The key to this style of education is the “test engine” provided by the emporium. Each time a student calls up a quiz on the material under study, he will receive a different set of problems.
In fact, the test engine can create, practically speaking, an almost unlimited number of different quizzes on the same material.
In this fashion the practice quiz functions as a recitation, with the test engine providing instantaneous grading of the material, as well as comments and suggestions on problems the student does incorrectly
With the testing machinery in an emporium course, and the encouragement for the student to practice each quiz and test problem as often as he might wish before actually taking the quiz or test for credit, and with instantaneous feedback as to which problems are incorrect, we believe this pedagogical model is not just cost efficient, but actually far more effective than conventional lecture courses.
Practice quizzes and the quiz-for-credit can be accessed from any Internet site anywhere in the world using virtually any browser by students enrolled in the course. However, there is a distinct advantage to taking quizzes at the emporium itself, since on-site resources there include tutoring labs and on-line videos, as well as an emporium support staff which responds to individual student requests for assistance, with a response time on most days of under one minute.
The Math Emporium supports a variety of activities:
Active, independent learning through locally developed, self-paced online math courses designed to let students learn on their own schedules, while providing immediate feedback and sufficient structure to ensure students understand expectations and meet required milestones.
Being used as a remediation tool for students who are below the proficient level.
Attempts to address gaps in students’ skills through the use of a computer program, literature and direct instruction.
The program directly addresses individual needs through differentiated instruction, adaptive and instructional software, high-interest literature, and direct instruction in reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.
The software component of the program aims to track and adapt to each student’s progress. In addition to the computer program, the READ 180 program includes workbooks designed to address reading comprehension skills, paperback books for independent reading, and audiobooks with corresponding CDs for modeled reading.
In this article we will illustrate the emporium model with an engineering mathematics course. The model is being utilized for courses in a number of departments, and the conclusions we draw seem equally valid for introductory and mid-level courses throughout science and engineering. This emporium model is suitable for the implementation of a combined lecture-based computer-assisted course. Such courses maintain the human connection which traditional education has always provided, and the lack of which can be a significant detriment in “on-line” university courses. It is important to emphasize this is not “on-line” instruction. The traditional faculty lecture role is retained, and the emporium itself, because of its size, is able to provide human resources on a one-to-one basis to students at the computer in a financially economical setting. Moreover, course material and course testing is entirely under control of individual faculty members, and can be readily tailored to meet special demands.
vector calculus, required of all mathematics, science and engineering undergraduates. Previously, this course was taught each semester in 25 sections of about 40 students each, meeting twice weekly and requiring, of course, 50 lectures per week. Moreover, the lecturers were responsible for assigning and grading recitations and exams for each section. Currently, all 1000 students are taught in 6 sections, each involving one weekly lecture and the emporium component to be described, that is to say, 6 lectures per week. The reason that so many students can be handled in one lecture is that the entire burden of recitations, quizzes and exams is carried by the computer emporium. This course and those like it have no weekly homework assignment or recitation. Instead, the course requires a weekly cycle of practice quizzes and quizzes-for-credit, all offered at the computer emporium.
Students report to the emporium at their own pleasure throughout the week following each lecture, and can practice the quiz problems on the weekly lecture topic as often as they wish. However, they must take the quiz for credit one time only before the weekly deadline. Since the computer emporium is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, students can access the quizzes at the emporium at virtually any time of their choosing.
The key to this style of education is the “test engine” provided by the emporium. Each time a student calls up a quiz on the material under study, he will receive a different set of problems. In fact, the test engine can create, practically speaking, an almost unlimited number of different quizzes on the same material. In this fashion the practice quiz functions as a recitation, with the test engine providing instantaneous grading of the material, as well as comments and suggestions on problems the student does incorrectly. The test engine also records and archives the scores attained on the quiz-for-credit for each student. Periodically, the student takes a proctored examination covering the previous three or four weeks of material, and at the end of the semester a cumulative final examination, with the examination and its grading also provided entirely by the test engine.
In just the course under discussion, for example, each of the 1000 students per semester takes on average about 50 practice quizzes, 10 quizzes-for-credit and 4 examinations. The typical quiz has 8 problems, with tests having from 15 to 30 problems. Since each problem must be individually generated for each student each time the problem is accessed, it is evident that the volume is quite massive, in fact, more than a half million quiz problems for just this one course. We believe our emporium test engine is the largest such engine in existence.
Practice quizzes and the quiz-for-credit can be accessed from any
A paramount consideration at all times is to ensure that the system is scalable to large transaction volumes.
III. Hardware requirements
These simple design requirements imply that the server consist of a standard web server (we use Apache) and a page delivery service capable of very high volumes of transactions. Apache is public domain, which means it is standards-compliant and free to use. Apache has proven to be extremely robust. In order to retain sufficient programming control to attain these transaction volumes, the most practical environment is java server-pages (JSP). JSP permits a maximum of computational speed and processing in a rich environment. With this architecture, a high-powered machine as server is not necessary. We utilize a pair of aging Sun 3000 servers with 4G of memory and RAID storage. One of the machines does the web serving, while the other accommodates the database. Except when we do builds, we rarely see usage exceed 10% of capacity on any machine.
For the types of courses we have developed, the “practice quiz” plays the most fundamental role in the learning process. In the United States, in the traditional lecture format this role is played by the assigned homework problems.
The conversion of traditional classroom course offerings to models of the sort described in the preceding has substantially reduced costs, as well as improving staff working climate and morale, primarily by reducing the demands on senior lecturers in so many classrooms. Furthermore, when the performance in later courses of students who have completed courses under the emporium model are compared to those who learned the material under the traditional model, we find that the former significantly out-perform the latter. We believe this is due to increased time-on-task during the course. [9,10]
The hardware cost for construction of a computer emporium in Africa with 250 computers and two workstations, assuming $100 for battery-backed computers and two workstations with UPS’s at $5,000 each, as well as $2,000 for cabling, would be $37,000. If each student were allotted 6 hours computer time per week per course, and the emporium were accessible 18 hours daily for 6 weekdays, the emporium could handle 4,500 student courses per semester. At that rate, with a projected hardware lifetime of five years, the cost per student semester course would be less than 1 dollar. Even at a current cost of $150 for a simple laptop, the cost would be barely over one dollar per student semester course.
A large and secure venue is required for the computer
Although the computer emporium requires no outside networking, the emporium at Virginia Tech has Internet access available on every emporium machine. At the present time, the cost of wide-spread internet access for universities in many developing countries is prohibitive. World Bank estimates that the cost of internet access for sub-Saharan African universities is $13,000 per Mbps/month, compared to $120 in the U.S.  It is likely that eventually the rates in Africa will be greatly reduced by communication cables operating with regulated return on investment. In that event, Internet access on emporium machines will open up many other educational opportunities.