Category Archives: Funded Projects

Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Final Update

Hear me say this: Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Final Update (audio).

In the academic years 2010/11 and 2011/12 the Maths, Stats and OR (MSOR) Network supported a set of 32 projects on ‘Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation’ through funding of around £250,000. This work was completed as part of the Mathematical Sciences Strand of the National HE STEM Programme.

The National HE STEM Programme was an initiative aiming to enable the HE sector to engage with schools, enhance curricula, support graduates and develop the workforce, operating through a three-year grant from the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales.

This funding was distributed via a series of funding calls. Around 70% of the funding was allocated to addressing the recommendations of the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit. In order to allow for interesting innovation which could not be predicted, calls for funding always included an open call for projects fitting the National HE STEM Programme aims. Around 30% of the funding allocated was for new innovations discovered this way.

Counting everybody who was named as a project collaborator or as an author in one of the publications (but not those who, for example, spoke at one of the workshops), this represents the work of more than 120 individuals working at 41 UK higher education institutions, two professional bodies, two schools, three non-UK universities and various companies There were over 50 workshops, seminars and conference presentations associated with this work.

The projects we supported have lots to share – good practice advice, evaluated innovative approaches, problem banks and other curriculum resources that you can pick up and use right away, and much more. A Summary booklet provides details of the aims, objectives, outputs and outcomes of each project with Links to access the resources created by each project. Projects are arranged into themed sections.

Developing graduate skills: A booklet was published collecting case studies of successful methods to improve graduate skills development – skills that employers require from graduate employees and academics seek in incoming PhD students – within a mathematical context. Three mini-projects were commissioned based on these case studies and provided evidence that some of this practice is suitable for transfer elsewhere. In addition, mathematics-specific resources and teaching practice on speaking and writing skills were developed and shared.

Engaging with employers: Projects working with employers, employees or professional bodies, either in delivery of a curriculum approach or providing input to develop good practice advice or curriculum resources that you can use. This includes resources giving an idea of what it is like to work as a mathematician and a survey of graduates’ views of the mathematics HE curriculum.

Industrial problems: Banks of real world problems developed in consultation with industrial partners made available for undergraduate projects in mathematics and statistics.

Problem-solving: Two projects working to share good practice and develop curriculum resources on the teaching of problem-solving. We say mathematics develops problem-solving but do we actually know how to develop problem-solving as a skill in our students?

Maths Arcade: An innovative practice involving developing mathematical thinking, providing student support (particularly at the transition to university) and building a staff and student mathematical community. A case study booklet gives details of its implementation at eight universities.

Student-centred Approaches: Projects working to accommodate student needs or taking a student-centred view on improving the undergraduate experience. Including methods for supporting students in different contexts, helping engineers better understand their mathematics and providing adjustments for students with disabilities.

Assessment: A major project conducted research to answer questions about what alternative methods of assessment can offer, evidence of validity and guidance on the process of changing your teaching to involve a new assessment type.

Audio-visual media in teaching and learning: Investigating the recording of lectures and other teaching and learning content, and the effectiveness of learning through audio-visual media.

Projects have completed research and collected good practice advice, developed innovative practice or produced and shared curriculum resources to address various issues in mathematical sciences HE curriculum development. The work includes the need to develop graduate skills and take account of employer requirements, while remembering to ground this in mathematical content and take account of the needs of the discipline. How the collected resources affect the ability of the higher education mathematical sciences community to more effectively develop graduate mathematicians depends on how well these are taken up. This substantial set of projects in curriculum development has produced outputs with the potential to be very useful. Please use them!

The most complete set of links to project resources can be accessed via Mathcentre. The project homepage and this blog also have lists of projects and publications.

You can find out about the wider National HE STEM Programme, of which we were part, by visiting the HE STEM website.


Interim report: Industrial Problem Solving for the Higher Education Curriculum

Martin Homer (Engineering Mathematics, Bristol) provided the following as an interim report for his project a while ago. Apologies that I am only just getting around to posting it here.

The aim of this project is to help enhance the teaching of applications of mathematics in higher education, by developing a shared online resource of industrial and scientific problems built on real examples. The project is progressing well, despite protracted contract negotiations requiring a re-organisation of the project plan. We were fortunate to identify an experienced candidate for the researcher role who would be able to deliver all the original project goals over a shorter timeframe, together with the assistance of an hourly paid researcher. Both were successfully recruited, and have been working well together to deliver the goals as per the revised timetable. Our key deliverable, the wiki that forms the core of our collaborative resource, is up and running and publicly accessible.

