Phoenix College: Math Professor Innovates for the YouTube Generation

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Reach students where they live—on social media. Practice makes perfect. Show it, don't just tell it. Finances should not be a barrier to education.

Phoenix College math professor James Sousa says all of the above motivated his creation of the Mathispower4u! website and blog. Mathispower4u provides free mini lessons and example videos with no ads. The website is organized by course and topics from arithmetic to calculus and beyond. The blog can be searched by topic. The videos make learning mathematics available to students anytime and anywhere with an Internet connection.

Initially, Sousa created 18 tutorial videos through a Title V mini grant and developed some additional Open Educational Resources (OER) through his participation in the spring 2010 grant-funded professional learning community, Beta Boot Camp. From these initial projects, he has continued, on his own time and at his own expense, to push the limits of this medium. He has published more than 2,500 instructional videos, which he hosts at a dedicated website and blog, in addition to a dedicated YouTube channel with more than 10,000 subscribers worldwide. His uploaded videos have reached more than five million views to date.

Sousa creates and uploads all of these videos himself. It works out to more than 800 videos a year and 15 videos a week! Yes, you've got the math right.

With the typical professor's work load of teaching, grading, advising, committees, and keeping current academically, how does Sousa find the time?

His response, "If you want to do something, you will make the time to do it."

Sousa admits that it can be challenging to get students interested in the material so he has made it his mission to make learning math more available, easier to understand, and engaging to learn. He keeps things fresh by implementing new techniques, ideas and technology in his classroom.

The professor continues to pioneer OER in the form of open platform courses, textbooks, and resources. All the courses he currently teaches use OER materials including an eBook, video tutorials, and online homework with instant feedback. This means all the students leave the first day of class with all the resource materials they need to succeed. The only cost for the course materials is for students who prefer to print out the free eBook.

And there is more. "I'm also holding online office hours," states Sousa. "It provides the student with an online environment offering live audio, chat, file exchange, whiteboard, and desktop sharing. The technology is always changing and improving. I feel it is my responsibility as a professional to continue to investigate and implement the best technology into my online and face-to-face classes to foster student success."

The instructional videos are also used in his face-to-face classes. He wants his students to have resources outside of class and having these teaching videos "removes obstacles for their success." He has combined his teaching videos with an open source online textbook and assessment package. His videos include mini lessons and screen captures. He incorporates this with an OER textbook, Flexbooks, which can be edited to fit his teaching objectives. For every example, he links to the relevant teaching videos. As a result, his students can access his course content on-demand and receive instant feedback from the system.

Two years ago, he implemented a modified flip curriculum, in which students watch his teaching videos outside of class as part of homework and use precious class time for problem solving, active learning, and group activities. This approach allows individuals to learn at their own pace.

At last year's Arizona SciTech Festival, Sousa offered a Massive Open Online Course, whimsically known as a MOOC, and will do so again this year. The arithmetic/pre-algebra course was available free to anyone in the world.

In addition to stellar reviews from students, Sousa was recognized with Phoenix College's Distinguished Teaching award. He received a trip to a professional conference for the opportunity to share his techniques with other faculty, and was awarded a $250 scholarship in his name to give to a deserving student of his choice. 

Sousa also received the Sony Technology Scholarship, by Sony Inc., to update his technological equipment and resources. In 2012, he was honored with an Employee Recognition Award from Maricopa Community Colleges and an Award of Excellence from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.

Asked about what it takes to accomplish all this, Sousa said, "With hard work and dedication, I believe most goals can be accomplished. I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and I find it very rewarding to help them succeed in their educational and career goals."