Mathematics plays a much greater role in today’s society than people realize. Statistical analysis and complex theories and formulas are used in a variety of fields and applications to develop models that forecast performance, in sectors such as finance, business and manufacturing. Suzanne de Treville, an operations strategist teaching at a business school in Switzerland, has been researching and working with the manufacturing industry for many years and wanted to come up with a new approach to train current and future managers. With growing amounts of data available to companies in the digital age, and new strategies for analyzing that data, de Treville decided to develop a new teaching approach for her operations management classes. She turned to Maple T.A., an online testing and assessment system, to support this new approach.
A professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, de Treville looks at teaching as an operation, with a yield and a return. A teacher starts with untrained students, puts them through a process of learning technical materials, and trained, proficient students come out on the other side. The reality of education today is that there are anywhere from 100 to 400 students in a course and 60% is considered a passing grade. As a result, students also have a low tolerance for coaching. “They think ‘I’ve mastered 6 out of 10 tools, so I should get a passing grade,’” she explained. “However, this doesn’t cut it in the business world. If you only learn 6 out of 10 tools, you’re not good enough.”
De Treville believes that if she can get her students to master relevant technical material, they can make a measurable impact on the manufacturing industry. “We’re preparing students to use new technology platforms in companies they go to, to be able to create an impact even within a company that doesn’t use these methods,” she said. “Some companies don’t have all of the data and analysis the students will have access to with advanced learning tools; these students will know things even the manager doesn’t know.”
Maple T.A. is a significant part of de Treville’s plan to prepare students for the working world. It allows her to efficiently deliver quizzes each week through an easy-to-use platform that enhances students’ interaction with the course materials. As a result, there is an expectation that participants in the course will completely master all the technical tools. De Treville said anyone admitted to the program is capable of mastering the technical material. “I tell them ‘you have gotten into a challenging university, and every single person in this room can do every single thing on this list,’” she said. “It’s a question of putting in a few hours and if they’re not prepared to do that, we may as well just fail them right then.”
Students in de Treville’s classes complete quizzes using Maple T.A. in the first 15 minutes of each class for the first several weeks, with each quiz worth 10% of their grade. The goal is to keep students from falling behind and give everyone incentive to keep up with the materials. It is typical that some students wait and try to catch up on all the technical materials at the end of the semester, which renders classroom time a waste, de Treville said. “Come exam time, they cram just enough to pass. As a strategist, this is what we call failure,” she said.
The Maple T.A. quizzes are available in advance for students to practice, which facilitates the students’ ability to master challenging material. As a result, they put in more effort and make a greater commitment because they perceive the work as doable. “Students look at it and say I know if I put the work into this class, I’m going to pass,” de Treville said. Offering tests in advance also serves to eliminate procrastination by keeping students continually engaged, and they are able to use Maple T.A. to achieve complete understanding and mastery of all the technical material.
The use of pretesting allows de Treville to sample the questions and get feedback from students on any unclear wording or rounding errors. This allows for any necessary adjustments to be made prior to students taking the graded quiz. In addition, this approach eliminates cheating because all students have access to the material beforehand.
Using Maple T.A. increases everyone’s proficiency with technical tools and raises the quality of discussion in the classroom. “If every single person understands demand volatility, the level of discussion is much more interesting, even though it’s a large classroom,” she said. “Maple T.A. thus becomes a developmental tool as well.” The improved proficiency and added discussion depth builds confidence in the students for the present and the future. “We find when we’re sending students for internships after working with Maple T.A., they have a much higher level of confidence and they display greater impact in their positions,” de Treville said.