How Radboud University is going beyond traditional mathematics education with SOWISO

Radboud University

The Netherlands

Type

University

Students

120-200 per year

Started in

2018




Radboud University has been delivering quality education for almost a hundred years. This institution was ranked as one of the best traditional universities for general bachelor programs in the Netherlands by Keuzegids Universiteiten 2020. Since 2019, Radboud University has joined the Times Higher Education Europe Teaching Ranking that compares universities based on their performance in education.

Radboud University scored 24th place in a field of 258 universities.




Dr. Jana Vyrastekova and Dr. Rutger Schilpzand are economics teachers and researchers at Radboud University.


Dr. Vyrastekova also shared her experience with blended learning and personalized mathematics education in this article.


Challenge

Teaching mathematics to non-math students is hard. How do you trigger their interest? How do you choose the right digital tool to support them? How can you be in charge of your course? Jana and Rutger faced these questions in their math classes for economics students.

Before finding SOWISO, these educators were using other online teaching tools. However, all of them had major drawbacks: students had to buy a textbook, it was very difficult to create their own learning content, and they wanted to move their examinations online. They needed a solution that gave them more flexibility.

Another obstacle these teachers found was low student engagement. Math is perceived as a difficult and/or boring subject by many students, and getting to interact with them is tough.

Rutger and Jana’s goals were to create their own digital math learning resources and enable online examinations. They wanted to go beyond traditional mathematics education. SOWISO became an ally in this project.


Solution

What attracted these teachers the most about SOWISO was the possibility of creating their own course. Apart from offering materials designed by our in-house mathematicians, we also empower teachers to be creative and design their content.

Our digital environment offers many possibilities, and Rutger and Jana wanted to be actively involved in the course design. When they discovered SOWISO, their attitude was, as they describe,

“The sky is the limit.”

Although the evolution of this project is very positive, Rutger and Jana’s journey had ups and downs. Authoring involves a learning curve that can be steep at the beginning. Their expectations were high, but authoring required more programming and time than expected. Also, they started creating their own content for economics before our course for social sciences existed.

In 2018, Jana was awarded the Comenius Teaching Fellow, which allowed her to work on her personalized learning project, for which she chose SOWISO. Her goal was to implement a backbone of mathematics in their social sciences program. Luckily, two assistants helped with programming, and, from the beginning, they were supported by their institution.

The emergence of COVID-19 has speeded up innovation in education. The relevance of using digital platforms has risen. This disruption also contributed to expanding the recognition of their initiative, and many other colleagues joined them. Since Rutger and Jana now have much more experience using SOWISO, their transition to digital learning was smoother. As Jana expressed,

“When corona hit in the Netherlands, my mathematics course was already completely on SOWISO. I was comforted by knowing that, even if students had to get used to working online, they had good support.”

Rutger added,

“SOWISO has been a real life-saver, especially during corona when we had to do all the online examinations.”

Regarding students, at first, they had to pass an adaptation threshold. But once they know how this tool works, our partners found that the advantages of using this platform justify the initial discomfort. In Jana’s words,

“when you specifically ask thee students about the costs and benefits, on a scale from one to five, they rate it around 4.7, 4.8 to say the benefits are higher than the costs.”

We learn from the teachers we work with. We strive to help them throughout their journey, this is one of our main priorities. We are always inspired by educators who have this drive to constantly improve their courses and keep exploring new possibilities. Radboud University is a perfect example of this.


Results

Rutger and Jana see that frequently students don’t pick up the course immediately (principally when they are in the first course). They have to build a habit. So these teachers created a habit-building structure that involves a weekly exercise.

Jana and Rutger believe student interactions with their working groups are crucial, so they integrate SOWISO’s tasks in the group work. Additionally, students are free to submit the assignment multiple times. So they have many opportunities to improve their mathematical skills and get satisfactory grades.

The examination part is their favorite SOWISO feature. It goes quite beyond just checking assignments or questions, and all the tasks are very clear. Jana and Rutger also see how working on this tool helps students become more proficient with their technical skills. When they review their student’s satisfaction with the course, they always find positive comments about SOWISO!

When we asked Jana and Rutger about their recommendations for (future) SOWISO users, their main tip was managing the expectations from the start. But despite the initial struggle, they became advocates for our tool after using it for several years. They particularly highlight the personalized touch of our customer success colleagues and the quick and efficient implementation of the teacher’s suggestions. As Rutger said,

“you really listen to what we desire.”

In the future, Rutger and Jana will continue innovating and designing their dream course on SOWISO. They are even using this platform’s potential for research purposes on how students learn. We are looking forward to following the next steps of their trip and sharing them with you.

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