TU Delft University in the Netherlands is taking leadership in transforming learning through the use of technology. Its ambition is to eventually offer fully digitalized degree programs and it believes that digital testing and assessment can play an important role within this process. It turned to Maplesoft’s online testing and assessment suite, Maple T.A., to be a partner in this journey of transformation.
“Given the current economic climate, we can no longer justify the length of time that students take to complete their studies,” said Drs. Paul Rullmann, Vice President, Education, Executive Board, TU Delft. “For this reason, we recently launched a project aimed at using technology to achieve drastic improvements in the pass rates in our programs. For example, providing timely feedback to students regarding their learning progress is one area of focus. We believe that assessment is at the heart of the educational process and digital testing, through systems like Maple T.A., can play an important role.”
In addition to the objective of addressing low pass rates, there are at least two other reasons for the focus on digital testing. First, student enrollment is increasing each year, even as funding from the government is decreasing. This poses organizational challenges including overcrowded classrooms, high teaching workloads, and tight teaching schedules. Digital testing can help to organise testing more efficiently for a larger number of students. Maple T.A. also provides any-time anywhere testing, providing the ability to take tests digitally, even from remote locations. This makes it very attractive especially to international students.
Regular and repeated testing produces the best learning results because progressive monitoring offers the possibility of making adjustments throughout the course. Parameterisation is a key feature in Maple T.A. that provides each student with an individual set of problems, reducing the likelihood that answers will be copied. When testing takes place digitally, questions can be easily reused, feedback can be automated and the results can be analyzed more quickly.
TU Delft selected Maple T.A. as the centrally supported package for digital assessment, after careful consideration.“Though Maple T.A. is specialized in mathematics, evaluating calculations and formulas, it also supports more common question types like multiple choice, multiple selection, fill-in-the-blanks and hot spot,” said Ir. Meta Keijzer- de Ruijter, project manager digital testing TU Delft. “Extensive ways to randomise questions and build in test analysis were key features that appealed to us. In other similar software randomization options are limited, the use of (mathematical) formulas is restricted to question design and an extensive test analysis module is lacking.”
Testing as a diagnostic tool
At TU Delft a math entry test using Maple T.A is obligatory to all first-year students to assess the required level of math. On a yearly basis 1500 to 1700 students take the test. Students that fail the test are offered a remedial course in which students receive explanations and complete exercises, under the supervision of student assistants.
The use of Maple T.A. facilitates this process without placing an additional burden on the teacher. When the practice tests and the associated feedback are placed in a shared item bank in Maple T.A., teachers are able to offer additional practice materials to students with little effort.
“By sharing the question bank amongst different lecturers, the creation of weekly assignments in Maple T.A. is quite simple and efficient; lecturers can monitor their students’ work and students tend to keep up more often,” said Ir. Roel Schipper – Lecturer, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, TU Delft.
“It makes it considerably easier on the teachers to be able to use a variety of question types (numerical, multiple choice, multiple answer and fill-in-the-blank), thus creating a varied test. The possibility of entering extensive feedback in Maple T.A. is extremely useful. I definitely see potential providing international students with a better picture of our Master’s degree program. They can take the test in their own countries and receive feedback on the gaps in their knowledge, as well as on the level of English that is expected of them. They come better prepared.”
Each semester, the English test is taken by approximately 200 students and 50 PhD candidates. This test consists of one hundred ‘fill-in-the-blank’ (semi-open) questions and two short essay questions, in which students are required to formulate their reasons for their program choices or research topics. The burden associated with marking these tests used to be enormous. It took four lecturers working full-time for two days in order to mark the tests and report the results to participants in a timely manner. Moreover, the number of participants was increasing. “The digitisation of the Placement Test saves us considerable time,” said Ir. Keijzer. “The hundred fill-in-the-blank questions are now marked automatically, and we no longer have to decipher handwriting for the open questions. It is no longer necessary to divide the task of reviewing student motivation texts amongst the lecturers in advance.”
Testing as a monitoring tool
By offering regular homework assignments and analysing the results, lecturers gain better insight into the progress of students and the topics that students perceive as difficult. Lecturers can use this insight to decide whether to repeat particular material or to offer it in another manner.
Calculus is a first-year course in all of the Bachelor’s degree programmes at T U Delft. The required level varies by faculty, but the subjects overlap. In the Calculus course, it is important for students to get a lot of practice. Preparing and reviewing practice tests comprise an important, yet time-consuming, part of the task of lecturers, especially given the increasing number of students. The overlap in curriculum provides opportunities for collaboration. The introduction of Maple T.A. ensured that this cooperation was actually realised.
“When Maple T.A. became available campus-wide, it soon became apparent that it would be very simple to collaborate in order to create an item bank that could be called up within each course. This offered a fine opportunity to start collaborating efficiently as a faculty, in addition to exchanging assignments digitally and compiling and re-using tests,” continued Ir. Keijzer.
“The nice thing about Maple T.A. is that it is relatively simple to enter exercises. Feedback can be limited to the correct answer, a reference to the required reading or even the step-by-step solution method. This makes Maple T.A. particularly well-suited for offering practice materials to students.”
Testing as qualification
Since the assessment of the student’s ability is so heavily dependent upon qualifying tests, it is extremely important for the test to be completed under controlled conditions. In Maple T.A. it is very simple to generate multiple versions of the test or test questions without increasing the burden of review, as the test scores are revealed immediately. In addition, the Education and Examination Regulations (EER) specify that students should be able to view their results after the examination, with or without feedback. With digital tests like Maple T.A., this is easily done. The lecturer has the flexibility of deciding which information in the system is released to the student at what stage.
Digital testing is a current topic of attention not just at TU Delft University; it occupies a prominent position on the agendas of many institutions in Europe and elsewhere. These institutions are intensively involved in improving, expanding and advocating the positive results from digital testing and digital learning experiences.
For more details on TU Delft University’s digital testing and assessment practices, read the paper Assessment Practices at TU Delft.