How AUC Increases Engagement on First Year Statistics Courses

Amsterdam University College

The Netherlands




120 per year

Started in


You can also hear Dr. Michael McAssey talk about his experiences using Bolster Academy here.

Amsterdam University College is a liberal arts and sciences programme that allows students to graduate with a joint Bachelor’s (Honours) degree issued by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam. The program is based on the American liberal arts and sciences model and all course instruction is conducted in English. Every year, the programme admits a maximum of 300 students.

Dr. Michael McAssey has been teaching mathematics and statistics at the programme since 2013.


As part of the Academic Core Faculty at the liberal arts programme, Michael is in charge of the core course that is Basic Research Methods and Statistics. The course sees around 60 students per semester, which are then split into classes of 20.

“We had a long process of the class evolving over time and we couldn’t reach a point where we were satisfied with it. Number one, we couldn’t find a textbook that we liked, that was at the right level, and that had examples and exercises that were in the discipline that the course was directed towards”

They started off by giving the students ungraded homework exercises, where the students were asked to look up the solutions in the textbook and to compare answers.

“Obviously a lot of students didn’t do that and didn’t do well on their exams so then we wanted to grade their homework but there were too many papers to grade so that didn’t seem feasible. And of course, there was also the issue of students not wanting to spend more than 100 euros on a textbook that they were only going to use for one semester before reselling. So we wanted to get away from having a textbook as well.”

Eventually, Michael tried out an online platform just for making assignments that could be graded automatically. While this did the job when it came to saving time spent on grading, all the questions were exactly the same so students ended up copying from each other and not actually learning the subject matter.


“So what we really wanted was a system that would ask students essentially the same questions but with different numbers. This is when we came across Bolster Academy since one of our students was doing an internship there.”

With our tool, Michael was able to administer tests where every student got the same question but with different variables. And on top of that, his students no longer had to rely on physical textbooks because all of the content was online.

“The staff at Bolster are willing to listen to us and make changes and add things to the content so that it’s covering the things that we want to cover and in the way we want to cover it.”

While Michael initially sought us out due to our automatic grading and randomization functionalities, something that he has found very useful over the years is our automated feedback system. Our feedback system analyses the students’ input and identifies where and what the mistakes are, which enables it to automatically give them hints specific to their learning path; whether it’s a wrong answer or a correct step to the right answer.

“Unlike doing exercises in a textbook where you might not even know if you have got it right until you review it with someone else or you look up the answer in the back. And even then it’s only the final answer, so you don’t see how to get to it.”


From a student side, Michael has observed that the automated feedback and the general interactivity of the platform made students more motivated to engage with the subject material. Which subsequently led to higher passing rates as well.

“The students enjoy the online platform and appreciate that they can use this platform instead of having to purchase an overpriced textbook. They are also having more fun with it. They can work through examples and practise and get feedback on their answers, and we also have set up the assessments so that they have a chance to correct errors before submitting their work”

From the teacher side, Michael found our platform useful because it afforded him much more flexibility than a static textbook when it came to implementing a tailored lesson plan. On top of that, “we have less administrative work to perform so we can focus more on our teaching activities”.

Looking towards fall 2020, Michael plans on implementing something similar to his Statistics for Sciences course.

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