New technology has the potential to provide a great deal of convenience, but users must fully understand how to get the most out of the tools they're using. This is especially true when it comes to education. Digital learning tools bring the promise of a better educational experience, but to achieve this, instructors must be aware of each tool's capabilities so they can take full advantage of what they have to offer. John LaMaster, a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Purdue University Fort Wayne, has been working with Möbius Assessment for over 10 years and sees it as an ideal tool for creating an optimal learning environment.
After receiving a summer grant in 2008, LaMaster began experimenting with Möbius Assessment to develop questions for his students. Using a crossover design to study its effect, he introduced Möbius Assessment into four sections of a pre-calculus course where digital, paper and pencil homework assignments were used. To form a basis for comparison, students in one section of the course were assigned homework using Möbius Assessment to address half of the learning objectives, while students in the other section were assigned an equivalent version using paper and pencil. For the other half of the objectives, the roles were switched. Student performance on embedded questions from tests and the final exam were evaluated to assess how well students learned the targeted objectives. Both groups performed better when using Möbius Assessment. Similar conclusions were reached by other faculties that semester. Fourteen additional instructors were required to use Möbius Assessment in College Algebra and were surveyed at the end of the semester about their experience. They were overwhelmingly convinced that Möbius Assessment helped their students learn the material and it was easy to use.
A big appeal for LaMaster and the faculty using Möbius Assessment is that it provides users with a great deal of control over creating content and setting up assignments. The software's features allow for a high degree of customization so instructors can tailor materials to meet the specific needs of their students. "Many don't realize the power of Möbius Assessment," LaMaster said. "It offers great flexibility in creating content, and in establishing grading and feedback. It allows us to provide flexible policies and we are able to get exactly what we want out of the course material. It is far superior to other similar tools I have seen."
When used to its full potential, Möbius Assessment helps to democratize learning across varied educational backgrounds, expectations and knowledge levels. It helps students learn basic skills at their own pace so they can work through more complex materials that instructors otherwise wouldn't have time for, LaMaster said. "It brings a change in student behavior, as it enables them to be more responsible for their own learning," he said. "It creates enhanced learning pathways, and they're able to learn by doing instead of just watching me. As an instructor, this gives me more time to direct them, and to tackle more advanced concepts in class."
One of LaMaster's biggest reasons to use Möbius Assessment is to help students see their failures as an opportunity for self-improvement. With the option in Möbius to take multiple attempts at solving questions, failure is an opportunity to see what went wrong and learn from it. Thanks to features like instant feedback and the ability to take assignments as many times as they want, students have grown to trust the tool. This lowers their anxiety over handling a difficult subject and helps them gain proficiency and confidence.
"When students watch classroom teachers deliver lectures on complex materials with expertise, they may incorrectly believe that's how they need to be when they attack problems for the first time - flawless," LaMaster said. "But we need to treat mistakes as learning experiences, a window into how that student is thinking. There is always something to be gained from failure. For example, at NASA failure is seen as a stepping stone to success and they give out Fail Smart Awards to encourage innovation and take risks."
LaMaster shared the story of a student who was taking his class for the fifth time and was so intimidated by the possibility of failing she didn't even want to attempt the homework. However, once she was shown how to use Möbius Assessment, she was excited to discover how easy it was to complete assignments and make necessary corrections. It ultimately enabled her to pass the course. "We need to let students know that it's okay to get questions wrong and work through the necessary issues," LaMaster said. "That's how we minimize anxiety and build comfort."
The key to maximizing the capabilities of Möbius Assessment is finding a way to make students love it, LaMaster noted. "Tools like Möbius Assessment are different from how most teachers learned, so we need to learn how to use it successfully," he said. LaMaster regularly sits down with students and fellow faculty members to demonstrate how to use Möbius Assessment the correct way, including showing them features they are not yet aware of. The more support instructors are able to give students on how to use Möbius Assessment, the more it can help them learn, LaMaster said.
Once students have learned how to take advantage of the features of Möbius Assessment, their response has been positive. LaMaster is now very excited about exploring Möbius Courseware, DigitalEd's online courseware platform that he says is "the way online education should be. Möbius Courseware offers great opportunities, including enhanced interactivity and the opportunity to provide students with step-by-step feedback during lessons and assignments." LaMaster goes on to say, "We can control the information density and really take advantage of the features to improve the overall learning experience for our students."