Faculty Spotlight: Professor Kyle Mandli on Pairing Up Programmers for Collaborative Learning Activities

by | Jan 18, 2018

Meet Kyle Mandli, an Assistant Professor in the Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics department. As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery award, Mandli received support from the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to redesign his Introduction to Numerical Methods course. He used pair group work, pair programming, and open source technologies to engage his students in the course material and encourage them to learn from each other.

Watch the video and read the short Q&A below to hear Mandli reflect on the teaching challenges he faced and the lessons faculty can take away from his experience.

What course do you teach at Columbia?

I primarily teach computational mathematics. The Introduction to Numerical Methods course serves a large population of students. We have undergraduates, master’s students, and PhD students. Last semester, the class had about 140 students altogether. Some of those were online students as well.

The students in your class come in with a range of computing experiences. What approach did you try to overcome this challenge?

I worked with CTL to try to add a large component as group work… If you have mathematically trained students and pair them with students who are more computationally savvy, they both could contribute in a meaningful way.

What changes did you make to motivate students to do the group work?

We allow the group assignments to be available before class. So if the students did want to look at the assignments and do some of it beforehand, that was fine… Beyond that we also did peer review. We’d been doing peer review previously. But this year, one of the other things that we worked with the CTL was to really try to motivate [the students].

We spent probably 30-45 minutes discussing what peer review is, why it’s important, and giving motivating examples. For example, if you’re going into any kind of job where the development of software is involved, this is something that’s going to be natural for your job. You’re going to have to do this so you might as well learn how to do it. Also, you’re going to learn more if you look and read other people’s code and you’re really providing feedback. And then we gave examples of how to do that type of peer review.

I think people went in being a little interested but apprehensive. But they came out interested and thinking that it actually wasn’t such a bad thing.

Why did you choose to use Jupyter notebooks in your course?

Jupyter notebooks are starting to be recognized as being great for teaching—not just in the mathematical sciences but much more broadly as well… All of this is largely being done in an open source community. It’s been really neat to see how we’ve been able to share resources and make everyone’s teaching better.

[Editor’s note: The Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and narrative text. Mandli makes his course notes availableThe Notebook has support for over 40 programming languages, including Python, R, Julia, and Scala. Learn more at http://jupyter.org.]

What were some of the take-aways from your redesign? What can other faculty learn from your experience?

We spent some time, with CTL’s help, trying to figure out better ways to grade and improve submission systems. The CTL also helped designing the pre- and post-course surveys, asking questions that try to get at how much the students were really learning: whether they were confident in their skills, were they able to correctly identify what their level was… Because all of that feeds into figuring out how to group people.

Overall, I think there were quite a few pieces of the puzzle. If I had done it by myself, they would not have been as highly polished. I would not have had the time so it was great to have the resources available, to really spend the time we needed to make this go as smoothly as it did.

Interested in integrating instructional technologies into your classroom? The Office of the Provost provides funding opportunities for faculty who are looking to integrate new educational technologies into their classroom and online teaching. 

Related Links

Professor Kyle Mandli on Leveraging Open Source Principles for Teaching in STEM

GitHub Course Notes



Related Resources