Thursday, November 1, 2012

MAA Calculus Study: The Instructors

One of the goals of the MAA Calculus Study, Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus, was to gather information about the instructors of mainstream Calculus I. Here, stratified by type of institution, is some of what we have learned, refining some of the data presented in “The Calculus I Instructor” (Launchings, June 2011). Again, I am using Research University as code for institutions for which the highest mathematics degree that is offered is the PhD, Masters University if the highest degree is a Master’s, Undergraduate College if it is a Bachelor’s, and Two Year College if it is an Associate’s degree. These surveys were completed by 360 instructors at research universities, 73 at masters universities, 118 at undergraduate colleges, and 112 at two year colleges.

Calculus I instructors are predominantly white and male. Masters universities have the largest percentage of Black instructors, research universities of Asian instructors, and two-year colleges of Hispanic instructors. By and large, undergraduate colleges do not do well in representing any of these groups.

There is a dramatic difference between the status and highest degree of Calculus I instructors at research universities and those at other types of colleges and universities. At research universities, instructors are less likely to be tenured or on tenure track, or to hold a PhD. They are also less likely to want to teach calculus: One in five has no interest or only a mild interest in teaching calculus. The high number of part-time faculty at masters universities and two year colleges is troubling because of the evidence that such instructors tend to be less effective in the classroom and much less accessible to their students [1]. Not surprisingly, less than a quarter of the Calculus I instructors at two-year colleges hold a PhD.

Generally, calculus instructors consider themselves to be somewhat traditional in their instructional approaches, and they believe that students learn best from lectures. The greatest divergence from these views is at undergraduate colleges where almost half consider themselves to be innovative and 45% disagree that lectures are the best way to teach. The greatest variation among faculty at different types of institutions is over the use of calculators on exams. Close to half of the instructors at research universities do not allow them; 71% of the instructors at two year colleges do.

There also are institutional differences in beliefs about whether all of the students who enter Calculus I are capable of learning this material.

Finally, we look at the grade distributions by type of institution.

[1] Schmidt, P. Conditions Imposed on Part-Time Adjuncts Threaten Quality ofTeaching, Researchers Say. Chronicle of Higher Education. Nov 30, 2010.

The MAA national study of calculus, Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus, is funded by NSF grant no. 0910240. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

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