Engaging Mathematically in Synchronous Platforms: Examples and Insights

Engaging Mathematically in Synchronous Platforms: Examples and Insights

Eileen Fernández (Montclair State University, USA) and Eliza Leszczyński (Montclair State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1476-4.ch008


In a qualitative self-study, two teacher educators introduce the notion of engaging mathematically to study synchronous interactions in two of their online courses for K-8 teachers. By studying the interactions between themselves and their teachers, the teacher educators are able to describe novel opportunities, negotiations, struggles, and insights involved in engaging mathematically in online platforms. Their mathematical and pedagogical illustrations convey new possibilities for synchronous online interactions during mathematics lessons. These descriptions address a gap in the research on online teaching about how mathematics can be negotiated within these platforms, as well as concerns about the meaningfulness of interactions in online settings. Implications to teacher education practitioners and researchers, and developers of learning management systems suggest the importance of the teacher education community taking a lead role in ensuring that online teaching has a purposeful part to play in the field of mathematics teacher education.
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The current study stems from the two authors’ attempts to support teacher enrollment and participation in one of their graduate level, teacher education programs. The program is intended to help practicing middle school teachers, or teachers certified in another area, to become certified to teach mathematics in middle schools. Because a large portion of our audience consists of practicing teachers, part of our efforts for addressing enrollment went to transitioning the program’s five content courses to an online format. The current article focuses on one of our experiences teaching two of the program’s courses in this new platform.

As seasoned mathematics and teacher educators, we have always believed in the importance of social interactions to our students’ learning of mathematics. This becomes especially important when our students are teachers who are watching us teach and learning how to teach through these observations (Feiman-Nemser, 2012; Lortie, 1975). As we transitioned our program, we realized that one of our biggest challenges concerned how to create opportunities for the kinds of interactions that we valued in our face-to-face classrooms. Would we be able to promote interactive activities, and support the discussions that surround them, in online platforms? In this paper, we describe our attempts to promote and support such interactions in one synchronous online platform. Our objective in this study is to provide an “existence proof” within teacher education that synchronous interactions can promote problem solving and discovery, and to complement these descriptions with our reflections. We were guided by the question, “What can synchronous teaching in mathematics teacher education look like, and how does a teacher educator negotiate interactions in this new environment to support a given philosophy of learning and teaching?” In our narratives, we illustrate and implement new pedagogies and negotiations, and discuss the kinds of opportunities and challenges afforded within one synchronous platform for an audience that is wondering about incorporating synchronous learning into its teacher education programs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Repurposing Familiar Technologies: Adaptation of familiar technologies (e.g., PowerPoint, GeoGebra) for use in an online setting so that interactional elements can be supported as students engage mathematically with the teacher.

Engage Mathematically: A teacher and her students engage mathematically when their investigations into a mathematics problem are not prescriptive or the outcomes are unknown, and the teacher supports students in exploring the problem rather than dismissing, overlooking or immediately resolving it.

Asynchronous Online Interactions: Interactions mediated via a technology forum which provide an opportunity for students and teachers to interact with each other possibly at different times.

Layers of Technology: The presence of multiple technologies like screensharing, PowerPoint, and GeoGebra that can interact during the course of online teaching.

Environment: Physical or virtual workspaces that can be used and connected during online teaching.

Constructivism: A theory of learning that recognizes that knowledge is not passively received, but actively constructed, by the learner.

Synchronous Online Interactions: Interactions mediated via a technology forum in which participants are present at the same time, just not necessarily in the same place.

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