Case Study – Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research and Motivation

Source: Cox, B. and Bidgood, P. Widening Participation in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research.

Workbooks at the University of Birmingham

Birmingham was commended in the Subject Review for the match of its curriculum to the student intake and for careful remedial and bridging arrangements. One key element of this is the use of workbooks in which students record their solutions to weekly worksheets. These are used in a core module that accounts for one third of the first year. The workbooks are regularly inspected and marked. They encourage an ethos of continual work and feedback, and provide opportunities for students to consolidate their basic skills. The reviewers were impressed with the way in which such a simple device structures the tutorials and exercise classes. At the end of the year they have a summary of their work for the year and this helps in revision and examination preparation. The workbooks also integrate with the personal and pastoral support of students, promoting greater personal attention. The students also gain practice in writing about mathematics through the workbooks.

A second area of good practice in first year support is the use of careful web-based diagnostic testing and feedback. Initially this used Question Mark Perception, but now formative assessment using AIM is used to assist students in consolidating their skills. The computer algebra engine behind AIM allows for repeated testing and feedback on questions with randomly generated parameters. This seems to be a particularly effective media for modern students, who are now used to engagement over the web – a more familiar environment than, for example, hand-held calculators. A by-product of this facility is the wealth of narrative feedback provide by students on all aspects of the course.

In addition to these support mechanisms an extra sub-module of support for the students recruited through widening participation initiatives has enabled Birmingham to broaden the qualifications it accepts without a reduction in standards or an increase in attrition rates.

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