The University of Waterloo serves more than 42,000 students from various academic majors in its undergraduate and graduate programs. The University is known for its focus on experiential learning and being at the forefront of innovation. Waterloo has been providing online courses for more than 15 years and uses technology in innovative ways to improve learning experiences in online and in-person settings continuously.
Waterloo faculty wanted to deploy technology that would support advanced online mathematics content allowing for increased student interaction and engagement. Faculty needed to be able to ask sophisticated questions to measure student learning and require answers in a variety of formats. They also wanted to encourage students in online courses to complete practice problems throughout lessons so that they could check in periodically to make sure they understood the material. The University needed a solution that would support frequent practice problems without requiring faculty to grade each practice exercise manually.
Before the pandemic, the University used the Möbius platform for several STEM courses. When the pandemic hit, more classes adopted the platform.
Faculty found the platform provided practical ways to engage students in learning by doing in online settings.
“You learn math by doing math,” said Dr. Peter Wood, University of Waterloo Assistant Dean of Online Instruction. “Möbius provides students with a lot of practice and gives rapid feedback. It was enormously helpful during the pandemic.”
Even when many courses shifted back to in-person learning, the University continued to use Möbius because of its benefits for student learning and engagement.
Möbius Helps Students Gauge What They’re Learning and Where They Need Help
With Möbius, students could engage in frequent self-check-ins. The automatic grading enabled students to keep trying problems until they mastered the material without increasing instructor workloads. The immediate, meaningful feedback lets students know what parts of the content they understood and where they needed additional practice.
“The students like the practice problems,” said Dr. Wood. “The instant feedback helps their learning.”
The platform’s interactive lessons also helped engage students in practice exercises tailored to their needs.
“You don’t understand until you can do a problem yourself and interact with the content,” said Dr. Wood. “The quality of learning is not the same when content is not interactive.”
With Möbius, instructors could also embed graphs and tools into lessons. For example, in the Statistics course, instructors included a calculator to facilitate the answering of questions.
Supporting Higher-Level Learning Outcomes
With Möbius, faculty could test a higher level of conceptual understanding. They could ask various questions and require answers that weren’t just a number. The independent practice problems also helped students grasp the basics and allowed faculty to use class time more efficiently.
“Every course has foundational skills you need to get to the interesting stuff,” said Dr. Wood. “Möbius allows instructors to use class time more efficiently and focus on higher-level learning outcomes.”
Faculty could also explain how topics connected through customized embedded lessons connecting different course areas.
Faculty Collaboration on Content for Improved Learning Experiences
With Möbius, faculty could collaborate to improve content based on actual data on student engagement.
“It has changed how instructors think about teaching,” said Dr. Wood. “We’re getting good data on what students are doing (in the platform).”
Annually, faculty look at detailed analytics on questions and course content. They use the data to design better-embedded questions for lessons.
Möbius provided customization opportunities that allowed courses to fit individual students better.
“There is a tendency to teach to the middle,” said Dr. Wood. “There’s a real opportunity in education to identify individual needs of students with targeted teaching.”
The platform allowed faculty to offer enrichment and additional content for students ready to move on to the next part of the lesson while supporting students who needed additional help.
Changing Student Thinking About Practice Problems: Moving Past Fear of Failure
Möbius helped students feel more confident practicing problems because they could try activities that didn’t impact their grades. For students who were apprehensive about math, the platform provided a safer, more welcoming environment for engaging with course material.
“The problem with the old teaching method is that when you make a mistake, you lose marks,” said Dr. Wood. “Möbius fixes that problem. Mistakes are a fundamental part of learning, and we must encourage the whole process. With Möbius, mistakes don’t result in a big red X.”
Making practice problems a more positive experience for students was important to Dr. Wood. With weekly assignments, students got multiple tries; they also had practice exercises embedded in weekly lessons and could check as many times as they wanted without penalty to see if they understood a concept.
The use of Möbius has been so impactful that in-person courses continue to use the platform to engage students in practice exercises. For in-person classes, students can do weekly assessments through Möbius to check their understanding of the material.