sigma Network Newsletter
Issue 8: September 2015

In this issue:



Future events

Past events



Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

When George Gershwin composed this classic song (to the lyrics of DuBose Heyward), the UK Higher Education system was probably not foremost in his mind.

Summertime is when we have a chance to look back at the past year, and plan for the new year ahead.

David Bowers, <strong>sigma</strong> Chair

Reviewing and evaluating our work in mathematics and statistics support is increasingly important, in order to make a clear case for the value of this provision and the impact it has on student achievement. The sigma publication “Evaluation of Mathematics Support Centres – a review of the literature” ( gives many valuable pointers to how this can be achieved. And earlier this year, the Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network released its substantial report “Student Evaluation of Mathematics Learning Support: insights from a large multi-institutional survey” ( All good summertime beach reading!

In terms of planning for the year ahead, a recent post to the sigma-network Jiscmail mailing list asked people to suggest their most effective way of promoting their maths support provision. Answers to date include: arranging to give a five minute “shout out” within lectures of key courses that have a maths element; issuing information via the student union rather than course admin; and getting IT services to promote the maths support centre on university computer screensavers. Willingness to share practical ideas like this is what the sigma Network is all about.

Finally, while we are all “livin’ easily” this summer, spare a thought for the CETL-MSOR Conference organisers, who are working hard to put together the final programme for Greenwich on 8th & 9th September. We look forward to meeting you there at the sigma Network stand, and hearing your ideas for the further development of mathematics and statistics support.

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Joe Kyle's Corner: A Genteel Attempt at Bribery

Joe Kyle

There is a common belief that plagiarism and cheating are relatively modern plagues associated with the more general ills of modern society. But browsing the excellent materials at the Cambridge Assessment website [1] , which to my shame I have just discovered, I came across this account of a genteel attempt at bribery in 1910.

Joe Kyle

Despite the modern day media cliché of happy teenagers jumping joyfully in celebration of their grades, we all know that exam results can also be profoundly disappointing for some. One such was a certain Mr A Kershaw of Morecambe. Mr Kershaw’s daughter Ethel had failed the School Leaving Examination and he was devastated. But Lancashire folk are resourceful and Mr Kershaw decided to act. He wrote directly to the Secretary of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, John Neville Keynes (father of the famous economist), suggesting that there might have been an error, as Ethel “thought she had managed everything so well.” So far, so good; there is surely no harm in asking. However to ease the process of discovering said error, Kershaw offers an inducement: “Yes, I would pay for you & Mrs Keynes a trip to Paris and would be highly pleased to do so if you could discover a mistake.” For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Kershaw closes by including the unfortunate Ethel’s candidate number. There is no record of any reply from Keynes.

Of course, these School Leaving Examinations were the forerunners of the modern A-level examinations. Here is a question from an early paper: What causes the puffing noise of a locomotive engine? If 4 puffs be heard in a second, and the circumference of the driving wheel be 22 feet, how many miles an hour is the train going?

Looking forward to some interesting answers from all you modellers and problem-solvers when I see you at CETL MSOR at Greenwich this September!

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CETL-MSOR 2015: Make time for Greenwich - 8/9 September 2015

As you are probably aware, this year’s CETL-MSOR conference is taking place on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September at the University of Greenwich.  There has been an increase in the number of submitted and accepted abstracts, meaning a bumper programme,  and it looks like there will be a record number of delegates in attendance as well. 

The key note speakers include Professor Les Ebdon, Director of the Office for Fair Access and Professor John MacInnes, University of Edinburgh.  We also have a student keynote session again this year with four projects being presented.  The programme and related abstracts are available to view at

Sustaining Excellence
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Forging Links

Robert Jenkins, Learning Enhancement Tutor: Mathematics and Statistics, University of East Anglia (UEA)

My role gives me a unique perspective regarding mathematics teaching at the University of East Anglia (UEA). My fellow tutor Gordon Collins and I have a long-standing and productive relationship with those lecturers who teach maths as a service subject.

