Monthly Archives: March 2011

Third Call for Funding from the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Fund is now open

If you’ve been following the last two posts, you’ll expect the third big announcement of three. Here it is.

The Third Call for Funding from the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Fund is now open. Following on from the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit, the recommendations have been taken forward in this call. The call takes the form of a series of work briefs and funding levels and you are invited to submit project proposals against these briefs. A proportion of the funding is also available to open call. Details are available from the funding call documentation.

A series of meetings will be held in the National HE STEM Programme regional areas. You are encouraged to attend this meeting and hear about the Summit findings and ask questions about the Call.

The meeting ‘Findings from the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit and details of a £150,000 funding call in Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation’ will take place at:

HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit report manuscript

In the previous post and elsewhere, I promised three big announcements. Here is the second.

In January we held the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit and the findings from this were to be written up for dissemination. The report is now ready. In fact, this is the manuscript version of the report. We are having this prepared for printing but it is available now as a first look.

HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit report manuscript

The HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit took place at the University of Birmingham on 12 January 2011, operated by the Maths, Stats and OR (MSOR) Network as part of the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project within the National HE STEM Programme. This brought together: Heads of Mathematics or their representatives from 26 universities offering mathematics degrees (about half of those in England and Wales); Education representatives from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Royal Statistical Society, the Operational Research Society and the Council for the Mathematical Sciences; members of the National HE STEM Programme, sigma and the MSOR Network; and several individuals.

The day was chaired by Prof. Duncan Lawson and opened with a debate, in which Prof. Alexandre Borovik of University of Manchester proposed and Jon McLoone of Wolfram Research opposed the motion ‘We believe that memory, subject knowledge and technical fluency remain vital for undergraduate mathematicians in the digital age’. Following this, breakout groups discussed the topics: ‘We can’t let them graduate unless…’; ‘If maths students can’t communicate in writing or speak in public – is that my problem?’; and, ‘If most maths graduates “aren’t confident” in handling unfamiliar problems – should we care?’ After lunch the Summit received feedback from the morning discussions and an update on employer engagement activity from the Mathematical Sciences Strand by David Youdan.  The Summit heard and discussed presentations from Prof. Jeremy Levesley on ‘Taking control of the assessment agenda’ and Dr. Neil Challis on ‘What do the students think about their Maths degrees?’ A final set of breakout sessions considered the topic: ‘Imagine there is £100k-£150k in total available to support curriculum development across the sector, how best should this be targeted and what are the priority areas?’

The Summit report contains reports on the debates, presentations and discussions held at the Summit and a summary of the recommendations made in the final discussion groups for priority activities in HE mathematics curriculum development. As well as being a record of current sector priorities, these recommendations will be considered when planning activities for the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project.

Download the manuscript version of the Summit report. (N.B. this document is currently being prepared for print so the layout and page numbers will change but the document is provided here to support the Third Call for Funding from the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project.)

‘Developing Graduate Skills in HE Mathematics Programmes’ booklet released

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed me saying I’ve been juggling a few things this week trying to get three big announcements out. Here’s the first.

We funded Jeff Waldock at Sheffield Hallam University to collect a series of case studies on ‘Developing Graduate Skills in HE Mathematics Programmes’. Well, the booklet of case studies is ready. The printer has it today and the PDF is online at the project website.

Developing Graduate Skills in HE Mathematics Programmes cover

Jeff and I are planning to tour a workshop offering the findings from this workshop and details of funding to support lecturers bringing the ideas from this into their own teaching. Details of this are below.

Developing Graduate Skills in HE Mathematics Programmes Workshop

There are significant barriers involved when seeking to modify Mathematics programmes to encourage the development of graduate skills. One barrier is the practical difficulty of finding space for graduate skill development in a crowded curriculum. This can be addressed, at least in part, through different approaches toward learning, teaching and assessment that allow skill development to take place alongside the development of the mathematical skills, and by encouraging students to take part in extra-curricular activities.

A series of short case studies have been collected, each focussed on specific graduate skills, providing examples of ways in which these have been successfully developed through curricular initiatives. There is a wide variety of work reported, both in terms of the skills developed as well as the type of courses and institutions involved. The hope and expectation is, therefore, that there will be something of interest and relevance to everyone who has a desire to make curricular changes aimed at improving the ‘graduate’ skill levels of their students.

