Effective feedback in mathematics: provision and student engagement (DEADLINE Fri 7 June 2019)

The following workshop (details below) is taking place in Cardiff as part of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications HE Teaching and Learning Series 2018/19. If you are interested in attending the event, please email wilsonrh@cardiff.ac.uk by midday, Friday 7th June.
Effective feedback in mathematics: provision and student engagement
Date: Tuesday 11th June, 2019
Venue: School of Mathematics (Room M1.02)

SUMS discussion group formed

A number of colleagues, interested in scholarship of teaching and learning of mathematics, have formed a discussion group. This arose from conversations among a few of us in Dundee, and then with colleagues in St Andrews.

So far, we are: Ewa Bieniecka, Hiroko Kamei and John McDermott (Dundee) and Tom Coleman, Aidan Naughton, Valentin Popov and Antonia Wilmot-Smith (St Andrews).

After a little scratching around via email, we managed to hold our first meeting on 29 April 2019, by arranging to attend the talk Thinking about group work? in St Andrews on that day, by Anne Tierney.

We hold our second meeting in Abertay University on Friday 7 June, at the Annual Meeting of the Scottish Maths Support Network.

For now, at least, the group will use this blog to post items of interest around SoTL / Maths Education. We may hijack the name (Hard) SUMS too, if we can decide on a version of the acronym/title we like!

Thinking about group work?

A talk by Anne Tierney in St Andrews

29 April 2019

Abstract: Working in groups is a skill sought by many employers. However, some disciplinary areas may lend themselves more readily to group work than others. It is possible to embed group work in almost any situation and context, supporting students to work positively with one another in different situations.
In this talk we will explore the pros and cons of group work, examine some examples of where it has worked well, and discuss how it can be introduced.

Transforming Instruction in Undergraduate Mathematics via Primary Historical Sources (TRIUMPHS)

Daniel Otero – 11 Feb 2019

Daniel Otero is an Associate Professor at Xavier University, Cincinatti (http://www.cs.xu.edu/~otero/). He is visiting the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews until early April, as one of their Visiting Fellows in the History of Mathematics.

This talk outlined the approach of the TRIUMPHS programme (http://webpages.ursinus.edu/nscoville/TRIUMPHS.html) to the teaching and learning of undergraduate mathematics. TRIUMPHS contributors design and deliver ‘Primary Source Projects’ in particular topics of mathematics, aiming to supplement or even partially replace, traditional teaching of those topics.

Projects are based around historical sources, including examples such as (an image of) a Bablyonian tablet illustrating their system of numeration (base 60). Students engage with the documents and take an active approach to discovering and learning about the topic. The aim is to encourage group work, moderated by the instructor.

Each project is designed to take anywhere between two or three class periods, and a whole semester, to deliver. The Bablyonian example covers two classes, while a unit on trigonometry is designed to take the first 4-6 weeks of a traditional module on the subject, then allow a faster track version of the same module to continue in the remainder of the semester.

These projects seem to be especially successful at engaging students who are not already strong mathematically, but are very challenging to ‘better’ students, who are sometimes uncomfortable with the active group style.

Further information about Danny:

Danny’s scholarship focuses on ways in which the history of mathematics can be used to improve the teaching of the subject at the tertiary level. He has designed three undergraduate modules for his own students that teach maths through engagement with primary sources. Since 2014 he has been co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant project titled Transforming Instruction in Undergraduate Mathematics via Primary Historical Sources (TRIUMPHS), and he is also a member of the MAA Spectrum series editorial board. While he is in St Andrews he is going to be working on completing his book, A Smoother Pebble, that aims to teach the basic concepts of calculus to students of the humanities through primary sources that exemplify the history of the development of its underlying ideas.


Why don’t students use effective learning strategies?

Dr Flavia Shechtman-Belham (Seneca Learning) – 22 Feb 2019

Flavia gave a TILE (‎@TILEnetwork) talk about some of the most effective learning strategies – Dual Coding, Spacing and Interleaving, and Retrieval Practice. She also discussed reasons why students don’t tend to use these  – they are perceived to be ‘hard work’, or unnecessary (students think their current methods work), etc. The message I took away from this excellent talk was that pointing my students to effective strategies for learning is my responsibility.

Actually no, my responsibility goes further than that. The published evidence Flavia discussed suggests that students cannot easily be persuaded to use these strategies. Chatting with a colleague who made earnest efforts in this direction during a course he delivered last year reinforced that impression. A full-on campaign in one course seems likely to single out that course in students’ minds, as awkward and difficult. So my responsibility might be not only to inform – but to nudge students towards the best strategies.

Nudges have a chance of working.  I feel that an approach mixing evidence from the literature (in small doses) with some reinforcement, in occasional short practical sessions, could provide the right environment for students to decide to adopt (some of) these strategies for themselves. My idea is to intersperse such sessions in occasional 15-20 minute bursts, into ‘regular’ maths workshop hours. These will take a little planning.

Maybe this will help – but maybe I would then single out my teaching as awkward and difficult! An ideal approach would then involve a coordinated effort involving other colleagues, perhaps covering the teaching across a whole level.

Lecture Capture – Moving towards ‘opt-out’ at Edinburgh

Dr Melissa Highton – 2 May 2018

A talk at LCS2018 (search for this tag in the blog).

Speaking from a dual role as Edinburgh University’s Director of IT and Vice-Principal of Online Learning,  Melissa discussed how Edinburgh is moving towards an ‘opt-out’ policy for LC. Opt-out means that by default, all lectures at the institution will automatically be recorded unless a special case is put forward which provides for an exception.

Edinburgh have been rolling out facilities for LC, with 100 teaching rooms fully ready, 200 more coming online this summer and the final 100 coming next year. This roll-out had been planned and announced but was reported in the student newspaper under the headline “All Edinburgh lectures to be captured from 2017.” The mis-understanding caused some complaints from students whose lectures were not yet being captured. This highlights a theme across the talks: students will increasingly come to expect lectures to be captured and may come to feel poorly served by institutions or individual departments which do not provide LC.


Lecture Capture Symposium

University of St Andrews – 2 May 2018

I attended “LCS2018” in St Andrews. This afternoon-long symposium featured presentations by academics from a number of Scottish HEIs on the topic of Lecture Capture (LC). Various aspects were considered, including policy, implications, evidence and possible future directions. Several speakers related their own teaching experiences using LC and discussed implications for good practice.


I will post short pieces about each of the talks using the blog tag “LCS2018”.

BCME – Celebrating Mathematics Education


April 3-6, 2018

Two members of the Maths Division, Rachael Carey and John McDermott, attended the ninth British Congress of Mathematical Education (BCME) in Warwick.

BCME 9 is described as “a celebration of mathematics education attracting delegates from every phase (early years through to university) and aspect (teaching through to research, policy and public engagement), as well as high profile plenary speakers.”

With over 500 delegates, 350 papers / sessions and seven high profile plenary speakers, this four-yearly event is the largest Mathematics Education Conference in the UK.

Various talks delivered at the conference will be highlighted on this blog using the tag ‘BCME’

What makes examples exemplary for students? – John Mason

Mathematics Division Seminar

19 February 2018

Prof Mason has been teaching university mathematics for 40 years and during this time he has extensively investigated how to teach and learn mathematics effectively. He led the Open University’s Centre for Mathematics Education for fifteen years and has published numerous useful textbooks about maths educations that have become standard texts for students and lecturers.

This talk examined many of the ways in which the examples and ‘model solutions’ we provide to students might be more or less helpful to them, perhaps not working in the way that we expect! A number of techniques for engaging students within a session were discussed and even used during the talk.