It became obvious that many lecturers who teach similar parts of maths never get the chance to meet each other. In light of this I have been heavily involved in a new initiative designed to give those lecturers the chance to meet and reflect on their practice.

Joe Kyle

An initial meeting was chaired by our Academic Director of Taught Programmes, who fully supports the initiative. Colleagues from the science and social science faculties attended, representing well over 10 maths courses currently taught at UEA. The meeting was also attended by colleagues from our School of Education who specialise in the study of mathematics education. I gave a presentation about the role of the Mathematics Tutor and the different models we employ in different schools. In addition a lecturer from the School of Economics talked about the HEA report in maths teaching in Economics that he had authored.

It is hoped that further meetings will consider teaching methods and resources used for teaching similar mathematical skills (such as algebra and calculus) to very different cohorts of students. Importantly this initiative is further enhancing and embedding the role that tutors such as ourselves have in HE institutions. Maybe the overview we tutors can offer will have a positive effect on the practice of our colleagues, which in turn should make our jobs a little easier. I hope that you consider instigating similar initiatives at your parent institutions and look forward to hearing how you get on.

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MSOR Connections

Alun Owen, University of Worcester

On behalf of the editorial team for MSOR Connections (Robert Wilson, Noel-Ann Bradshaw, Peter Rowlett and myself), I am delighted to let you know that the first new edition of this long established publication within the MSOR Higher Education Community has now been compiled and will be officially relaunched to coincide with the CETL-MOSR Conference on the 8th September. To assist with the ‘relaunch’, additional support has been provided by sigma to print and distribute the first new issue in hard copy at the CETL-MSOR conference that is taking place at the University of Greenwich in September.

Alun Owen

A great deal of background work has been undertaken by sigma to achieve the relaunch of this much missed publication, and special thanks have to go to all those involved, without whose hard work, it would not have been possible for MSOR Connections to continue. A special mention has to go to Robert Wilson who has edited the first new issue spending many hours of his summer getting this done. Thanks to the continued support of sigma, and in collaboration with the University of Greenwich, the publication will now continue as a peer-reviewed online research journal, at with one volume per academic year and three issues per volume that will maintain the traditions of Connections past. That is, research articles, case studies and opinion pieces relating to innovative learning, teaching, assessment and support in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research from across HE will be welcomed.

In keeping with the theme of this introduction, the articles in the new first issue capture the changing landscape across the sector of mathematics learning, teaching and support. An article by Lawson and Croft reviews the development of mathematics support over the last 25 years, before providing a glimpse in to the future of maths support and the continued role of the sigma network. This is not unrelated to an item provided by Cronin and Breen, who report on the current activities in mathematics support as presented at the 9th Annual Workshop of the Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network. And Lingham and Baughan describe how a bespoke workshop has been developed to support students in preparation for undertaking increasingly common and important graduate numeracy tests. Another key theme across the remaining articles is student engagement. The case study by Ní Shúilleabháin provides details on an initiative that involves university students supporting widening participation activities; Cornock outlines how the Maths Arcade programme has been developed to engage and support students at various levels of university study; and Knight reports on learning activities that have been employed in a final year undergraduate mathematics module that aim to engage students, as well as develop their understanding of the mathematics introduced. In relation to these aspects of engagement, Waldock details how a well-designed learning space has positively contributed to student interaction and group working activities.

To register for submissions/notifications, and for further information relating to Connections please visit

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sigma – increasingly influencing developments internationally

Increasingly, academic and support staff from other parts of the world are becoming interested in the ways in which mathematics and statistics education is being enhanced in the UK, particularly through the activities of the sigma network.

MatRiC - Norway

MatRiC is a learning community working for excellence in the teaching of mathematics in Norwegian universities and university colleges ( An important strand of its work is the opening of mathematics drop-in centres. Two such centres opened this autumn at the University of Agder’s campuses at Kristiansand and at Grimstad. During August, sigma Director Tony Croft visited both campuses and gave presentations to staff and students who will work in the new centres. Serendipitous timing meant that Tony met the first ever student to use the Grimstad Centre, and the MatRIC project Director, Professor Simon Goodchild, was able to offer this engineering undergraduate one-to-one help and get his first taste of tutoring in a mathematics support centre!

