Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Sharon Vestal

We love featuring the innovative work of our outstanding faculty users here at WebAssign. This week we are spotlighting Dr. Sharon Vestal. We are currently offering her Calculus Lab to WebAssign users. We invite WebAssign users to try these labs this fall as a free trial in your current course. Contact us to start your free trial today!

Sharon_VestalWhat is your educational background and teaching history?

I earned my BA and MA in Mathematics from the University of South Dakota (USD). During the 1995-1996 academic year, I was a full-time instructor at Winona State University in Winona, MN.  This was the first time that I taught Calculus I.

After earning my PhD I was a faculty member at Missouri Western State University from Fall 2000 to Spring 2006. I have been a faculty member at South Dakota State University since Fall 2006. I have taught several calculus courses throughout my teaching career and I have taught our Calculus I Lab, for which this textbook was created.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy has evolved a lot during my years as a faculty member, but I have always believed that students need to work hard in order to succeed. I set high expectations of my students and myself and work hard so that we can both achieve these expectations. I once had a student tell me, “You are tough, but you are fair.” I took that statement as a huge compliment.

What teaching practices do you employ to get your students engaged in learning?

Most of the classes that I currently teach are for pre-service teachers so they are frequently at the board presenting material and answering questions. My teaching practices have changed a lot over the last few years as I used to have the opinion that the teacher was the focal point of the room. Now I strongly believe that the students need to be the focal point of the room and the teacher needs to get them involved. This isn’t difficult with pre-service teachers as they know that they will eventually be the teacher in the room. In my other classes, I ask a lot of questions and wait for students to answer. There are times when I have to wait a while as no one wants to answer, but I wait patiently. I make it very clear to my students at the beginning of the semester that I want to hear from them during class and that I don’t want a quiet classroom.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

As a faculty member who believes strongly that learning mathematics is about learning the process not about getting the answer, I use WebAssign very carefully in my classes. I limit the number of attempts on problems, ranging from one attempt to five attempts. One attempt would be used for True/False, Yes/No, or multiple-choice problems while five attempts is standard for a free-response problem. Also, I limit the help features so that the students can’t use them until after the third attempt. This is the way that I encourage students to actually work on the problem on their own before using one of the help features.

I really like WebAssign and feel that it is a huge time saver for grading homework. Homework is important so students can practice. However, I also give paper/pencil quizzes and exams so students can demonstrate their thought process.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I use technology daily when teaching. In fact, I teach a course called Technology for Math Educators so the focus of that course is helping pre-service teachers learn how to use technology appropriately in the classroom. I have learned a lot of technology throughout my years of teaching and learn more every day. It is sometimes difficult to find the right balance of how much technology to use in class as I am also very much a traditionalist when teaching mathematics and believe in students showing work with paper and pencil.

Can you give us a brief overview of what is included in your calculus lab manual?

The lab manual includes algebra and trigonometry skills that are needed to be successful in first semester calculus. These topics are structured in an order that would fit nicely with an early transcendental first semester calculus course. Each lab includes reading, videos (coming soon), practice problems, and exercises related to the topic for that lab. There are twelve labs so one lab per week fits nicely with the structure of a semester course.

What initially made you want to write your own lab manual?

After watching students struggle in Calculus I for many years and wanting to help them succeed in the course, I worked with my department to create a one-credit lab and then write the lab manual to go along with it. As a faculty member, I want to see students be successful in my course and in subsequent courses.

Have you seen a positive response in student’s grades and comprehension following completion of your lab manual?

Our co-requisite Calculus I Lab is required for certain students who we have determined (through data analysis) to be at-risk. Much of our positive results have come from anecdotal evidence. I had one student who was retaking the course and chose to take the co-requisite lab. He felt that the lab was very helpful to him and his opinion was that all students should have to take the lab!