Enhancing learning in undergraduate mathematics



Media Release

A major new project that seeks to improve tertiary education outcomes for mathematics learners has been jointly funded by the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) and Ako Aotearoa, the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

A team of eight researchers and 10 mathematicians, led by Professor Bill Barton and Dr Judy Paterson at The University of Auckland, has been awarded $276,900 over the next two years to explore how to enhance the graduate attributes of mathematics graduates.

Ako Aotearoa and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) are very excited about this project,” says Ako Aotearoa director Dr Peter Coolbear. “There was considerable competition for this funding and the team captured the selection panel’s imagination with their vision and aspiration to achieve a step-change in mathematics education.”

New Zealand’s development as a high-value, innovative, knowledge-led economy and society will require strong scientific, technical and mathematical professionals. Developing these professionals is a key priority for the tertiary education sector. Teaching and learning practices within our tertiary courses are therefore of critical importance.

“Tertiary teaching needs to produce students who are enthusiastic about mathematics, understand its width and applications in the modern world and can work together and communicate mathematically,” Bill Barton says.  He says the problem is that, although we can measure mathematical knowledge and skills, “we currently do not have comprehensive tools with which to evaluate broader learning outcomes”.

This new project, titled Capturing learning in undergraduate mathematics , seeks to do just that—to develop a comprehensive suite of learning outcomes that broadly reflect the needs of an innovative society, and then systematically test the success of a series of interventions on the desired outcomes.

The project team is primarily based at the Mathematics Department at The University of Auckland but will work in collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Canterbury and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research at Victoria University of Wellington. The research will also be supported by an international reference group of experts.

Judy Paterson is excited by the opportunity within the project to develop and test three innovations in course design.

“I have been involved with team-based learning for four years, and welcome the opportunity to examine the broader learning outcomes of this mode of lecturing. My colleagues developing the use of technology in courses feel the same way.”

One innovation involves reducing the number of lectures, but including sessions where students work closely with lecturers.

"All these innovations shift responsibility for learning more towards students. This reflects the needs of our graduates to become independent thinkers.”
Other disciplines will benefit from this investment. The concept of a Course Learning Profile that captures a broad spectrum of tertiary learning outcomes can apply in all disciplines and the team intends to hold discussions with colleagues from dance, English, law and psychology.

Background information

TLRI seeks to enhance the links between educational research and teaching practices to improve outcomes for learners. The fund was established by the Government in 2003 and is managed by NZCER. 


Ako Aotearoa is the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence. Our vision is the best possible educational outcomes for learners. Our mandate includes funding large-scale change projects (i.e., projects that seek to achieve evidence-based, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning practice for the benefit of learners).


Jill Tanner-Lloyd
Communications Coordinator
Ako Aotearoa—the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence
P: (04) 801 4989
M:  0275 227 052
E:  J.Tanner-Lloyd@massey.ac.nz
W:   www.akoaotearoa.ac.nz