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You can also hear Dr. Steven Richardson talk about his experiences using Bolster Academy here.
With campuses in Perth and Bunbury, Edith Cowan University (ECU) is a public Australian university that has more than 30,000 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs. 2020 marks the fifth year in a row that ECU has been recognised by QILT (Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching) as the flag bearer for undergraduate teaching quality amongst the 37 public universities in Australia. 2020 is also the 6th year in a row that QILT has deemed ECU as the leading Australian public university when it comes to undergraduate skills development.
Dr Steven Richardson currently holds the position of Senior Lecturer in Mathematics within the School of Science. As a senior lecturer, he oversees and teaches a number courses including: Introductory Applied Mathematics, Differential Equations and Numerical Methods, Multivariate Calculus etc.
“I have been working at ECU for around 12 years, and just from my own student experience I have realized that, as a lecturer we are competing for students’ time, not just with other units but also with their lives.”
Having said that, Steven remembers that when he was a student, he always found that he usually kept up with the units that had constant and ongoing work compared to the ones where there was just a big summative at the end. Due to this observation, for Steven, it was always a priority to embed some type of continuous assessment in the classes that he oversees as a teacher.
“Assessment is the best way to compete with people’s time. I muddled through a few things in my early years and then about 2016, we seriously wanted to look something that was Bolster-like. ”
Having dabbled with different ways of integrating formative assessment into his classroom, Steven was now looking for something that would make the whole thing more time efficient.
“A solution where you could provide students with problems which have feedback and auto-generate more examples. So 2017 was our first introduction to Bolster”
The three main pillars of Steven’s implementation of Bolster includes the theory pages, the exercise sets and the discussion forum.
When it comes to Steven’s theory pages, he has summary text and short videos demonstrating how to apply the theory and answer questions. Below the videos, there are worked examples which can be regenerated as many times as possible. So once they have read through an example and there is still something unclear, they can always hit a button and get a new worked out example.
When it comes to diagnostics, Steven went on to create a set of exercises which he refers to as essential skills exercises.
“Effectively that’s provided to students for them to know what it is we expect them to know when coming into a course. It’s all well and good to just say we expect you to know how to differentiate, integrate and so on and so forth. But to present them with a set of exercises, that they can work through and effectively self-assess, is very beneficial”
This set of exercises is made available to the students one week before the start of class. The students have four weeks to complete these essential skills quizzes.
“Depending on the unit, there are up to 6 quizzes with around 10 to 12 quizzes each. Students get to attempt those as many times as they like and it’s 5% of their final grade”
The aim behind this whole process is for students to identify the holes in their knowledge and then for them to fill in those missing gaps as soon as possible. Apart from that, every module also has practice exercises which students can attempt as many times as they want. And their performance on this also contributes to their final grade.
“After they have done their practice exercises, I always have an assignment. During practice, you attempt questions individually and you get immediate feedback on that question. With an assignment it would usually be a collection of 10 questions, where they have to do them as a whole set and then they get feedback at the end.”
This is meant to be the final check mark when it comes to having mastered a specific topic or unit.
“As a lecturer I have really enjoyed the flexibility that Bolster offers to tailor exercises and content to best meet our needs. I am able to copy and edit existing Bolster Academy exercises, author my own exercises, and link those exercises to theory pages.”
On the student side, Bolster has also been generally well received. Students appreciate the fact that Bolster provides a more structured approach to mastering the mathematical topics at hand and Steven feels like it helps motivate students to practice more. Apart from that, students have also been very positive towards getting immediate feedback and it helps them quickly identify and correct their misconceptions and misunderstandings.