Sigma – making maths and statistics accessible to all
Type of snapshot
- Policy or strategy for learning literacies
- Central services provision e.g. library, learning development, e-learning, ICT
What was the context for this snapshot?
Sigma’s rationale is based upon two principles:
- mathematical and statistical tools are essential in many disciplines, and
- significant numbers of students have not developed the bedrock in mathematics and statistics required for more advanced study; they need substantial support if they are to meet their course requirements.
A key aim of sigma is to move the balance from reactive to proactive activities in order to start to address the problems for the mass of students in need. Thus, the primary purpose of sigma is to build upon the established excellence of Loughborough University and Coventry University in the field of generic mathematics and statistics support to effect a culture change amongst staff and students so as to beneficially influence modes of teaching and learning within and beyond the two institutions, for students from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds using mathematics and statistics.
A secondary purpose of sigma is to implement and evaluate innovative teaching and learning approaches using state-of-the-art and emerging technologies, linked to a programme of pedagogic research.
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
Any and all courses, any and all students at different stages of their learning journeys. This is a pro-active group that offers drop-ins at their own centre but also runs a faculty outreach programme where the maths support staff come into faculties at appointed times and will see students in an open area, thus removing any perceived barriers. The staff members are passionate about maths support, and this enthusiasm communicates to the students. There is also a student ambassador programme.
Staff are supported in a number of ways, including through secondment projects. For example, Dr Olivia Gill from the University of Limerick is working on a project to ease the transition to third level (higher) education for adult (mature) learners who are intending returning to/starting college to pursue courses which contain mathematical elements.
Additionally, sigma actively support an inclusive agenda with specific resources and support have been provided to students with additional needs, e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia, mathematics phobia and blindness as well as those students who lack confidence in their mathematics or statistics.
In terms of employability, sigma has funded the establishment of the Eureka Centre for Mathematical Confidence (http://eureka.lboro.ac.uk) which as well as being the focus for additional needs support offers workshops to students preparing for employers’ numeracy tests.
Struggling learners are also supported, In many disciplines, student subgroups have been identified that it is believed, may benefit from targeted support. Sometimes a particular module has a history of high failure rates, or some programmes attract students with non-traditional mathematics backgrounds. In such cases, sigma funding has been able to provide supplementary teaching and support to students, for example, through small group teaching, additional teaching hours and course-specific drop-in sessions.
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
Mathematical and statistical literacies.
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
Support is provided by sigma staff, research students, student ambassadors. Provision is assessed within modules, but also as a part of the overall evaluation of sigma. Student feedback is also noted.
Quotes from students include:
- “The one-to-one approach was essential as was the non-judgemental attitude of the lecturer who took pains to explain what would no doubt have been ordinarily, an elementary point, with patience and understanding.” MN PhD Student
- “As a PhD student I have a lot of stats to do and after being out of education for a couple of years this was very scary! It’s been extremely helpful to have someone to chat through ideas with as this has helped clarify things for me whilst not having to ask my supervisors each time”
SL PhD Student
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
The sigma story is one of the major success stories within our university. In a supportive way, they have encouraged our students to engage with numeracy and judgment and supported our staff in their teaching. By having provision external to faculties, engagement can be eased. To replicate this, however, would require the dedication and passion from staff that sigma colleagues have – rare, valuable, inimitable and non substitutable resources, to paraphrase Barney (1991).