The first African STACK Conference for Undergraduate Mathematics
Authors: Prof George Lawi, Mr Santiago Borio, Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo and Mr Juma Zavick.
The first African STACK Conference for Undergraduate Mathematics took place at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), Kenya, from 19 to 23 June 2023. The aim of the conference was to enable African educators to define a roadmap for the transformation of African Undergraduate Mathematics education through STACK. A total of 66 individuals from 16 institutions participated in the conference. The proceedings included five Keynote speeches, 21 presentations, 10 hours of workshop, and a panel discussion with key African stakeholders from various institutions that attended. The conference successfully raised the profile of STACK within MMUST, with the Vice Chancellor openly supporting its institutionalisation in the Mathematics department. Additionally, participants gained awareness and understanding of how STACK is being used and its impact in African and European universities, started designing STACK integration to courses using the IDEMS Open Question Banks, gained insight into potential technical challenges and how to tackle them, and recognised the need for additional support for full curriculum coverage. Finally, initial steps were taken in the creation of an African STACK Community Leadership Team to drive STACK work in the continent and implement the roadmap discussed during the conference.
Context and Motivation
Faced with the ever-increasing challenges such as large class sizes, inadequate teaching personnel, and limited teaching and learning resources, amongst others, African universities have been forced to innovate so as to provide a good education to their students. One such innovation has been incorporating STACK assessments in undergraduate STEM courses since 2019. These STACK assessments have enabled students to be given continuous assessments with immediate formative feedback, which has improved learning and student achievements. IDEMS (Innovations in Development, Education and the Mathematical Sciences) International, a not-for-profit UK-registered community-interest-company has collaborated with a group of African universities to integrate STACK to selected courses and develop a set of open question banks, with the long term objective of achieving full curriculum coverage in undergraduate mathematics.
STACK integration started through a partnership between IDEMS and Maseno University in 2019, with IDEMS authoring questions for two courses for the second semester of the 18-19 academic year, and an additional two courses for the first semester of the 19-20 academic year. The benefits of STACK became apparent to address some of the mentioned challenges and Maseno University held the first IDEMS-run African STACK workshop in 2019, which led to STACK integration in BDU, Ethiopia, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and MMUST, Kenya. IDEMS supported this through further question authoring and hosting of courses for these universities. In 2022 Maseno University hosted a second African STACK workshop and in 2023 BDU hosted the third.
In parallel, other African universities integrated STACK to some courses, work that increased in priority due to the need for remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most notably, The University of Nairobi, Kenya, expanded their STACK integration to include formal assessments and exams in some undergraduate mathematics courses.
The natural next step to share experiences and define a collaborative effort for increased STACK integration was the organisation of the first African STACK Conference for Undergraduate Mathematics. This conference served as a platform for educators who have used STACK to share their experiences, methodologies, ideas, and the impact of incorporating STACK into their courses, and those who have not used STACK to learn of its potential in promoting learning and research. It also provided an opportunity for key stakeholders in institutions that do not have STACK to explore ways in which they could get support in integrating STACK at their institutions. Additionally, the final day included a panel discussion involving key stakeholders that formed the basis of the establishment of the African STACK Community Leadership Team to implement the key plans defined during the conference.
The conference brought together educators, researchers, and other stakeholders to explore the challenges, experiences, and potential of STACK in supporting mathematics undergraduate education. A total of 66 individuals from 16 institutions participated in the conference. This includes three Ethiopians, one Togolese, one Namibian, one Tanzanian, one Italian and three British participants, with the remaining from Kenya.
The first four days were split into keynote speeches, followed by discussions, presentations, and ending with afternoon workshops. The final day included a final keynote speech and a panel discussion with key stakeholders. Presentations were categorised into five themes: Motivation, New Avenues, International Views, MMUST Institutionalisation and Paving the Road for STACK integration, and are outlined below.
