Featured Online Faculty Profile
Chris Farinella, MA, MSW
Professor - Professor, Online
Teaching Field: Mathematics
Where I come from
As an undergraduate and in my master's program, I majored in mathematics with the goal of teaching. I taught for a year after graduating, but I was not yet ready for the classroom. Being only slightly older than my students, I was less sure of myself than I wanted to be as a teacher, so I resigned at the end of the first year. I found a position at IBM, where I worked from 1986 to 2001, first in operations, then in software development on a PC-based application used by IBM sales representatives worldwide to configure and price the AS/400 Midrange Computer. I became a senior member of the team which successfully deployed two major application enhancements each year. I enjoyed the work and made good money, but something was missing.
In the mid-90s, looking for a more fulfilling career, I got a Master's in Social Work and took a position at a mental health facility in Dallas. The work was rewarding but totally draining. Still searching for that perfect fit, I went back to IBM while counseling part-time at a high school. In 2001, given a choice between relocating within IBM or taking an incentive package to retire, I took the package and finally got back into teaching.
Teaching gets more rewarding every year. It allows me to work in a field where I can positively impact the lives of others, and that fulfills the goal that led me to pursue my Social Work degree. I empathize with students who are struggling to find their way, as I did. Taking the long way round has taught me that our deepest goals stay the same, even though interests change over time.
Same subject, different approach
As a math instructor, my discipline is not continually changing as are other disciplines such as computer technology, health sciences, or even business administration. Mathematics, at least at the undergraduate level, does not change. It is one of the appealing things about the subject! However, methods of teaching do change and I have always looked for new and innovative approaches to teaching. MyMathLab is one such innovation that has helped online students master a subject that many find intimidating.
MyMathLab is a very interactive platform that offers step-by-step help on math problems, the entire textbook in electronic form, and videos showing problems worked out by an instructor. Students take tests there, and their grade is updated there automatically every time they submit an assignment. There is a lot of online help available. MyMathLab is user-friendly. Students catch on very quickly and their feedback has been very positive.
"What do I need this for?"
The question that math teachers always get from students is, "Why do I need to know this?" The answer I give is that while you may not need to solve a quadratic equation on your job, for example, the skills that you learn in math apply to other disciplines. Mathematical reasoning teaches you to problem-solve and to think logically in other areas, such as business, information technology, gaming and simulation programming, electrical engineering and that sort of thing. Programming and engineering are closely related to math skills.
When you can't see their eyes
With online classes, you don't have the luxury of sitting face-to-face with students while they are learning. When teaching in a campus classroom, it is easy to tell from a student's expression whether he/she understands the material or is lost. With online learning, we must rely on the student to let us know when they are lost! Sometimes we don't find out until later.
It's harder to establish rapport in an online class, but it can be done. My first "contact" with students is to introduce myself to the class as a whole the week before classes start. During Week 1, I respond to each student's "introduction" in the discussion area. I address each by name, and always comment on something they have said about themselves. It's important that students know we ARE "listening" to what they say and that we care. I also send individual emails almost weekly letting the students know I am monitoring their progress and offering help to those getting behind and praise for those who are doing well.
Like anyone, students respond well to warmth, encouragement and individual attention. I interact with my students mainly through email and discussion postings. I am always willing to talk on the phone or in an online chat, but I find that most students prefer email. The time zone differences often make phone calls less convenient than email.
Who's in the mix
There are typically 35 students in each online math class, about equal numbers of men and women. They are typically older. Most have had some college experience, but many report having been out of school for several years and are therefore a little nervous, especially taking Math! There are usually at least two or three students who are currently in the military.
When students interact with their classmates, they are always encouraging and offer to help each other. I've never once seen a negative interaction between two students! However, online students interact less frequently than students in a campus classroom. Understandably, they feel their time is valuable, so students spend most of their time working on assignments and taking tests. Successful online students are self-motivated and are not procrastinators.
Call for help-please
I always empathize with students who are struggling with mathematics and never imply (much less state) that they "should" understand something that they don't. When students ask for help, I provide detailed explanations rather than go back and forth with questions that might lead them to figure out the answer on their own. Time is more critical with online students.
DeVry offers a real-world curriculum taught by real-world faculty. It has been on the leading edge of online education for many years and has developed online curricula that rival any other institute of higher education. DeVry continually seeks to improve the design and content of its courses, using student feedback to guide its choices.