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Fostering curiosity and accelerating learning among students

08 February 2018

As trends in education shift towards online learning, instructors are searching for the right tools to facilitate this transition for their students.

An engineering professor at Hochschule Bremerhaven in Germany, Matthias Kniebusch, was looking for online solutions to accelerate the development of skills in his engineering students, specifically for a new undergraduate programme in wind power technology. He was introduced to Möbius, the online courseware platform from Maplesoft, and was immediately impressed with its ease-of-use and interactive qualities.

Kniebusch bases his teaching on the belief that instructors need to foster curiosity in their students and challenge them to expand and strengthen their knowledge base. In his opinion, traditional lectures are not the most effective method to achieve this. “We need to ask ourselves ‘What do students need? What do we want them to have?’” he said. “We should help to guide their way of looking at the world. I like my blackboard, but a teacher has to bring more to the classroom; you have to bring life to the students, and technology is one way of doing that.”

Kniebusch is excited about how technology has developed recently. Five years ago, Kniebusch tried to develop an eBook for a mathematics course on differential equations, but was unable to realise his vision because the technology platform he was working with did not have mathematical capabilities. He recently visited the University of Waterloo where he was introduced to Möbius by Dr. Steve Furino, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the Faculty of Mathematics. “When he showed me Möbius, I said ‘this is what I wanted to have five years ago!’” said Kniebusch. “Now we have it!” Kniebusch is a strong believer in the capabilities Möbius provides; he now uses it extensively to deliver courses and engage his students. Based on his experience at the University of Waterloo, he encourages different groups and institutions to work together to develop content, in order to bring different perspectives and areas of expertise together with the goal of discovering the most effective learning solutions.

Interactive programmes are a point of emphasis for Kniebusch and Möbius has features that allow him to better connect with his students. In Möbius, students can engage with materials, work through different possibilities and factors to solve problems, visualise their work and receive detailed feedback to ensure they understand the full process. “Interactivity like this is difficult to find, as many universities present materials as interactive when that’s not actually the case,” he said. “A lot of universities present an interactive table of contents, but behind that you find a series of PDFs. That’s not interactive.” Möbius comes with several interactive features that help explore STEM concepts, interactive narrated lectures that incorporate exploration and self-assessment elements, engaging visualisations, assessment questions that are automatically graded, and much more.

One key aspect of interactive learning solutions is the ability for students to receive feedback so they can work through assignments on their own and learn the processes. Students need detailed feedback to keep them from getting lost when it comes to complex subject matter, Kniebusch said. This leads to another valuable aspect of online learning: accessibility. Modern students need to be able to access materials in different locations and on different devices, so they can work on assignments and problems wherever they are. When Kniebusch began using Möbius with his students, he was surprised they were able to work through problems using mobile devices. “I was astonished to see 80 percent of my students take out their smartphones and try to work on it,” he said. “That is the accessibility we need.”

As Kniebusch looks towards the future, he believes we need to reassess the traditional approach in classrooms. “We need to rethink how we bring knowledge to students, create competencies and build skills,” he said. “There is a need for real interactive content. Not just good content; it must be interactive to create that curiosity. That’s the point. Thanks to Maplesoft, we are developing that content.”

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