Student perspectives on summer school versus term-time for undergraduate mathematics

George Papadopoulos and David Easdown


In earlier studies, firstly in 2009, and then more recently in 2019, researchers at the University of Sydney presented quantitative evidence supporting the claim that students undertaking particular first year mathematics units of study, in particular years, achieve superior learning outcomes by completing units at summer school rather than during term-time. In the present mixed-methods analysis, we expand the scope of these earlier investigations by surveying students taking any undergraduate mathematics units of study offered at the Sydney Summer School over the period 2009 to 2016. These surveys invite responses to thirty-six questions, probing a range of topics and issues relating to their learning, study methods and approaches to assessments, both at the Summer School and in term-time. Thirty of these questions require numerical Likert responses, and all questions provide opportunities for open-ended comments. The numerical data, derived from 181 survey respondents, is presented visually in the form of histograms, and suggests, for this cohort of students, that the learning environment is overwhelmingly in favour of the summer school mode compared with term-time. Nevertheless, there are features of both modes that appear to be successful, so a qualitative coding analysis is applied to over one thousand open-ended comments, to tease out or distil the most important factors that influence the quality and depth or learning and course satisfaction for this cohort in either mode. This leads to a table of categories with descriptors and key words. Relationships between the categories suggest an interactive flow-diagram, akin to Biggs’ Presage-Process-Product (3P) model, with special emphasis on the importance of presage and temporality. It is hoped that the table and resulting flow diagram may become useful resources for educators, in helping to plan or design their courses and to elucidate the underlying dynamics of successful learning for their students.

Keywords: tertiary mathematics education, summer school, term-time, learning, thematic analysis, grounded theory, phenomenography, surveys, mixed methods, presage-process-product (3P) model.

AMS Subject Classification: Primary 97C70; secondary 97C30, 97D40.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021