Creation of a Diagnostic Tool/Online Resource for Mathematics Support

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Each year UWE Bristol funds Pedagogic Projects across the University on a variety of themes. In this blog, Rhys Gwynllyw, Emily Walsh, Oliver Haslam, Karen Henderson, Patrick O’Flynn, Danny Elvidge, Kevin Golden discusses their 2018/19 project to develop an online maths tool.

Mathematics, Maths, Computer, Laptop, Business, Graphs
Image of a laptop with maths symbols


Data analysis from the Mathematics cluster’s espressoMaths service over many years has indicated a strong demand for additional Mathematics support from students across a broad spectrum of programmes. This demand spans all of UWE’s four faculties. This has been particularly the case for students in their first year at UWE on programmes that contains Mathematics but do not have Mathematics as a pre-requisite at A-level. In some cases students can be quite surprised as to the amount of Mathematics they will use; this can be quite challenging for students who have not done any Mathematics since GCSE level.

In discussion with programme leaders across broad range of programmes at UWE, we identified a need for an automated Mathematics support resource targeted at transitioning students with the two primary aims of (a) providing targeted support with dynamic feedback and (b) to aim to reduce the students’ anxiety levels at what is a particularly stressful time. We decided that this resource would be made available to students prior to the start of their studies, thus extending our Mathematics support.


The project team had a large amount of experience in designing and building electronic learning resources. Our expertise in the Dewis [1] e-assessment system, together with extensive use of the Xerte [2] interactive learning resource resulted in the decision to produce a one-stop diagnostic tool that would use intelligent branching to dynamically direct students to targeted learning resources within the system. The presentation of this learning resource would be bespoke to individual programmes although, where possible and appropriate, learning units could be shared across programmes.

As part of the initial pedagogic project, two pilot programmes engaged with the project namely, Foundation Architecture and Health Science Apprenticeships. For these two programmes, a list of key mathematical topics were identified. This information was obtained by data mining the espressoMaths logs and also through discussions with the programme leaders. Each of these topics were further split into sub-topics to enable the learning resource to partition its support to the student. For each of these sub-topics the following were created:

  • a Dewis e-assessment, with intelligent marking and bespoke feedback;
  • a Xerte learning resource (XLR) supplying a coherent learning mechanism for the sub-topic. This XLR would typically contain instructional videos, additional e-assessments (Dewis or otherwise) and links to additional material. During the viewing of a video, Xerte can present key points at different stages in the viewing to add emphasis. Break points can also be used to present a mini e-test at appropriate stages.

The created learning resource facilitated Dewis and Xerte to communicate with each other and be able to monitor the student’s engagement with both resources. The Xerte resource made use of pre-existing maths instruction videos sourced from YouTube and this enabled the project to cover a greater number of topics than might otherwise have been possible as we did not need to spend time producing instructional videos ourselves.  The project augmented the videos in Xerte, providing students with additional notes and exercises at selected points while the videos were viewed.

Typically, the learning resource would present to the student the list of topics and sub-topics with the information as to which of these the student has already engaged with and/or obtained sufficient credit. The student would select a sub-topic and be presented with an initial diagnostic e-assessment (via Dewis). Based on the student’s performance in that e-assessment, the system would direct the student to the most appropriate Xerte resource for further study. The student is then invited to reattempt the Dewis e-assessment, with different numerical parameters, concentrating on the areas they previously struggled with. Once a student has gained credit for that sub-topic, the resource congratulates them and records their achievement. The displaying of appropriate icons by the resource allows the student to keep track of their progress.

It was a pre-requisite of the design of the resource that it be user-friendly. The interface had to allow for easy navigation and awareness of their progress in their learning. For any given e-assessment, consisting of a small number of questions, if a student had previously correctly answered part of a similar question, the student was informed of this. In such a case the student had the option of employing an ‘auto-answer’ feature.

For every programme utilising this feature, there are three mechanisms by which students can use the resource which depends on (typically) the amount of monitoring of engagement required by the programme leader. The three options are:

  • Self-registering. The student accesses the resource via a web address and self-registers. The programme leader can be aware of cohort performance in this situation but cannot monitor individual students.
  • Pre-registered. The system registers a list of student identities and allocates passwords to these identities – typically the identities are supplied to us by the programme leader. The programme leader then distributes these identities to the students. Using this mechanism the programme leader can monitor individual students’ engagement with the resource. This approach is suitable for students prior to them starting at UWE.
  • Blackboard. A web link (LTI) can be put on the programme’s Blackboard site through which student access the system without any additional authentication checks. With this approach, for students with a Blackboard account, students are automatically registered with this learning resource. As with the ‘pre-registered’ approach, the programme leader can monitor individual students’ engagement with the resource.

Below is a snap-shot of the resource. The image is of the front page of the resource for ‘Health Science Apprenticeship’ where the student has started the Algebra topic, gaining full credit in one topic and they are currently in the middle of two other sub-topics.

A guest link (non-monitored) to the resource is available here.

The front page of the resource for Health Science Apprenticeship


To date we have created five separate mathematics resources that have been delivered to ten programmes at UWE Bristol. Student feedback has been very positive:

“I’ve always struggled with rearranging formula so I thought it would be best to go back and study it more in depth and your professionally made video on it has finally allowed me to understand it and comprehend the different aspects of it. … having a teacher with your friendly and calm demeanour would motivate a lot more students to pursue the sciences.”

“I just want to thank you for the interactive video you put up on blackboard. I was really struggling with the trigonometry aspect when going over past papers and I can’t tell you how much this video helped. Breaking it down like this and giving us the option to interact – as well as the automatic pause feature – is just fantastic. Really has cleared things up! I will definitely be using it again to revise.”

Foundation Engineering applicants who had accepted offers at UWE were emailed to congratulate them on their offer (prior to registration) and sent details of the bespoke Mathematics Support resource.  The uptake was very encouraging with 175 out of 182 applicants requesting access. Positives identified by the programme leader included:

“Students felt part of the UWE family very early on and encouraged them not only to complete registration but gave them a positive work ethic and tapped into their early enthusiasm.’’

“As a PL it gave me an initial, individual rapport with the students and demonstrated that our aims on the foundation year is to enable them to succeed, something that some of these students may not have felt in their previous academic year.’’

“Students were conversant with the Dewis format and this helped them with their early assessments in two of their foundation modules.” “The students who completed the online material were very positive about it and said it was useful and some stated that it was just what they needed at that point, to refresh their maths knowledge after a very long summer with no academic work.”


If you think your students would find it beneficial to have access to a similar mathematics resource, then please get in touch with

We can quite quickly produce a tailor-made mathematics resource using existing content that is relevant to your students.

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