ePUMP: Patching the Leak in the STEM Pipeline

Related people and/or projects: Shai Cohen

The Faculty of Engineeringand Applied Science (FASE) and the Department of Mathematics began working together in 2019 to create ePUMP, the online Preparation for University Mathematics Program. This blog is about the ePUMP project - the goals, the project team (what the project team is doing and what the ETO is doing), and how the project has maintained momentum through a very momentous year. We end with some strategies about remote production and some lessons learned during the process.

Jump to

  1. Leveraging momentum from COVID-19
  2. What is ePUMP?
  3. Who is the project team?
  4. What are the project goals?
  5. ePUMP through the Pandemic
  6. Lessons Learned
  7. Check out some videos
  8. Check out our template

Leveraging momentum from COVID-19

In a recent virtual event hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Cultivating Community for Underserved Students, Bruce Haymes, Chief Partnership Officer at WeWork, spoke about the emerging opportunities for universities and educational institutions post-pandemic. In response to the emergency, institutions have built a repertoire of tools and materials to facilitate remote teaching and learning -- a major investment. Haymes' question is, “do we put that back in the closet and take it out during the next pandemic, or do we do something with it?” He later poses the thesis: we now have a seat in the virtual classroom for an unlimited number of students. Online and hybrid learning gives us the possibility to reach students that can’t afford to, or don’t have the means to be on a university campus to take a non-credit course. What Mr. Haymes doesn't know is that FASE has been working on projects of this nature for quite some time! 

What is ePUMP?

This is exactly what UofT’s Faculty of Engineering and Department of Mathematics have been working towards with the Education Technology Office through the creation of ePUMP, the online Preparation for University Mathematics Program. The Preparation for University Matmatics Program (PUMP) (ePUMP’s predecessor) has been offered to incoming students at the University of Toronto for decades, as a way for students to fill in the gaps in their mathematical knowledge. While successfully serving current UofT students, the goal is to extend the course to all who are interested in taking it. ePUMP is an enhanced and modernized version of PUMP, designed specifically for accessibility. As an open, editable, and publicly available resource across Ontario, ePUMP will have characteristics which will allow it to reach many more individuals and be used by other institutions in a customizable format. The project is funded through UofT's Learning & Education Advancement Fund (LEAF).

ePUMP consists of a series of modules, packaged in a standard format to encourage and facilitate use by other institutions. The modules will contain interconnected videos including lectures, examples, application videos, and practice exercises. They will serve not only to teach, but also to demonstrate the connections between mathematical concepts that students often see as disparate parts, hoping to help them achieve a greater level of understanding and appreciation for the subject matter.

Who is the project team?

The Subject Matter Experts (aka the teaching team)

Sa'diyya Parnell Hendrickson

ePump is being developed by a cross-departmental team, with professors from FASE and the Department of Mathematics contributing to the overall vision of the project and the more tangibly, to the project assets (e.g. video, examples, quizzes). In FASE, the idea first came to be in 2019 from Mikhail Burke, Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Mentor, and Shai Cohen, Professor at the Department of Mathematics and faculty member at the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice (ISTEP). They brought in Professor Ana De Luca and Professor Sa'diyya Hendrickson (pictured), from the Department of Mathematics, who will be delivering the material in the ePUMP modules. Prof. Hendrickson, having taught PUMP as a TA since 2010 and as an instructor since 2013, has ample experience teaching the content and connecting with her students. Prof. De Luca has also TA-ed PUMP and other math courses for several years and is looking forward to being an instructor for the online version of the course.

"There’s so many students that come into math -- even if they’re going into engineering, even if they’re going into science-based disciplines -- they’re just fundamentally afraid, fundamentally anxious about math... I’m excited to see a student who has gone through ePUMP feel comfortable and relaxed about math, and that they truly understand something, rather than they are just parroting back a correct answer." - Prof. Ana De Luca

The EdTech Production Team

The ETO is providing course design and content production support to the academic team. Joanna (in one of her last projects) developed a design template and Inga is leading our remote production effort. A lot of Inga's initial work with the professors included creating a "blueprint", as she calls it, for the modules, as well as finding and creating the perfect space for filming at home. 

"I usually walk them through the production process... I work with them to think about what they want to say, how to structure that, and essentially it's a script! Even if it's not going to come off as scripted when they are doing it, they need to have some sense of their beginning, middle and end for every video." - Inga Breede 

What are the project goals and how will they be achieved?

The goal is to create a math preparation program accessible to non-traditional students, that will act as an access pathway, or ‘pump’ for students to bridge the gap and get past the leak in the math and sciences pipeline in the transition from high school to university. It is designed to address the barriers into the STEM field that exist for marginalized and underserved groups, including lack of access to material in remote parts of the province, and lack of introduction to STEM disciplines. This is why ePUMP will be an open educational resources (OER) and the option for others to download and edit will also be available. 

