Developing a first year numeracy module
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Developing a First-Year Numeracy Module Alan Cann Department of Microbiology & Immunology University of Leicester UK. Numeracy and I.T. are key skills identified in the University of Leicester Learning & Teaching Strategy 1999.

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Developing a first year numeracy module l.jpg
Developing a First-Year Numeracy Module

Alan Cann

Department of Microbiology & Immunology

University of Leicester

UK.

© AJC 2000.


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  • Numeracy and I.T. are key skills identified in the University of Leicester Learning & Teaching Strategy 1999.

  • Also includes guidelines on written communication skills, oral communication skills & team working skills, not discussed here.

© AJC 2000.


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Guidelines on IT skills specify the following minimum outcome within all degree programmes:

By the end of the programme students should be able to:

  • understand the principles of file creation, management and storage

  • obtain, store and transmit information from a number of electronic sources, including accessing library catalogues and databases, exploring the internet as a research tool, and using e-mail to send and receive messages and files

  • word process written assignments, such as essays, reports, dissertations, and be able to format and lay out documents

  • use spreadsheets to carry out basic calculations and to produce charts and graphs

  • import data, charts and graphs from spreadsheets into word processed documents

© AJC 2000.


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Guidelines on numeracy skills specify the following minimum outcome within all degree programmes:

By the end of the programme students should be able to:

  • manipulate and present figures in support of an idea or argument (including calculation of proportions such as percentages, ratios and fractions, quantification of increase or decrease, understanding and manipulation of units of measurement such as those for distance, weight, area, volume and currency)

  • use appropriate charts and graphs (histograms, bar charts, pie charts, scatter diagrams, etc.) to display numerical data graphically

  • draw appropriate conclusions from numerical data presented in tables, charts or other common formats such as simple financial statements

  • appreciate the basic concepts of probability and sampling

  • calculate and use simple descriptive statistics (averages and range) and to understand their significance

© AJC 2000.


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“Quantitative Biology” outcome within all degree programmes:

  • Taught since beginning of the degree programme in the 1960's.

  • Students reactions unfavourable.

  • Evidence suggested of little value to students.

  • Module revised in 1997 - limited I.T. skills taught but not assessed.

© AJC 2000.


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1999: New module in accord with Learning & Teaching Strategy:

BS110/111:

"Numeracy & Computer Skills for Biologists”

http://www-micro.msb.le.ac.uk/110/BS110-111.html

© AJC 2000.


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Module Aims: Strategy:

  • To ensure that all students have a general appreciation of basic mathematical, statistical and data handling techniques appropriate to the Biological Sciences degrees.

  • To ensure that all students have adequate practical knowledge of the use of communication and information technology appropriate to the Biological Sciences degrees.

  • To encourage student planning skills and effective time management through the use of continuous assessment and electronic submission of assignments.

  • To enable all students to develop subject-specific and transferable skills in mathematics and the use of communications and information technology.

© AJC 2000.


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Real Aims! Strategy:

  • Synergy: Fuse the acquisition of I.T. & numeracy skills by computer-based delivery & assessment of both topics via WWW.

  • Trojan Horse: Use CBL to overcome biologists traditional negative attitude towards maths:

    • Do you have any of the following qualifications ("A" Level or equivalent) in:

      • Chemistry: 92%

      • Maths: 47%

      • Physics: 23%

      • Statistics: 26%

    • Which of the following statements best describes your attitude towards computers:

      • I hate computers and would never use them if possible: 8%

      • Neutral: 44%

      • I like using computers: 48%

  • Efficiency Gain: Reduce staff time spent on repetitive marking of students weekly numeracy assignments and redirect this to individualised student support.

    (Previous: 40h p.w. Current: 2h p.w. = 95% gain)

© AJC 2000.


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Implementation: Strategy:

  • Computer practicals: hands-on computer sessions are held at the start of the first and second semesters.

