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.


  • 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:

  1. Maths for design
  2. Maths for engineers
  3. Maths for science

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

Students surveyed on:

  1. Mathematical background:
    • 62% had inadequate background for the subjects they were studying – only elementary mathematics (first of four levels)
  2. 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.
  3. Their expected outcomes:
    • “Understanding”
    • “knowledge”
    • “greater skills”…generally good things
    • “a pass”
    • “gain mathematical skills that will help with life
  4. 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)
  5. 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.


  • 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?


How clear is this post?