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A diet of carrots: autonomy in learning mathematics for economics


Robbie Mochrie
Department of Economics,
Heriot Watt University,
Edinburgh, EH14 4AS

tel: 0131-451-3481
fax: 0131-451-3498


Implementations and their Evaluation


The teaching of mathematics to economics students is a core component of all degree courses. Many students report acquisition of the necessary mathematical skills and their application to economic theory to be one of the most difficult and unsatisfying parts of their courses. Teaching this material is made particularly difficult by the variation in students' prior knowledge, confidence and motivation to study this material.

At Heriot Watt University, we have started to develop computer based learning systems which we hope will eventually provide students with sufficient incentives to learn mathethmatical skills more effectively. In the first phase, which ran this year, we used the University's WebTest engine to write a mathematics test each week. All test questions contained many randomised parameters, so that successive realisations would certainly be quite different. This allowed us to give students credit for successfully completing the tests, while allowing them as many attempts as necessary to pass.

Student response to the tests has generally been favourable. WebTests appear to have been successful in encouraging students to keep working at developing their mathematical skills and this is reflected in examination marks. Problems have arisen because of difficulties in inputting answers, reflecting the need for staff as well as student learning, and because of the inadequacy of feedback. The second phase of the project, which will involve the conversion of the present module lecture notes into more accessible hypertext documents, is intended to allow much more complete linkages between tests and other elements of teaching, and to increase students' autonomy in learning.

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Last modified: 1 December 1999 (formatting).
Original text 21 May 1998.