  • Lectures: describe mathematical, statistical and data handling techniques in the context of biological sciences. At the end of each lecture, a URL is presented where there is a set of numerical problems relevant to the lecture topic. These problems must be completed and the answers submitted over the WWW by the specified deadlines & are then computer-marked.

  • Problemclinics: open to all students, compulsory for those who fail to achieve a pass mark for the previous assessment or submit work after the deadline. Students were informed by email of their mark for each set of problems and whether they are required to attend the clinic.

© AJC 2000.


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Syllabus Strategy:

© AJC 2000.


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Peer Support: Strategy:

  • Email - positive student response, efficiency gain.

  • "Buddy Schemes" (IT & numeracy) - peer support groups.

  • "Problem Clinics" - open to all students, but compulsory for those who fail to achieve a pass mark for the previous assessment or submit their work after the deadline.

© AJC 2000.


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Results: Strategy:

© AJC 2000.


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Student Feedback (1): Strategy:

Name up to three good features of the module:

  • Everything was explained clearly, Overlapping with other modules was helpful, Demonstrators were available & helpful. There was week-to-week assessment, allowing you to know how you were getting on.

  • Work can be done in your own time; Easy interface.

  • Clear progressive assessments so you know where your weaknesses are & you can do something about it straight away. Frequent help sessions. Online lecture notes so more attention could be paid to understanding the work.

  • Lecturers were knowledgeable about there subject (sounds stupid, but you can tell, & it definitely helped). Notes were made available & easily accessible, made relevant with both examples & questions orientated to biological subjects.

  • Fun & useful practicals were easy for those with prior knowledge but useful & more informative for those who needed help.

© AJC 2000.


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Student Feedback (2): Strategy:

Name up to three ways in which this module could be improved:

  • People who have A level maths do not need to be shown this in such great detail as most of it is far too easy.

  • Some of the things that we did I think were supposed to coincide with doing them in practicals. Very often this was not the case & we got the lecture after the practical session which meant that we had already done the calculations & that we didn't have the information before the practical session.

  • The lectures for numeracy do not really help as it is just reiterating what the lecture notes say. It would be better do the exercises during a workshop so that if help is needed it can be done there & then. I feel that the lectures were a bit of a waste.

  • The I.T. section seemed to only cater for absolute beginners without anything stimulating or interesting enough for more experienced users.

  • Show where we went wrong with the maths. Give answers to the questions that we went wrong on so that we can work through & see for ourselves where we went wrong.

© AJC 2000.


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Student Feedback (3): Strategy:

Please add any other comments about the module:

  • Assessments should be available for completion before the lecture so that only those who failed to achieve, say 80%, have to attend the lecture thus reducing numbers in the lecture & improving lecturer to student ratio for those with real problems or difficulties.

  • The programme I had never used was PowerPoint, the exercise was good in that it forced me to work it out. However having done A level chemistry & maths the other parts of the course were more of a check of my knowledge, rather than learning new material as I'd covered it before. However overall I did enjoy the module & recommend the same format next year.

  • Thanks, I didn't understand everything first time, but as stupid as it sounds, it often needs someone to tell people maths in this kind of slowed down manner, so that nothing is assumed.

  • The computer based tests are a good idea but it's frustrating to know that there are no marks given for working - just for the final answer.

  • I have found that I'm able to complete the statistics assessments easily without actually understanding the methods. The nature of the statistics lectures makes concentration extremely difficult. When online notes are provided the lectures seem slightly unnecessary.

© AJC 2000.


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Module Redesign: Strategy:

  • Peer Support: neither effective nor well received - abandoned.

  • Enhanced feedback: Email feedback to students with marks will contain the URL of a solutions page showing worked answers to similar problems generated by altered input data.

  • "Problem Clinics" renamed "Help Sessions" & will be voluntary with all students invited but not compelled to attend.

  • High achievers: How to reward & motivate?

© AJC 2000.


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http://www-micro.msb.le.ac.uk/AJC/talks.html Strategy:

[email protected]

Education costs money - ignorance costs more

© AJC 2000.


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