"Historically, mathematics has been a gatekeeper subject for a very long time and I think a lot of universities are starting to try to think carefully and critically about creating some kind of bridge. And when we are talking about ‘marginalized’ we are talking about all kinds of populations of people: racialized folks, people who are coming from lower-class backgrounds, folks with disabilities, folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, indigenous folks… there’s like a plethora of folks who fall in that category, and as long as [mathematics] is a gatekeeper, people don’t have access to upward mobility in the ways that other people do. ... The decision to [go online] is because, especially if we are talking about engineering and the decision to attempt to make it a bridging program initially, one of the biggest things is access… and how accessible is it if the only way that [students] can grab hold of that content is by showing up physically on campus at a particular time?" - Prof. Sa'diyya Hendrickson

Beyond accessibilty, Bruce Haymes talks about another important point: it is difficult to create remote communities for students learning online -- “how do we drive engagement, and how do we drive outcomes for students that are learning remotely?” Having these communities and support systems will be a huge part of motivating students and encouraging them to pursue or continue to pursue an education in STEM. The ePUMP team hopes that the project will not only be a series of educational videos, but that in the future it can also offer a hub for networking and cultivating communities and micro communities of students, especially non-traditional students.

We hope to promote these goals by designing meaningful learning experiences such that:

  • Other institutions can make use of the modules, further developing and editing them to fill particular competency gaps, or tie it into their curriculum and needs
  • Individuals can use the modules independently, in any way they desire
  • Education-focused, community-based organizations may leverage this resource as a support tool for students interested in pursuing a post-secondary STEM education
  • It is accessible to students who can’t afford to take a non-credit course, cannot enroll in a post-secondary institution, students who need to work, and students for whom existing online modules are not compliant​

The modules will be built on a foundation of how to learn mathematics, will create knowledge through a modeling approach, and be aligned with UofT’s first year curriculum in approach and content. However, being an open resource, the units can be modified to fit any institution that wants to make use of them. The ‘course’ no longer needs to be taken as a whole, but students can rather focus on viewing and studying the parts where they need to reinforce their knowledge.

"Before, we would have 2-3 hour lectures a week and then we would have two very long tutorials in a week as well. It was very fast paced: you did not have the option as a student to fall behind or to miss anything. Online, we are able to break that up and give students the option to pursue things on their own time and at their own pace without that pressure... You are replacing it with something so much more customized and suited to where an individual student is in their learning." - Prof. Ana De Luca

ePUMP through the Pandemic

Due to COVID-19, we had to completely change up the how the project moved forward. We moved to bi-weekly team meetings as well as bi-weekly production meetings. We also knew that we'd have to drop the idea of in-person filming in the ETO's studio space.

How did we pivot?

  • Our in person team meetings moved to virtual team meetings. Seeing the whole project team bi-weekly and the production team weekly made a huge difference to keeping the team connected and the project moving forward.
  • We created EdTech Kits! These kits include a lap top, cameramicrophonedisplay tablet and other hardware requirements for at home video production. Once recieved (and see our top lesson learned about ordering hardware early), Inga could walk with them through the process of setting up technology (ring lights, lavalier microphones, and new webcams), and once filming is underway, she will be preparing and editing the content that will make the final cut. 
  • We developed a new service: Remote Direction (see the FASETime series as an example of the quality of filming that can be done remotely). There are many aspects that make a space optimal for filming and teaching, including lighting, audio quality, background, etc. and we want to make sure that the instructors are comfortable teaching in that space and maximize whatever the space happens to be.
  • We created a design and video component template (see ePump's template; interested in your own? Consider using a video design and component template to get started)

What is our goal this summer? Of course, none of the above happens without the energy of the instructors. They really rolled with it - and we threw a lot at them! The goal for this summer is to finish filming the first module: Exponentials and Logarithms. In the fall, Prof. De Luca and Prof. Hendrickson will film the rest of the videos, and Prof. Shai Cohen hopes to be creating interview videos with scientists and engineers to demonstrate the applications of precalculus math.

Once the modules are ready and compiled using Rise, they will be released as a pilot for use within UofT, with the goal of obtaining early student responses and reactions. The exposure and feedback from UofT students may lead to adjustments in certain elements of the course, which will be discussed in the Winter 2022 term. 

Lessons Learned

We've all learned a lot over the past year. We (the ETO team) have expanded our skillset into remote production and online learning experience delivery and the teaching team has expanded their skillset into, well, everything! A year in, they are more at ease using filming equipment and screen capture software at-home. It's always a process - that doesn't change whether you're remote or in person!

Prof. Hendrickson sees a huge benefit in having an at-home setup: she can create more interactive videos using applications with graphical components and sharing them directly through a screen recording. She even admits that having taught online for a year, she believes there would have been some inefficiencies creating ePUMP in person and on campus. It's much more efficient for her to create templated slides where she can keep definitions and any content she wants to have on the screen as she writes, rather than having to write out definitions by hand on a blackboard.

Here are some of the things we've learned:

  1. Plan out what you need for your hardware and order it early! Equipment and shipping delays can delay production timelines. Now that those have arrived, our own Inga BreedeSenior Instructional Technologist, Content Production, has worked with the ePUMP instructors, Prof. Ana de Luca and Prof. Sa’diyya Hendrickson to perfect their at-home setup.
  2. Set up your physical space (and take a photo of it!) Once you've set up your space (and we can help with that!), mark it with tape and take a picture. That will help the next time you need to set up and get you more consistency between takes and videos.
  3. Start practicing early to get over the "being on camera" hump. The saying is "practice makes perfect" but we're not going for perfect. Practice makes authentic, and doing something new (like being on camera) does take some practice before you get comfortable. 

Check out some videos

Where has all this work gotten us? To a pretty great place! You didn't think we'd end this without a sample, did you? Check out Profs. Hendrickson's video production skills:



ePUMP Template