What do you do when a change in enrollment policies leaves you with more than 600 students in a first-term university calculus class, three-quarters of those students had a failing mark in mathematics in the pre-enrollment test, you planned a series of remedial activities for the second term, and the COVID-19 pandemic shuts the university down with a two-day notice? The pandemic hit instruction with might, forcing schools and universities that were timidly experimenting with digital tools to reinvent themselves in days. The pandemic also offered incentives for creative solutions that, in normal times, would have been considered fit for submission to the committee for recursive committee submissions at best. This paper narrates a teaching experience of how we proposed and managed an at-distance remedial course in August that not only catered to more than twice the number of students expected by our best forecasts, but was a very good success once its effectiveness was compared to the outcomes predicted by the pre-enrollment test scores. We expose the design of the course and link its measured effectiveness with both its design and student engagement; in particular, we show that a different approach to the examination of cognitive load and to fostering student–teacher and student–student communication thanks to digital mediation could be effective in countermanding the math-induced drop-out phenomenon in STEM.
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