At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
Simon Goodchild and Anne Berit Fuglestad in the new MatRiC drop-in centre at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway


Ruhr-Universität - Germany

In August, Dr.Jörg Härterich and Dr Michael Kallweit from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany visited the mathematics support centres at Loughborough and Coventry Universities to learn about our practices, our resources and the wider work of the sigma network. At Loughborough, Professor Tony Croft and Dr Eugenie Hunsicker hosted the visit giving detailed explanations of how the centre operates and its plans for the future. Dr Hunsicker, from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, has recently taken over the running of the Loughborough centre. On the second day of their visit Jörg and Michael visited Tim Sparks at Coventry University to learn more about how the Coventry centre works and particularly Tim’s role in offering statistics advice and support.

At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
Dr.Jörg Härterich and Dr Michael Kallweit with Loughborough’s Dr Eugenie Hunsicker
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Supporting disabled students in mathematics support centres: Practical use of R by blind people - resources

Emma Cliffe, University of Bath

This is the fifth in a series of articles on supporting disabled students.

R in Braille


A workshop on Practical use of R by blind people was hosted by the Mathematics Resource Centre (MASH) at the University of Bath on 10th July. The workshop was led by Dr Jonathan Godfrey, one of only two totally blind full-time lecturers of statistics in the world today. We started with technical set up of R and the package BrailleR with a screen reader on both Windows and Linux (Mac OS X is also possible). Jonathan gave some introductory background on studying mathematics and statistics effectively at university as a blind person and also on the accessibility of a range of statistical software. We then worked through exercises designed to acquaint us with the package BrailleR and effective working methods.


The workshop content was well supported by resources available from Jonathan and these should enable a keen independent user to get started straight away:


If you use a screen reader or work with someone who does and would appreciate a UK based contact who attended the workshop then do get in touch! (

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Pocket Guide to mathematics resources

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

When it comes to seeking help for teaching and learning mathematics, the internet offers an embarrassment of riches: video tutorials, animations, mobile apps, interactive web pages, all sorts of assessment software, entertainments, powerful programs to explore, investigate and compute, books, wikis, forums, and probably more digital documents than there are trees for the paper to print them on. The sheer proliferation of informative and alluring material can be overwhelming. There is a need for a compact and reliable guide to all this material that will make it easy for maths support tutors to direct their students to the reliable resources they need, as well as to get help for themselves.
To this end, a call went out to the community and as a result we will be working with Alun Owen (University of Worcester), Chetna Patel and Ellen Marshall (University of Sheffield) and Rob Wilson (Cardiff University) to produce two guides: one covering mathematics support and one covering statistics support. The guides will offer a simple evaluation of each resource included and a description of what it offers.

These guides will be available in 2016.
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New statstutor and mathcentre Community resources

A number of new resources are being added to mathcentre and statstutor following the resource funding calls and contributions to the Communities Centre projects. Recent additions are detailed below. If you have develeloped resources, either for students or staff, that you are willing to share with the mathematics and statstics support community, please contact Janette Matthews ( It may be possible to host these resources on Loughborough University servers thus enabling them to continue to be accessible in the future.
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Binary Arithmetic and Boolean Algebra video resources (mathcentre)

Eva Szatmari, Learning Development Tutor, Birkbeck College, University of London

In computer science studies, students are exposed to the Binary numbers system and Boolean logic almost immediately they commence their studies. These two systems are unique to the field, because early computers were designed from basic circuits which were turned on and off. As a result, from the start, the natural language in which to communicate with the computer became binary numbers. Boolean logic was also introduced to give more complex instructions to the computer, and so ask complicated calculations from it, at the most fundamental levels. Being able to understand both systems and work between them is critical for both computing and more generally mathematics. 

When I started supporting students, studying mathematics and computing, it was not possible to find high quality video support for binary arithmetic and Boolean algebra, despite my spending substantial time searching the internet for good quality teaching materials. 

