Maplesoft and the University of Birmingham Work Together to Develop the Maple T.A. LTI Connector - Maplesoft

User Case Study:
Maplesoft and the University of Birmingham Work Together to Develop the Maple T.A. LTI Connector

The University of Birmingham wanted a way to integrate Maple T.A. with their existing Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas, to streamline delivery of education and create one point of access for faculty and students.

Jonathan Watkins, a PhD student at the university, developed a Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) connector - the Maple T.A. LTI Connector - allowing the school to eliminate an intermediate server to provide a single, direct point of access. This also provided faculty with more flexibility in content development.

The Maple T.A. LTI connector allowed the university to create content customized to meet its needs and provided greater confidence in the system they were using to deliver materials to students. The school is able to take advantage of both Maple T.A. and Canvas, while students are able to access everything from one environment.

When it comes to delivering education, institutions are constantly striving for greater efficiency. This includes selecting technology that eases the burden on both students and instructors to create a more streamlined academic experience. This pursuit led to the University of Birmingham and Maplesoft teaming up to create the Maple T.A. Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) connector.

The LTI connector enables the university to integrate Maple T.A. into any Learning Management System (LMS) that supports it, including Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai and Brightspace. This provides greater efficiency, including a single-sign on, which means students do not have to sign in separately to Maple T.A. and the LMS. It also allows students to directly link to assignments in Maple T.A. from the LMS, and once the assignment is completed, access their grades which are posted instantly to the LMS.

The University of Birmingham selected Canvas and Maple T.A. to meet the needs of its 28,000 students and the institution as a whole. The University needed a software system that is intuitive for the students, and one that is cloud-hosted to avoid issues caused by potentially large loads of users. They also required a system that would easily connect to other services to accommodate evolving tools in the future. "Ultimately, our objective was to ensure the University's educational reputation with undergraduate students was enhanced by the power and suitability of the software solutions used. This was the driving force behind the school adopting both Canvas and Maple T.A.," said Prof. Nicola Wilkin, Director of Education for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham. "Maple T.A. is intuitive, and we liked that it is a web-based program with a wide range of question types. In speaking with the Maplesoft team in the UK, we knew that we would get the dedicated support we wanted in implementing this across our campus."

The LTI connector allows easy flow of information between Maple T.A. and the LMS, which means instructors can access Maple T.A. directly to manage the course from behind the scenes. This makes it possible for them to launch assignments, use the gradebook, create content and view class users, all from one environment. The University is also able to take advantage of the advanced assessment features of Maple T.A. in their STEM courses, and manage various aspects of the courses, while continuing to use their institution's course management systems. "In addition, Maple T.A.'s self-facilitated learning capabilities improve confidence and competency, and provides the advantage that students can study at whatever time of day or night that suits them," Wilkin said.

Initially, faculty used the Maple T.A. web services API to connect the LMS to Maple T.A. This required an additional intermediate server between Canvas and Maple T.A., hosted and managed by the University, which didn't allow the tools to be optimized to their maximum potential. The development of the LTI connector meant the institution no longer had to run and maintain the extra server.

The creation of the LTI Connector came through a grant provided by the UK national university funding agency, HEFCE, for a 3-month industrial internship. The internship was intended for a Physics PhD student as most physics students are not exposed to industrial and commercial scientific or technological problems during their degree courses. HEFCE provided part of £3M for the Midlands Physics Alliance (the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick) to fund industrial internships to close this gap of experience. The LTI Connector was the resultof a PhD student from the University of Birmingham, Jonathan Watkins, securing such an internship with Maplesoft*.

The result of Watkin's work was the Maple T.A. LTI Connector that allowed the university to feel confident about investing in online assessment technology, and in using Maple T.A. to create its own content for different streams of courses. The University enjoyed having the flexibility to create content specific to its needs, and gaining greater control over the quality of the content, Watkins explained. "We needed to ensure materials delivered to students were quality assured, and that students were able to use the new system conveniently," he said. "As a start, we implemented Maple T.A. across the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, which includes more than 600 students per year. And this was a huge success."

In order to maximize the new technology, the University created a team of 12 undergraduate students, supported by post-graduate students and various academics, to build and test a bank of questions for use college-wide. Using Maple T.A., they created questions across the board in STEM subjects such as Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computer Science, Statistics, Physics and Astronomy, and many others. Professors noted that the use of Maple T.A. increased student focus on conceptual knowledge, provided connections between multiple representations, and helped develop advanced mathematical thinking.

The University is pleased with the new connector tool, which allows them to take full advantage of both Canvas and Maple T.A. in an efficient way, so the students can spend their time focused on course materials, accessing everything from one environment and not spending time working with multiple systems independently. "Maple T.A. is a valuable tool that enhances learning for our students and it's exciting to be able to take full advantage of that," Wilkin said.

To further expand on the work being done with Maple T.A., the University recently began using Möbius, Maplesoft's online courseware environment. The University is piloting it to further enhance their academic offerings and the online educational experience for their first-year students. Möbius includes all the features of Maple T.A., and offers additional unique features that allow instructors to deliver their entire course within one online environment.

The Maple T.A. LTI Connector is now available to all institutions and more information on connecting Maple T.A. to course management systmes can be found here.

* Watkins is now a part time employee at Maplesoft.

Contact Maplesoft to learn how Maple T.A. can be used in your classroom.