Engineering students understanding mathematics (ESUM): research rigour and dissemination

The Engineering Students Understanding Mathematics (ESUM) project was a developmental research project aimed at enhancing the quality of mathematics learning of students of materials engineering in terms of their engagement and conceptual understanding. The initial phase of the project consisted of an innovation in mathematics teaching-learning which was designed, implemented and studied, with feedback and concomitant modification to practice. Details are reported in Jaworski (2011b). The second phase of the project, reported here, focused more overtly on the analysis of data in relation to theoretical perspectives. In particular, Activity Theory (AT) was used to make sense of emerging findings. A literature review was undertaken and showed evidence of so-called ‘constructivist’ methods being introduced to the teaching of mathematics in higher education (HE). Dissemination has taken place both internally within the institution and externally and is still ongoing. It has generated interest and activity beyond the local setting. Findings from the project include students’ views on elements of the innovation, improved scores on tests and examinations compared with earlier cohorts and students’ strategic approaches to their studies and ways in which this creates tensions with lecturers’ aims in designing the innovatory approach. The gains from the projects can be seen in terms of developing knowledge of the complexities of achieving principles for more conceptual understandings of mathematics within the context and culture in which teaching and learning take place.