The Power of Instant Feedback Changes Approach to Learning at the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz

Challenge

Nico T.P. Booij, Senior Math Lecturer at the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz of the NHL University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands found that first year students were not acquiring the math skills expected of them, partially due to reduced one-on-one time between students and professors.

Solution

Booij began using Maple T.A. as a solution, to enable students to get immediate feedback on their work and allow them to complete extra work in areas of weakness. Students were able to work at their own pace and work at problems as much as was required to gain an understanding of the materials.

Result

After the adoption of Maple T.A. as a testing and assessment tool at the Institute, students’ exam scores improved. At the end of 8 weeks, first-year students are required to take a summative exam using Maple T.A. Different variations of the questions are generated for each student, making each exam unique. On average, 94% of students now pass the test.

Nico T.P. Booij, Senior Math Lecturer at the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz, part of the NHL University of Applied Sciences, wanted to do more to improve student performance. He was often frustrated at the results of final exams, which for some courses at the Maritime Institute, are the first and only results the students receive.

The Institute provides two math-based programs on the Island Terschelling in the Netherlands. One is the Maritime Officer program which prepares young people for a career at sea, either as a Bridge Officer or as an Engineer. The other is the Ocean Technology program, which qualifies students to be Category A hydrographers.

Given the relatively small size of the institute, teachers get to know many of their students and have a general understanding of student progress, however that’s often not the case with first year students. With increasing demands on the instructors’ time, and growing class sizes, one-on-one time with first year students is frequently not an option. Despite the addition of evening study classes and mentor sessions, many first year students do not acquire the math skills expected of them.

To find a solution to this problem, Booij turned to Maple T.A., the testing and assessment platform from Maplesoft. The instant feedback feature in Maple T.A. was fascinating to Booij. He thought it was remarkable that the students could get guidance and feedback from an online system that they could use at their own pace. “I saw that the students were encouraged by the fact that they got instant feedback,” said Booij. “It made them try over and over again, which provided a pathway to really understanding the concepts. We used to be happy if the students got an 80% score, but now we know many of them are capable of a 100% and that’s what we’ve come to expect.”

Right from the first week, new students are required to use Maple T.A. for all their mathematics homework and quizzes. Maple T.A. provides different variations of the same problem so students can practice multiple times until they really understand the concepts. The practice sessions are designed so that each question requires a perfect grade before the student can move on to the next question. At the end of eight weeks these students need to pass an online summative exam using Maple T.A. The use of Maple T.A. has proven to be successful - 94% of the students on average now pass the test.

Booij is particularly happy with the additional opportunities teachers now get to constantly monitor student performance through Maple T.A. quizzes. Starting seven days into the course, each instructor gets a report on student progress from Maple T.A., which is a drastic improvement from the time the instructors received only formal reports from final exams. The instructors then have another seven weeks to help the students improve before their final exams.

“What Maple T.A. does is facilitate clear and timely feedback of student progress,” said Booij. “It lets instructors know when a student is lagging behind and where they are struggling. This lets them take appropriate action, with the students benefitting early on in the course when they still have time to correct themselves, and understand the concept better.”

The summative exam features algorithmically generated Maple T.A. questions - this means each student gets a variation of the same question, making the exams very individual. There is no opportunity for copying or cheating. “It is amazing how technology can make it so simple to give each student a different exam!” said Booij.

According to Booij, Maple T.A. also helps rekindle student interest in mathematics. Maritime students don’t typically consider mathematics to be their core subject. There are many that don’t understand how mathematics is applied on a ship or a submarine. They approach math exams with a lethargic attitude, asking themselves, “how much do I need to do to pass?” However, with Maple T.A., interest levels in mathematics have improved and students’ frustration levels have reduced. They see that the option to practice multiple times helps them master concepts and pays off in the marks they get. In addition, as they begin to enjoy the mathematics, they also see how math can be applied to real problems on a ship, and how it impacts their everyday work. For example, the calculations of a celestial position, or tidal calculations, are done on a ship in exactly the same way they learn it using Maple T.A. at school.

Another benefit of the increased use of Maple T.A. was that, by leaving the theory assessment to Maple T.A., it freed up time for students and instructors to undertake more practical applications. For example, the Ship Dynamics and the Astronomical Navigation courses introduced practical tests to assess knowledge application. In the Ship Dynamics course, students calculated acceleration on deck loads and in the Astronomical Navigation course students determined locations of sea vehicles by calculating the positions of suns and stars.

Booij believes that giving instant feedback using Maple T.A. helps students understand the real life applications of mathematics better, preparing them for life on board a vessel. The depth of knowledge gained from the use of Maple T.A. supports an increase in final grades, thus motivating students to stay focused on their learning.

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

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