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Professional skills development for mathematics undergraduates

Ewan Russell (Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Peter Rowlett (Department of Engineering and Mathematics, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 21 December 2018

Issue publication date: 23 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to describe the design and development of a final year undergraduate mathematics module designed to address professional skills development at a UK university, including via input to curriculum and assessment from employers, and to investigate student acquisition of skills from this module.

Design/methodology/approach

Literature on skills development in mathematics informs module design and development. Students optionally completed Likert-style competency questionnaires before and after the taught module content, and reflected on skills development via an end of module questionnaire. Data collection took place over three academic years.

Findings

Several key competencies exhibit median increases over the course of the module in each academic year, indicating a perceived skills development. Problem solving and presentation skills are particularly highlighted.

Research limitations/implications

Numbers of students were small, though the study is repeated with three different cohorts. Some students study mathematics jointly with another discipline and hence may have experience in skills development from the other subject.

Practical implications

This study indicates that innovations in teaching style and assessment in mathematics modules can enhance student confidence and competence with key professional skills.

Originality/value

Undergraduate modules in mathematics which have a focus on professional skills development are still fairly rare in UK universities. Often such modules do not embed the professional skills development activities with subject-specific technical tasks and projects as this module does. There are few formal studies of the effectiveness of this style of module, especially longitudinal studies covering several academic years.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Alex Crombie for a discussion on a draft of this paper.

Citation

Russell, E. and Rowlett, P. (2019), "Professional skills development for mathematics undergraduates", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 374-386. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-01-2018-0010

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited