For the last five years, the University of Guelph and Maplesoft have been partners in a unique initiative to develop innovative and efficient ways of using technology in mathematics and science education. The two organizations have been working together to investigate methods to provide students with a more compelling and effective academic experience, while making instruction delivery more efficient and student-focused.
As part of this partnership, the University of Guelph has utilized Maple, the mathematical software tool for teaching and learning, and Maple T.A., the automated testing and assessment system from Maplesoft. The university started with a single course, Calculus 1, and then applied the lessons learned there to other courses in the mathematics and science departments.
Mathematics professor Jack Weiner is the chief investigator for the initiative. Weiner is a winner of the Teaching Excellence Award from the Central Student Association and a two-time 3M teaching award nominee, in addition to being the recipient of several provincial and university teaching awards. “The techniques we’ve developed have resulted in increased student engagement, confidence, and success,” Weiner said. “With the dynamic, interactive lectures made possible by Maple, students simply pay more attention during class, and retain more of what they have learned. On top of that, all the practise and immediate feedback they get from Maple T.A. reinforces what they’ve learned in ways traditional assignments cannot, and gives them confidence in their abilities.”
One key ingredient of their approach is allowing students to take practice versions of the randomized Maple T.A. quizzes as many times as they wish, without penalty. The practice sessions help students prepare for the graded quizzes, which are identical in content to the practice quizzes. "Students gave excellent feedback on the graded homework quizzes using Maple T.A., and on the practice tests which are available solely as a study tool,” says Matthew Demers, Instructor, University of Guelph. “There is no question that Maple T.A. is a really effective and useful resource for the class."
As part of this study, the university conducted an experiment to measure the impact of using Maple T.A. as an integral part of a course. Students taking an undergraduate mathematical economics class were randomly split into two groups; one group used Maple T.A. for quizzes and tests, and the other used conventional tools. The results showed a substantially lower drop-out rate for the Maple T.A. section of the course (9% vs. 20%). The drop-outs from the Maple T.A. section were those with the lowest GPA scores, while the drop-outs from the conventional section were spread across the GPA spectrum. As well, student surveys indicated that the majority of the students in the Maple T.A. group were happy with their placement, while half of the conventional group expressed a preference to be in the Maple T.A. section.
One concrete result of this initiative is Teaching Calculus with Maple: A Complete Kit, which encapsulates the materials developed at the University of Guelph to support its first year calculus courses, so educators at other institutions can use them too. The customizable materials include highly interactive lecture notes in Maple that support “what if” explorations and carefully constructed Maple T.A. homework questions with built-in hints and feedback for the students. Teaching Calculus with Maple: A Complete Kitis available free from the Maplesoft web site for users of Maple and/or Maple T.A. The Maple T.A. questions developed for other courses at the university, including content for mathematical biology, electricity and magnetism, and statistics, are also available from the Maple T.A. Content Center.
While the official project is complete, the work is not over. “We will continue to take some of these essential experiences and expand on them using all the new media that can seem alien to many teachers, but are completely integrated into the lives of today’s students. This is truly exciting stuff,” Jack Weiner said.