Maple T.A. Fosters Collaborative Learning Environment at Marine Institute of Memorial University - Maplesoft

User Case Study:
Maple T.A. Fosters Collaborative Learning Environment at Marine Institute of Memorial University

Challenge
Professor John Tucker sought a solution to help students better engage with course materials and subject matter, especially mature students who had been away from academia for an extended period of time.

Solution
Maple T.A. was adopted for its advanced and instantaneous evaluation capabilities, to allow students to improve and refresh their math skills to prepare for government-level engineering exams. Maple T.A. was eventually extended to all of the applied math courses at the institution.

Result
Maple T.A. has helped foster a more interactive and cooperative learning environment at the school. With Maple T.A.’s unique algorithmic question generation, students receive different questions and thus work together to understand the underlying concepts, allowing them to solve their own unique set of problems.


In a world of innovative ideas and expanding technology, instructors are continually searching for new methods to more effectively engage their students and communicate complex concepts in a way that facilitates a deeper understanding of materials being taught. At the Fisheries and Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maple T.A. was adopted to facilitate greater engagement between students and course subject matter through its instantaneous, algorithmic approach to administering tests in mathematics.

Maple T.A. is a testing and assessment software system designed specifically for courses involving mathematics, by providing an advanced evaluation environment that benefits both students and instructors. When first implemented at the Institute, Maple T.A. was used as a system to allow more mature students who had been away from academia for an extended period of time to brush up on their math skills in preparation for government-level engineering certification exams. Instructor John Tucker said these unique learners wanted many opportunities to practice the concepts they were learning. Maple T.A. was ideally suited for this because of its algorithmic question generation feature that lets students practice with different variations of the same question, giving them feedback each time so they learn better before moving on to the next question.



Each Maple T.A. assessment is unique and able to utilize both questions created by the instructors themselves, and those available through the Maple T.A. Cloud, which stores user-developed material for shared use. Whether the instructors choose to have each assessment available for retake or set to no time limits on submitting answers, Maple T.A. offers analysis of results almost instantaneously after every submission. Students can assess where they went wrong, get feedback on errors, and thus develop a stronger understanding of concepts and subject matter. “Maple T.A. is a superior tool for that,” said Tucker. “This is how our students want to prepare themselves for the exam.”

Based on the success of the initial program, Maple T.A. was extended to the Institute’s applied math courses. Tucker said students were initially resistant to the move to digital testing from paper-based assessment, but eventually came to value the software. ”Once they got through the initial learning period, students came to appreciate the program because it actually helped them understand the material better,” Tucker said.

Maple T.A. provides ample opportunities for students to develop their skills before taking tests in class. Instructors rely heavily on Maple T.A. for assignments and to provide students with practice questions to gain a better understanding of the course material. Tucker develops his own questions to supplement his teaching, something to which his students respond positively. “They like going through questions just before a test and Maple T.A. provides them with similar questions to those at the end of each chapter in a textbook,” he said. “The questions are authored by me. The solutions are tailored to look exactly like the solutions that I do on the chalkboard or with PowerPoint, so it all makes sense to them. It’s a complete circle and my students really appreciate that. We see tangibly better results in marks for the courses where Maple T.A. has been implemented.”

Using online testing and assessment technology has also challenged Tucker to improve as an instructor. Teaching engineering, Tucker said he often focused on the process his students used, rather than the final answer or outcome. Now, he uses Maple T.A. to emphasize that the result is often as important as the process. “For many years, we have rewarded students based on the process and not necessarily for getting the answer,” he said. “I want to teach my students that the right answer matters and Maple T.A. is a great tool for this as it provides the option of using ‘mission critical’ type questions, where students have to get the right answer the first time, or adaptive style questions that teach and reinforce the process of getting to the right answer.”

Tucker has been using Maple T.A. and other Maplesoft products for several years and expressed excitement about the fact that he is still discovering new features that allow him to incorporate and rework some of his existing content, and author new algorithms. He appreciates Maple T.A.’s “sharp” look and presentation of questions, as well as its easy-to-use interfaces that facilitate a user-friendly environment. He praised Maple T.A. for the ability it gives professors to create and customize questions and to tailor the material to the concepts being taught in class. “The power of Maple T.A.’s math engine is unparalleled,” he said. “It opens the door to a more sophisticated online delivery in which my team and I can code our problems, create algorithmically generated questions, and customize the fully-worked out solution to look exactly the way it should from a student perspective.”

Of all the benefits Maple T.A. offers, the greatest is the learning environment it fosters within the classroom, Tucker said. Maple T.A. allows him to encourage his students to work together. “I’m getting students to teach each other with Maple T.A.,” Tucker said. “They’re working together. You don’t have one student just getting someone else’s work and copying it; you’re having them sit down with one another and actually work through the solutions, and that is worth its weight in gold.” Though the school currently has a small nucleus of users, Tucker sees greater potential and is pushing for Maple T.A. to be adopted for greater usage at the Institute. “We have adopted a policy where we’re sharing our material freely with our peers and my hope is to see the use of Maple T.A. spread to all the knowledge-based instruction that goes on at the institution,” Tucker concluded.




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