Dr Dmitry Demskoy is a lecturer in mathematics and Kerrie Cullis is a lecturer in statistics for the School of Computing and Mathematics. Dmitry and Kerrie are interested in finding ways to better teach mathematics as service-subjects outside their discipline.

It has always been a challenge for those who teach mathematics to provide engaging and valuable learning experiences that equally serve the needs of both mathematics and non-mathematics focused courses. While there has been a proliferation of educational technologies aimed at supporting the implementation of assessment in mathematics, the assessments generated by these tools are often restricted to simple multiple-choice answers. This motivated Dmitry and Kerrie to look at other ways to support the creation of assessment tasks that move away from these restrictions.

Why is this important?
Often students enrolled in maths service-subjects don’t engage with the subject content but instead rely on rote learning to get through the assessment tasks. Maths is a subject where deep learning can facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge learnt from the maths discipline into other disciplines. The strategy and method described here is an attempt to create automated formative assessments more efficiently, that could bring about the necessary learning experiences to support student learning.

What did it look like?
While learning activities in maths subjects were intentionally designed to scaffold student learning in maths subjects, Dmitry and Kerrie found that students would skip these and attempt to complete the high stakes assessment tasks unsuccessfully. To motivate them to engage with the learning activities, they decided to design low stakes quizzes to facilitate the scaffolded learning experience. They found however that due to the limitations of the LMS quiz tool, the quizzes did not provide the rigour which would help students get a better understanding of the concepts and skills required to complete the assessment tasks.

Using LaTex, PDF Forms and Computer Algebra software (Maple), Dmitry was able to produce an interactive PDF which is generated for each student in a cohort (i.e. the question combinations are different for each student). This allows assessment writers to create questions where students could apply the simple techniques and concepts vital to successfully completing more complex problems that would be presented in the higher stakes assessments. The completed interactive PDF can then be fed back into Maple and marked automatically (reducing the marking time for subject coordinators and allowing quicker feedback to students). The feedback would then identify those techniques and concepts which the students did not understand, and in turn subject coordinators could discuss and cover these gaps usually during lectures, tutorials or online meetings.

The pilot and results
This interactive PDF was piloted with a distance cohort for a first year Business Statistics subject. It was evident that there was an increased student engagement with this type of low-stakes assessment task, compared to the LMS quiz version. Further with this low-stakes assessment task, students showed more curiosity and posted questions about the process of getting to the answer which was not evident in previous sessions using the LMS quiz. The most encouraging result was evidence of a positive correlation between the marks students received from the interactive PDF and the marks received in the higher-stakes assessment on the same topic.

To learn more about this strategy and method, Dmitry and Kerrie are happy to discuss the process.