Students generally find these two topics difficult, especially if they have not been studying A-level computer science.  The problem is these students often do not realise they need some basic mathematical skills, they need to think mathematically, and there are areas where it is crucial to know the definitions and laws of mathematics by heart as a basis for application and study of the field.  When they are not aware of these requirements, they are lost when confronted with unfamiliar problems which if they knew the rules could be easily solved.

To fill this gap, a small team at Birkbeck College, University of London was awarded a sigma grant to produce 10 video tutorials, each of 10-15 minutes length. In fact to ensure clarity we made 20 videos and each includes practice questions to help create familiarity and confidence with the topic. I developed and delivered the context and content; Catherine Griffiths oversaw the whole project; Barnaby Booth did the filming and editing. Gill Whitney of Middlesex University provided the peer review as she has an extensive teaching experience in this area of computing mathematics.

The videos are aimed at first year undergraduate students studying computer science and the laws of logic videos could be useful for mathematics degrees as well.

The video series can be found on the mathcentre website under Binary Numbers and Boolean Logic within the Topics tab.

I hope you and your students will find them useful.

Truth Tables
Boolean 07: Complex Truth Tables
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'At-a-Glance' Pharmacy Numeracy Leaflets (mathcentre)

Matthew Copping, Student Learning Advisory Service, Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, University of Kent

Thanks to a £2000 resource development project grant from sigma, the Student Learning Advisory Service in the Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at the University of Kent ( has produced a series of seventeen ‘At-a-Glance’ leaflets to support pharmacy numeracy development. The leaflets each address a key topic for students studying for an undergraduate degree in pharmacy, and provide worked examples and self-test questions. Topics covered range from simple amounts and solutions to prescriptions, formulations, multiple dilutions and half-lives – topics which year one and year two pharmacy students are expected to master in order to pass examination and progress with their studies.

The leaflets were designed and developed by Dr Matthew Copping in the Student Learning Advisory Service at the University of Kent, and were peer reviewed by Dr Scott Wildman, Dr Cleopatra Branch, Mr Jerome Durodie and Mr Andrew Lea, at the Medway School of Pharmacy (

The leaflet designs are available from mathcentre, search for "At-a-Glance", and from the University of Kent ( They are released for open use through a Creative Commons license. As well as being available as an online resource, the University of Kent produces the leaflets in printed form for students.
At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
At-a-Glance 14: Prescription (1)
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Scenario based training for new statistics tutors - video and text resources for staff (statstutor)

Ellen Marshall (University of Sheffield) and Alun Owen (University of Worcester)

Requests for help with statistics within Mathematics Support Centres often relate to individual student projects, and providing support for these often requires different skills to teaching theoretical methods in statistics. Ellen Marshall (University of Sheffield) and Alun Owen (University of Worcester) were successful in bidding for sigma funding to develop staff training resources that could be used to develop the much broader range of skills necessary to be an effective statistics tutor. These skills include listening and questioning skills, decision-making to identify an appropriate analysis, an awareness of the background and context of the student’s prior learning in statistics and the expectations of the student’s project supervisor or department.

The skills based resources developed during the project consist primarily of edited videos of actual statistics advisory sessions, combining video recordings, PC screen captures and strategically placed pauses with questions and issues for consideration within a workshop environment (see the discussion point screenshot for an example).  There are some general tips for statistics support within the main videos and two short Do’s and Don’ts videos.  There are also some knowledge based resources; the ‘Tutor’s quick guide to tests’ and a SPSS training manual/ knowledge check (which have received good feedback from new tutors in the MASH Centre at the University of Sheffield), as well as slides on ‘Statistics for Mathematicians’ (that have been trialed successfully at training days at the University of Sheffield and the University of Northampton).   

All of these resources are now available from the statstutor website at
At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
Video Based Statistics Tutor Training: Mass Customisation Scenario
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maths e.g. - computer-aided assessment system (mathematics and statistics)

Martin Greenhow, Department of Mathematics, Brunel University

maths e.g. - computer-aided assessment system – is available via student and teacher interfaces: and The former has proved very popular with students who use the extensive feedback for learning. The latter has over 600 registered users. The figure shows the easy-to-use interface that allows you to create assessments from over 3000 questions.