We have defined a template, consisting of a short summary of the problem, and materials required to address it. To better allow academics to use the material in parctice, we have also included the pre-requisites necessary to work on the problem (as broad subject areas: basic statistics, discrete mathematics, or numerical solution of ODEs, for example), as well as hints and tips on possible approaches or solution techniques, and a list of possible extensions for more advanced students. Data has been attached where relevant. The wiki has been populated with a wide range of problems (over 50, at current count) across a range of disciplines and application areas, covering both model- and data-centric approaches. The problems are organised by level (roughly corresponding to first, second and third-year undergraduate level), and comprise both existing problems from the department’s mathematical modelling course stream, as well as new case studies from our industrial and commercial partners.

Mathematics is an evolving, alive subject to which you could contribute

Recently the news broke that “schoolboy ‘genius'” Shouryya Ray has solved “puzzles posed by Sir Isaac Newton that have baffled mathematicians for 350 years”. Regardless of how accurate this story is (the conclusion we came to is that he did some very impressive work but not quite what the newspapers are reporting), the kernel of the story is that Shouryya visited his local university, heard about an unsolved problem, decided to give it a go and produced some interesting research as a result that he then entered into the national science fair competition.

Today on Twitter David F Cox tweeted to say

Maybe THE lesson is to tell kids there are unsolved problems, there is room for them.
— David F Cox (@DavidFCox) May 28, 2012

This is not a million miles away from one of our projects. Some delegates at the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit were concerned that mathematics undergraduates may not understand what it means to work as a mathematician, or understand that mathematics is an evolving, alive subject to which they could contribute. As a result we supported Tony Mann (University of Greenwich) and Chris Good (University of Birmingham) to develop resources in a project called ‘Being a Professional Mathematician’.

The project will produce interviews with research mathematicians and mathematicians in industry as well as profiles of historical mathematicians, along with worksheets and ideas for using these resources in the curriculum. These aim to counter a view of mathematics as a static, completed body of knowledge and instead encourage awareness of the process of doing mathematics.

You can find out more by reading the project listing on the National HE STEM Programme website.

How we assess mathematics students: a workshop at BMC

If you are attending the British Mathematical Colloquium next week look out for a workshop on ‘How we assess mathematics students: a survey and case studies’. This is being run by our assessment project ‘MU-MAP – Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices‘.

This project was funded as a result of the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit, which was concerned that mathematics at HE could benefit from a wider range of assessment methods but that the research wasn’t available to the community to inform assessment decisions. The project is completing a literature survey of assessment practices, developing case studies and studying the costs and effects of change in assessment methods.

The workshop details are available on the BMC 2012 website. The abstract is below:

This workshop will present findings from the MU MAP Project: Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices.
MU MAP (supported by the MSOR Network through the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project) surveyed assessment practices across university mathematics in the UK and developed resources in the form of case studies of assessment of mathematics at undergraduate level. In the workshop we will present results from a survey of assessment methods in UG mathematics, and invite mathematics lecturers who took part in the project to present their case studies of assessment. We will also discuss the costs and effects of the change in assessment practice in the light of the case studies presented.

Booklet: Good Practice on Inclusive Curricula in the Mathematical Sciences

We supported Emma Cliffe (Bath) to run a workshop and co-ordinate a booklet to investigate and share good practice relating to inclusive curricula in mathematical sciences. The workshop, the Maths, Stats and OR Accessibility Workshop, took place at the University of Bath on 21st February 2011. I am delighted to report that the booklet is now available as: Good Practice on Inclusive Curricula in the Mathematical Sciences.

Good Practice on Inclusive Curricula in the Mathematical Sciences

Interim report: “Development and evaluation of methods aimed at individual lecturers for producing flexible and accessible learning resources to enable inclusive curriculum delivery in mathematics”

The following interim report has been submitted by Emma Cliffe and Jane White for their project looking at methods to produce flexible and accessible learning resources in mathematics.


A literature and technology review, coupled with survey responses and some student feedback has been used to define the requirements for the methods to produce accessible mathematical learning resources.

The review of the literature provided confirmation of the formats which departments may need to provide to disabled students and some guidance as to current methods specific to producing mathematical documents. Basic test use of individual identified methods ensured we had an understanding of the current base capabilities of a variety of technologies.

