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Do We Deliver Effective Maths Support for Students?
University West, Department of Engineering Science, Division of Land Surveying and Mathematics. (LINA)
Leeds Metropolitan University.
2012 (English)In: The European Conference on Educational Research 2012: Cadiz, 18-21 september 2012, 2012Conference paper, Published paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

European countries are facing a crisis in preparing qualified staff for working in science and engineering. Declining numbers of students pursuing careers in these areas and poor quality of maths education in secondary schools are the principal factors contributing to this problem.

Students entering universities have a diverse level of maths knowledge which is often below university requirements. University teachers often face a challenging and complex task of teaching such a diverse student body. One of the most common ways to tackle this problem and to raise the level of students' maths knowledge to the required standard is to introduce a maths foundation course before to mainstream teaching begins. However, this is not always possible because of academic staff availability and/or time and cost constraints. Another solution is to provide additional help with maths-related problems by running drop-in sessions, workshops and/or tutorials.

This study analyses the efficiency of maths support provision in two universities: Leeds Metropolitan University, UK and University West, Sweden and is part of an ongoing research collaboration between the two universities. The present work reflects the first stage of this research and is focused on evaluating the efficiency of the maths support in these two institutions from the perspectives of academic staff. The next stage of our research will include the analysis of this provision from the students' perspectives.

The literature on this topic is growing but limited and is mainly focussed either on quantitative indicators: the numbers of maths support centres and staff employed, hours when this support is available, numbers of students attending etc. [e.g.1, 2] or at the correlation between maths support session attendance and students' test or exam results [3].

However, there has been little research about how the tutors who deliver this maths support evaluate the effectiveness of their work and what they think can be done to provide maths support which can successfully meet students' needs.

In both universities the main part of maths support provision consists of drop-in workshops which are available throughout the week. Leeds Metropolitan University does not offer very maths intensive courses, however, maths elements are incorporated into a number of subject areas such as  nursing, business, sports science psychology, education etc. There are specific workshops for maths and statistics. Two dedicated members of staff from the maths support centre run these one hour sessions. University West offers both maths intensive courses such as engineering and computer science, and less maths intensive courses such as education and nursing. Its maths workshops are open to all students and cover all subject areas. Selected academic staff from the Maths department are appointed to run three-to-four hour sessions three times a week as part of their teaching load.

One tutor from Leeds Metropolitan University and three tutors from University West participated in the study.

MethodOur study is conducted in two stages and uses mixed methods for data collection: questionnaires for students, interviews with tutors and observations during the sessions. The combination of these methods will give us a fuller picture of the effectiveness of maths support in these two universities. At this stage of our research we collected information about which students used the sessions – their departments, year and course of study, why they attended and what problems they needed help with – which we then analysed. We also observed how tutors were coping with a wide range of maths topics and teaching methods. We conducted interviews with the tutors to understand in more detail how they work, the difficulties they face, the types of problems that arise and the ways students expect help to be provided as well as tutors' ideas about more effective ways of providing maths support. At the next stage of our research we will be analysing the feedback from students and their suggestions on how maths support provision can be improved. The two-stage approach will provide us with a better understanding of the students' real needs and will facilitate the deployment of more effective student support.

Expected OutcomesThe academic staff from both universities noticed a broad variation in students' maths abilities. The majority of workshop attendees were first year students struggling with their assignments as well as undergraduates who failed their exams and wanted help as part of their resit preparation. High performing students sometimes came to perfect their knowledge. In Leeds, postgraduate students often attended the workshops, particularly on statistical data analysis. The students came from a wide range of subject areas and tutors found that sometimes it took extra time to answer the students' subject-specific questions. The number of attendees increased before exams or project submission deadlines. Based on the interviews and observations we concluded that students are often not fully engaged during the workshops, instead preferring a 'solve this for me' approach. However, implementing student-centred methods which increase students' engagement with the learning process (e.g. problem-based learning and peer-assisted learning [4-6]) can help.  Subject-specific workshops (e.g. for nurses, business students or teachers) help to focus on students' particular needs, and individual tutorials can accommodate other needs. The paper concludes with recommendations for improving the effectiveness of maths support for students and discusses the next stage of the research.

References1. Perkin G. and Croft T. (2004), "Mathematics Support Centres – the extent of current provision", MSOR Connections, May 2004, Vol. 6 No 2 p 14-18. 2. Lawson, D.A. and Reed J. (2002), "University mathematics support centres: help for struggling students". In Ivanchev, D. and Todorov, M.D (eds.), Applications of Mathematics in Engineering and Economics. Heron Press, Sofia, pp.686-692 3. Pell G. and Croft T., (2008), "Mathematics Support – Support for all?" Teaching Mathematics and its Applications, 27 (4), pp. 167-173. 4. Anari M., (2006) An analysis of a maths workshop – students with mathematical difficulties. (in Swedish). Thesis. Mälardalen University, the Library of the Institute for Mathematics and  Physics. 5. Nilsson G. and Luchinskaya E. (2007), "Problem-based Learning and competence development: a Case Study of Teaching Mathematics to Computer Science Students", Journal of Research in Teacher Education, 2007, No 3. p 13-21. 6. Nilsson G. and Luchinskaya E. (2009), " Using Problem-based and Peer-assisted Learning in Teaching Mathematics to University Students: Focus on Competence Development." Paper presented at the European Educational Research Conference, ECER 2009, Vienna, Austria, September 2009.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
National Category
Mathematics
Research subject
Mathematics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hv:diva-4860OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hv-4860DiVA, id: diva2:581590
Conference
ECER 2012
Available from: 2013-01-02 Created: 2012-12-06 Last updated: 2015-03-21Bibliographically approved

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