Patrick Johnson (Postgraduate Student at the University of Limerick) introduced me to their math education system. At his university, the math department is responsible for all math education (of mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, ..). It provides a math center which is a central support facility for all students. Before the semester the math center provides a precourse. It address mature students (over 23) and but also traditional students (fresh from high school) and revises fundamental math on secondary school level. However, traditional students tend not to make use of this precourse. When I think back to my study, we also had a math preparation course that none of us really took seriously. Maybe students are less motivated before the actual start of the university study and rather enjoy the summer
Anyway, in the first lecture, Patrick’s students have to take a math test, which also covers fundamental secondary level math. It is not part of the grading but allows him and the students a better overview on their abilities. Students that score badly in this test might become more aware that they need to catch up with some math concepts to pass the course. For these students (and all others), the math center offers a two week long revision course: It takes place in the evening and allows students to learn the preliminaries of the math course. After that the math center provides support for the ongoing math course (which includes lectures and tutorials). The material of the math center is taken from the math center of the University of Loughborough (created by Dr Tony Croft); it is available online. In addition to these online worksheets, the centre has also created over 30 applets using GeoGebra.
The math course takes about 12 weeks, with a midterm after the 7th week and a final exam at the end. Freshmen tend to score quite good in the midterm as they are a bit afraid of what is coming and study hard the weeks before. However, if the midterm goes well students seem to reduce their efforts. In consequence, they often score poorly in the final exam and even get problems wrong that they answered correctly in the midterm. So Patrick is now thinking of having 4 intermediate exams to make students to study throughout the whole course.
He also reported that students really appreciate the human support in the math center; someone that holds their hand and can answer all their questions. An online course cannot provide this kind of help. I am thus now wondering whether our online precourse is really the right idea. However, establishing a math center is quite expenses and requires tight collaboration with the math department. What we currently can offer are tutorials with a maximum number of 12 students. Our tutors are mainly 2nd-3rd year students that have taken the lecture and that came to us as they really wanted to do a tutorial (in Ireland this is called peer support).