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Motivate students for math learning - Part 2 of the complex problems and solutions in maths education series

About the white paper

The study of mathematics is foundational for plenty of other subjects. Engineering, Biology, Nursing, Business and Chemistry are all subjects which require a fundamental understanding of mathematics when studied at degree level. Many universities require their non-mathematics students to pass a foundational mathematics course before they can continue with their proper degree. These foundational maths courses can pose significant problems for teachers and students.

Foundational mathematics programmes are often large and include students from different disciplines. Students have varied levels of prior maths knowledge, differing levels of motivation and interest and frequently, different levels of spoken language. International students may have followed very different mathematics curricula to the local one. Bamforth et al. note, ‘students without the assumed mathematics knowledge and skill may be at risk of failing or underachieving’. Sadly a failing grade in a foundational mathematics course can result in interrupted main study, repeated classes and ultimately failing a degree.

Teachers commonly struggle with large classes and a resulting lack of time and focus; apathy from students and high failure rates for an important course.

These unique problems have led to broader fears about both the quality of mathematics education at universities and HE institutions and the abilities of students to study mathematics. This caused the London Mathematical Society to cite ‘unprecedented concern’ over the mathematical preparedness of undergraduates. While this is an issue common to maths-based degrees as well as degree courses including a foundational maths course, the so-called ‘Maths Problem’ is gaining notoriety.

Various solutions have been offered for this well documented problem including intensive summer schools or crash courses, online instructional materials, on-site support centres, computer aided

Purpose of this paper

SOWISO has spent a long time considering and researching the issue of mathematics learning for non-maths students and the unique issues it involves. Any solution to the maths problem needs to be efficient, effective and relatively low-cost, in order to be widely adopted by the HE institutions who need it. SOWISO has combined two of the most effective strategies to challenge this issue - those of digital learning and problem based learning approach.

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