How to make mathematics relevant to first-year engineering students: perceptions of students on student-produced resources. (English)

Int. J. Math. Educ. Sci. Technol. 47, No. 1, 29-44 (2016).

Summary: Many approaches to make mathematics relevant to first-year engineering students have been described. These include teaching practical engineering applications, or a close collaboration between engineering and mathematics teaching staff on unit design and teaching. In this paper, we report on a novel approach where we gave higher year engineering and multimedia students the task to ‘make maths relevant’ for first-year students. This approach is novel as we moved away from the traditional thinking that staff should produce these resources to students producing the same. These students have more recently undertaken first-year mathematical study themselves and can also provide a more mature student perspective to the task than first-year students. Two final-year engineering students and three final-year multimedia students worked on this project over the Australian summer term and produced two animated videos showing where concepts taught in first-year mathematics are applied by professional engineers. It is this student perspective on how to make mathematics relevant to first-year students that we investigate in this paper. We analyse interviews with higher year students as well as focus groups with first-year students who had been shown the videos in class, with a focus on answering the following three research questions: (1) How would students demonstrate the relevance of mathematics in engineering? (2) What are first-year students’ views on the resources produced for them? (3) Who should produce resources to demonstrate the relevance of mathematics? There seemed to be some disagreement between first- and final-year students as to how the importance of mathematics should be demonstrated in a video. We therefore argue that it should ideally be a collaboration between higher year students and first-year students, with advice from lecturers, to produce such resources.