New Variate tool gives instructors power to create math-based problem sets without the coding

A new online learning tool created at Purdue allows instructors to create meaningful math-based assessments using randomized variables, all without spending hours coding or requiring students to purchase access to an online learning platform.

Variate, developed by a Purdue’s Innovative Learning Team, allows instructors to create multi-part math problems and allows the use of randomized variables to ensure that each student sees a unique version of the problem. .

Ben Van Kammen, an economics professor whose microeconomics courses include a significant math component, began using Variate this spring semester to give his students more opportunities to practice math problems. He said he liked Variate’s ability to create auto-graded problem sets without the intensive programing knowledge that other platforms require.

“The user interface is much more user-friendly than programs like LON-CAPA,” said Van Kammen, “and the time investment needed to get started is much lower. It’s not that much different from typing a problem in (Microsoft) Word’s math equation editor.”

On June 5, Van Kammen will discuss how he used Variate this spring as part of Innovative Learning’s Tech Today series. The virtual event, hosted on WebEx, will include a demonstration of Variate and a chance for attendees to ask questions about the tool. Register to attend here.

Variate is also helpful when teaching online, said Van Kammen, as the ability to used randomized variables helps thwart academic integrity issues. Variate also syncs with course rosters and work is ongoing to integrate the tool into Brightspace, making for a seamless teaching and learning experience.

In the video below, Van Kammen shows how he built two questions using Variate and discusses the advantages of using the tool in his course:

Van Kammen says he believes many instructors could find Variate useful for their courses, especially in cases where the underlying math problems might just be one piece of a bigger puzzle. He says the return for the investment of time spent creating math problems in Variate is the fact that the problems can be essentially reused forever – the randomized variables ensuring that students can see new versions of the problem each time they try.

“If you actually want students to do better, Variate is all about getting them to practice problems – novel problems, so they can’t just get the answer from someone else,” says Van Kammen. “And it is practice that’s auto-graded, so they get that instant feedback and they can keep repeating until they get it right.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Variate is encouraged to attend the Tech Today event on June 5 or to request more information by emailing