Over ten hours of practical workshops over the first four days gave participants an opportunity to start working or expand their work on STACK integration in their courses. Most workshops were led by Mr Santiago Borio, with support from Mr Juma Zevick, Mr Montognon Wastalas Dogbalou, Ms Celestine Atieno Oliewo and the INNODEMS STACK Intern team. The first workshop focused on exploring the IDEMS Open Question Banks. The second introduced how to use the open questions and how to share resources effectively. The third presented mechanisms to start creating courses for use in the 23-24 academic year. The final workshop was split into two options: basic authoring, led by Prof Chris Sangwin, and finalising course preparation with STACK questions. The overall outcome of the workshop was an insight into authoring and openly available resources, how to access and how to use them.
Day 1: Motivation
The theme of the first day (June 19th) was Motivation. After the opening ceremony, Dr David Stern delivered a keynote speech discussing the challenges faced by African institutions, the use of STACK as a tool to address these challenges, and the importance of empowering educators through technology. He compared STACK with the printing press in terms of making education more equitable, particularly in challenging contexts.
In the presentations, Dr Idrissa Said Amour shared the challenges and opportunities faced in implementing STACK at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, while Dr Abdu Mohammed Seid discussed a STACK pilot in Bahir Dar University (BDU), Ethiopia, and presented the plan to use STACK as a tool for preparing students for the national exit exam and the remedial programme. Dr Jared Ongaro shared his experience of using STACK at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, emphasising that STACK is not solely focused on testing memorisation, outlining the challenges he had to overcome, and detailing his and his colleagues’ achievements in integrating STACK for formative and summative assessment. Finally, Mr Santiago Borio conducted interviews with current undergraduate students and recent graduates from MMUST and Maseno University, discussing their experiences taking courses with STACK questions, the positive impacts of using STACK, the challenges faced, and overall feedback.
Day 2: New Avenues
The second day (June 20th) highlighted areas that are being explored for potential STACK integrations, with some examples of exploratory work undertaken. Dr James Kaleli Musyoka, vice chair of the International Association of Statistics Education, discussed the use of STACK to introduce basic statistical concepts and skills. He highlighted the need for data skills in a data-centred world and the role of STACK in transforming statistics education. He identified areas for improvement including: prioritising prerequisites, focusing on understanding rather than formulas, and developing technological skills for data handling. He then led a discussion of new courses and innovations; topics included accuracy for engineers, making question-writing easier, addressing specific needs of different groups, and bridging theoretical teachings with practical applications.
The presentations highlighted two key areas where innovative use of STACK could be highly impactful, particularly in the African continent: statistics education and secondary schools. Ms Celestine Atieno Oliewo demonstrated three types of statistics questions she worked on in partnership with IDEMS and Maseno University and outlined their individual value and various formats. Mr Zach Mbasu, director of INNODEMS, Kenya, discussed the potential use of STACK in Kenyan schools to help support high school teachers bridge the gap on inequitable resources between public schools and private schools under the new Competency Based Curriculum, particularly in the early secondary grades where mathematics is taught by non-specialists. Additionally, Ms Christine Laetitia presented a collaboration between IDEMS, SAMI (Supporting African Maths Initiatives), a UK-registered charity, and INNODEMS to create a bridging course for secondary school mathematics used in the UK and mostly developed in Kenya. Dr Idrissa Said Amour showcased the progress made in STACK, focusing on developing high-quality questions and exploring alternative grading methods. Prof Mandirevesa Martin Mugochi outlined the context in Namibian universities and the potential impact of STACK in The University of Namibia. Finally, Mr Montognon Wastalas Dogbalou and Dr Herine Adhiambo Otieno discussed the use of technology in teaching STEM subjects in Africa, emphasising how STACK allows students to interact and engage with the content.
