SYMBoL: making 2nd year maths more engaging

SYMBoL Student InternsAs part of the SYMBoL project (Second Year Mathematics Beyond Lectures), four mathematics undergraduate students have been working this summer as interns on a six-week placement. Naomi, Robert, John and Matthew conducted several focus groups with second year undergraduates to find ways of making student learning more effective and their modules more engaging.

The long-term goal of the project is to produce well-qualified mathematics graduates who report a positive experience of
studying mathematics. This will be accomplished through innovations to the second year experience that improve engagement, enthusiasm and satisfaction. The pedagogical changes will be within two key modules: Vector Spaces and Complex Variables delivered in 2011/12.

Working very closely with staff, the interns are reworking lecture notes, advising on sections where the clarity might be improved, and producing additional resources. These include video screencasts (recorded and edited using Camtasia) that illustrate step-by-step solutions to second-year mathematics problems that students find particularly difficult. In addition they are developing resources and activities to be used in peer-led problem sessions in the coming year.

Calculating a Laurent series
This screenshot is taken from a narrated Camtasia sequence to be used in the Complex Variables module. The sequence provides step-by-step support on calculating a Laurent series.

For more information, contact Tony Croft (a.c.croft [at] or Steven Kenny (s.d.kenny [at]

The project website is at .




OMR – the Cinderella service

It’s easy to dismiss OMR (or Optical Mark Recognition) as technologically outdated – surely everything can be done online now?

But don’t dismiss OMR as it can still be very useful. In the case of CAA (Computer Assisted Assessment), it’s a relatively easy, low-cost approach to automating the process of marking large numbers of exam papers. For this reason, it continues to be a popular approach here at Loughborough.

My colleague Tim Baseley who supports OMR on campus has just passed on the following information about use of OMR in Semester 2:

  • 51 exams were delivered via OMR.
  • This represents a 2% increase over Semester 2 2010.
  • The total numbers of individual candidate papers printed was 6954.

From an ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ perspective, the saving in academic marking workload this makes possible is tremendous. For more on this aspect of OMR see my previous post on this subject.

Tim and colleagues are currently planning to move Module feedback forms to Remark OMR. This should improve scalability, flexibility and reporting whilst reducing overall costs and administration/processing time.

"I can't see myself going back to paper marking"

Ben Halkon (Wolfson)In this post (reproduced from our Summer 2011 “E-learning Innovations” staff newsletter), Ben Halkon (Wolfson School) talks about his use of the GradeMark online marking tool in Turnitin.

I didn’t want the hassle of having to manage a pile of paper marking, and the integration with the Originality Reporting from TurnItIn was useful, so I opted for online marking using GradeMark.   The opportunity to give more feedback in the same time was a particular bonus.

I heard about GradeMark on the New Lecturer’s Course, and decided to use it for the second year of my Sports Technology modules.  These are evolving modules, and the content is updated every year, but I expect my core comments to remain valid for 5 years or so.  Some of them, like Citations and Apostrophes are timeless; other more specific ones will evolve over time.

What’s interesting is that with paper marking, the first time you write a comment you write all the details.  The second time it gets a bit shorter … and by the time you’re writing it on the sixth script it’s pretty terse.  But with GradeMark, it’s the opposite.  The second time I find myself writing a comment, I save it for re-use.  Then each time I drag-and-drop it onto a script after that, it gets refined and added to.  You still need to read all the scripts, of course, but online marking enables me to give much more detailed feedback in the same amount of time as before.  And that has to be a better use of my time.

I’m still waiting for the formal student feedback, but from what they have told me already, the response has been 100% positive.  Here’s just one example:

This is a just a quick email as a query from your FEA feedback. Firstly I would like to thank you for this feedback, it was brilliant to have such detailed, individual feedback on an assignment, this is something which we don’t often get, so I found it nice to be able to go back and look over the work. After all its only by seeing our wrong doings that we learn from these mistakes in the future.

They feel I have properly explained the grades they are awarded, and they like the fact that errors are highlighted in context, which makes it easier for them to avoid making the same mistake(s) next time.

I have recommended online marking to my colleagues on a teaching “Away Day” we had recently, and I expect to continue using it next year.  It would be possible to share banks of comments between tutors, but there’s a limit to how many comments you can readily access, so I think individual comment banks are best, and anyway they reflect the tutor’s and the coursework’s individuality.The only improvement I’d like to see is the ability to mark offline and re-sync. when I get back to the office.  That would add value to my commuting time every day.

 Watch a screen recording of GradeMark in use at:

Lecture capture at Loughborough in 2011/12

ReVIEW logoAfter a successful first full pilot year of operation, the ReVIEW automated lecture capture service will be back in 2011/12, underpinned as before by the Echo 360 system.

Last year over 500 ‘sessions’ were captured – not just lectures to students, but also inaugural lectures, staff development workshops, meetings, conferences, and a variety of other events. These sessions were captured in 10 ‘fixed’ lecture capture installations, and also using a mobile version of the system called ‘Personal Capture’. We’ve had almost uniformly postive feedback from users, with every respondent to a survey of registered presenters in early April indicating that they intended to continue using the service.

In 2011/12 we hope to have expanded availability, with scheduled (automated) lecture capture potentially available in every teaching room with a built-in PC. I’ll be posting again with an update on this in early August.

Academic colleagues wishing to have lectures captured in semester one should flag this up to their department / school administrator as part of the room booking / allocation process, specifying whether you would like the captures to be audio + computer or video + computer. Even if you cannot be accommodated in one of the teaching rooms with ‘fixed’ ReVIEW installations, we will do our best to meet your requirements using the software-only versions of ReVIEW / Echo 360.

For queries or ‘non-academic’ bookings, please contact review [at] .