The principal features of maths e.g. are:

  1. Questions are fully randomised producing many runtime realisations. The randoms are carried through to all aspects of the question including diagrams (that in the figure will realise with different graphs). Accessibility features are included.
  2. The tree structure and search engine mean that questions are easy to find, especially as many are tagged to the Edexcel modules C1-4, S1-2, M1-2 and D1-2.
  3. The A level focus is deliberate, making the content very suitable for revision or remedial use in HE, as well as mainstream use at A-level and HE Foundation level.
  4. The main thrust of maths e.g. is not so much for mathematics students, but for those in other degrees that include elementary mathematics and statistics. At Brunel University is it used for students in a wide range of courses from computer science and engineering to psychology, and has particularly strong coverage of microeconomics.
  5. Future developments will allow use on mobile devices (phones and I-pads) and include numeracy for adult learners, especially that needed for employability aptitude tests and preparation for HE study.
At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
The maths e.g. teacher interface showing a diagram and test creation options.
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‘Getting started with…’ - video and text resources for Word, LaTeX, Excel and SPSS (mathematics and statistics)

Cheryl Voake-Jones and Emma Cliffe, Mathematics Resources Centre, University of Bath

There exist many useful resources which support the use of mathematical and statistical software.  However, these tend to focus on guiding users through specific tasks.  This approach relies upon the assumption that users have a basic understanding of how to use the software in question.  We identified a need to develop resources to help those students who are often keen to learn but need help getting over the initial hurdle of using a software package for the first time, and used sigma funding to develop four ‘Getting started with…’ resources to guide new users through four commonly used software packages.

The following suite of resources is now available on the mathcentre/statstutor websites:

Each resource consists of a screencast with audio dialogue, full written transcript and supporting files.  They are aimed at new users and thus focus on the introduction of basic techniques, although experienced users may still learn something new!  Users are encouraged to work through the examples alongside the video, learning through doing and giving the confidence for further exploration.

At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
Getting started with data manipulation in Microsoft Excel
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Numbas - an open-source e-assessment system (mathcentre and statstutor)

Christian Perfect, Newcastle University

Numbas is an open-source e-assessment system developed at Newcastle University ( by Bill Foster, and Christian Perfect. E-assessment is a hugely useful tool for students: it provides an inexhaustible supply of questions on a given topic, with immediate marking and tailored feedback.

In 2012, we uploaded a first batch of 23 standalone revision tests to mathcentre, covering fractions, arithmetic, basic calculus and matrices. We also launched a question database and editor, hosted on mathcentre and open to the public for free.

Since then, we’ve created over a thousand more questions ourselves, and users around the world have created over 6,000 on the public database.

We’ve just added a second batch of 42 more tests, drawn from the formative tests we provide to students at Newcastle. The tests cover a wide range of topics, including probability distributions, hypothesis tests, and complex numbers, as well as subject-specific statistics material for business and psychology.

Search for "Numbas" in mathcentre and statstutor respectively to access all the Numbas questions.

At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
A question from a Numbas test on Integration by Parts
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A suite of statistics e-Assessments with supporting materials (statstutor)

Iain Weir, University of the West of England

This resource comprises a suite of five statistics DEWIS e-Assessment modules that relate to the activities involved in choosing and carrying out an appropriate one sample test for location (mean or median) on a randomly generated data set. Such data is commonly analysed by employing one of either: the t-test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test or Binomial (Sign) test. A practitioner will typically make their test choice by considering statistical properties such as data size, skewness, outlier presence and degree of normality. As such the supporting materials (both written notes and demonstration videos) give instructions on how to create SPSS output to then make this choice and apply the appropriate test.

The modules may be taken sequentially which will mimic the flow of a full statistical analysis or if desired accessed independently. Students choose from a variety of application contexts and are then required to download a data set to analyse using SPSS before answering a few questions demonstrating their understanding of the results. Feedback is given for inappropriate test choices as well as other incorrect analysis. Each generated data set has a unique reference number allowing the student to log out of DEWIS and return at a later data to complete modules.