Day 3: International Views
During the third day (June 21st), international perspectives were the focus. Prof Chris Sangwin, the founder and one of the main developers of STACK, gave the keynote speech, in which he highlighted his motivation for creating STACK and its components. He presented the long-term objectives for STACK, including its application in various subjects. He also outlined a three-stage cycle for successful course development using STACK: testing, consolidating and improvement of questions using data from student responses. Finally he outlined The University of Edinburgh’s pilot of using STACK for a Linear Algebra exam.
In the presentations, Mr Juma Zevick outlined an international collaborative study on the impact of feedback provided by STACK in addressing common misconceptions in introductory integral calculus. Secondly, a group of Kenyan interns presented their insights from the INNODEMS STACK Internship programme, supported by IDEMS, and Mr Santiago Borio outlined the programme in detail and presented a potential model of African STACK professionals that organisations and institutions could take for smooth STACK integration, as well as the support that IDEMS could provide. Dr Danilo Lewanski shared the initial steps of STACK integration in The University of Trieste, Italy, outlined the plans for expansion, and shared research opportunities available. Dr Herine Adhiambo Otieno reflected on careful considerations in the implementation, design, and deployment of educational technology in mathematics, particularly focusing on STACK drawing from past research findings and theoretical foundations.
Day 4: MMUST Institutionalisation
The theme of the fourth day (June 22nd) was the institutionalisation of STACK in the mathematics department at MMUST. In his keynote speech, Prof George Lawi outlined the MMUST experience over the previous two years and the ongoing journey towards full undergraduate curriculum coverage. He recognised the support provided by IDEMS and the INNODEMS STACK interns which facilitated smooth workflow in transitioning continuous assessments from a small number of pen-and-paper assignments to a fully online system in eight courses, increasing considerably the amount of work done by students and the feedback they received.
There were five presentations by MMUST lecturers that focused on different aspects of the MMUST STACK experience. Dr Mary Okombo outlined how she used STACK analytics to identify challenging concepts in a course. Dr Fanuel Olege presented student perception of feedback of STACK in general in mathematics courses. Dr Colletta Akinyi analysed the impact of STACK on learner performance in mathematics at MMUST. Dr Duncan Otieno Oganga shared an Analysis of learner engagement with STACK in Analytical Geometry and Advanced Calculus courses. Finally, Dr Annette Okoth discussed the potential of STACK in transforming learner perception in mathematics at low level primary schools in Kenya.
Day 5: Paving the Road for STACK integration
The format of the final day of the conference (23rd June) was different. Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo opened the day with his keynote speech, in which he drew out the key conclusions of the various presentations, highlighted the challenges he individually faced when returning to Maseno University after completing a doctorate in a top US university and compared them with common challenges faced by African universities in terms of resources and program quality. He also discussed the introduction of STACK at Maseno University and its positive impact on teaching and learning.
The last presentation was given by Dr Mary Achieng, who outlined the Strathmore University journey integrating STACK and its preliminary outcomes, as well as highlighting key challenges in creating new content. The closing ceremony took place, in which the Vice Chancellor of MMUST recognised the importance of STACK both for the mathematics department and for STEM-related departments, and highlighted the importance of collaborative innovations, creditting Prof Lawi, the whole mathematics department and the organising committee for the successful conference.
The conference culminated with a panel discussion of key African STACK stakeholders: Prof George Lawi, focusing on STACK institutionalisation, Dr Abdu Mohammed Seid, representing Ethiopian universities, Dr Idrissa Said Amour, representing Tanzanian universities, Prof Mandirevesa Martin Mugochi, representing Namibian universities, Dr Herine Adhiambo Otieno, focusing on Ed-Tech research, Dr Annette Okoth, focusing on STACK for statistics and data science education, Dr Beth Kiratu, representing the Kenya Mathematics Society, Dr Mary Ochieng, focusing on the Strathmore International Mathematics Conference and how the African STACK conference could learn from its model, and Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo, a key driver of STACK integration in East Africa. A key conclusion was the need for an African STACK Community Leadership Team to promote and support STACK integration in Africa.
