Partner Institutions

Project Lead: University College Cork

Project Partners: Cork Institute of Technology,

Abstract

This is a joint initiative between University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology. The main project aim is to leverage the potential of NUMBAS (online assessment tool – University of Newcastle) to construct localised formative e-assessment for first year service Mathematics and Statistics courses at UCC and CIT. The project focuses on the implementation and evaluation of this Mathematics e-assessment tool.

Numbas has been developed at the University of Newcastle. It is actively maintained, freely available, and easy for students to work with straightaway. Numbas allows students to input mathematical formulae easily and creates a similar but different question for each student. It gives students instant feedback and also interacts with Learning Management Systems like Blackboard and Moodle automatically correcting and inputting student results

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Primary Contact(s)
Photograph by Tomas Tyner,UCC.

Photograph by Tomas Tyner,UCC.

Dr Tom Carroll

University College Cork

Email: t.carroll@ucc.ie

Detailed Proposal

The goal of this proposal is to integrate appropriate e-assessment, including e-self-assessment, into key first year mathematics modules at UCC and CIT The initiative aims to (i) increase student engagement, (ii) improve students’ key numerate skills through formative feedback, (iii) manage lecturer workload, and (iv) build capacity so that e-assessment can become a mainstream component of mathematics courses, maximizing its potential for improved student learing. Emphasis is placed on creating formative content that students transitioning from second level will find engaging and user-friendly on a simple intuitive platform that facilitates progress This is achieved by leveraging the potential of the freely available NUMBAS e-assessment tool developed by mathematicians at the University of Newcastle An integral part of the proposal is a rigorous evaluation of the impact of the content on student engagement and performance It is envisaged that successful integration of formative e-assessment into large first year courses will lead to re-design of these courses (see, for example, Nicol, D 2009 ‘Assessment for learner self-regulation: enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34, 335-352 ).

NUMBAS is already in use in a small pilot programme at CIT. Content is also being developed for use in a large first year service course at UCC. Feedback from the pilot at CIT is positive. CIT lecturers shared their experience at a workshop ‘Transition to Third-level Maths; the increasing relevance and development of Maths Support E-assessment in Mathematics’ held at CIT on 12 May this year. Dr Bill Foster (University of Newcastle) delivered the keynote address. The present proposal formalizes these ad hoc initiatives at CIT and UCC, in order to maximize the impact of e-assessment in this setting. This project has potential wider impact beyond mathematics into the broader STEM area and to courses on offer across science, engineering, commerce and arts faculties.

The language of mathematics, its particular symbols, syntax and formatting, presents unique challenges in an e-learning environment. Online resources can appear static or dated. The human-computer interface (HCI) can compound students’ difficulty with mathematics if the interface does not ‘understand’/cannot interpret students’ responses. Artificial limitations of the system can restrict lecturers in terms of the resources they can provide to students. It is only recently that these difficulties have begun to be overcome (Wolfram ‘Alpha’ and ‘MathJax’ are good examples). NUMBAS ( https://numbas mathcentre ac uk/ ) is a freely-available e-assessment tool for mathematics. It is based, at the lecturers’ end, on the LaTeX mathematical typesetting system with which all mathematicians are familiar. NUMBAS has the ability to generate ‘scorm’ packages which integrate with most institutional online learning platforms including the Blackboard platform. Furthermore, this facilitates integration of exercise sheets/in-class tests with grade management capabilities of these platforms. As such, it is an ideal platform on which to build formative e-assessment content specially suited, in the first instance, to entry-level mathematics courses at CIT and UCC.

The goal of this proposal is to integrate appropriate e-assessment, including e-self-assessment, into key first year mathematics modules at UCC and CIT. The initiative aims to (i) increase student engagement, (ii) improve students’ key numerate skills through formative feedback, and (iii) manage lecturer workload. Emphasis is placed on creating formative content that students transitioning from second level will find engaging and user-friendly on a simple intuitive platform that facilitates progress. This is achieved by leveraging the potential of the freely available NUMBAS e-assessment tool developed at the University of Newcastle. An integral part of the proposal is a rigorous evaluation of the impact of the content on student engagement and performance.

Specific outputs of the project
1) Creation of formative content for targeted modules in UCC and CIT.
2) Completion of M.Sc. project on evaluation of project’s impact on student learning and performance.
3) Dissemination of project results through publication, nationwide talks, and conference presentations.
4) Course redesign in response to research findings.
Implementation plan for ensuring national impact of the project.

The proposal workplan encompasses the twin areas of implementation and evaluation. The project team is Dr Tom Carroll and Dr Kieran Mulchrone (UCC), Dr Aine NiShe and Dr Julie Crowley (CIT), an Intern based at CIT and a Research Student based at UCC. The team will oversee the incorporation of e-assessment using NUMBAS into the courses MA1001 and MA1002 Calculus for Scientists I and II at UCC (550 students approx) and STAT6001/3 at CIT (450 students approx). The main day-to-day work for this will be carried out by the intern, who will service courses at both CIT and UCC. As well as creating content under the project team’s supervision, the intern will be tasked with

  1. organizing and running blitz sessions at UCC and CIT aimed at instructing and encouraging students in the use of the NUMBAS system and emphasizing its potential for student learning,
  2. assisting with the local integration of NUMBAS and Blackboard,
  3. responding to students’ queries and issues promptly as they arise.

The project’s impact on student learning and performance will be evaluated by the MSc by Research student supervised by Drs Carroll and Mulchrone. The student, who will begin work in September 2015, will be expected to become familiar with the academic literature, especially in relation to mathematics, with a view to constructing an appropriate evaluation tool for the success of this e-assessment initiative while working collaboratively with the intern. As this is a new methodology in Third level Mathematics Education, research is needed on its effectiveness and how best to proceed. The project team will disseminate this research work through conference presentations in order to guarantee national impact.

workplan