, I designed my Real Analysis course for Fall 2016. My very first IBL course was ready to launch.
This brings me to the present day. I am currently two weeks into the semester in which I am teaching this IBL course. Simultaneously, I am working hard to crank up active learning techniques in my other two courses (Calculus III, Pre-Calculus). For the most part I am excited and hopeful, but I maintain a healthy dose of fear and skepticism as necessitated by my risk-averse personality. As I continually remind my students of productive failure, I also remind myself. Here we go!