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Maastricht University is a prestigious Dutch institution. According to THE Young University Ranking (2022), it is the 9th best university under 50 years worldwide. THE World University Rankings ranks this institution as the 127th out of 1,661. Most of Maastricht’s University programs are in English, and it is the most international university in the Netherlands.
Dirk Tempelaar teaches introductory mathematics and statistics at the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) and the University College Maastricht (UCM). He coordinates the foundational math and statistics preparatory summer courses for SBE and pre-med students. Dirk participated in the creation of the first materials we used at Bolster Academy and was one of our first clients. Nowadays, he also uses our platform in his lessons.
The main need to have a summer course is that Maastricht University has a very international population of students: 25% are Dutch, and 75% come from other countries. Students who enter Business and Economics (SBE) have large differences in previous education. The main goal of the summer courses is to even the prior students’ mathematical proficiency, enabling everyone to be on equal footing.
Having equivalent levels is crucial since they use a problem-based learning approach. This system requires small groups of students (12-14 people) coached by a tutor. While this facilitator has a support role, learners are expected to collaborate, brainstorm, and see how they can find solutions. As Dirk explains:
“To solve these problems, it’s essential that all students can be active, so instructors need everyone to have similar prior knowledge. It’s too difficult if there are students whose level is higher because then others won’t be able to participate in the discussions.”
Dirk and his colleagues at Maastricht University started organizing summer courses 20 years ago. Students with a math deficiency or who want to refresh their skills can take them to improve their mathematical proficiency and get ready for their program. Since 2015, Maastricht University has used Bolster Academy to host these courses.
There are different types of summer courses. International Business and International Economics education requires an intermediate mathematics level, and it is the biggest summer course (827 students were enrolled this summer). They have more advanced summer courses too: Analytics for Econometrics and Business Analytics (224) and Business Engineering (85). Students can work on these summer courses online, whenever and wherever.
These courses received this name because most students used to do them after high school. Later, Dirk and his colleagues discovered that the problem with students with math deficiencies became stronger and stronger. Therefore, they started asking students to take the course plus an in-house exam with Bolster Academy. Now, applicants take OMPT, our online math admission test.
Currently, Maastricht University offers summer courses for students who are admitable and not deficient. Most of these students do the course during the summer. They also have a large group of students with a math deficiency who work on this course in winter and springtime and take OMPT in the summer. At this moment (November), there are already 85 people working on the course for the following summer. Those are students who need to do the OMPT exam. As Dirk added:
“There is concern about the level of students leaving high school. The idea is that their mastery is decreasing. Many of our students participate in the summer courses, so it’s not only the students with less knowledge but also more proficient students. What we see is that they are concerned about being able to pass the first difficult courses.”
According to Dirk, these are the main advantages of using Bolster Academy for this purpose:
“Since our students are from all over the world, they need a flexible course they can take from home at any time. It is a must that they can do it online with the flexibility that Bolster Academy provides. Additionally, Bolster Academy’s content is based initially on teaching mathematics in the Netherlands. We need international students to level up with the Dutch high school curriculum because Dutch law requires that students can continue from what they learned in high school. We need a tool that covers these topics, which is an advantage of Bolster Academy.”
Flexibility is one of the main characteristics of our platform. Regardless of the course, we allow students to practice as much as they want and learn at their own pace. All these practice opportunities enable students to master the content and do not impact the teachers’ workload. Exercises are automatically graded, helping teachers save time.
Dirk has conducted research about teaching with Bolster Academy, and it seems that it benefits learners. As he said regarding the summer courses:
“What we see is that generally, students who participate in the summer course do better than students that don’t participate in them. The effect is substantial. The problem is that from a research point of view, you can not assume that the whole effect is by Bolster Academy or by the summer course because you need to correct for, what we call in research, the confounding variables. Mathematics is for certain a difficult course for students doing a business or economics program, and these summer courses greatly help students to spread out their efforts. Instead of following an intensive eight-week course and at the same time settling in a new country and new town, they can use parts of the summer to go through them. This already gives significant advantages for students who are not dealing with a backlog.”
A crucial confounding variable is that students who do the summer course are probably better motivated than other students, so we need to correct for those different motivations. As Dirk added:
“After statistically modeling student motivation as such confounding factor in the analysis of the impact of taking our summer course, we found that: students who have Wiskunde A level, which is the intermediate level, are doing as well after taking the summer course as students having Wiskunde B, which is the advanced level. But about half of the effect is based on the summer course, and the other half is based on confounding factors, like differences in motivations and other factors.”