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This is how students can learn mathematics more easily

According to Assistant Professor Eivind Rudjord Hillesund, there are four ways in which learning resources can help you learn mathematics.

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Assistant Professor Eivind Rudjord Hillesund.

“I believe that the lecturer and course coordinator in most mathematics courses should think more about what kinds of resources they expect their students to use. Whether they are related to assignments or work to learn the subject”, says Eivind Rudjord Hillesund, assistant professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

He recently defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Agder, Faculty of Engineering and Science, with the title ‘The resource decisions and documents of undergraduate engineering students in mathematics courses’.

In his doctoral thesis, he looked at how engineering students at three universities in Norway use the resources emphasised in their courses as well as other resources when learning mathematics.

Four areas in particular seem to provide better learning. Rudjord Hillesund divides them into these categories, which he named learning resources:

  1. Introductory resources that provide an overview of a new topic.
  2. Practice resources for problem solving and mathematical practice.
  3. Evaluation resources to check the answers to individual problems, review work and find out if you study efficiently.
  4. Explanatory resources to find formulas and facts and gain a better understanding of a topic.

Potential for improvement

 “One of the main findings in my doctoral work is that the students primarily use the resources the university recommends, but when they encounter problems, they use a plan b, which I have chosen to call additional resources”, says Rudjord Hillesund.

Eivind Rudjord Hillesund.

Eivind Rudjord Hillesund, assistant professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

He counts attending lectures, working with fellow students, and asking questions of the lecturer as recommended resources. The term additional resources often refers to digital aids. For example, videos on the internet, such as YouTube; and the mathematical software Wolfram Alpha, which is an answering engine for mathematical calculations.

Eivind Rudjord Hillesund says it is important for the lecturer to think through the four areas of use, especially evaluation. He thinks more lecturers could improve how they follow up their students.

“Quite few of the resources recommended for students are linked to evaluation. If the textbook contains answers, the students get a confirmation when they solve a problem correctly, but it won’t help them find the mistakes they make.”

New way of thinking resources 

Rudjord Hillesund points out that more lecturers should take advantage of additional digital resources for mathematics and incorporate it in more mathematics courses. He sees that students achieve better when this is in place:

“When students use the mathematical answering engine Wolfram Alpha, it helps them find where they go wrong solving a problem. This means that they realise what they failed to understand, which means they know how they arrived at the wrong solution method, and they can more easily correct this”, says the assistant professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

According to Rudjord Hillesund, the four resources are useful for future research on mathematics didactics because of how students view mathematics in higher education.

Eivind Rudjord Hillesund has followed the PhD programme at the Faculty of Engineering and Science with specialisation in mathematics education. The doctoral thesis is partly funded by UiA’s Centre for Excellence in Education (SFU) MatRIC - Centre for Research, Innovation and Coordination of Mathematics Teaching.