ActivMathComp – Computers and Active Learning as support of a whole learning environment to Calculus/Mathematical Analysis

Sandra Gaspar Martins, Vitor Duarte Teodoro

Abstract


Research reports many success cases where computers and active learning enhance students understanding. ActivMathComp is a whole learning environment created to this research to teach Calculus/Mathematical Analysis 1 (MA1) to Civil Engineering students of the Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon, Portugal. Some principles guide the whole learning environment: Students are active and collaborate with colleagues during classes; Computers are embedded in all activities, as a communication, interaction, and computational tool; Students use a set of digital interactive learning documents created to the approach that include the slides, the daily diary, the exercises list, the theory book, etc; Students answer weekly to short quizzes with immediate feedback on a Learning Management System; The teacher/student relationship is grounded on trust, on mutual understanding and on students' involvement on their own learning; Students explore concepts from multiple perspectives (visual, verbal, numerical, and analytical); Students keep in touch with mathematical applications, particularly in Civil Engineering.

ActivMathComp was applied to a class with the students that choose to subscribe it; they could not be randomly assigned because they must take their personal laptop to every class. This way, it was created a quasi-experiment to answer the research question: Does ActivMathComp approach generate higher grades and higher success rate than the traditional approach to teach MA1 course? A questionnaire was applied to all MA1 students to study if the students that participated in ActivMathComp were different from the others in terms of background, attitudes or behaviours. A second questionnaire and two focus groups were applied to ActivMathComp students in order to understand what evaluation they have made of the approach. Participating students got significantly higher grades and higher success rate than other students (some threats to validity remain). Participating students evaluated the learning environment as highly positive in nearly all aspects.

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