This resource will benefit students from a wide range of disciplines who need to master a methodical and defendable approach to carrying in depth and appropriate statistical analysis. The experienced gained will prepare them up for more complex statistical analyses.

These resources have been made available under a Creative Commons licence by Iain Weir, Rhys Gwynllyw & Karen Henderson, University of the West of England, Bristol and reviewed by Nadarajah Ramesh, University of Greenwich following a sigma Resource Development Grant.

To access the resources, click here.

At-a-Glance Prescription leaflet
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7th Annual Scottish Maths Support Network Meeting - 5 June 2015

Shazia Ahmed, University of Glasgow

This event took place on Friday 5 June at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) with delegates from seven Scottish institutions, two English universities and the Open University attending.

Sally Crighton from the Open University gave the keynote talk “What has Open University Mathematics ever done for me?” She described a new free course entitled “Succeed with Maths”, designed to increase confidence in basic mathematical skills, which anyone can enrol on. 

Joe Kyle

Other talks included:

  • ‘Imposed Distance as a Learning Tool’ by Ewan Russell from University of Keele
  • ‘The Engineering Peer Tutors’ by Kate Durkacz, Edinburgh Napier University   
  • ‘Maths Diagnostic Testing for Engineers at GCU: An Initial Study’ by Calum Macdonald from Glasgow Caledonian University
  • ‘Online Assessment & Feedback: How to Square the Circle’ by Tara Brendle and Andrew Wilson from the University of Glasgow
  • ‘Meeting the Future Needs of Maths Support’ by David Bowers, Chair, sigma Network for Excellence in Mathematics and Statistics Support
  • ‘An Analysis & Evaluation of Using Facebook Groups to Support Student Learning’ by Shazia Ahmed from the University of Glasgow.

The event provided delegates with an opportunity to share ideas and experiences in supporting and engaging students in higher education institutions with mathematics and statistics, and to further consolidate links between academics and maths support staff.

Our thanks go to all the speakers for such an interesting and enjoyable day and to GCU for hosting the event.

Please visit our website for more details about the network and to view the slides.

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sigma South East Hub event: Meeting the mathematical needs of pharmacy students – 15 June 2015

Noel-Ann Bradshaw, sigma South East Hub co-ordinator

On 15th June, the South East sigma hub organised a one day workshop on Meeting the Mathematical Needs of Pharmacy Students.  This was, in part, a rerun of the very successful event organised by Leslie Fletcher (Liverpool John Moores) last November which we wanted to make available to HEIs in other parts of the UK.  The event was hosted by one of the newer sigma Centres, Kings College, London. 

After a brief introduction from myself about sigma there were talks from:

  • Emma Bolton, British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association Educational Development Officer – The Pharmacy Students’ Perspective;
  • Lisa Smith, Question Writing Coordinator, General Pharmaceutical Council – The Pharmacy Regulator’s Insight;  
  • Sion Coulman, Cardiff University - A contextualised diagnostic numeracy test: What? When? Why? and How?
  • Matthew Copping, University of Kent - After providing additional numeracy support for Stage I MPharm students.

After this there were two shorter presentations from Martin Greenhow (Brunel) and Jerome Durodie (Greenwich) followed by a short time for discussion and questions.

The meeting was well attended with 16 delegates from the following universities and organisations:  Birkbeck, University of London; British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association; Brunel University; Bucks New University; Cardiff University; University of East London; General Pharmaceutical Council; University of Greenwich; University of Kent; Kingston University; London Metropolitan University; University of Portsmouth; University of Reading.

The presentation slides have been made available to delegates.

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sigma North East & Yorkshire Hub event: Breaking down silos - 24 June 2015

Chetna Patel, sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub co-ordinator

The sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub hosted a Networking event on the 24th June at the University of York to learn from and support members to deliver appropriate maths and statistics help. The day was a combination of talks and activities and gave the 10 delegates an opportunity to consider their individual needs for service development and gain ideas from the experiences of the group.  Here is a brief summary of the talks and activities.

