Workshop 5 – Supporting undergraduate mathematics education


The 2016 FYiMaths workshop was held at The University of Melbourne on July 13th-14th. The workshop included discussions on different approaches to assessment, common student errors, and issues surrounding student mathematical communication. Presenters shared current findings from their research as well as sharing activities and pedagogical tricks and tips that could be used in lectures.

Program available here.

Presentations are attached below:


Deb King, The University of Melbourne, Investigating students’ perceptions of graduate learning outcomes in mathematics


The purpose of this study is to explore the perceptions mathematics students have of the knowledge and skills they develop throughout their program of study. It addresses current concerns about the employability of mathematics graduates by contributing much needed insight into how degree programs are developing broader learning outcomes for students majoring in mathematics. Specifically, the study asked students who were close to completing a mathematics major (n=144) to indicate the extent to which opportunities to develop mathematical knowledge along with more transferable skills (communication to experts and non-experts, writing, working in teams and thinking ethically) were included and assessed in their major. Their perceptions were compared to the importance they assign to each of these outcomes, their own assessment of improvement during the program, and their confidence in applying these outcomes. Overall, the findings reveal a pattern of high levels of students’ agreement that these outcomes are important, but evidence a startling gap when compared to students’ perceptions of the extent to which many of these—communication, writing, teamwork and ethical thinking—are actually included and assessed in the curriculum, and their confidence in using such learning.


Jo Elliott, Deakin University, Investigating science students’ perceptions of work-integrated learning to achieve curriculum reform


Science students participate in work-integrated learning (WIL) less than students in other STEM disciplines, such as engineering and agriculture (Edwards, Perkins, Pearce, & Hong, 2015). This may be because WIL opportunities are less common and more ad-hoc in generalist degrees (such as the Bachelor of Science) than in degrees more focused on a specific career path (AWPA, 2014; Prinsley & Baranyai, 2015). However, anecdotal feedback from university staff implementing WIL programs suggests that low science student engagement with, and uptake of available WIL programs is also adversely affecting participation. This suggests that broad-scale curriculum reform to significantly grow WIL in science requires cultural shifts on the part of both staff and students. In this presentation, we will report on the Successful WIL in Science project, which aims to build capacity for WIL in science to improve graduate employability. We will share preliminary insights from individual and group interviews of university staff and students enrolled in science courses. Initial work with Australian science faculties suggests that the cultural shift for staff required for large-scale curriculum reform can be facilitated by meeting faculties at their point of need and utilising trusted peer-to-peer relationships. Next we will investigate student perceptions and experience of WIL to better understand how students can be encouraged to prioritise and engage with WIL in a meaningful way.


Carmel Coady, A survey of mathematics bridging subjects


Carmel will present recent data on the range of bridging subjects currently offered nationally

Workshop: Bridging the gap or a bridge too far?

Carmel will lead a discussion on the effectiveness of bridging subjects.


Heather Lonsdale, Curtin University, Student reflections on oral assessment in whiteboard tutorials


I will discuss some early results from looking at student reflections on oral assessment in whiteboard tutorial setting. First year students were assessed on their explanations of the problem-solving process working in groups at whiteboards, and then completed a guided reflection, for three calculus topics throughout the semester. I will discuss what the students wrote in their reflections, and how this evolved over the semester.


Padraic Bartlett, University of Auckland, Incorporating Code in Lectures


Mathematical concepts often involve or can be illustrated through algorithms.  Demonstrating these algorithms through code lets us study examples and applications that are otherwise too ponderous to tackle by hand.  However, the act of writing and executing code in class can feel quite different to the chalkboard/whiteboard/slides media that most of us are used to teaching with.

In this talk, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages behind several ways to present code in a lecture.


Michael Jennings, The University of Queensland, UniDoodle


Unidoodle is a classroom response app which allows students to quickly submit sketch-style answers via their iOS or Android device to questions asked by their teacher in class. Audience response systems traditionally allow students to only answer multiple-choice questions. Students either phone a number to submit their answer or click a button on a clicker. While Unidoodle does have the multiple-choice option, the key difference is that students can submit answers in a range of formats. In this talk I will discuss how Unidoodle has been used in two large first-year mathematics courses at The University of Queensland, providing rich, immediate information on students’ mathematical understanding.

Please download the app onto your device beforehand from


Poh Wah Hillock, The University of Queensland, Just-in-Time Support in First Year Mathematics


MATH1051 (Calculus & Linear Algebra) is the first tertiary level mathematics course at The University of Queensland with a yearly enrolment exceeding 1500. This huge cohort is made up of students from over 45 different programs; many of the cohort are woefully underprepared for university maths. Each year 300-500 students fail the course, with a significant number repeating the course multiple times (it is a core requirement for degrees such as engineering). In this talk, we describe the several approaches employed to assist MATH1051 students. The support is delivered within the course and incorporates both online and face-to-face interactions. A key consideration is the provision of just-in-time help while deploying a range of approaches to reach out to the diverse student body.


Don Shearman and Lyn Armstrong, Western Sydney University, Two Supports are better than one.


The Mathematics Education Support Hub (MESH) at Western Sydney University provides multiple structures for students requiring mathematics, statistics and numeracy support in their studies. These include unit specific workshops, discipline focused workshops, a program of drop-in consultations offered through the various campus libraries (library roving) and online support.

An analysis of data collected from the unit specific workshops and library roving suggests that the different forms of support appeal to different groups of students, and that the benefits gained from using each of the services is additive. Further analysis of student backgrounds suggests that it is predominantly students with poor mathematical backgrounds who are utilizing the available services.


Jonathan Kress, University of New South Wales, Mastery Tests in Maths for the Life Sciences.    


A common complaint in mathematics education is that students are allowed to progress with insufficient mastery of earlier topics and are thereby set up for failure in their future studies.  They also tend to focus on “getting the answer” rather than “communicating the answer”.  To address this, in MATH1031 Mathematics for Life Sciences in this year, a new assessment structure was introduced.  Students were required to master some basic skills, assessed by repeatable invigilated computerised tests, before attempting a final written exam that had only credit and distinction level questions in which clear exposition was explicitly part of the marking scheme.  Students who had not reached the required level in time for the exam were given further opportunities to master the basic skills and pass the course without the exam.  I will discuss how this went and the advantages of this approach.


Nazim Khan, University of Western Australia, Should calculators be allowed in university mathematics units?


Traditionally mathematics units do not permit the use of calculators, especially at the first year level, and particularly for introductory or low-level courses. This study is on a low-level mathematics units, covering algebra and introductory calculus, which has previously not allowed calculators. We were interested to investigate if allowing calculators would affect the performance of students.

In semester 2, 2016, we allowed the class to use any calculator on the standard list of calculators permitted by the university. Student performance data, along with demographic information such as ATAR, High School mathematics mark, Sex, and Weighted Average Mark, were collected for students from 2015 S1, S2, and 2016 S2. The data were analysed to determine the effect of calculators on performance.

In addition, surveys of academic staff and students were taken to ascertain the attitude of each toward calculators.  A qualitative and some quantitative analyses of the resulting data were undertaken.

Based on this study, we will address the question: What is the effect of calculators in first year mathematics units? We will further discuss the implications of our findings for the use of calculators in university mathematics.