Curriculum Reform at UNL

If you attended UNL or taught mathematics at UNL more than five years ago, then you probably remember taking or giving tests that announced prominently, "NO CALCULATORS ALLOWED". Those who were part of the department more than fifteen years ago should have very little memory of computers in the department and no memory of computing being used in our undergraduate curriculum. All that has changed.

The past decade has witnessed significant changes in how we teach mathematics and technology issues has driven much of the change. In 1989, Professor Tom Shores received an NSF grant that led to the creation of the department's computer lab. Eventually, this lead to profound changes in instruction in differential equations (Math 221) and matrix theory (Math 314) and many upper division courses. Today, both of these courses have a lab fee and students are expected to work on extended writing projects which require the use of a computer algebra software such as Maple.

In 1993, the department began experiments with graphing calculators. Now all sections of our traditional calculus course (Math 106, 107, 208) use graphing calculators, assign writing projects, promote group work and use a "reform" textbook known popularly as the "Harvard calculus". More recently, John Orr has led the development of "Gateway Exams" that are given over the World Wide Web. The department's gateway exams are proficiency exams on finding derivatives and integrals. Students can repeat an exam daily for about four weeks but they must pass at a specified high level (about 80%) in order to pass the course. Several of our precalculus courses are also using graphing calculators and developing gateway exams.

Perhaps the most ambitious curriculum reform effort of all is being led by Steve Dunbar (and Bob Fuller in Physics). Multimedia Mathematics is a $1,000,000 grant from NSF that is joint with faculty at Oklahoma State University. One of only 7 grants out of 191 applicants, the project seeks to use tehnology as a means of adding mathematics to the curriculum in other disciplines and adding more science to our mathematics classes.