Francis welcomed us and gave an overview of the developments at York.  Vijayantee carried out a survey of the support being provided in the region and presented her preliminary findings and shared some of the interesting discussions. She will in due course publish these.  One theme that keeps reappearing is that of measuring success and/or effectiveness and one of the things this survey has thrown up is that a shrinking of a support centre is not necessarily a failing if the support is actually being taken on by the departments.  As predicted, students' demand for statistics support at Sheffield University has grown with students from almost all departments needing support.  Ellen went through the resources available to help, shared challenges and how these can be approached.  For instance a large number of students come with no stats/or bad stats making it hard to fix, needing careful questioning and guidance as much as teaching to ensure students are able to produce what the departments require.

We also continued developing ways of making our provision more inclusive and accessible by having a hands-on session on supporting students with learning differences to get through numeracy tests.  Firstly, Bernadette’s activity brought home how these students feel when faced with some of the questions. Secondly she gave some insightful tips on helping these students.   Highly recommended workshop!

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sigma North West & North Wales Hub Networking event - 25 June 2015

Andrew Fox, temporary sigma North West and North Wales co-ordinator

Mathematics support practitioners from the North West North Wales area, and several other regions, met at a networking event held at Liverpool John Moores University. The event was well attended, no doubt due to the range of notable speakers giving presentations. Topics covered included:

The sigma network  - a network working! - Professor Tony Croft
Tony spoke about how pooling resources, expertise and experience of those in the sigma community offers much needed help to students from all disciplines and across all levels; thereby addressing an urgent national priority of improving the quantitative skills of students. The talk highlighted the value and benefits of working with the sigma network and the opportunities for others to become involved.

Offering university-wide statistics support - Dr Alun Owen
Alun reviewed the issues and challenges associated with offering statistical support services to students across a range of disciplines. Alun then moved on to highlight resources currently available, as well as others being developed, and used these to illustrate some of the issues and challenges.

Using data effectively to enhance mathematics support provision - Michael Grove
Michael looked at how mathematics and statistics support services are used by learners from various disciplines, reviewing the types of data that might usefully be collected and highlighting tools, techniques and strategies for doing so. Michael also highlighted how those working in mathematics and statistics support might embed a scholarly element to their practice through the collection and dissemination of findings arising from their work.

How to make mathematics unintelligible - Dr Mark Taylor
Mark discussed students raising issues regarding why mathematics can be difficult to understand. Issues included: describing a concept using unfamiliar terms; use of unfamiliar symbols (e.g. Greek symbols); use of unfamiliar abbreviations (wrt, st, iff, etc.); lack of use of diagrams/pictures; lack of use of simple analogies; as well as others. Mark demonstrated how a few simple presentational changes can make mathematical concepts easier to understand.

Please contact Andrew Fox ( if you require any further information regarding this event.

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Newcastle University and sigma North West & North Wales workshops: Mastering Numbas - 6/7 July 2015

Bill Foster, Newcastle University

This event was held on the 6th and 7th of July 2015 at Loughborough University under the sigma Network banner with excellent support supplied by Moira Petrie and Janette Matthews. During the first day, the aim was to introduce the open-access e-assessment system Numbas, developed by Newcastle University, and to look at the more advanced features on the second day by tasking the twelve participants, from a wide range of Universities, to create more advanced maths and stats  questions with these features. Christian Lawson-Perfect, the main developer, introduced all of the topics during the two days with Bill Foster providing support and the occasional comment.

A lot of ground was covered on both days and the second day was noticeable for the excellent level of discussion and suggestions from all once the power and applicability of Numbas became apparent. Topics discussed included interaction, adaptive feedback, use of graphics and incorporating set-theoretic input. The Newcastle team found the two days very useful as these valuable interactions with colleagues actively involved with teaching is leading to further developments in-line with lecturers’ requirements.

Below is a screen-shot of an interactive use of Numbas, including adaption and use of dynamic graphics.