A survey was produced and staff from three institutions were invited to respond. This survey aimed to capture current practise in the production of mathematical learning resources by individual staff. Respondents were additionally asked if they were willing to provide representative samples of their learning resources in the underlying production formats. The survey had 45 respondents from three departments and 16 members of staff agreed to provide representative samples. Of these, 4 staff offered resources for research purposes only and 12 staff agreed that in addition we may report anonymised quantitative data and anonymised partial or full quotations from the files provided. This collection of samples was outside the original planned work but we felt analysis of ‘live’ samples would provide a strong basis for our recommendations as well as forming rich case studies for possible inclusion in the output resources.

A request for input from disabled students in mathematics currently receiving notes prior to lectures received only one response. We were able to mitigate this by referring back to feedback on notes already in production at Bath and we intend to contact students again once we have example resources for them to trial.

Current activities:

The collected case study samples have provided a body of test inputs to the technologies we identified in the literature and technology review stage. Analysis of the provided files, the interaction of these with the identified technologies and of the technologies with each other when working with these examples is ongoing. This analysis is being used to formulate and adjust the recommended methods for producing masters which can be automatically transformed. We will also be able to report on our experiences of working with legacy documents and to refer to case studies in the outputs.

Dissemination activities:

We gave a short report on our work to date at the University of Bath HE STEM Seminar on Monday 30th January 2012.

Future activities:

The collection and analysis of representative samples was not part of the original plan of work. However, the collection allows methods to have a sound footing prior to use by a small number of staff to produce notes for current students and enables us to report on case study documents. The trial and iterative evolution of methods, which was to take place in January will now take place later in the project, be of a more limited nature and start from a stronger base.

The main member of staff working on the project was away for a period during February. In order to ensure that the project reports in May as planned additional hours of work have been assigned to the project throughout March, April and May. The creation of instructions and examples will take now take place alongside the small trial and adjustments to the methods. This will allow the instructions to evolve in a natural way as the staff and students report back on their experiences. Analysis of costs, barriers and risks, the final report and presentation of the project outcomes will take place in May as originally planned.

Interim report: ‘Problem Solving 2’

Sue Pope has submitted the following interim report for the project “PSUM: problem-solving in undergraduate mathematics” (referred to as “Problem Solving 2“).

To date one interactive starting point has been developed and there is a questionnaire available for users to report their experiences:

Picture This!‘ is an interactive problem solving application, to explore the application further, follow the link below.

A short anonymous questionnaire is available here (ethical clearance was obtained via Liverpool Hope University).

There are three other starting points in development: exploring graphs and networks, linear programming and ‘filling shapes’. All will be trialled at Liverpool Hope University and University of Cambridge as a minimum. Hopefully, focus groups will be held with some questionnaire respondents. The problem-solving starting points have been developed using open-source software and will be hosted by NRICH. This means that the longevity and sustainability of the approach is ensured.

Good links have been established with the HE STEM problem-solving project based at Coventry University and we have agreed to work collaboratively on the production of guidance. We will contribute cases studies on the use of the interactive problem-solving starting points. On 3 March we are presenting a joint paper at the BSRLM day conference in Manchester.

The progress against the proposed timeline is included in the Appendix. Progress has been slower than originally planned due to the project lead changing institutions and delays in getting information about some of the interactive starting points for problem-solving to the programmer.

However, we are confident that we will deliver four interactive starting points for problem-solving and contributions to guidance and case studies.


Key Activity Planned Date Actual Date Commentary
Notify mathematics community about the project through all existing networks August 2011 September 2011 MSOR and HE STEM conferences
Appoint technical expert to begin work on virtual problem solving environment August 2011 October 2011 Jason Davis appointed
Seminar for interested parties October 2011 Not held, meeting with other contractor November 2011
HE STEM workshop 26/10/2011 26/10/2011 Attended
Trialling and Evaluation of problems, generation of case studies November 2011 – January 2012 December 2011 – One problem is available for evaluation, three others are in development
Collation of material for problem solving guide November 2011 – February 2012 January 2012 – Working in collaboration with the other contractor who is leading on the development of the guide
Focus groups with students February 2012 Not held. Hope to have at least one focus group before the end of April 2012
Further refinement of problems February – March 2012 March 2012
Draft of problem solving guide and case studies sent for critical review by interested parties/stakeholder representatives March 2012 March-April 2012 In collaboration with other contractor
Independent testing of the virtual problem solving environment March 2012 March-April 2012
Preparation of dissemination materials April 2012
Case studies on problem solving complete 30/4/2012
Problem solving guide complete 30/4/2012
Virtual problem solving environment launched 30/4/2012 This will be a small number of starting points
Report completed 31/05/2012 31/05/2012
HE STEM dissemination event July 2012 July 2012