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Blended Learning Examples

 Maple TA piloting in the School of Social Sciences (Economics) 2012/13

Maple TA piloting in the School of Social Sciences (Economics) 2012/13

See it in action:

  • Maple TA report

    Report MapleTA piloting in SoSS-Economics v1-0

    Maple TA project report

Social Sciences, Social Sciences
ECON10071 Advanced Mathematics, ECON0 ECON60611
Online Teaching Ideas, Student Support and Development, Funded projects, Assessment

While Blackboard 9 provides an excellent platform for online learning, one of its drawbacks for highly quantitative disciplines like Economics and Social Statistics is the relatively crude way in which it deals with mathematics and mathematical notation. Economics teaches large numbers of students on quantitative modules. For example, in the first year, six mathematics and statistics options have a total enrolment of over 2,000 students.

Blackboard's built-in maths editor is cumbersome and limited. One particular problem is assessing maths online: for example in online quizzes or assessments, Blackboard does not easily recognise mathematically equivalent expressions and, hence, will mark "wrong" expressions which may in fact be correct. Equally, students and instructors struggle to enter some of the mathematically complex expressions which arise in areas of the Economics and Social Statistics disciplines such as econometrics, mathematical economics, advanced statistics, or in areas of advanced micro and macro-economics where maths is used extensively. A software package, Maple TA, is specifically designed to deal with these issues and works directly with Blackboard. The proposal is to purchase a CHEST license for this software, to incorporate it into Economics, and potentially Social Statistics, teaching in the next academic year and to promote its use more widely in the University (e.g. in statistics, mathematics, engineering, physics, and chemistry) to build a consortium of users who can jointly fund future renewals of the software license. Providing students on quantitative modules with a more efficient and personalised method of learning mathematical and statistical techniques offers an effective way of enhancing the student experience. For example, across all three years, Economics alone offers 18 modules where Maple TA could potentially be used.


From the perspective of instructors, the main impressions of using Maple TA were that:

  • the system allows the testing of a wider range of mathematical knowledge than Blackboard;
  • the system appeared to be robust and secure; integration with Blackboard is an essential requirement of a wider roll-out of Maple TA;
  • the Maple TA interface is not user-friendly and the online manual is difficult to use;
  • students were able to successfully use the system and appreciated its potential enhance their experience of studying quantitative material in Economics;
  • there was appreciation that there is no need for instructors to mark student work in a VLE manually, as is currently required in Blackboard;
  • the availability of Maple itself within the institution is necessary for an instructor to make full use of the capabilities of Maple TA.

    Feedback was also gathered from students. Verbatim comments from students included:

  • Much superior to Blackboard, where Java often breaks down and answers are limited to multiple choice.
  • Really like Maple TA. ... allowed more flexibility than Blackboard
  • The navigation system is a bit tricky. It's a good system though.
  • The equation editor is a good improvement to Blackboard.
  • Maple site user friendly
  • Some students said they preferred Blackboard,"because it is there" -no need to go to another website.