How to design and deliver successful STEM courses online 

Transitioning online is no easy task, especially if you teach maths-based courses for STEM disciplines

Recently, we have seen universities and colleges step up to the challenge of moving quickly and putting elements of courses online to provide an emergency alternative to face-to-face teaching or testing. However, moving instruction online and creating a compelling and engaging course takes time, planning, and resources.  This is the challenge many academic institutions face in the months ahead for the autumn or the foreseeable future as the education landscape continues to shift.

The University of Waterloo mathematics department has been delivering online courses to students for over 15 years, all while maintaining academic standards, meeting the expectations of students and continuing to improve course offerings and delivery.

Learn how the University of Waterloo has developed strategies to resolve issues related to students, instructors and administration and taken a lead role in using online learning tools to develop and administer customised STEM courses to students around the world.

Webinar: Designing & Delivering Online STEM Courses

Are you preparing to take your course online?

Designed for educators, download this eBook, How to Approach Online Learning, and find out six main steps to consider when taking your course online. Topics include:

    1. Planning: what materials to put online, using learning outcomes as a guide
    2. Content: what types of content you should consider and the benefits and challenges of different content styles
    3. Platform: choosing the right technology for your online course
    4. Administration: a checklist for online class administration to make your online course run smoothly
    5. Analytics: using data and insights to improve your classes and improve student learning outcomes
    6. Improvement: tips on how to improve your courses year on year

Students learn by doing and, in doing, retain more. In the STEM disciplines especially, practice is key for students learning and retaining the material. See how Möbius platform, from DigitalEd,  can empower you to provide an optimal learning experience for your students.

“It’s important to remember that you have a limited amount of time to create your course and trying to create the best course the first time you are teaching an online course can be a large undertaking”

How Manchester University increased student performance by moving courses online ?

The university offers more courses than any other school in the UK. With so many courses to manage, it was especially important to choose a platform that could be used everywhere – including both technical and non-technical courses. They use Möbius in science, engineering, humanities and arts courses to test students on a wide range of course content, making use of thousands of questions that the faculty developed to help students gain a greater understanding of key materials and concepts. The institution provides a seamless learning environment for both students and instructors by integrating Möbius into their course management system, Blackboard.

With their new distance learning approach to education, the school is targeting students from around the world, as well as industry employees. According to Dr. James Brooks, a lecturer at the university, the biggest challenge is to maximise flexibility while maintaining a strong reputation.

“The M.Sc. course, as it stands, has a very strong reputation. Many students who come through speak very highly of it,” he said.

“Now with the online version of the course, with students doing all the testing and coursework from their own computers away from the campus, we need to ensure we maintain that standard.”

In developing the course, Brooks and his colleagues conducted research into how other science and engineering institutions are providing distance education. He and his team identified key areas they wanted to emphasise in creating their own online course: conceptual understanding, software and practical skills, mathematical and engineering analysis and project work.

They wanted students to be equipped to explain concepts and principles through exams and labs, complete project work and carry out research. In all of these tasks, it was important that students could make use of symbols, diagrams, and sketches, just like they would in a classroom-based course. After some investigation, based on their experience with Möbius and its success at the school, they decided it was the best assessment tool to meet their objective and began further investigating its capabilities.

“Students really need to do math to learn math. That’s when the lightbulb goes off and the understanding really happens. And you have to answer hundreds of questions, not just one or two. So having an automated, online tool that can ask a mathematically sophisticated question and get a sophisticated answer and then provide feedback is extremely valuable to the student” – Dr. Peter Wood, University of Waterloo

Initially, Brooks converted course worksheets into Möbius assignments and required students to obtain a high grade on each. Students were permitted to re-do assignments as often as they needed to in order to learn the concepts. While the majority of students achieved a 100% grade, the approach itself presented some challenges, Brooks said.

“There were things we needed to consider, such as how students could show their work for problems and receive marks for partially correct answers. Also, there is the impersonation and cheating obstacle. How do we know it’s the student completing the exam?”

To address some of these challenges, the university is currently conducting trials on delivering course exams through Möbius using a digital proctoring approach. The exam is timed and delivered at a fixed hour, with students taking the exam in front of a live webcam that can be monitored by the exam overseer. This confirms the identity of the student and prevents the transfer of question and answer materials, with everyone taking the test at the same time. The trials so far have been positive.

Faculty are also working on pairing assessment within Möbius with an oral exam. The exam would consist of a one-on-one video conference interview with a tutor or teaching assistant. This also gives faculty an opportunity to understand the students’ thought processes and review their methods for working through questions.

Brooks and his team are currently assessing the efficacy of their approach, including the amount of time, resources and manpower that would be required to deliver the distance education course successfully on a broader scale. As the development team works out the final details, the university is set on delivering its first full distance learning option supported by Möbius. The platform has been a valuable tool for the university for several years. Student response has been largely positive. Brooks and his colleagues hope the success of this course will translate to further distance learning offerings at the school, as using Möbius to this end opens up possibilities that bring education more in line with modern learning systems. “The selling point is they can do everything from their own computer,” he said.

“Möbius allows us to better refine our questions, save a great deal of time on marking, and ultimately maximise our educational offerings.”

Find out how DigitalEd, and e-learning platform, Möbius, can help you create courses and open up learning for your students anywhere and still maintain the high-quality learning environment you and your students expect. Take this interactive tour and explore at your convenience, with no strings attached, the power of the Möbius platform.


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