University of Waterloo Improves Learning while Saving Money with Maple T.A. - User Case Studies - Maplesoft

User Case Study: University of Waterloo Improves Learning while Saving Money with Maple T.A.

The University of Waterloo faced an all-too-familiar problem:  increasing enrollment and decreasing budgets.  They firmly believe that students need to actively do mathematics in order to learn mathematics, so their courses involve very frequent tests and assignments. Their original approach to handle this workload involved hundreds of teaching assistants and undergraduate graders to help with the grading, but that was simply no longer a viable option due to growing class sizes and reduced budgets for teaching support. As an institution that is renowned for the quality of its mathematics education, staff and faculty at the University of Waterloo were not willing to compromise their students’ learning by reducing the number of graded assignments offered in each course.  They had to find another solution.

The University of Waterloo chose Maple T.A. to automate the assessment tasks for many of their mathematics-based courses.  Today, Maple T.A. is used to deliver tests and assignments to approximately 9000 students/year, spread over more than 40 courses.  Students in the mathematics, engineering, and science faculties use Maple T.A. every day.  For example, the first six core courses taken by mathematics students in first and second year all rely on Maple T.A. to deliver regular assignments to students.  At times, as many as 800 students use the system at the same time.

After adopting Maple T.A., the university reduced its budget for graders by one-third. Though the savings are substantial, and welcome, the university also views Maple T.A. as an important teaching tool that provides real benefits to the quality of the students’ education. Through Maple T.A., students get an opportunity to practice on questions they would normally be left to do completely on their own, and are given instant feedback to show them how to improve. In turn, since the straight-forward questions are handled by Maple T.A., human graders have more time to devote to giving thoughtful feedback on the students’ solutions to the more challenging questions that make up the written assignments.

“Maple T.A. has made a huge difference to us, on many levels,” says Carrie Howells, Instructional Support Coordinator for the Mathematics Faculty Computing Facility.  "We can offer an appropriate number of assignments to our students without being overwhelmed, and students appreciate the improved feedback on all their assignments. In addition, after moving to Maple T.A., we've found that we can save approximately $100,000 per year on our grading budget, which we can use to support activities and programs we couldn't otherwise offer."

Impressed with the results thus far, the administration has plans to further expand the use of Maple T.A. to include more courses, both inside and outside the mathematics, science, and engineering faculties, on both their main campus and their satellite campus in Dubai.  They are also looking at replacing their labor-intensive, logistically complex math readiness testing process, which involves thousands of first year students, with an automated Maple T.A. solution.

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