The Math Exam Resources (MER) wiki is a open education community project started in March 2012 by a group of graduate students in the UBC Math Department. The goal of this project is to provide an open and free educational resource to undergraduate students taking math courses at UBC and elsewhere, with a strong emphasis on first and second year math courses. The resource currently consists of 954 reviewed hints and solutions to 39 previous department exams that have be organized by topic.
The MER wiki emphasizes the processes of critical thinking and problem solving rather than final answers alone. By providing optional hints and alternative solutions it offers a flexible learning environment where students can choose different levels of support to meet their learning needs when solving problems.
All the material on the MER Wiki was created through volunteer efforts by graduate students at the UBC Math Department and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license. A list of all contributors by term can be found here.
The MER wiki was created to improve mathematics learning for students from all faculties taking courses through the math department (particularly first-year students). Past exams are freely available on the UBC math department website, but solutions are not. While considering various options to improve solution quality, it became clear to the math graduate student community that not just the content, but also the delivery medium needed improving. The wiki emerged as the ideal format for publishing solutions because it is an online open resource that is publicly available and offers many advantages including (but not limited to) easy collaboration, quality control, and immediate student feedback. The wiki’s dynamic structure allowed for the ability to institute a system of peer review, where each hint and solution is reviewed by at least one other contributor before it is certified as a “good quality” solution and published. Typos and any errors or further changes, such as extra hints, can be easily addressed in the wiki format.
Innovative Use of Wiki Technology
The MER wiki was developed using an innovative approach that allowed for mass collaboration, rapid development, student engagement, and robust reuse. It was built as a project on UBC"s MediaWiki platform, the UBC Wiki. Use of the wiki platform for solution publishing has the following benefits, all which improve the learning experience.
- Content presentation
- The format of each wiki question page, with its hidden hints and solutions, allows the user to try the problem him/herself, then look at a hint before consulting the solution. The hints offer advice such as what techniques are relevant for the given question, how to think about setting up the problem, or how understanding the motivation of the problem can lead to an idea of how to solve it.
- Users can ask questions and give feedback via the built-in discussion page for each question. Whether a key hint is missing, an explanation is unclear, or there is another way to solve a problem, users can leave a comment in the discussion tab and the content will be updated within days (frequently hours!).
- The ability to "flag" wiki pages has allowed us to create a system that tags individual question pages by topic. Thus we are able to organize the wiki content in multiple ways to meet different needs; a student reviewing for a particular course can simply click on a link for that course, while someone who wants to practice a specific kind of question (say, related rates problems in calculus) can click on that topic and receive a list of questions from across multiple courses.
- Quality Control
- Because the wiki is so easy to edit, solutions with mistakes or typos are quickly fixed. In addition, since anyone can contribute to a page, we have instituted a peer-review system where each question, hint, and solution is reviewed by someone who was not its author. The wiki format then facilitates editing by the reviewer, and/or leaving comments to improve content. The flag system that allows us to sort by topic also allows us to flag content quality, indicating when work on a particular problem is complete.
- MER wiki content is free and available to students at UBC and around the world. In particular, all of our solutions are available for use in other educational resources via website/blog embedding or book creation. Furthermore, because the Mediawiki format itself is open-source, the templates and design of the MER wiki are also freely available, meaning that any group or institution can use our model to create their own wiki for content distribution.