Impact and Future Outlook
The conference provided a platform for meaningful discussions, knowledge sharing, and collaborations, empowering educators and researchers to explore the role of STACK in transforming mathematics education. Participants in the conference gained valuable insights from presentations, workshops, and discussions, expanding their understanding of STACK and its potential. Organisations involved in the conference, such as IDEMS and the Kenya Mathematics Society, benefited from increased visibility, networking opportunities, and potential collaborations with international partners.
To sustain the momentum generated by this conference, future activities have been envisioned. The linkage between the Kenya Mathematical Society (KMS) and the STACK community will create efficiency in driving mathematics education innovation programs within Kenyan local universities. This collaboration will facilitate the integration of cutting-edge technology and pedagogical approaches to enhance teaching and learning experiences. The continued support of IDEMS and INNODEMS will be vital in supporting the adoption of STACK in Kenya and other African countries. The STACK internship program which is led by INNODEMS and supported by IDEMS is playing a crucial role in the development of STACK resources and in the online support for lecturers.
Looking ahead, the University of Dar es Salaam and BDU were proposed as the venue for the next workshop and conference respectively. This decision reflects the commitment to inclusivity and the desire to spread the benefits of the conference across different African countries. By rotating the workshop and conference venues, more local educators and researchers from diverse regions will have the opportunity to participate, share their experiences, and contribute to the ongoing integration of STACK in African universities and other educational institutions.
The conference set the stage for the future transformation of mathematics education in Africa. Through shared experiences and recommendations, a roadmap to guide the implementation of STACK and improve learning outcomes was adopted. Based on the outcomes and discussions during the conference, the following action points were agreed:
African STACK Community Leadership Team (Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo): A proposal was given to establish a team that would play a key role in coordinating STACK activities within Africa, fostering collaborations, and ensuring the effective adoption and utilisation of STACK. This team would serve as a central hub for sharing best practices and knowledge, and coordinating support for African institutions implementing STACK.
Suggestions for strengthening collaboration with KMS (Dr Beth Kiratu): The objective to foster a stronger partnership between the Africa STACK community and KMS to accelerate the adoption of maths education innovations in local Kenyan universities and educational institutions was proposed. KMS is committed to take the leadership in organising and coordinating mathematics education activities in Kenya.
Continued support for the STACK Internship Programs in Africa (Mr Santiago Borio and Mr Zach Mbasu): IDEMS and INNODEMS agreed to continue supporting the INNODEMS STACK Internship programme. The African STACK Community Leadership team will look for mechanisms to expand this internship model in other contexts and counties.
Improvement of existing Question Banks (IDEMS and INNODEMS): All participants agreed to help maintain and improve the IDEMS Open Question Banks. Collaboration will be essential to do so, particularly in question review, requesting new questions, and providing recommendations for improvement of individual questions. Mechanisms to do so were outlined in the conference workshops.
Plans for future STACK Conferences in Africa (Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo): There was consensus that there is a need for the African STACK conference to be held yearly. The African STACK Community Leadership Team will take responsibility for deciding host institutions and collaborate with the respective organising committees. The current proposal is for the 2024 conference to be hosted in Ethiopia by BDU and the 2025 conference to be hosted in Tanzania by The University of Dar es Salaam.
Throughout the conference, several key themes emerged regarding the implementation and adoption of STACK assessments in African institutions. The key points include:
- the need to move away from traditional assessment methods and focus on interactive learning experiences;
- challenges and opportunities in implementing STACK, emphasising the importance of empowering educators and promoting a research culture;
- discussions and debates around integrating STACK in new courses, bridging theory with practical applications, and equipping educators with the necessary skills to effectively utilise STACK;
- need for collaborations, partnerships and research into innovative teaching and assessment methods.
