Posted in Education, Students

The Synergy between Facebook and Maple T.A.

Maple T.A. (Waterloo Maple Inc.) is a Testing & Assessment application that students can access directly from Blackboard software. Its purpose is to test students’ knowledge and grade them. Now the new generation of students is using Facebook groups in order to help each other with these tests. Some may see this as cheating, but is it really?
Monday, January 16, 2012

(Rotterdam) Waterloo Maple Inc., trade name Maplesoft, is a from origin Canadian company that makes computer algebra systems. One of their products is Maple T.A., a web-based system used to create online tests and keep track of students’ performance.

Maple T.A. is much more advanced than the Blackboard tests. The specialty of the software is the way it is able to handle mathematical equations, making it a great tool for courses that require mathematics.

The ESE recently started using Maple T.A. to assess students on their coursework. But the downside may be the fact that students do it at home, or together. Considering the fact the Maple grade accounts for a certain percentage of the final grade, can this be considered cheating?

Cheating or Teaching?

The words look much alike, but there’s a crucial difference. If one reads the EUR exam regulations, he would soon realize the online test should be held to the same standard as a written or oral exam. This means, helping others is cheating.

But what one should also realize, is that there’s a great amount of teaching involved1. The fact that students are graded and the outlook to the final (written) exam, students are motivated to actually understand the matter.

Facebook improves Gradebook

Just by looking at these Facebook groups will tell you why the previous statement is true. Each question that is posted is about why a certain calculation works or what someone did wrong. Students actually correct each other’s answers2.

So see for yourself by looking at a couple of posted pictures: 1, 2, 3. Fair enough, the answers are right there, but the true students will actually gain a better understanding and are therefore expected to score better on the final exam.

Using ICT, like social media, students have accomplished what universities have been reluctant to do: apply collaborative learning3,4. It can be seen as a statement: if you don’t provide it to us, we take care of it ourselves.

The goal is pretty clear: using Facebook in order to improve the Gradebook! Additionally, teaching other’s improves ones confidence and is a great extra exercise at the same time.

Sure, some students are just using it to get a good grade for the online test, not gaining any real understanding, but will eventually fail anyways. That way, there is a self-correcting mechanism.


One would seem to think that professors are not enthusiastic about the collaboration on the online tests. Yet, the opposite is true. Some professors even join the online group5. So do TA’s and they help students in their free time.

Now, professors don’t go that far to actually encourage these practices, but they aren’t complaining either. Some like these online groups because they can communicate to students more easily, even outside the lecture rooms.

Even academic literature exists on this topic depicting collaborative scripts that can help setup environments for collaborative learning6. There’s also literature about the social nature of learning, known as the zone of proximal development7.


1. Chiu, M. M. (2000). Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 30, 1, 27-50.600-631.
     ”Group problem solving processes: Social interactions and individual actions.”

2. Chen, G., & Chiu, M. M. (2008).Computers and Education, 50, 678 – 692.
     ”Online discussion processes: Effects of earlier messages’ evaluations, knowledge content, social cues and personal information (…)”

3. Smith, B. L., & MacGregor, J. T. (1992). National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Penn State
     University. “What Is Collaborative Learning?”

4. Harding-Smith, T. (1993). New York, NY: HarperCollins College Publishers.
      “Learning together: An introduction to collaborative learning.”

5. Chiu, M. M. (2004). American Educational Research Journal, 41, 365-399.
     ”Adapting teacher interventions to student needs during cooperative learning.”

6. Kollar, I., Fischer, F., & Hesse, F. (2006). Educational Psychology Review, 18(2), 159-185.
     ”Collaboration Scripts–A Conceptual Analysis.”

7. Lee, C.D. and Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.).(2000). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
     ”Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry.”

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