Closing the Numeracy Gap at the University of Derby
Located at the heart of England, an area renowned for technology and innovation, the University of Derby is home to about 20,000 students. The University provides many industry-relevant foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, often developed and delivered in collaboration with the numerous global companies based in the East Midlands, including Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier.
Need for Change
Numeracy is the ability to work competently and confidently with numbers, especially in practical contexts. For example, fundamental maths topics, such as fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and simple algebra, are used in almost every profession, not just specialist fields such as science and engineering. However, recent reports show that 17 million adults in England (49% of the working-age population) have numeracy levels expected of primary school children, costing the economy £20 billion a year!
Over the past three years, the University of Derby has undertaken a key initiative in closing the numeracy gap for their students, aiming to improve career prospects for every student, and in particular to improve the success in securing highly-skilled jobs.
During the academic year 2018-2019, the University collaborated with Vretta to customize, develop and deploy the award-winning assessment-for-learning solution Elevate My Maths (EMM) to diagnose and upgrade the numeracy skills of students in the College of Engineering and Technology. For the students involved in the pilot, maths performance increased by 14% in Calculus, 17% in Foundation and 20% in Computational Maths in Derby and 39% in Athens. EMM also helped to reduce maths anxiety and increase students’ confidence, with mature students finding EMM particularly helpful.
“Elevate My Maths was systematic in helping me get back into maths at the age of 30, after 14 years away from the subject.”
“I found Elevate My Maths very useful as I hadn’t studied maths for over 25 years. I had a lot of remedy videos to get through.”
The success of the pilot led to the implementation of Elevate My Maths across the University to support the development of numeracy skills for students and to prepare them for success in their courses, even outside STEM. Together with Vretta and educators in Engineering, Apprentices, Psychology, Finance, Accounting, Business and Education, the University designed ten numeracy training courses addressing the needs of all students. The courses are deployed in modules/programmes through the Virtual Learning Environment or can be accessed via the Maths Skills Library page. Teachers can use live dashboards to monitor progress and provide feedback to students. EMM has been used by more than 1,500 students across the University. Over 400 students have received digital badges for successfully completing their course.
Prior to implementing EMM, first-time pass rates were consistently between 83-86%, while the percentage of good grades (60% or above) was between 58-61%. The implementation of EMM led to a first-time pass rate of 89%, with overall good grades still around 60%. However, after the integration of EMM within the Virtual Learning Environment and the deployment of the custom-made courses for Fundamentals and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry in 2019-20, the first-time pass rates stabilised at 89%, with the good grades going all the way up to 70-73%. Furthermore, for the students who passed both numeracy training courses with 40% or above, the module pass rates were 98% in 2019-20 and 96% in 2020-21, while the good grades increased up to 87% and 83%, respectively.
This implementation of Elevate My Maths has shown that the numeracy gap at the University has been closing and the confidence of students has been increasing. The University is currently working with Vretta to extend the project to all relevant modules and programmes at the University, as well as sharing best practices to support student success at other institutions across the United Kingdom and internationally.
This project has been presented at various learning and teaching conferences, including the Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online (TALMO) conference, the E-Assessment in Mathematical Sciences (EAMS) conference, and the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) conference.
To learn more about how the University of Derby is closing the numeracy gap for their students, email our learning and assessment specialists at [email protected]