by Brigitta Szilágyi (Budapest University of Technology and Economics), Szabolcs Berezvai (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) and Daniel Horvath (EduBase Online Ltd.)
The Educational platform EduBase ensures continuous testing opportunities and analyses the learning behaviour and performance of undergraduate engineering students in a mathematics course. Compared to the conventional method, students using EduBase were found to be more motivated to practice consistently throughout the semester and acquire deeper level of knowledge.
Testing in education has traditionally been a process of checking and evaluating students’ knowledge - generally with exams. Testing can also serve as a learning tool, however, with information being retrieved but not recorded. Testing is known to have long term learning benefits, although there is no consensus about the mechanism by which the “testing effect” operates. Some studies assume that retrieving a particular piece of information from our memory also activates notions associated with it . Others suggest that recalling strengthens the memory imprint corresponding to a given piece of information .
Regular testing also encourages students to learn continuously instead of “cramming”, giving them frequent feedback about their knowledge and progress, resulting in a less failure-avoidant attitude towards practising and reduced anxiety about testing. Today’s Z- and Alpha-generation students, who have grown up in the digital age, are habituated to using information technology and are motivated by online tools that ensure instantaneous feedback.
The benefits of the testing-effect have been widely discussed via pilot-studies during foreign language learning , and it is utilised in popular learning applications like Duolingo and Quizlet. Its effectiveness hasn’t yet been investigated in mathematics, however, which relies on conceptual ways of thinking and abstract concepts. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to test theoretical hypotheses and the results of pilot studies in real-life using conventional tools, as it is almost impossible to carry out experiments over a large sample (hundreds of students) and over a longer period (e.g., a whole semester). Consequently, a novel tool is required to monitor students’ learning behaviour and testing performance.
In this study, we focused on a first-year undergraduate mathematics course (Calculus 1) for engineers at Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Calculus 1 is one of the most important basic subjects in the curricula of engineering programmes, in which shared (or continuous) learning is essential for deep knowledge on which the further engineering subjects are grounded. However, it is common among students to study in a campaign-like way, so that they can succeed in the course without acquiring profound knowledge. Additionally, freshmen arrive at university with very different mathematical background. Therefore, it is essential to provide other opportunities, in addition to lectures and seminars, to catch up, for self-development and to provide motivation for continuous learning.
To provide these opportunities and to monitor learning performance, we used EduBase Classroom [L1], a cloud-based educational platform developed by the members and students of our mathematics methodology group (the workflow of our methodology is illustrated in Figure 1). EduBase is a device and platform-independent learning-management system (LMS) providing a customisable teaching and testing interface that covers a wide spectrum of examinations (e.g., homework, tests, and exams), which can be managed via a digital classroom. The test system of EduBase was developed for mathematical testing in which parametrised tasks, function evaluations, vector and matrix formulations are also implemented. The quizzing system also provides continuous data on learning performance, enabling the tutors to continuously monitor learning performance and progress during the semester, which is not possible with traditional methods of teaching. The EduBase Test System is proving to be an excellent tool not only for online education and motivation but also for scientific research in the fields of cognitive sciences and teaching methodology.
Figure 1: The workflow of teaching methodology using EduBase Test System for online testing, motivation and detailed analysis of student data.
After analysing the results at the end of the semester in a class of 115 freshmen, we can conclude that the novel teaching methodology based on continuous retrieval-based learning in EduBase has fulfilled our expectations. The comparison with the control group from previous years, who learnt the conventional way, has shown that drop-out rates have fallen dramatically, and more students are aiming for better grades. In weeks in which new topics were introduced, the time students spent online increased significantly compared to other weeks. In this phase of learning students used testing for learning and training themselves for solving problems rather than checking their acquired knowledge. The end-of-semester results confirmed that scores achieved during this phase of learning are not necessarily indicative of grades at the end; high marks can be achieved by students who struggle with the homework but practise a lot.
A detailed statistical analysis of EduBase’s data showed that students who practised consistently achieved significantly better results at the exam and acquired a deeper level of knowledge than those who crammed for tests. A survey of students confirmed that online testing not only supported their learning but also motivated them to complete maths exercises frequently.
To conclude, we propose a novel test-based methodology that can be applied in real-life university classes with excellent efficiency. EduBase Test System ensures not only that students practise consistently and can take advantage of catch-up opportunities, but also helps the tutors to continuously monitor learning habits and performance throughout the semester. In further research, this tool could also be applied to analyse relationship between daily routine and performance, and the phenomenon of forgetting and re-learning.
 S. K. Carpenter, H. Pashler, N. J. Cepeda: “Using tests to enhance 8th grade students’ retention of U.S. history facts”, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 760–771, 2019. doi:10.1002/acp.1507
 J. G. W. Raaijmakers, R. M. Shiffrin: “SAM: A theory of probabilistic search of associative memory”, in G. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 14), New York: Academic Press, 1980.
 A. Keresztes, et al.: “Testing promotes long-term learning via stabilizing activation patterns in a large network of brain areas”, Celebral Cortex 24 (11): 3025-3035, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Brigitta Szilágyi, Szabolcs Berezvai
Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary