How can TPSE help new courses/pathways outlast their creators?


It’s important to identify, document, honor, and learn from interesting examples of new courses and course pathways. The reality, however, is that few of these new courses and pathways will outlast their creators and initial advocates. It is painful to see so many beautiful courses die on the vine.

Where TPSE can be of special value is in thinking through and addressing the organizational and policy factors that can increase the likelihood that important course innovations will scale. These range from core principles of good course design to policies that shape whether advisors will actually enroll students in the new courses.

There is the incorporation of the productivity tools, e.g., homework checkers, that traditional publishers provide and many faculty find essential to managing their teaching loads. There is the question of enterprise model and the ability of new courses to sustainably benefit from data on their effectiveness and from what are fairly standard continuous improvement mechanisms. There is the tactical and business knowledge required to negotiate with commercial and OER publishers.

This technical publishing and business knowledge may be more important than quality and mathematical integrity that determines what will gain a foothold in the market.



Excellent question, and I like your answer. I’m sorry that I can’t tell who wrote it, but here’s my take on it:

In addition to the infrastructure for continuing to provide the course (working with publishers, data, etc.), there’s the question of how the course or pathway fits into the overall curriculum for different programs of study. Is the course or pathway intended for certain majors? If so, is it required for those majors, and has the math department worked with other departments on getting those requirements on the books? Perhaps that’s where the ideas for the courses came from in the first place, which is great. It’s important to work across departments (with the assistance of administrators) to determine what math knowledge and skills students from each major need, and then design pathways and placement procedures accordingly.

The other practice that will help with sustainability, although it’s harder, is to work across colleges and universities to make sure that these math courses and pathways transfer and will apply to the student’s major.

These efforts are hard, but TPSE and its partners have resources for helping. And if the result is increased student success (at learning the math they need for their majors), then it’s more likely the courses will be maintained instead of abandoned for not meeting the needs of enough students.

Any other thoughts from folks?



That’s from Uri. I identified him in the tweet but not the post.


Ah, it’s Uri! I didn’t see the tweet. Thanks Arlen.


I think transfer is a huge consideration, especially for two-year schools. We spent significant time creating a Quantitative Reasoning Course that could be part of a non-STEM path and also be a prerequisite to Statistics but many of our 4 year partners, only accept QR as a terminal course. Therefore our students who plan to transfer often end up staying on the STEM path: Intermediate Algebra/Pre Calculus because of the requirements of their transfer school.

It took, around two years to get other departments in our school to make QR part of their program requirements. It’s taking a bit longer with advising, because they hear the feedback from students who run into transfer issues and they are cautious to recommend a class that may not end up meeting the longer term needs of the students.


As you mentioned “technical publishing,” perhaps you might have an interest in the AIM (American Institute of Mathematics) Open Textbook Initiative ( and the PreTeXt project, formerly Mathbook XML (, both supported by an NSF UTMOST grant (

Although I’ve been (and remain) unimpressed with the quality of existing open source math textbooks, these initiatives show promise and hope for developing textbooks superior to those being commercially produced.

Those currently authoring in PreTeXt are making their source files available, so the model used by open software developers, namely of modifying existing materials and improving them, can apply to math textbooks. All the material I’ve seen so far has been at undergraduate level, and several projects are at the developmental (a.k.a. remedial) math level.

Rob Beezer’s PreTeXt tool can convert a (properly marked up) plain text file into html format that is optimized for reading on mobile devices. It uses MathJax for the mathematical expressions, and the developers are designing to take advantage of open software like the Sage cell for interactivity and WeBWorK or MyOpenMath for homework checkers.

Another cool feature is that PreTeXt can take the same source text file and output LaTeX and hence pdf, for students who may want a printed version of the textbook.

The readability on mobile devices, the adaptability of the source files, the tools for interactivity, and the attention the developers pay to accessibility issues are huge benefits to adopting PreTeXt books (which, by the way, are not limited to math—PreTeXt has also been used in comp sci, poetry, and music textbooks).



I believe that new courses should be developed in a modular fashion so that they can be used in diverse curriculums. How do you make these courses last their creators? Apart from the creators leading a short life (JK), courses need to have content in multiple forms such as videos, textbook chapters, interactive simulations, etc with platform independence such as being web-based. A mechanism to sustain a course needs to be devised at the outset rather than when the course is done.


The big question, at least as I see it, is whether Deans and Department Chairs and Undergraduate Directors have an interest in integrating new and non-traditional courses into their permanent catalog offerings and into their advising systems.

My Department is probably typical of a fair number of large public universities. We enroll about 13, 000 students in math courses each fall and about 12, 000 each spring. The number of non-credit remedial course enrollments has fallen by 50% over the last 7 years. The overwhelming number of enrollments come in two categories: (1) General education courses required by the degree granting units (Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and so on) and (2) Courses in Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations required by STEM majors (including math!).

As to (1), my department has had no trouble getting carefully constructed general education courses listed and filled. These courses are not dependent on their developers parental love. We have a long running system to track effectiveness.

As to (2), new courses need to satisfy a bevy of inconsistent preferences from our partner disciplines. Business, Pre-med, Engineering, and the physical and mathematical sciences want happy students who also know the material!. The courses in (2) are taught by some tenure track faculty, but mostly by full-time PhD mathematicians on our fairly new “Teaching Professor Track” which is off the tenure-track but allows multi-year appointments and some reduction of teaching load in exchange for course coordination and other service. The teaching load (or teaching+service load ) is heavy. Most of these folks are not able to develop new courses and the tenure track faculty are not very much interested in “service courses” in comparison with honors track courses, and graduate courses, and - of course - research.

TPSE has high powered leadership. They really need to work with the AMS Committee on the Profession, SIAM, and MAA to find a path to greater departmental involvement in innovation. But I’ve tried for years to work “from bottom up” on this effort. Perhaps we need more visibility and clout from TPSE leadership in outfits like AAU and NSF to find out the needs of Deans in the Big Doctoral Departments.


From Brit Kirwan, TPSE Executive Director: Very thoughtful response. Your idea and effort to get this going has real potential for us. Thank you!