Higher quality maths teaching
Improvements on the maths department have started to bear fruit. New seminars which activate the students and a clearer focus on problem solving have improved the quality of the teaching for study year 1. This autumn, all the new students will be able to notice the improvements, according to the mathematics teacher Mats Boij.
“The mathematics that students learn on our courses today is more relevant and directly linked to the engineer’s professional role,” says Mats Boij, responsible for first-cycle educational programmes at the School of Engineering Sciences (SCI).
The improvements began four years ago and were launched following the results of a survey conducted by the maths department. Around 70 KTH teachers who do not teach maths but who have a central role in their educational programmes were faced with the question “What do you want from mathematics?” The answer was that students should pay particular attention to the learning of logical thinking and practice their ability to solve problems.
The changes which have been implemented apply to the three basic maths courses studied by all students on the engineering programmes in study year 1. Both teaching and examinations are now focused on in-depth learning.
“It is not that important that the students can demonstrate their proficiency in arithmetic, but rather that they understand how key mathematical concepts are interrelated and how they are applied. It is important that students learn to discuss how they arrive at a result, that they can present logical argument, this is very important in their future professional role,” says Mats Boij.
Cooperation with numerical analysis
One of the first measures taken to achieve the depth of learning was to cut down on the amount of material taught on the courses. The Mathematics Department has also reduced the number of lectures in favour of more seminars.
“We have increasingly moved away from classes where the students are passive in favour of classes in which they participate in different ways. It increases the ability to create an understanding of the subject, which in turn increases students’ motivation to learn,” says Mats Boij.
During the autumn, we will also be trying to integrate mathematics with numerical analysis in one of the educational programmes, Vehicle Engineering.
“Actually it is a natural progression that those subjects are studied together, as numerical analysis is used in just about every engineer’s applications of mathematics. But for purely practical reasons it has been difficult to implement this before. Now the department of numerical analysis will move to us at the maths department and that will make it easier to collaborate across the subject boundary,” says Mats Boij.
If cooperation is successful, the concept will be used with other programmes.
So far, the change work has mostly occurred at the mathematics department and has resulted in a new approach among the mathematics teachers as to what should be taught and how.
“We are working more collectively with the teaching today, and will agree together on how to set up the courses and examinations. This means for example that tests and exams are the same for all students taking the course during the same term.”
Changes ready by the autumn
The next step is to firmly establish the new mathematics in the educational programmes and expand cooperation with teachers in other subjects, says Mats Boij.
“Those responsible for the programmes have an important role to play here. It is ultimately about making students understand why mathematics is an important part of their education so that they realize the benefits of having skills in mathematics so they can develop into accomplished engineers.
Mathematics was one of the subjects that received the most attention in the international education review EAE last autumn. The final report concluded that mathematics at KTH needs to be developed. Mats Boij does not take that criticism all that seriously.
“We are now working on our efforts to develop mathematics teaching and adapting it to the needs of the programmes. Unfortunately, it is not explained that clearly in the EAE report, although it is nevertheless noted there that our work has started and that it looks promising,” he says.
During the spring three work groups will start in which the mathematics teachers at the SCI school together with other subject teachers will develop proposals as to how maths can be better integrated within the educational programmes.
“Some of these actions will be completed before the start of the next term. The autumn’s first term students will notice it in the maths classes,” says Mats Boij.
Text: Christer Gummeson