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Open-ended, messy student projects: developing skills and confidence

'Project-based and Synoptic Modules' workshop, IMA/RSS/LMS Higher Education Teaching and Learning Series 2023, University of Nottingham (10/05/2023).

The Mathematics degree programme at Sheffield Hallam University has a strong skills and employability thread, aiming to develop skills that will assist students throughout their careers, developed alongside technical content, making use of project-based learning. One project asks students to propose a solution to a surveillance problem set by a fictitious client who is building a museum, to be solved using an unfamiliar method studied through independent research. This has been run in different contexts, including in the last three academic years being reinvented to run online due to the pandemic. The maths isn't very hard for the level, but the teaching and assessment focuses on aspects students tend to struggle with: the maths doesn't straightforwardly give an unambiguous correct answer; findings must be packaged for different audiences with different goals and different levels of mathematical understanding; students are asked for an honest appraisal of the suitability of a fairly flawed method. The aims are to develop and assess a broader range of skills and develop confidence in learning and applying new areas of mathematics when needed. This talk will outline the project and its implementation and discuss student reactions to it.