When the world abruptly halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing in-person education to pivot to online learning, educators at Mohawk College set out to solve two main challenges: first, how could they successfully engage students through online learning? And second, how could they assess their students’ knowledge? This sent faculty on a quest to explore different tools, ultimately helping students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of STEM subjects.
As online learning challenges surfaced when the pandemic hit, faculty struggled to help students stay on track and make sure that the learning “stuck” from course to course. Mathematics Professor and Coordinator for Engineering Technology Frosina Stojanovska-Pocuca knew she needed to change her approach to assessment for the online classroom. Most importantly, the shift needed to be quick.
Employing Unique Assessment Structures Beyond Traditional Assignments
Through Möbius, DigitalEd’s advanced digital learning platform for teaching higher education STEM courses, students participate in lessons that are broken up into engaging, interactive participation activities, moving beyond standard multiple-choice examinations.
Mohawk College started implementing Möbius in math courses during the Winter of 2020.
“Immediately, I realized Möbius’ great capacity to address educational obstacles — by providing an engaging and immersive online learning environment in one place,” said Frosina. “Instead of sending students to various sites and applications, Möbius provides one platform, adds randomization, and provides individual assessments to each student. Students no longer need to worry about getting acclimated to another platform. Consequently, Möbius allows me to assess students’ math knowledge, which is far more important than navigating other platforms' nuanced and overly complicated structures.”
“Online learning must be a positive experience for both students and teachers – Möbius ensures this. Throughout my two years using the platform, I felt secure as I knew Möbius was reliable in cultivating great learning experiences. Once I thought of an activity, I could immediately find a way to bring the idea to light in Möbius. The capabilities of Möbius are limited only to my imagination.”
“Faculty and students both rose to the challenge of online course delivery, and through it all, my students were my biggest motivation,” said Frosina.
A Creative Introduction for Those Who Have Never Visited Campus
Faculty prioritized giving students opportunities to interact and work together online to solve challenges in their courses and develop a deeper understanding of complex subjects. Rather than traditional class assignments and activities, which many students dread, the College wanted to try something different and fun: virtual escape rooms.
Using Möbius, virtual math escape rooms were created to encourage students to participate in a fun learning assessment that allowed them to explore areas of campus where they hadn't had the opportunity to visit while rewarding bonus points upon completion.
The activity simulates a traditional college tour, allowing students to explore various sights around campus. To move to the next room or area of the virtual representation of campus, students must demonstrate an understanding of key concepts by solving math questions that teach them about probability and statistics.
Almost all of her students were remote, Frosina adapted the virtual math escape room with 360° images of Mohawk College’s Campus.
Providing Ease and Editability Through Content-Sharing
The concept of a math escape room was introduced to Mohawk College in August 2020 by Paul McGrath, Lecturer at the University of Waterloo. He first started with this idea on the Möbius platform.
“Surround yourself with colleagues that inspire you,” said Frosina. “I focused this year on working closely and productively with like-minded faculty members.”
The professors worked collaboratively across higher education institutions, sharing the pre-built content package through Möbius. The platform allowed instructors to edit and update the template to cater to their specific students. Faculty now have the flexibility to adapt the content to their students' learning rather than being locked into a textbook’s standard set of questions. Assessment questions are continuously improved based on frequent student and faculty feedback.
Game-Based Learning is Transforming How Students Learn
Educators at Mohawk College have also integrated gamification into their online courses. Gamification allows for creating realistic and immersive learning experiences for hands-on science courses, activities and skill development. This has increased student engagement and resulted in positive learning outcomes.
“We needed the technology to better enable a sense of presence, immersion and interactivity. I wanted to instigate a culture of learning with my students, where they are free to ask any type of question,” said Frosina.
Following the positive feedback, the virtual escape rooms were implemented into every assessment instead of just once at the end of the semester during final exams. The escape room simulations have evolved throughout the year into activities like arriving on campus for summer internship interviews with Mohawk College Co-op employers.
“The virtual escape rooms have been very cool and engaging. It is eminently clear that with online learning the focus needed to change to strengthen the motivation for students to learn. The math escape room activity was a perfect opportunity to have students learn without even noticing,” said Frosina.
Faculty also find that their students have been more receptive and comfortable in difficult courses. For Frosina, one of the biggest rewards has been the improvement she sees in student engagement.
“Reinforcing complex math concepts through game-based learning has proven useful in capturing not only the integrity of the assignments but also helps foster a less intimidating learning environment where creativity and amusement can flourish,” said Frosina.