The conference was made possible by individuals and organisations and deserve clear recognition. First and foremost, the funding organisations: The Swiss National Science Foundation and Université de Genève, The European Mathematical Society, SAMI, IDEMS International and INNODEMS, whose financial support, both direct and indirect, enabled the conference to take place and support a large proportion of the participants who would otherwise not have been able to attend.
Secondly, the organising committee members, Prof George Lawi, Mr Santiago Borio, Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo, Ms Christine Laetitia, Mr Juma Zevick, Dr Achiles Nyongesa, Dr Everlyne Odero, Dr Frankline Tireito, Dr David Angwenyi, and Dr Danilo Lewanski. Their dedication, expertise, and tireless work in planning and executing the conference were instrumental in its success.
Thirdly, the keynote speakers, Dr David Stern, Dr James Kaleli Musyoka, Prof Chris Sangwin, Prof George Lawi, and Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo, for sharing their insights and expertise on STACK and its impact on mathematics education. Their contributions enriched the conference and provided valuable guidance to the participants.
Furthermore, the supporting organisations: MMUST, Maseno University, the Kenya Mathematical Society, IDEMS, INNODEMS, and SAMI, for their collaboration, resources, and commitment to the advancement of mathematics education in Africa.
Last but not least, all the participants who attended the conference, and particularly the presenters. Their active engagement, valuable insights, and meaningful contributions made the event a resounding success. Together, the collective efforts and commitment of these individuals and organisations contributed to the groundbreaking success of the Africa STACK conference.
Appendix 1: Financial Report
This appendix summarises the finances for the first African STACK Conference for Undergraduate Mathematics at Masinde Muliro University for Science and Technology, Kenya, held on 19-23 June 2023. Full financial details can be found here.
The conference had four main sources of funding:
- The European Maths Society (EMS) contributed EUR 3,000.00
- The University of Geneva contributed USD 4,000.00
- SAMI contributed USD 1500 for accommodation of sponsored participants
- Conference Fees: most participants received full or partial waivers for the conference fees. In total, the amount received from conference fees was KES 116,489.55 and USD 75.00.
The total amount spent for the conference was KES 1,349,774.54 (USD 9693.24). This can be classified into the following detailed categories:
Flights for supported international participants
Nine individuals from non-Kenyan African countries applied for support for flights to participate in the conference. The funding available allowed for five participants to be supported: Abdu Mohammed Seid (Ethiopia), Yassin Tesfaw Abebe (Ethiopia), Mandirevesa Martin Mugochi (Namibia), Idrissa Said Amour (Tanzania), and Aménito Jean Claude Kohoun (Togo). The total spent for this was KES 571,475.79.
Accommodation and out of conference meals
All sponsored international participants were provided accommodation. Additionally, some local participants and organisers were provided accommodation as it wouldn’t have been possible for them to participate or support the running of the conference otherwise. Accommodation included breakfast and dinner, and additional funds were used for evening tea not included in the accommodation costs and a pre-conference meal on Sunday 18th June. Finally, further accommodation for two sponsored participants and Santiago Borio in Nairobi as part of their return flights was spent. The total spent for this was KES 340,900.00.
Lunch and morning and afternoon tea were offered by the MMUST catering team for the five conference days. The total amount spent for this category was KES 357,500.00.
Transport costs included transport for sponsored participants from Kisumu airport and back, transport for organisers and supporting team members (e.g. INNODEMS interns, etc), and payment for a MMUST shuttle driver for transport from hotel to venue and back. The total spent for this was KES 28,250.00.
The organising and supporting team met daily from Wednesday 14th June to Saturday 17th June and lunch was provided. Accommodation for Santiago Borio for these days was covered. Finally, logistical costs prior to the conference were incurred by Ms Chrisine Laetitia. The total spent in this category was KES 22,014.00.
Other Conference expenses
Other conference expenses included stationery, welcome packs and certificates, and purchase or miscellaneous items required to run the conference. Additionally, financial costs were covered, which include Mpesa charges and foreign exchange fees. The total spend for this was KES 29,634.75.
