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COSMaP: Contextual On-line Solution of the Mathematics Problem

PROMPT Screenshot
Screenshot of PROMPT, the student system created by the COSMaP Project.


The COSMaP project was a cross-School collaboration between the Schools of GeoSciences, Engineering & Electronics, Mathematics and Physics. Its deliverables are implicitly transferable across (and outwith) the rest of the College.

The principal aim of the project was to tackle the so-called "Mathematics Problem" of our incoming undergraduate students by developing and delivering a web-based system (PROMPT) consisting of short assessments and intelligent tutorial exercises. This material contains contain context-sensitive feedback to help students develop mathematical confidence at their own pace, flavoured to suit their interests to help motivate their mathematics learning.

The project draws on a considerable amount of existing research, knowledge and work already carried out by the project contributors, as well as embracing and extending standards already established in this area.

What is the Mathematics Problem?

It is now widely accepted that the mathematical backgrounds of freshers starting science degrees presents an increasing challenge for teachers within the Schools. This is partly due to changes in school mathematics curricula and to increases in the number of students undertaking degrees.

In order to maintain standards of our degree courses, we need to work hard to ensure that students have the basic mathematics abilities required to cope with our courses.

This "Maths Problem" is complex and diverse and means different things in different Schools. Yet there are huge areas of commonality in terms of both pedagogical issues, core mathematics material and techniques and delivery mechanisms. We believe, in common with research in the area, that context is a vital motivating tool for our students in addressing this problem. For example, students need to be able to manipulate fractions for a variety of purposes but, in engineering, this might be best motivated by studying resistors in parallel while, in physics, it might be a problem in optics.

Key Outcomes:

  • Motivate beginning undergraduate students to learn maths by personalising material according to their own interests.
  • Increase student's fluency in the application of mathematics to their main degree subjects.
  • Allow students to gain confidence at their own pace by incorporating intelligent feedback and assistant technologies tied to practical, formative assessment exercises.
  • Assemble a bank of core maths and contextual material, locating and assimilating existing materials where possible.
  • Extend on pedagogically proven learning methodologies already in use across participating Schools.
  • Build on a considerable amount of existing work including WaLLiS, the School of Mathematics' intelligent feedback and learning assistant and the School of Physics and Astronomy' Aardvark system.
  • Develop XML specifications to describe the material, context and the way it is delivered, drawing on existing standards and work in this area.
  • Collaborate with teaching staff to establish best practises for authoring and providing new material.

Project Status

This project ran from May 2004 to May 2006 and was funded by the University of Edinburgh's e-Learning Project Fund.

The Project has officially ended and a PROMPT system has been made available to students studying maths in science and is running on a maintenance/security-fix arrangement (see links below for locations of PROMPT instances). At the moment there are no plans for future development, either in extending/improving PROMPT or in providing new sources of COSMaP content.

Project Contacts

Dr Antony Maciocia, School of Mathematics (Project Manager)
Dr David McKain, School of Physics and Astronomy (Technical Manager)
Mr Keith Brunton, School of Physics and Astronomy (Technical Lead)

More Information

More information on the project may be found at the project's website.