e-learning for applied mathematics


Course Linear Algebra for Artificial Intelligence and Informatics
Lecturer Leo Dorst
Context Basic linear algebra, from vectors to matrix decomposition (SVD) and least squares techniques for a large group of 400 students
Challenge Not enough time/opportunity to provide students with enough feedback on the basics
Design e-learning exercises about the basics with automated feedback
Evaluation Students kept up their basic skills and the TA’s could focus on the difficult parts
Related Topics Digital formative assignments and feedbackLarge groupsHeterogeneityInteractive & adaptive course material

Interview with Leo Dorst

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
The students needed to keep up with the fundamentals, in time for the next lecture, but we could only give them feedback on homework once a week, whereas the lectures were twice a week. Also, correcting the basics is not the best use of a TA’s time. And the students tended to plagiarize because of this.

What intervention was chosen? 
Part of the homework, at the basic drill level, became SOWISO exercises to be completed before the next lecture. Some points could be earned by this.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students kept up their basic skills, TAs could focus on the next level in the werkcollege and the paper homework. And the randomization made it personal.

What was the students’ experience?
Students liked it, and the distribution of final grades became more of a bell-curve (around 7) whereas earlier it tended to be rather uniform.

Are you going to use it again? If yes, what would you change in the next iteration?
I already did. And I also tried one year to make part of the exam ‘SOWISO-corrected’, in order to correct it more quickly. This I will not repeat, but rather try using ANS – it was hard to ask reasonable exam questions in SOWISO.

How much (extra) work did it cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits?
I actually first did this in ONBETWIST, using mostly exercises that were already present there. Those were translated to SOWISO; the effort was not done by me. It was definitely worth it, and not only for me: now we have lots of LA drills in SOWISO.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
Yes, for subjects that are amenable to this. In fact, I already did, and Calculus and Statistics (by Homburg and van Es) followed the e-drill principle (directly to SOWISO rather than via ONBETWIST).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There was great supportive help from Henk Kuijpers (ONBETWIST), and from André Heck, Marthe Schut and Jolien Oomens (SOWISO) to enable both the e-drills and the trial with the exams. This was a big surprise, it is rare to have colleagues in such an innovation. It made this innovation much easier than I had ever thought it would; it should be better-known that you do not have to do these innovations by yourself.


Impression of the e-drills

Electrodynamics Refresher Course

Course Electrodynamics and Special Relativity (2nd year bachelor Physics and Astronomy)
Lecturer Eric Laenen
Context Continues on Electricity and Magnetism (1st year), also uses math from first year (Vector Analysis)
Challenge Nearly two weeks are spend on refreshing first year knowledge, instead of delving into the new knowledge and skills
Intervention An online module for refreshing skills and knowledge for those who need it; lecturer can spend more time on new content
Evaluation The refreshment part was limited to the first week, so the lecturer was able to spend more time on new knowledge and skills. Students were very positive.
Related Topics Heterogeneity, Interactive/adaptive course material, Formative Assessments, SOWISORemedial teaching

Interview with Eric Laenen

What was the issue you were facing in your course?
My 2nd year bachelor course Electrodynamics/Special Relativity (ED/SRT) takes place a full year after the preparatory 1st year course Electromagnetism (EM). In my first year of teaching ED/SRT (2015-2016), I had to spend 6 weeks just rehearsing much of EM, including the very basics like vector analysis and electrostatics.  Huub Rutjes constructed a refresher course on these topics, using the SOWISO platform, so that the students could do this, interactively, themselves, the next year (2016-2017). Indeed, I could then spend more time and attention to new things.

Why did you choose this particular approach? Did it solve your (didactical) problem?
This approach was particularly suited to my problem; it is a matter of reviewing the material, and practicing (again) with it. The refresher online course did exactly that, and indeed solved my problem. In fact, the hope is that more of the overlap between EM and ED/SRT can be handled in this way.

What would you change in the next iteration?
Not much, just extend the course to include perhaps magnetostatics, and EM static fields in matter as well. Also, the online course was voluntary; it might be interesting to now issue some formal requirements to the students.

Does the amount of work you had to put into solving the issue (i.e. costs), outweigh the benefits?
For me, yes! All the work was done by Huub Rutjes for this.

Do you recommend this approach to others lecturers?
I would certainly recommend this approach to other lecturers who are faced with a similar issue.

Student evaluation

A small survey amongst students led to the following feedback:

  • An online refresher module is considered to be a very favourable addition (students agree 4.4 on a scale of 5);
  • Students spend about three to four hours on this module;
  • They like the combination of text and video;
  • Students are positive about SOWISO (it is esthetically pleasing) but find that entering equations is still a bit cumbersome;
  • A request for improvement is to have more explanation and feedback for exercises.

Impression of the online refresher module

Watch the videos