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HAN University of
Based in The Netherlands, with campuses in Arnhem and Nijmegen, The HAN University of Applied Sciences is a vocational university of applied sciences. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a multitude of subjects (Health, Business, Engineering and Education), HAN is home to more than 30 thousand students.
Bap Welting has been teaching mathematics to aspiring civil and building engineers at HAN for the last seven years.
Within the School of Built Environment, Bap is in charge of delivering Mathematics I, II & III to around 400 students on a yearly basis. The biggest challenge that Bap had when it came to these courses was the sheer number of papers he would have to grade at the end of a module.
“On average, you could get through around 6 to 7 exam papers per hour, so that would be about 65 hours to get through a batch”
To help with this task, Bap had a team of three part-timers. This would mean that Bap took care of 50% of the grading and the rest was split among the part-timers.
“And obviously the time period takes more than just 30 hours (on Bap’s side) because after half a day, you are totally fed up with it”
So in essence, the main challenge that Bap was trying to solve was to bring down the amount of hours that would go into grading the summative assessments for his class.
In addition to this, Bap was looking into making the transition to a digital learning environment for his classes so it would make it easier for him to track and monitor his students. He also wanted a digital environment that would provide his students with a larger and more diverse pool of exercise questions when compared to the practice exams he would have to otherwise manually create.
When it came to creating tests using Bolster Academy, Bap would make use exercises from Bolster Academy’s database, randomize it since they are computer generated (to ensure all students get different questions), adjust the automatic correction rules (to allow for partial credit) and then administer it for his classes. Having said that, all students were still required to provide hand-written copies of the step-by-step calculations they took to arrive at their final answer.
“What we do is that we use Bolster Academy in a hybrid form. We use Bolster Academy for generating the questions….all students copy the questions on paper…they make their own calculations on paper….they make sure that the final answer is on paper and then they enter the final answer on Bolster Academy. So we have everything on paper.”
Bap asks the students to do this because of the way his new system of grading is set up. Once the automatic grading is done by the tool, Bap revisits the papers of the students who were just under the passing grade (33% to 55%). By revisiting the hand-written step-by-step calculations of these students, Bap can see if it’s possible to give them an extra point here or there for correct notation or error carried forward or for a partially correct answer which had not been simplified fully. If a student, outside of the aforementioned range, asked to review their exam, this was also possible. There were mostly students who would realize while looking through the assessment feedback that they made (a lot of) typing errors.
Apart from testing, Bap also ended up making use of the theory pages and practice exercises of Bolster Academy as his main reference point for his teaching. In addition to which he used his contact-hours to provide his students with explanations and examples that tackled the same concepts from a different perspective. In the end, this resulted in the students having a much more cohesive understanding of the topics covered in Bap’s classes.
“I think the big advantage for the students is that sometimes if they are a little weak in the mathematical theory (which is quite complicated), Bolster Academy does a good job in explaining it to them in a very compact way. And they can practice infinitely and have infinite possibilities to practice because all the exercises are randomized”
Bap has been now using Bolster Academy for a little over two years now. When it comes to the initial problem he was trying to solve (reducing time spent on grading), he has managed to cut down the time by more than half. This is mainly because Bap is now only manually grading the papers of students who are just under the passing grade, the rest is taken care of by Bolster Academy. Apart from that, Bap also found that the randomizable exercise sets were quite helpful for his weaker students who expressed an interest in practicing more.
“What I saw before when we had books, especially with the students who were not very strong in mathematics, was that after they had two or three attempts, they knew all the exercises by heart. They couldn’t learn anything more from the book”
When it came to these types of students, Bap has observed over the last two years that more and more of them are passing their exams because of the practice opportunities provided by Bolster Academy.
Lastly, Bap also found it’s much easier to hold his students accountable to be their grades now. Due to the digital nature of the tool and due to the fact that student activity is monitored, Bap can now respond to student complaints regarding low grades by providing the students with data that shows they didn’t practice enough.
Looking towards the future, Bap would like to introduce regular homework assignments in his classes. The biggest challenge now in a lot of his classes is to get students to practice consistently instead of having students just trying to learn a whole unit a week before the final exam. For the next semester, Bap is looking into introducing these assignments on a weekly basis and potentially giving his students partial credit as an incentive/reward if they were to do them and pass them.