Highlighting Faculty Member Steve Bennoun


Date published: 01/03/24

How can university instructors best support student learning in their classrooms, in particular in mathematics courses? More specifically, how can one can implement interleaving in college courses in order to enhance student learning?

When studying for a course, many people tend to study and practice one topic at a time before moving on to the next topic. In contrast, interleaving is the idea of mixing the practice of different topics. Prior research (some of it done at UCLA) has shown the potential of interleaving for improving learning both in lab and classroom settings. Many questions about interleaving remain open. One question is how to concretely implement interleaving in a (college) course if we want to interleave all the topics in the course. And in this situation, what is the impact on learning? Another question is whether all learners benefit of interleaving in the same way or whether some groups benefit more than others. For example, would learners with lower prior knowledge benefit more than learners with higher prior knowledge? Or is it the opposite? And importantly, can interleaving help reduce the equity gap in college courses. These are questions that I explore, the goal being to enhance student learning in (mathematics) college courses.

In addition to studying interleaving, I also investigate how students develop a specific skill needed in analyzing dynamical systems (a topic we study in the course LS 30 Mathematics for Life Scientists). Dynamical systems is a mathematical concept that can be used to study a wide variety of situations such as the evolution of predator-prey populations, the protein production of a cell or the movement of astronomical objects. Time series and trajectories constitute central representations of (the solutions to the differential equations describing) a dynamical system. It is a critical skill to be able to construct one representation when given the other one. I am interested in better understanding how students develop this skill and to determine what are the implications for teaching.

A mathematician by training, I first became interested in how to best support student learning when I taught mathematics courses as an instructor during my PhD at the University of British Columbia. I then worked as a teaching advisor and lecturer in Switzerland for a few years before moving to Cornell. At Cornell my worked focused on redesigning calculus courses in order to establish a consistent use of active learning methods in these courses. I moved to UCLA in 2020 where I both enjoy the warm weather and at times miss the snow.

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