On a thousand computer screens in 40 states and dozens of countries, a UW-La Crosse math class is in session. The school’s first MOOC, or “massive open online course,” starts this week with more than 1,000 students, double what the school expected, including a student from the La Crosse area who said on her application that she’s looking for a college-level math challenge.

Nothing unusual about that — most in the course, including an 83-year-old and a bus driver — have the same desire. What is unusual: the girl is 11. Even by math prodigy standards, that’s pretty unusual.

“We do occasionally have high school students taking calculus at the university,” said UW-La Crosse math professor Robert Hoar, who’s overseeing the online course. “It’s not unusual to see a 16- or 17-year-old. Much before that it’s pretty much unheard of.”

Privacy laws prevent the university from releasing the girl’s name. In her application she wrote that she’s finished algebra, geometry and trigonometry at her local high school and wants more math. Problem is for the 11-year-old, “it may be more of a refresher than something new,” Hoar said.

The free course is designed to get students up to speed to tackle college-level math without having to take and pay for remedial high-school-level courses. First-generation college students and those from low-income families are expected to benefit especially.

Students will log onto the course, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Gates Foundation, at any time through an online learning management system.

During seven weeks, they will watch video lectures and participate in online assignments. Undergraduate math education majors at UW-La Crosse and UW-Milwaukee will conduct online office hours at strategic times to accommodate students from various time zones across the globe.

UW-La Crosse was chosen for the grant after successfully running a similar course last summer for 38 students. Now it’s being MOOCed.

“We’re confident we have something that will work,” Hoar said. “It’s time to test it out.”

Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal

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