How Monash moved towards fully digital first year math courses

Monash University

Australia

Type

University

Students

400 per year

Started in

2019

Location

Australia



A public research university founded in Melbourne, Monash University is one of Australia’s leading universities and is one of the top 100 in the world according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021. Monash offers over 100 undergraduate programs and is also the second oldest university in the State of Victoria. Lastly, with over 60 thousand students, Monash is also the largest university in Australia.

Within Monash, Anne Eastaugh is part of the team that teaches first and second year mathematical units.




Challenge

We first started working together with Monash because the university as a whole wanted to put more emphasis on online learning. So Anne’s first year mathematics course of ‘Functions and their Applications’ was seen as a pilot project to see how exactly one could move towards full digitisation of mathematical theory, exercises and assessment.

On top of that Monash suffered from a larger issue that was shared by plenty of universities world-wide: The Math Problem. That is to say, their introductory classes were quite large and they received students from a variety of schooling backgrounds with varying degrees of foundational mathematical knowledge. A lot of the incoming international students did not possess the same level of mathematical understanding as the local Victorian high-school graduates.


Solution

To start with, the Bolster Academy platform comes with a vast database of mathematical content in the form of theory pages and exercises. Anne used our theory pages as the starting block for her own lecture notes:

“Using the theory pages has worked well, because we have been able to modify them, so that they are in line with our own maths unit, instead of completely starting from scratch. So the Bolster material was used as a base and we just padded it out with extra material. Now when students would turn up for their lectures, they would have access to all their lecture notes on their laptops.”

When it came to exercises it was a similar story, where Bolster exercises were used as a base to test and cover basic theories and concepts while Anne used the Bolster authoring tool to create extra challenging questions. Apart from that, the Bolster exercises were also used as a way to test a student’s prior knowledge of the topics.

“We had a diagnostic test that students would take and from that , the students were able to see for themselves what material they needed to go through before they started the unit. So then they were able to be well prepared to begin the unit at the start of the semester. So that worked really well.”

Another thing that was implemented within Anne’s class was Bolster’s online forum, which allowed for students and teachers to communicate with each other online. So whenever a student was stuck on a problem, they were able to easily share their answer attempts online with their peers and with Anne.

“The forum has allowed us to have daily contact with the students as opposed to just our weekly classes. I was checking it every day.”

When it came to testing, Anne was able to encourage a more mastery-based approach to learning since it was quite easy to set up tests and assignments in such a way that the students were able to retake them as many times as they wanted. This is mainly made possible since all of our exercises consist of randomizable variables; which essentially means students are able to attempt the same type of question multiple times while always being able to access a fully worked out solution of the respective question.


Result

From a teacher side, Anne found the transition from a traditional course to a more digital course that fit Monash’s vision quite straightforward.

“As a teacher, I have found the course materials well structured, and convenient to use. Adding extra material to either the theory pages or the exercises has been straightforward to implement. There are many prewritten exercises that can be easily modified if necessary, and these have also acted as a template for further exercises we have written.”

From a student side, she noticed that the general motivation and engagement rates of students were much higher. Since students always had access to all of Anne’s notes digitally, they were able to more actively participate in lectures as they were no longer worried about taking their own notes. She also found that students were generally more comfortable working through digital material.

“In highschool, they did quite a lot of online work, so to come to university and have that already in place is really comfortable for them. Because it provides them with that consistency from secondary school to university. Whereas prior to that, sometimes they feel like they are going back to an older style of teaching.”

Lastly, she also found that students were engaging more with the practice material out of their own volition.

“At the moment, they are right in the middle of their revision, so they got their exam in a few days. I see how often they go back and revisit the material, going over the revision questions and going over the theory pages. So they are using it as a revision tool, which is fantastic as well.”

As parting note, Anne also mentioned that she was quite happy that they had decided to pilot our solution before Victoria went into full lockdown due to COVID:

“All of the material needed for my class had already been moved online. We had all the lectures online, we had all our tutorial classes online. Having the Bolster material already there and having seen how the students had reacted to it in the previous semester, meant that we were in a very comfortable place to deliver the unit completely online”

Looking at the new semester, Anne is interested in exploring how she can use Bolster to create more individualized and tailored learning experiences for the students who really need it.

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