There was a surplus of KES 5,597.61 from the conference funds in the INNODEMS account. The remaining KES 1,680.90 should be accounted for from exchange rate fluctuations. The surplus was considered an administrative fee for INNODEMS for managing the accounts.
Appendix 2: Participants
- Dr Endalkachew Teshome Ayele, Arbaminch University, Ethiopia
- Dr Abdu Mohammed Seid, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia
- Mr Yassin Tesfaw Abebe, Bahir Dar University and Mekdela Amba University, Ethiopia
- Dr Danilo Lewanski, University of Trieste and University of Geneva, Italy
- Ms Celestine Atieno Oliewo, African Mathematics Initiative, Kenya
- Mr Owen Mulinya Kizito, African Mathematics Initiative, Kenya
- Mr Dogbalou Motognon Wastalas D., IDEMS International, Kenya
- Dr Herine Otieno, IDEMS International, Kenya
- Mr Juma Zevick, IDEMS International, Kenya
- Ms Adinda Feleria, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Emmaculate Atieno Odhiambo, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Faith Wambui Mbugua, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Mr Godfrey Ouma Wabwire, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Jeddidah Ndusya Mbiti, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Laetitia Christine, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Lucian Talu Mayabi, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Ms Mary Sayuni David, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Mr Nixson Kiplagat, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Mr Samuel Okoth Ogalo, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Mr Titus Mburu Kinuthia, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Mr Zach Mbasu, INNODEMS, Kenya
- Dr Vincent Major Bulinda, Kisii University, Kenya
- Dr Stanley Rotich, Machakos University, Kenya
- Dr James Kaleli Musyoka, Maseno University, Kenya
- Dr Michael Obiero Oyengo, Maseno University, Kenya
- Dr Annette Wakaanya Okoth, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Charles Wachira. Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Duncan Otieno Oganga, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Everlyne Akoth Odero, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Frankline kibiwot Tireito, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Prof George O. Lawi, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Joyce Kagendo Nthiiri, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Mary Achungo, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Michael Onyango Ojiema, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Phoebe Auma Amadi, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Sarah Khaindi Wandabwa, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Achiles Nyongesa Simiyu, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Aldrin Wekesa Wanambisi, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Brenda Achieng Onyango, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Colleta Akinyi Okaka, Masinde Muliro University of science and technology, Kenya
- Dr David Angwenyi, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Fanuel Olege, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Ms Joy Masika, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Lilian kwamboka Atima, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Ms Mary Immaculate Okombo, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Michael Musyoki, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Mr Noward Obonyo Ali, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Philis Alosa Mukhonyi, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya
- Dr Robert Oryiema, Masinde Muliro University of science and Technology, Kenya
- Mr Linus Nyakea Atuya, Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology, Kenya
- Mr James Odongo Ondulo, Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology, Kenya
- Dr Beatrice Adhiambo Obiero, Rongo University, Kenya
- Dr Mary Achieng Ochieng, Strathmore University, Kenya
- Dr Ben Obiero, Technical University of Kenya, Kenya
- Dr Beth Kiratu, Technical University of Kenya, Kenya
- Dr Catherine N. Nyaga, Technical University of Kenya, Kenya
- Dr Esther Wairimu Njue, Technical University of Kenya, Kenya
- Mr Ben Tito Kyalo, University of Nairobi, Kenya
- Dr Jared Ongaro, University of Nairobi, Kenya
- Dr Wyclife Rao, University of Nairobi, Kenya
- Prof Mandirevesa Martin Mugochi, University of Namibia, Namibia
- Dr Idrissa Said Amour, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
- Mr Aménito Jean Claude Kohoun, HCBIS Lomé, Togo
- Dr David Stern, IDEMS International, UK
- Mr Santiago Borio, IDEMS International, UK
- Prof Chris Sangwin, The University of Edinburgh, UK