For those who know math Professor Bill Gallegos, they will say that he is meticulous; keeping all final exams of this century ordered and boxed in his office at Truckee Meadows Community College, and ingeniously HTML-coding his web pages instead of relying on the quick and ordinary online template du jour.
Professor Gallegos strives to do things the most excellent way, and that may not always be the quickest. His work stands the test of time, and it has definitely passed muster with the national Quality Matters organization that certifies online courses as superior.
His Math 182: Calculus II course has been recently QM-approved and is the first advanced calculus class at TMCC to gain the coveted certification.
“I was the first one to develop an online calculus class in the state—I teach both Calculus I and II, and I felt that the online Calculus II was the best class I have going, so I chose it for the Quality Matters process,” he said.
QM Is Exacting
Gallegos found that putting his course through the peer-review process of QM challenged him to consider every word in his online class, and to be consistent in wording throughout all pages and windows.
“I designed my class around the QM rubric, and the number of questions about policies and procedures went down—now the questions are more about math and that is what they should be about,” he added.
Feedback and Extra Help for Online Math
“I like how the QM improvements include guaranteed turnaround times listing when a student can expect to get a response from the instructor on their work,” Gallegos said. “Also, I was surprised to find it has become helpful to create the weekly announcements about what’s coming up.”
Students taking math online do not have access to a live human in front of them to ask questions in real time, although they can ask questions through email and discussions in the WebCollege Canvas platform.
To better support the students without having a teacher standing right there in the classroom, Gallegos uses a supplemental online homework solution, WebAssign.net. This site helps students with the questions that often come up while working on the math assignments.
But he doesn’t call the problems “homework." Instead he uses the terminology “explorations” and challenges the students with each task.
According to the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC), best practices for teaching math include this challenge with every problem, rather than progressing from easy to difficult.
“I use ‘exploration assignment’ because the word ‘homework’ is associated with tedious problem-solving, while exploration is exciting,” Gallegos said. “It does really make a difference.”
The OER Connection
He was recently asked by another online math professor whether he could “steal” some of Gallegos’ course ideas.
“If someone in the world likes what I do in my online class and wants to ‘steal’ it, I’m all for it,” he said. “It makes the world a better place."
Gallegos did not request or accept a stipend payment that professors typically receive for developing on online QM-approved course. He felt that it was just the right thing for him to do.
“Now I can say without contradiction that my class is quality on the level of any national course,” he said.
His Course Retention is High
“My course is hard, I don’t pull punches, I expect a lot and don’t give it away,” he said.
Even in a challenging course, Gallegos’ retention percentage is high for a math class. His online Math 182 has a 62 percent retention rate, which is only two percentage points lower than an in-person class. Typically, retention rates for online math courses are much lower than those delivered in person.
Professor Gallegos has been teaching at TMCC for close to 19 years, and continues to set the bar high.