The first year of university is a pivotal experience in students’ transition from high school to university, and is strongly influenced by their interactions with their teachers and other students, as well as the content and learning environment of the subjects they study. Universities have acknowledged this by the range of support services and initiatives aimed at assisting students socially and academically. There is also a role for academic schools and departments in transition, as lecturers and tutors are a key point of contact for students in their discipline areas. In mathematics there is often also a significant gap between students’ mathematics education at school and expectations of them at university. The role of the first-year subject and program coordinator in assisting students’ transition from high school to university is an important part of the support structure that universities provide to ensure students succeed. As the numbers of mathematics graduates in Australia continues to decline, it is important that faculties maximise the opportunities to support first-year students and encourage their progress in the discipline.
Academics that coordinate and teach in first year often possess special attributes that give them an affinity for these students’ needs and aspirations. They usually have a significantly different role from the typical teaching and research academic. Their responsibilities include: running large transitional programs for students of varied backgrounds; providing classroom support; designing curriculum and assessment; giving course, careers and general wellbeing advice to students; managing permanent and casual teaching staff; moderation and quality-assurance activities; and team-building and coordination responsibilities. While institutions vary in their staffing approach to these roles, often staff with these responsibilities operate in isolation and have a limited awareness of what is done in other institutions or faculties. The role is typically very busy with limited time for networking or consideration of how the role may be developed.
Our project objectives were:
- To build leadership capacity of individuals and teams involved in first-year learning and teaching in the mathematical sciences, thus raising their profile within the higher-education sector and in the general community, encouraging recognition of their fundamental and key roles and achievements.
- To promote and support strategic change and improvements in first-year learning and teaching in the mathematical sciences throughout the Australian higher-education sector, with significant benefits for the student experience.
- To develop useful and effective mechanisms and protocols for the identification, development, dissemination and embedding of outstanding individual and institutional practice and exemplars in first-year learning and teaching in mathematical sciences.
- To identify learning and teaching issues that stem from the impact of first-year learning and teaching in the mathematical sciences throughout the Australian higher-education sector, with a view to facilitating approaches, strategies and benchmarking at both local and national level.
- To develop and enhance deeper understanding and knowledge of learning processes in the mathematical sciences, particularly with regard to transition from school to university, and subsequently from university to the wider professional community.
We achieved these by:
- Identifying the broader issues in the higher-education sector and mathematics education and their impact on in teaching first-year mathematics through interviews, workshops, meetings with peak bodies, reference group members and literature review.
- Documenting and disseminating information on:
- the roles and responsibilities of academics coordinating first-year mathematics subjects and projects, successful teaching innovations and good practice in management and teaching first-year mathematics; and
- the diversity of first-year students’ needs and the impact this has on teaching and mathematical literacy.
- Mapping responses by mathematics departments and developing a range of strategies to address these challenges, such as adaptation of programs, teaching formats, resourcing, learning outcomes, curriculum design, academic/numeracy support services, enrolments, staffing levels, etc.
- Conducting a range of activities to encourage discussion, engagement, information-gathering and sharing, professional development and relationship-building, such as practical workshops, conference presentations, a website and newsletters.
- Establishing a supportive network for academics teaching in first-year mathematics that builds on existing informal networks and relationships, with a website for accessing and sharing teaching resources; information about local and national workshops and meetings, and an annual conference event; and access to a newsletter and contact lists.