Project leader Jeff Waldock and, where possible, case study authors will present the background to the project and describe the case studies. There will be discussion of barriers, drivers and enablers, and how these might affect practice, particularly in the light of the poor record many mathematics students have with regard to employability skills. Participants will be invited to discuss the issues raised by the case studies and make proposals for adapting their own teaching.

A call for funding will be available until 31 May 2011 for funding of £1,000 (may be paid to individuals rather than employers if appropriate) to take up ideas from the booklet. You should look to adapt one or more of the ideas from the booklet in a way that suits your circumstances. This may look to replicate one of the activities described, or it might draw on some elements of one or more of these. Trial your proposed activity and conduct an evaluation of it. Write a case study detailing what you did and giving the findings of the evaluation. (Please note: This funding is to support new development and is not to support the write up of activity which has already been completed.) Details of this funding call will be made available at the workshop or can be obtained by emailing Peter Rowlett.

This workshop will take place at:
University of York, 18th April (jointly with the National HE STEM Programme North East Spoke);
Manchester Metropolitan University, 5th May (jointly with the National HE STEM Programme North West Spoke);
University of Bath, 10th May (jointly with the National HE STEM Programme South West Spoke);
Cardiff University, 11th May (jointly with the National HE STEM Programme Wales Spoke);
University of Greenwich, 17th May;
University of Birmingham, 19th May (provisional) (jointly with the National HE STEM Programme Midlands and East Anglia Spoke).

Interim report: ‘Development and integration of computer-aided assessment of discrete mathematics’

Dr. Martin Greenhow from Brunel University has submitted the following interim report for his project.

The principal aims of this project are to extend and exploit computer-aided assessments in elementary discrete mathematics (sets, logic, graph theory). These questions were written in Questionmark’s Perception version 3 and exploit random parameters throughout, including very full feedback and diagrams, thereby generating thousands of rich questions that form an effective learning resource. The present project builds on this by covering existing topic gaps, translating some of the resource into Perception 5 (this has a significantly different architecture) and evaluating the products.

The first main aim of editing and extending the database for questions spanning elementary sets and logic has been largely achieved, as have the underlying functions needed to produce graphs and adjacency matrices. Current work is focussing on algorithms on graphs and will be finished within a month, ready for student use, see below.

Translation into Perception 5 has now been achieved for one or two trial questions involving both equations (in MathML) and diagrams (in Scalable Vector Graphics – SVG), see figure. This is currently in a pre-release version but tests will be published to a server in the next month. This will give us greater confidence that we have resolved all of the technical issues and can indeed exploit the Perception 3 database of questions within Perception 5. We have been in close contact with the software vendors, Question Mark Computing, throughout this process. The open source question coding will then be properly documented and made future-proofed and portable to other CAA systems and ordinary web pages.

The final part of the project will be to evaluate the products; this will take the form of formal trials (for marks) and the sets and logic questions have already been run with one cohort of students, and will be run with another in a few weeks time alongside the questions on algorithms on graphs for both cohorts. In addition, informal testing on the questions published under Perception 5 but delivered via mobile devices will be carried out.

screenshot of question in Perception 5

Figure: the adjacency matrices are produced by an external function returning a MathML string, whilst the graph diagram is similarly produced, the function returning an SVG string. The number of vertices and edges changes with each question producing thousands of realisations.

Interim report: ‘Internet Librarian and Curator for Mathematics Videos’

Dr. Trevor Hawkes from Coventry University has submitted the following interim report for his project.

Project Title: Internet Librarian and Curator for Mathematics Videos
Proposer: Trevor Hawkes, Coventry University
Start Date: 01/08/2010

Project Aims
The main aims of the project are

  • to design, create and make available for publication a pilot website to
    serve as a repository providing access to carefully-evaluated and recommended videos that are freely available online and cover a range of mathematical topics supporting STEM disciplines
  • an associated database to store user feedback allowing staff and students to review the recommended videos, link them to their modules, and suggest their own additions to the collection
  • to illustrate the website’s functionality by populating it with the resources for just one sample topic (for instance, first-order differential equations)

The site should be made ready for testing by volunteer staff and students who will be asked to provide feedback on its effectiveness.

