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High fail rate inspired math project

A forty per cent fail rate in mathematics for future economists and engineers inspired MatRIC to initiate a project to get to the core of the problem: insufficient prior knowledge.

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Gunnar Horn fra Pedagogisk utviklingssenter (PULS) ved UiA viste studentassistentene hvor mye kroppsspråk betyr for formidling og læring - og stud.assene praktiserte kroppslige signaler til allmenn jubel og moro.

Gunnar Horn from the Educational Development Centre at UiA demonstrated the importance of body language to communication and learning – and the student assistants practised body signals, much to everyone’s amusement.

The article are printed in the latest edition of Nasjonalt organ for kvalitet i utdanningen - NOKUTs - ( the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education - NOKUT) SFU Magazine 2/2017. "SFU" means "The Centres for Excellence in Education Initiative". MatRICs vision is to be a national centre for improved mathematics teaching and learning in the natural sciences and relevant programmes of professional study.

MatRIC - Centre for Research, Innovation and Coordination of Mathematics Teaching - http://www.matric.no  - https://www.uia.no/senter-og-nettverk/matric 

MatRIC were evaluated by an international committee who concluded in December MatRIC were unanimously granted funds for five more years.

‘We were quick to get the student assistant project off the ground, because we realised we have no time to lose. We will then adjust the project as we go along and gain more experience,’ says Professor Simon Goodchild, director of MatRIC.

MatRIC focuses on mathematics teaching and learning in study programmes like engineering, natural science, economics and teacher education.

MATHEMATICS IS AN IMPORTANT TOOL

In the engineering and economics programmes, mathematics is a tool that enables engineers and economists to e.g. calculate the strength of structures or exchange rate fluctuations. But many students do not understand how important this tool is until well into their study programme. The fail rate in mathematics has been stable at 40 per cent for engineering and economics students in all of Norway.

There are great variations in the knowledge of mathematics that the students have gained from upper secondary school, from mere basic knowledge, meaning that the students must now learn new things, a good knowledge of mathematics, which means that much of the mathematics is repetition.

MatRIC’s project involves using student assistants to teach optional study groups. What’s new is that students are primarily split into groups based on their prior knowledge of mathematics. The goal is to increase the students’ insight into and understanding of mathematics and thereby reduce the fail rate.

 – Her kan vi både jobbe individuelt og i gruppe – og få så mye hjelp som mulig. Store gruppe er bedre enn små, som blir veldig preget av at det er forskjellig nivå, mener Henriette Lunde og Lina Marie Jensen, som får hjelp av stud.ass Daniel Meselu.

‘We can work both individually and in groups – and get as much help as possible. Big groups are better, since the difference in levels becomes very apparent in smaller groups,’ say Henriette Lunde and Lina Marie Jensen, who are helped by student assistant Daniel Meselu.

INSPIRATION FROM CANADA

NOKUT recommended that MatRIC participate at a conference at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, in May to get some new impulses. In addition to the MatRIC management team, the Vice Rector for Education and two leaders from Studentorganisasjonen i Agder (the student organisation in Agder – STA) took part.

‘At the conference, participants were presented MatRIC with guidelines describing how to ensure inclusion of students in the design of courses in order to prevent them from failing. The fact that STA had a seat at the table where we, together, arrived at a joint understanding of the concept of partners, is without doubt the greatest benefit from the programme in Canada’, says Kai Steffen Østensen, president of STA.

‘It's easy to say that you have the students on board, but it’s important that students have a real influence on an equal basis, and are not just included on paper. The fact that the STA leaders and the Vice Rector came along meant that we could implement measures quickly,’ says Goodchild.

‘The concept of “students as partners” is extremely important to create equality between students and academic staff in an academic community,’ says the STA president.

