ITA 2017 Nominee: Jeff Ford Posted on April 30th, 2018 by

This is one of a few interviews conducted by Ellyn Adelmann ‘18 with winners and previous nominees for the Gustavus Innovative Teaching Award during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Jeff Ford, Department of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Statistics, incorporated two innovative elements to his MCS-121: Calculus I course–Team Based Learning and Standards-Based Grading. With a goal of eliminating traditional lectures, Team Based Learning creates a daily class structure of students collaborating in groups from day one. He says, “these groups build accountability with a small cohort, which makes students want to be in class.” Ford organizes groups with as much diversity in mathematical ability, native language, special concerns and other background information because “the more diversity of opinion you’re going to get,” he says, “the faster they’re going to arrive at that correct idea that you want them to reach”. For Standards-Based Grading, Ford provides students, during the first week of class, a list of the knowledge that they must master in order to receive an “A” in the course. Students have multiple opportunities throughout the semester to demonstrate their mastery of a particular problem type. Ford explains, “grades are based on overall grasp of content as opposed to a performance on an individual day”.

These changes to Calculus I arose from beneficial, constructive student feedback, ideas from math journals, and discussions with past and present colleagues. Ford expressed his appreciation for the teaching community at Gustavus who openly discuss different classroom strategies as well as contributions from former colleagues he taught with at graduate school. With these discussions and resources in mind, Ford likes to reverse engineer, “I start at the end with ‘What do I want to students to be able to do?’ ‘How broad can the learning objectives be and how do I use a team activity to get students to reach those learning objectives?”  Ford also removes course features that he does not prefer, as long as they maintain student learning outcomes. For example, he no longer uses partial credit. Instead, every question is worth a point, but if a student answers incorrectly, they will have an opportunity to show that they have mastered that problem on a subsequent day. The future for his teaching innovations is not entirely known, as they will continue to develop over the summer after he attends teaching conferences, but he knows of a few improvements. These include asking students more questions, allowing him to better assign diversified groups, and incorporating the aforementioned teaching strategies to upper division courses.


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