How AUC Increases Engagement on First Year Statistics Courses

Amsterdam University College

The Netherlands




120 per year

Started in


You can also hear Dr. Michael McAssey talk about his experiences using SOWISO here.

Amsterdam University College is a liberal arts and sciences programme that allows students to graduate with a joint Bachelor’s (Honours) degree issued by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam. The program is based on the American liberal arts and sciences model and all course instruction is conducted in English. Every year, the programme admits a maximum of 300 students.

Dr. Michael McAssey has been teaching in this program since 2013. He teaches Statistics for Sciences, Basic Research Methods and Statistics, Advanced Research Methods and Statistics, and Calculus at AUC.


As part of the Academic Core Faculty at the liberal arts programme, Michael is in charge of the core course that is Basic Research Methods and Statistics. The course sees around 60 students per semester, which are then split into classes of 20.

“We had a long process of the class evolving over time, and we couldn’t reach a point where we were satisfied with it. Number one, we couldn’t find a textbook that we liked, that was at the right level, and that had examples and exercises in the discipline the course was directed towards.”

Michael and his colleagues started by giving the students ungraded homework exercises, where they were asked to look up the solutions in the textbook and compare answers.

“Obviously, a lot of students didn’t do that and didn’t do well on their exams, so then we wanted to grade their homework, but there were too many papers to grade, so that didn’t seem feasible. And, of course, there was also the issue of students not wanting to spend more than 100 euros on a textbook that they were only going to use for one semester before reselling. So we wanted to get away from having a textbook as well.”

Eventually, Michael tried out an online platform just for making assignments that could be graded automatically. While this helped them save time spent on grading, all the questions were exactly the same, so students ended up copying from each other and not actually learning the subject matter.


“So what we really wanted was a system that would ask students essentially the same questions but with different numbers. This was when we came across SOWISO since one of our students was doing an internship there.”

With our tool, Michael was able to administer tests where every student got the same question but with different variables. And on top of that, his students no longer had to rely on physical textbooks because all the content was online.

“The staff at SOWISO are willing to listen to us and make changes and add things to the content so that it’s covering the things that we want to cover and in the way we want to cover it.”

While Michael initially sought us out due to our automatic grading and randomization functionalities, something that he has found very useful over the years is our automated feedback system. This feature analyses the students’ input. It identifies where and what the mistakes are, giving students hints specific to their learning path, whether they give a wrong answer or take a correct step to the solution.

“Unlike doing exercises in a textbook where you might not even know if you were right until you review it with someone else or you look up the answer in the back. And even then, it’s only the final answer, so you don’t see how to get to it.”


From a student side, Michael has observed that the automated feedback and the general interactivity of the platform made students more motivated to engage with the subject material. Which subsequently led to higher passing rates as well.

“The students enjoy the online platform and appreciate that they can use it instead of purchasing an overpriced textbook. They are also having more fun with it. They can work through examples and practice and get feedback on their answers, and we also have set up the assessments so that they have a chance to correct errors before submitting their work.”

From the teacher’s side, Michael found our platform useful because it afforded him much more flexibility than a static textbook when it came to implementing a tailored lesson plan. On top of that, “we have less administrative work to perform so that we can focus more on our teaching activities.”

Looking toward fall 2020, Michael plans to implement something similar to his Statistics for Sciences course.

2023 update

During a recent evaluation with Michael, we followed up on this use case —published in 2020—to update it with current information. Now, he uses this platform for assignments and tests as well as to facilitate students’ practice outside the class. Assignments and practice exercises are considered in the final grade.

Teachers have noticed that fewer people fail. Students seem more eager to work, and Michael believes the SOWISO course motivates them. One reason is that it gives autonomy to students to use the material, and it adapts to their learning approach. This tool enables them to learn from their mistakes.

We are glad to hear the quality of the teaching experience is considerably better after using SOWISO. In his own words:

“Before using SOWISO, we had to grade everything ourselves, which is very time-consuming. So we picked a sample of exercises to grade, which still took a lot of time.

Students don’t want to do exercises that will not be graded. So they were not practicing enough in the end. But now, with SOWISO, we include everything in the student’s grades.

For Statistics for Social Sciences, the grades went up since students were doing all the work and more practice. This tool improved their performance in this course since, thanks to the randomization, they could do more exercises than before.”

Additionally, Michael remarks how satisfied students are with SOWISO: “They like it very much. They can go at their own pace. This is something that they mention a lot.”

Finally, his next goal is to keep enhancing his course design with SOWISO’s help.

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