«Stud-ass-prosjektet» er inspirert av den internasjonale «Student as Partners in Higher Education»-idéen, der studenter deltar aktivt som eksempelvis co-forskere eller co-undervisere. McMaster--universitetet står sentralt i dette. Her er konferansedeltakerne fra UiA (fra venstre) Lillian Egelandsaa (MatRIC), Helene Vedal (STA), Kristian Bakken (STA), Simon Goodchild (MatRIC), viserektor Astrid Birgitte Eggen og STA-leder Kai Steffen Østensen. (Foto: Privat)

"The student assistant project” are inspired by the international «Student as Partners in Higher Education»-idea, developed by McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. The UiA participants at the conference in May (left to right) Lillian Egelandsaa (MatRIC), Helene Vedal (STA), Kristian Bakken (STA), Simon Goodchild (MatRIC), Vice Rector Astrid Birgitte Eggen og STA-leader Kai Steffen Østensen.

REVIEW OF SYLLABUS AND COMPETENCE

After the Canada conference, MatRIC hired students with a degree in economics as interns. The goal was to find out what knowledge the new economics students had acquired from upper secondary school and what they have to know to pass the exam.

‘I analysed the actual use of mathematics in, for instance, the bachelor’s programme in business administration,’ says Tore Guttorm Knutsen.

‘For instance, elasticity and present value are concepts that require knowledge of mathematics beyond simple addition and subtraction.’

The main goal was to make the analysis available to both students and teachers, so that the teaching – and studying – could target specific areas of use.

‘That means that the course description can also state that “in this course, you will need to know differentiation and integration” – specific mathematical areas – and "next semester, you will need to know such and such
mathematical concepts”, says Knutsen.

‘Being that specific opens up for real practical examples – which in turn promotes easier learning and understanding.’

Tore Guttorm Knutsen (til venstre) og Daniel Meselu la fram prosjektarbeidet de gjorde som student-interns i sommer for MatRICs årskonferanse. De utarbeidet grunnlaget for inndelingen av studentene i grupper basert på forkunnskaper i matematikk. Begge underviser også i Stud.-Ass-prosjektet. (Foto: Lillian Egelandsaa)

Tore Guttorm Knutsen (left) and Daniel Meselu presented their project for the MatRIC yearly conference in october. (Photo: Lillian Egelandsaa)

DEVELOPED A TEST BOOKLET FOR SELF-EVALUATION

Daniel Meselu has developed a system for mapping what knowledge of mathematics individual students have acquired from different programmes at upper secondary school. The goal is to compose groups of students for student-assisted teaching. It is up to the individual student to find his/her level.

‘To get everyone to pass, we need to find out the needs of the individual students and adapt the teaching accordingly,’ says Daniel Meselu.

It is for this reason he designed a booklet of 50 questions that the students had to answer. Afterwards, they were tasked with assessing their own level before the programme started.

The questions increase in difficulty and cover mathematics relevant to the programme.

‘The computer tells the students directly whether their answer is correct and gives them the solution. After that, it’s up to the student to assess what level they are at,' says Meselu.

EVERYONE SHOULD TAKE THE TEST AT THE START OF THE SEMESTER

‘The test should be expanded. Everyone should take it at the beginning of the semester and evaluation should take place immediately. It can motivate students to do something about their knowledge gaps. For students who do not know the basics, everything falls apart when the gaps start to make themselves apparent sometime into the semester.’

Knowledge of mathematics is built stone by stone, and if the foundation is weak, everything can come tumbling down.

‘I added some questions from the Year 10 syllabus to get an overview of where the students are at, precisely because of how important it is to have the basics in place,’ says Daniel Meselu.

After registration at the start of the semester, five groups of around 30 students each were set up – covering all levels.

The groups have been meeting for some time now. Turnout was poor at first, but has improved since the start of the semester. The exception is an ‘elite group’, where many students who want an A on their exam started the hunt for the holy grade early on.

18 studentassistenter var samle til et to-dagers seminar rett etter studiestart i august – 11 til ingeniørstudiene og syv til økonomistudiene. På Skottevik fikk de praktiske råd og vink om hvordan en blir en god studentassistent - fra hvor viktig kroppsholdning er for god undervisning (med praktiske øvelser) til teoretisk pedagogikk og didaktikk. Og så ble alle kjent, og da er det lettere å spørre eller gi hverandre gode tips for å nå fram til studenter som trenger hjelp.

18 student assistants participated in a two-days-seminar in august – 11 engineering students and seven for the business-studies.

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