Summary of Progress

  1. Designs for the presentation and structure of the web site have been explored
  2. Various content management systems have been tried
  3. PHP and MySQL training has taken place
  4. Technical and pedagogic criteria for evaluating mathematical video resources
    have been established and a rating system devised
  5. A comprehensive search for online video material related to
    first-order differential equations has been carried out and the resources have been evaluated.
  6. Contact has been made with the team at Leicester who are doing work which
    has elements in common with this project

The Background to the Current Situation

Although the project formally began on 1st August, I was on annual leave until
the beginning of September.

The sigma CETL funding came to an end in July and my post as Associate
Director of sigma was reduced from 3.5 to 2 days a week. Since my responsibilities remained much as before, my time to work on the project was initially strictly limited.

The situation improved in November when my post was extended to 3 days a

I had used some personal time freed up while I was on 2 days a week to train myself in the use of PHP and MySQL with a view to writing a database back end for the interactive part of the project website.

Next I explored several content management systems (CMS) for an alternative approach; in particular, I experimented with Coventry University’s Cuba environment, which was designed as a blogging tool and had very limited potential for creating an interactive website. Subsequently, on local advice, changed to WordPress. It took the best part of two days to install the open source WordPress on our sigma server, even with the help of the Faculty’s systems administrator, an experienced Unix/Linux developer. Although WordPress had more potential than Cuba as a CMS, it was still frustratingly difficult to adapt from its primary purpose as a piece of blogging software to a
fully-functional CMS.

In view of these false starts, I have now purchased a copy of Adobe CS5 Web Premium which includes Dreamweaver, a website creation program that I have used before. The next phase of my work will be to create the website I have in mind and to connect it to a database for storing and displaying user feedback.

The eLibrary, created by a Leicester e-learning team led by David Packwood, has similar objectives to this project; it has broader scope (covering all types of online learning resources, not just videos), but has only limited information about the content and value of the recommended resources and limited functionality for user feedback. It will be interesting to compare user feedback for the two projects


  1. Personal time constraints have slowed progress with the project.
  2. The limited project budget precluded the possibility of buying a custom-made content management system; in any case, outsourcing would have afforded me having less control and flexibility in the final design.
  3. The exploration of various free and proprietary tools for creating websites has taken time and involved changes of direction. The way forward is now clear.
  4. The gathering and evaluation of online video resources on the specific topic of first-order differential equations has been fairly exhaustively carried out. I have been assisted in this research by members of the sigma maths support team during quiet periods of their tutorial duties. The technical, mathematical and pedagogical quality of much of what we have found is poor and only a limited selection of available resources meet the standards expected for the seal of approval as ‘recommended’ learning material.
  5. I am confident that I will be able to complete the project by 30th June 2011.

Trevor Hawkes, 08 February 2011

Interim report: ‘Supporting progression in mathematics education’

Dr. James Hind from Nottingham Trent University has submitted the following interim report on his project.

The students have completed their initial investigations into their mathematical topics. They have also presented their progress to staff and students (in excellent fashion; one scoring 75% and the other 75%). They have begun School visits and are working with the teachers to build their knowledge into workable lesson plans suitable for the the different age groups that they will be working with. Each student has paired with a specific maths teacher who has an interest in their particular topic (fractals and cryptography). The recent promotion of one of the project partners from head of Maths to Deputy Head of the school has allowed another maths teacher (Maddy Bayes) to become involved in the project and cemented the schools support for the project amongst the senior management.  The date has been set for the School children to visit and an itinerary has been developed which involves campus tours, talks, question and answer sessions as well as the actual lessons.  Three member of teaching staff, including the program leader, are giving their time and energies to meeting with the groups on the day and will discuss Maths, higher education and careers with them.

In order to improve my understanding of and involvement with the outreach community I have so far attended several workshops, meetings and summits relating to Maths higher education and outreach. This has led to my submitting further proposals and working jointly with other members of staff within my institution to assist in other projects where input from the maths department might be helpful. I am already better able to act as a first point of contact for the department in this area and have been working closely with our admissions and outreach teams to revitalise our approach. This has led to us adopting some of the ‘maths in a box’ resources and approaches in order to run maths events for visiting schools. The first of these has been booked already and we it will be the first of many.