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University of Exeter
The University of Exeter has been changing lives through education since 1851. This institution is a member of the prestigious Russell Group of UK universities and is among the top 150 universities according to the QS World University Rankings 2023. The University of Exeter combines teaching excellence and high levels of student satisfaction.
Dr Tim Hughes is a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Exeter. He is part of the Centre for Environmental Mathematics and actively participates in the MSc Applied Data Science programmes and cross-disciplinary teaching at the interdisciplinary Penryn campus. He developed and now directs modules on Applied Artificial Intelligence and Control, Mathematics for Environment and Sustainability, and Fundamentals of Data Science.
Tim Hughes is teaching a Fundamentals of Data Science module he leads for the Applied Data Science MSc programmes in Penryn. He aimed to find practice material that could be integrated into this course.
Since his students come from diverse backgrounds and some don’t have the required mathematical and statistical level to make the most of this course, he needed a solution to enable everyone to be on equal footing before starting this subject. Another requirement was that these materials could be available in Moodle, their learning management system.
When Tim discovered Bolster Academy could solve his challenge, he decided to try the platform to explore it by himself. So he tested our Basic Statistics and new Calculus courses and confirmed that Bolster Academy was the right fit.
A small internal fund for education initiatives permitted Tim to buy 100 licenses. This class had few students since it was the second year of this master’s. However, they anticipated growth in the following ones, and the University of Exeter will be able to use the rest of the purchased licenses in the future.
Tim selected a blend of our courses, including Basic Maths, Basic Statistics, Calculus and Linear Algebra. He communicated to us the materials he needed, and we put them in a class. Since our courses are modular, teachers can pick and choose the content they need. Later on, Tim made little adjustments so these materials better fit his subject. Additionally, he integrated Bolster Academy with Moodle.
Before students start their course, they have early access to our practice environment to get up to speed and succeed with this module later on. Having preliminary materials is a valuable chance for people needing extra mathematics and statistics training. This option lets learners practice independently while receiving automated personalized guidance without investing more staff time.
Tim used this platform as an add-on to the existing content. He utilized the platform to provide summative tests for most of the topics on the module, plus one summative assessment (worth 10% of the module credit). All these evaluations were based on lightly edited versions of the pre-existing content on the platform. He set the summative assessments up to allow the learners to submit workings for partial credit, which he marked manually.
Likewise, Tim gave students separate exercise sheets and practice resources, and they seemed to appreciate the mix that contained all of the previous content plus the Bolster Academy materials.
Tim found that the automated assessment features include user-friendly approaches for entering mathematics and have some understanding of the equivalence of algebraic statements. Therefore, it can accept answers in different formats providing that they are logically equivalent. The platform also gives hints and automated feedback based on students’ responses.
When it comes to engaging learners and empowering teachers, Tim found that Bolster Academy is highly beneficial since:
“It includes motivating diagnostics providing the students with feedback on their progress, and the teachers with information on engagement and progress to allow them to offer tailored support.”
Bolster Academy helped Tim quickly create a tailored course for Fundamentals of Data Science. He remarks on how intuitive the platform is. In his own words:
“It was straightforward for me to compile and make minor edits to the content available on the platform to fit my module, and this is likely to be true for many foundational mathematics and statistics courses.”
The student feedback received about the platform through a short survey was positive. Learners find the platform useful. Although some verbal feedback noted some of the minor deficiencies of the platform, like some inflexibility when assessing the users’ input in some cases, Tim expects such flaws to be usual in all automated assessment software and can be easily fixed through manual interventions.
On top of that, Tim compliments the dedication and efficiency of our Customer Success specialists (which is widely shared among our partners).
“The customer services offered by the provider are very good, and they supported with changing content on request. It is, therefore, likely to be a time-effective approach for anyone looking to add automated assessment to a module with considerable overlap with the materials already available in the platform.”
We are lucky to collaborate with experienced and committed teachers like Tim. He has a fantastic analytical eye and often gives us thorough and constructive feedback. This partnership really facilitates us to improve our product. For example, we have included his suggestions to improve the wording of our exercises.
Regarding Tim’s next plans with Bolster Academy, he also found our Python course very advantageous. For now, he wants to keep using the materials he developed for the following year. In case other people lead this module in the future, he would recommend they use this platform.