Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Learning Innovation Fund Awards

Donal Dowling- mathtutor - a computer-based maths learning tool

Principal applicant

Donal Dowling

School or Unit

Maths Learning Centre / School of Mathematical Sciences

Additional Applicants

Brien Nolan, Mathematical Sciences, brien.nolan@DCU.ie

Amount requested


Amount received


Summary description

mathtutor is a CD-Rom designed for individual study incorporating video tutorials, computer simulations and interactive lessons and tests. There are over 70 topics covering the essentials between Junior Certificate and first year university studies. Diagnostic tests lead the user into video tutorials and exercises for practice; summary text for printing is also provided. The software can record the user-profile of individuals, allowing them to return to the point at which they stopped off during a previous session and to monitor their progress through lessons. mathtutor also carries additional visual materials which will extend and enhance understanding and user-friendliness. It was developed by the UK government-funded mathcentre team. The aim of this project is to purchase this software for the use of all DCU students, and to purchase three computers for the Maths Learning Centre. This will provide a location where students can access training in the use of the software.

Project URL

mathtutor homepage: http://www.mathcentre.ac.uk/mathtutor.php

Strategic Objectives

1. The Networking University (1.3 Student Managed Learning); 2. The Campus as a Learning Hub (2.1 Learning Hub; 2.2 Mixed Mode Provision); 3. Enhance Leaner Achievement (3.1 Support for new learners; 3.3 Retention and Progression)

Strategic Context

1.3-Student managed learning. mathtutor is a self-study tool. After training and receiving advice on areas to concentrate on, students will work through the diagnostic tests, video tutorials and exercises at their own pace.

2.1-Learning Hub. mathtutor will be installed campus-wide, expanding to the entire campus wired and wireless network the arena for maths learning, and offering students a further incentive to focus their learning activities on the DCU campus.

2.2-Mixed Mode Provision. mathtutor will provide another means by which students can learn mathematics in DCU, in addition to the existing traditional modes and the Maths Learning Centre (MLC).

3.1-Support for New Learners; 3.3 Progression and Retention. mathtutor will be of particular importance to first-year students. It will form a key part of the School/MLC intervention strategy aimed at incoming students identified as being at risk in mathematics. Improvement in overall standards and exam performance will help retention and progression rates.

Implementation Plan

DD to arrange purchase of mathtutor from distributor (www.ebst.co.uk) and computers (Dell); oversee installation on DCU networks and refitting of the MLC (CG10a) to accommodate computers (July'06). DD/BN to design tutor training programme (September '06) for maths tutors ensuring proficiency in use of software. Introduction to use of mathtutor to be provided to incoming students as part of introduction to MLC (week 1, semester 1). Students then ready for use of software; additional assistance available in MLC.

Project adresses LI Strategic Plan under student managed learning (students work through mathtutor at own pace, according to own needs); creation of Learning Hub ( new campus-wide maths learning instrument); mixed mode provision (new way to learn maths); support for new learners and progression, retention (intervention strategy for incoming students struggling in mathematics).

Pedagogy: project provides alternative mode of learning maths - computer based learning. Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technology summarises research on effectiveness of educational technology. caret.iste.org links to research evidence that following features (possessed by mathtutor) contribute positively to student learning through technology, specifically for low-performing, at-risk students: diagnostic testing followed by directed learning; progress monitoring; applications selected to address the unique needs, strengths and weaknesses of the student. Kulik in NSF InfoBrief http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf03301/ reports positively on integrated learning systems such as mathtutor.

Project (purchase of software and hardware, installation and refit of MLC) to be completed by end July`06, preparation for students' use by end of September`06.

MLC manager's contract expires in May 2006. Faculty of Science and Health currently investigating permanent presence of MLC and manager in DCU. In the event that this is not finalised by May 2006, the School of Mathematical Sciences will provide financial support to continue the manager's contract in the short-term future.


The project will improve the student maths learning experience through the provision of a new mode of learning that will be available campus-wide, will be supported by the expertise of the MLC and will allow students to work at their own pace and in response to their own mathematical needs.

The nature of the mathtutor software means that we will be able to assess its effectiveness as a learning tool via the examination performance of users of the software versus non-users in the annual review of the MLC's activities. A more immediate evaluation of its role in student learning will be the usage statistics which the software will record. In addition, student surveys will provide information on how students view the software and what place they see it occupying in their maths learning.

Dissemination and Sustainability

Outcomes will be disseminated in the annual report of the Maths Learning Centre. This will form the basis of journal articles and conference presentations on particular aspects of the Centre's activities. We expect to present a report on the MLC's intervention strategies for students at-risk in mathematics at the 3rd Irish Symposium on Undergraduate Mathematics Education (December 2006).

mathtutor has been developed by the UK Government funded mathcentre and is available free to all UK universities. A once-off purchase price of GB£500 for DCU has been agreed: there is no annual licence fee to be paid. Thus the only additional costs to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the project will be to replace the computers in the MLC (CG10a) after 3 years. It is hoped and expected that the MLC will be a permanent part of DCU by that time and will have a materials budget to cover this replacement.

Detailed budget


Item: mathtutor CD Roms.

Cost: €730

Notes: Price of GB£500 quoted by EBS Trust, November 2005. GB£500 = €728.48 today 18/01/06.

Item: Number 3 x personal computers for installation in the Maths Learning Centre (CG10a).

Cost: €3600

Notes: Cost based on School's recent purchase of Dell Optiplex (2.8GHz/800MHz) machines with addition to account for multimedia requirements, headphones etc.

Item: Electrical work in CG10a

Cost: €2500

Notes: Cost based on similar work done for School of Mathematical Sciences in room X137.

Item: Number 3 x computer workstations

Cost: €450

Notes: Quoted Viking Direct office supplies catalogue, Winter 2006 edition.

TOTAL: €7280


While the principal aim of this project is to provide the mathtutor software for the use of DCU students, the principal cost is incurred by the associated computing requirements of the Maths Learning Centre. We see this as a vital part of the project, as the School's previous experience with computer based learning has taught us that it is essential to provide assistance to students in the operation of the software tool being used. This will best be done by having dedicated computing facilities in the MLC, and priority will be given to users of mathtutor.

The Maths Learning Centre has a close association with the School of Mathematical Sciences, but receives the majority of its funding from other sources (previously, the HEA and currently, the Learning Innovation Unit via the Faculty of Science and Health). It provides assistance to all DCU students taking mathematics, including those not taught by the School of Mathematical Sciences. We therefore see the University rather than the School or Faculty as the proper source for funding of this MLC based project.

Other Information

mathtutor came to our attention in a talk given by Dr David Saunders (Open University), one of its authors, at the 2006 September Meeting of the Irish Mathematical Society held in DCU. It became apparent to us through his talk and our testing of the software that it could provide a answer to the MLC's search for a suitable computer based maths learning tool. In our estimation, its use of video tutorials, diagnostic tests, exercises and interactive worksheets makes it superior to other products of similar type. It is particularly strong on overcoming the technology barrier which is always present in such learning tools, giving students different and flexible ways in which to interact with the tool (e.g. in inputting answers).

Comments on the application process

The word-count was very restrictive in some sections. Assessors may find that they have questions that could otherwise have been answered. The form also seems to make a certain amount of repetition unavoiadable!