NPP Projects

Bite Size Maths: Building Mathematics Capability of Low SES Students in Regional/Remote Australia

Lead University: Southern Cross University

Lead Researcher: Geoff Woolcott

Research Team: Geoff Woolcott, Rain Mason, Christos Markopoulos, William Boyd, Ouhao Chen, Carolyn Seton, Warren Lake, Robert Whannell, Allen Foster, Linda Galligan, Margaret Marshman, Jelena Schmalz, and Nargiz Sultanova

Year Funded: 2015

Funding Received: $140,000

DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.6983945.v1



This project built on the mathematics capability of low SES students in regional and remote universities by improving access to mathematics resources based on students’ own rates and levels of learning. The project delivered a set of interactive modules as an online learning system to be used singly or together in a MOOC. Further innovations and improvements included enabling point-of-contact feedback.

Project outline

  • Mathematics forms the core of multiple course structures at universities, and research emphasises the importance of students building a strong foundation in this subject. This is particularly the case in regional/remote Australia where universities—such as those in the Regional Universities Network (RUN)—particularly focus on professional careers, such as education and health care that require mathematical competencies.
  • The project delivered an innovative set of 20 interactive modules as an online learning system to be used singly or together in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The interactive modules provide a foundation for improvements in mathematics education across the higher education sector as well as throughout the school system in regional/remote Australia. The self-paced learning in the form of guided instruction and opportunities for practice have the potential to profoundly impact on the learning experiences of undergraduate students who have little, or no, experience in mathematics.

Key findings

  • The project showed, for the first time, that MOOCs can be designed on the basis of studies of human cognitive architecture, in this case, the principles of Cognitive Load Theory.
  • Development and trials of five modules demonstrated that the combination of worked examples and practice questions made a significant difference to the test results of students who had little experience in mathematics.
  • After the trials, a MOOC was constructed incorporating a number of improvements and innovations. These included other cognitive load effects, as well as point-of-contact feedback. This was the first time that point-of-feedback contact had been used in a MOOC, based on a tested approach developed by Southern Cross University. This feedback lets students know about their learning approaches, provides guidance on learning styles, and allows feedback from the students on how well the MOOC facilitated their learning.
  • The modules offer a self-paced way to learn, in an adaptive framework that offers continual graded assessment and point-of-contact feedback.
  • The project is said to offer higher education teachers, senior managers and policy advisors:
    • a new vision of the way that mathematics can be learned in online settings and how this can be integrated in the preparation of graduates with mathematics capabilities suited to their professions
    • a mechanism for university teachers to grow the mathematics capability of their students.
  • The project reporting noted that the successful take-up of the MOOC requires the following conditions:
    • leadership, clarity of purpose and influence and the mathematics partners to champion the MOOC
    • strong collaborative relationships between RUN partners
    • communication about the resource to mathematics students at risk of failure
    • review of institutional protocols around enrolment, prerequisites, course accreditation and assessment in order to successfully embed the interactive modules and the MOOC
    • resourcing for trials, development and embedding of the interactive modules in mathematics units
    • mentoring mechanisms such as workshops for university educators and a website for feedback/support
    • promotion of modules and the MOOC by the Department of Education and Training as a means of improving the mathematical capabilities of low socioeconomic or otherwise disadvantaged students at regional/remote universities.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 15 August 2018