Computer-enhanced learning in tertiary education
It is widely accepted that mathematics courses for science and engineering undergraduates should aim to develop an enquiring and creative approach to mathematics together with good communication skills. Due to their versatili ty, computatonal power and graphical capabilities, computers can play a significant role in developing these skills. A review of the development of computer-assisted learning of mathematics established that a new investigative approach could exploit the potential of the computer. For this project, two comprehensive computer-based learning packages were developed. The content and educational objectives of the packages were determined by consultation with mathematics lecturers. These objectives were to encourage investigative work, to facilitate problem solving and to enhance student understanding of certain algorithms and topics. The packages were evaluated over a four-year period, whilst in regular use in the mathematical sciences laboratories at Napier Polytechnic as part of the curriculum of several degree courses. During the formative evaluation, modifications and improvements were incorporated. The second stage of the evaluation comprised an investigation of the impact of the packages on the mathematics curriculum. In particular, changes in teaching approaches, learning outcomes and student attitudes towards mathematics were studied through observation, questionnaires and interviews. The feasibility of transfer of the materials developed to other higher educational establishments was also examined. The study identified an increase in the use of graphical methods to explore the behaviour of functions, numerical methods and models, more emphasis on investigative work, and more analysis and interpretation of results. Improved communication skills were also noted. It was deduced that the computer-based approaches adopted had fostered the development of higher cognitive skills, thus leading to an enhanced quality of learning.