We live in a fast-paced society where most information and communication is available at the push of a button or the touch of a screen. Modern students have grown up in a world that did not exist when many traditional teaching methods were developed. They have spent their lives with digital tools that offer connectivity and convenience and they expect to find similar experiences at school. Matthew Demers, a professor at the University of Guelph, is using Möbius, to develop a teaching approach that will simplify learning for his students and allow them to overcome any reluctance they have when it comes to getting a university education.
Möbius was introduced at the school in 2006 to support first-year Calculus courses. Quizzes administered using Möbius consisted of 10-12 algorithmically generated questions that focused on broad topics. Students could attempt the quizzes as often as they wanted prior to the deadline and their highest mark was recorded as their grade for the course. Using Möbius allowed the number of written assignments and tests in the course to be cut in half, which removed some stress from students. It was also a very practical way to assess students, especially given increasing class sizes, Demers said. “In essence, students were being rewarded for practicing outside of class throughout the semester, and it forced them to keep up with the material,” he said.
Faculty at the school took notice of the benefits of Möbius and it was soon adopted by other departments around the school for mathematics, statistics and business courses. Over time, the school has evolved its use of Möbius to make their courses more appealing to students. “Students live in an online world and when they come to university they expect this online environment will be part of their learning,” Demers said. “While they expect this to be the case, they don’t really know what tools like Möbius can do. We need to encourage them and gain their trust to help them get past any hesitation they have about such new tools.”
Despite the many obvious benefits, Demers came to realize that longer quizzes were deterring students from attempting them multiple times, because they had to work through many questions to get to the ones they wanted to rework. All of the input required for complex questions made the experience frustrating for students. As a result, Demers redesigned his course to feature more tests, but with fewer questions. Quizzes now consist of 2-4 questions in Möbius and have a narrower focus. The number of students re-taking quizzes increased because it was no longer time-consuming to do so. “Student grades increased significantly, as did student satisfaction with Möbius in course evaluations,” Demers said. “In addition, the number of students using practice versions of assignments, even after the deadline, increased as it was easier to go back and review materials with the shorter quizzes.”
Demers has developed a mindset of creating content that addresses any issues upfront in order to help his first-year students make a more streamlined transition from high school and reduce frustrations. His objective is to address any obstacles before they arise – obstacles resulting from students’ varying mathematical backgrounds or their experience and comfort level with learning new tools like Möbius. He is working on a pilot project with Möbius that involves creating a customized catalogue of simple questions that make use of key Möbius features. “Simplifying materials helps new students gain confidence with the tool and not feel overwhelmed by the content,” Demers said. “We need to simplify things so the students gain proficiency and feel like they can complete the work themselves.”
Demers conducts an introductory Möbius quiz with his first-year students on the first day of classes to walk them through Möbius' capabilities and create trust in the tool. He invites a student to come up and complete a question in front of the class, and uses it to illustrate what Möbius can do. “Question one will be ‘come up with an expression for 6’, and they’ll provide a simple solution, like 9 minus 3,” Demers said. “I’ll then take over and input an extremely complex equation and when they see that green checkmark go up, they’re blown away – ‘that’s powerful!’”
Möbius is a valuable tool on its own, but it becomes even more powerful when teachers realize they can use it to better connect with today’s students and meet them at a place that’s comfortable for them. This creates a learning environment where students can flourish, with limited stress and the ability to interact with and develop a deeper understanding of materials. “When designing courses for first-year students, we have a chance to make sure that transition is what it should be: a good experience,” Demers said. “If we want them to trust the system and like the quizzes and assignments, we have to make sure they’re well supported. Möbius is a big part of that.”