Blogging from The Tenth Southern Hemisphere Conference on the Teaching and Learning of Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics

Prof Leanne Rylands -image taken from here.

**Live blogging: Note that these are notes I’ve taken live, but will edit this today into a more readable format. I want to put this up straight away though to see if I have any obvious misunderstanding. Equations will also be put into more readable format ASAP.**

Context: 42,000 students at Western Sydney University – founded in 1989.

**Background**:

- A low level maths subject
- Poor mathematics background – getting worse
- Failure rate: 40-60% failure rate
- No maths prerequisites

Asked the students: Do you expect to fail? What grade do you expect to get?

All expected to pass – many expected to get very high grades

Students’ perspectives are different from the staff.

- What do students see at the start of the semester?
- Do their expectations change over the semester?

Two surveys: 1 in the first week, 1 at the end of the semester.

3 courses:

- Maths for design
- Maths for engineers
- Maths for science

All thought of as low level subjects. Many students have a poor mathematics background.

Students surveyed on:

- Mathematical background:
- 62% had inadequate background for the subjects they were studying – only elementary mathematics (first of four levels)

- Attitude to maths:
- Main word in the word cloud was “Enjoy”! – also
- “A good challenge, I enjoy it”
- “Required and useful”
- “highly confused and anxious” – there were fewer negative ones.

- Their expected outcomes:
- “Understanding”
- “knowledge”
- “greater skills”…generally good things
- “a pass”
- “gain mathematical skills that will help with life

- Grade they expected to get: (of 265 students who stayed past census date)
- 79.1% expected a higher grade than they got
- 12.5% got it right
- 8.3% got a lower grade – set up for a lot of disappointment!
- Worst for male students (ie. over expectation of marks)

- Assessment of skills in algebra, statistics, trigonometry and calculus:
- The general trend is that the better the background, the higher students’ assessments of their algebra skills – not surprising.
- Comparing the marks at the end of the semester versus their self-assessment doesn’t seem to be very illuminating
- 113 of 297 students who had not done calculus said that their calculus skills were better than non-existent to very weak. ie. they don’t understand what calculus is.

Only half of the students enrolled turned up to the first lecture.

**Conclusions:**

- There are many poorly prepared students in low level maths subjects
- Poorly prepared students don’t see themselves as poorly prepared
- most students expect a higher grade than what they achieve
- Do students’ high expectations mean that they don’t work very hard?
- Do students ignore support services because they don’t believe they need them?
- How can we work to keep the positive mathematics attitudes?

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