Student self-assessment and independent learning in a 1st year mathematics module: identifying and responding to needs and challenges through technology

Peter Morris & Shane Dowdall

Dundalk Institute of Technology

Due to the ‘massification’ of education, an increasingly diverse student cohort is enrolling on degree programmes.  In the current economic climate there is an expectation that the number of students returning to education will increase.  Many of these students will not have been in education for a number of years.  As lecturers, in an Institute of Technology, we have to maintain standards and meet learning outcomes for our modules.  We have limited time to deliver material on topics such as basic algebra and arithmetic.  Furthermore, mathematics is identified as a problem area by many incoming students.  The aim of this study was, through the use of technology, to enable students to learn independently and improve their self-confidence and competencies in mathematics.
The approach taken was to introduce mathematics software consisting of visual tutorials and assessments in algebra, fractions and powers.   From the lecturers’ perspective, the initiative enabled students to bridge the gap between their expected level of mathematical competency and their actual level.  The advantages of using this technology, for the students, include improved accessibility, alternative teaching style, self-paced tutorials, timely automated feedback and self-assessment for learning.
During the semester, weekly technology-led sessions were offered as part of the Mathematics module to all students enrolled on a 1st year Level 7 Computing programme.  Lecturers partially supervised the sessions to introduce students to the software, and record assessments taken.  The assessment marks were incorporated into the module’s continuous assessment to improve engagement.  While students could retake assessments, only their best result was used.  To evaluate this initiative’s effectiveness the following methods were used -two diagnostic tests (taken by students pre- and post-initiative), student surveys and independent anonymous journaling, and lecturers’ reflections on the process.
The approach taken has relevance to other degree programmes, access initiatives and learning support units.  For those interested in introducing a similar initiative we highlight problems encountered and suggest solutions.  Our findings show that using the software increased the mathematical competency levels in some students and the confidence levels of others.

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