Heads of Department of Mathematical Sciences

HODOMS Committee 12 Jan 1998

Ekkehard Kopp

Report on the MathSkills Project

I attach the reports I provided for the MathSkills Project Steering Committee at their meetings in July and November 1997 These should provide a fairly comprehensive picture of the work of the project, which has been funded by the DfEE as the Discipline Network for Mathematics since April 1996, and which also received a subvention of £2000 from HODOMS at that time. The attached Summary Statement produced for the DfEE lists the formal objectives and deliverables as stated to the DFEE.

The current position is much as described in the November 1997 report, except that the Workshop on Core Skills, led by Judy Ekins, is now fixed for Birmingham on 27th January. We also await the outcome of the current decisions on DfEE funding following their 1997 Prospectus, where Judy leads a bid for a project on Embedding Core Skills in the Mathematical Curriculum (ca. £1OOk) which has made it to the final bidding round. This would build directly on MathSkills Theme 5, and provide a continuation strategy for the project.

I have suggested to DfEE that the HODOMS Committee should be asked to act as evaluator for the project, when the final report for the DfEE is written in April 99. I hope that the Committee will agree to this and also to my suggestion that we present a brief report to the Annual Conference on the outcomes of the surveys (led by Adrian Lepper and myself) in which employers and recent graduates are being asked to comment on their perception of the effectiveness of elements of the undergraduate mathematics curriculum from the perspective of firms who employ mathematics graduates largely for their mathematical skills. (A preliminary report was given by Adrian to the 1st Annual Conference in Keele but considerable work has been done since then.)

Members will see that £1000 of the HODOMS funding has been earmarked for a specific project currently being undertaken from Warwick on the assessment practices of mathematics departments. This builds on a rather partial survey MathSkills attempted last year, which met with a poor response rate from departments, so that firm conclusions were not possible, beyond some rather general statements on the use of projects, etc. However even the partial results suggested strongly that unseen examination remains the mainstay of assessment in our subject - at least when it comes to work that contributes to degree classification!

Finally, I remain frustrated that we have not been able to involve the community more widely in this project, though I can appreciate the pressures of work which prevent many from taking part. I started this without a clear picture of the impact it could have on practices or in helping to improve communication; I am disappointed that my own unexpected change of job made it almost impossible for me to direct the project properly. Steering Committee members have helped greatly in keeping the project on track, and the young people we have employed have done good work which lays the foundation for an interesting Website and newsletter. However, to continue effectively the project needs a director who can devote more time and thought to the opportunities which our initial efforts have opened up. I remain convinced that mathematics departments will welcome a service which aims to help them cope with the rapid changes they are experiencing at present. The extent to which we have impacted on that is something we can leave for a formal evaluation. My main regret is that I lack the time myself to turn these modest beginnings into something which the community will recognise as useful and productive. Perhaps another Committee member will volunteer to take over in April?