Numbas question
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sigma SW&SW Hub event: Statistics for non-statisticians – 7 July 2015

Emma Cliffe, sigma South West and South Wales Hub co-ordinator

A sigma SW&SW meeting, on Statistics for non-statisticians, was held on 7th July. The day was led by Chris Hallsworth, Statistics Advisory Service Co-ordinator, and Cheryl Voake-Jones, Mathematics Resource Centre Co-ordinator, both of the University of Bath. Cheryl started the day with a short session of hints and tips which can be applied to the majority of statistical queries. Chris followed this with the start of an overview of statistical concepts which underlie common statistical techniques.

Slide from Bath Event

After lunch Jon Gillard and Rob Wilson of Cardiff University provided some statistical 'light relief' with their presentation on What students really evaluate when they fill out questionnaires: A Cardiff case study and the NSS; this also helped highlight how statistical approaches work. Refreshed by discussion we returned to Chris' overview of statistical concepts which finished with an example of the ideas in practice.

In the final session, Cheryl returned to highlight and lead discussion on common issues and challenges encountered when dealing with statistical queries including the most thorny of queries which start with “But my supervisor said...”!

The workshop was well-received by the 19 attendees who gave feedback including “Terrific review of stats stuff […] really informative and very enjoyable”, “Great audience and talks”, “Dealing with statistical queries – good advice”, “Made me like statistics better”, “Useful discussion of common problems”. Slides are available at

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Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism – 31 August 2015

This free three-week online course, running for the fourth time on the FutureLearn platform from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University, is aimed at students aspiring to study science and engineering at university. Through an accessible introduction to graphical and algebraic techniques students will start to think mathematically and develop an informal understanding of vital properties of points, lines and curves before formalising mathematically some of these essential notions. The course closes by reinforcing the importance of mathematics to science and engineering.

To register:

Contact Janette Matthews ( for further information.

Sustaining Excellence
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sigma South East Tutor Training - 7 September 2015

Noel-Ann Bradshaw, sigma South East Hub co-ordinator

The South East hub will be running a free sigma Network Tutor Training event for mathematics and statistics support centres in the hub, and nearby regions, who wish to access sigma training for their tutors.

It will be held at Kings College, London on Monday 7th September, and lunch and light refreshments will be provided. The training will be delivered by members of sigma and is based around the sigma guide.

Further information and reserving places and directions, will be available shortly and a programme can be found by clicking on the following link: Draft Programme -sept 2015.

To book a place please email Noel-Ann Bradshaw ( with names and dietary requirements (if applicable) of those wanting to attend from your institution.

Who might attend?

  • New postgraduate tutors,
  • Staff tutors new to providing mathematics and statistics centre support,
  • Support Centre staff who wish to learn more about how the training is delivered so as to inform local delivery or to help with delivery in the hub in the future.

This training is not suitable for undergraduate students who work for centres but staff training these tutors are very welcome.

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sigma South West & South Wales Tutor Training - 2 October 2015

Emma Cliffe, University of Bath

This free sigma Network Tutor Training event is for mathematics and statistics support centres in the South West and South Wales, and nearby regions, who wish to access sigma training for their tutors. It will be held at Cardiff University on Friday 2nd October from 10:30 to 15:30. Lunch and light refreshments will be provided.

The training will be delivered by members of sigma and is based around the sigma guide. For those working towards HEA Fellowship, attendance at and engagement with this event, and reflection on its implications for practice, could help to provide evidence towards elements of the UK Professional Standards Framework.

Further information, contacts and forms at

Mathematics and statistics support centres in the SW&SW hub region should estimate likely attendance from their centre as soon as possible using the estimation form and tutors attending should then each register. Both forms are available at the above link.

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sigma North East & Yorkshire Tutor Training - 16 October 2015

Chetna Patel, sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub co-ordinator

A free sigma Network Tutor Training event for mathematics and statistics support centres in the North East and Yorkshire will be held at Leeds University on Friday 16th October from 12:00 to 16:30.

The training will be delivered by members of sigma and is based around the sigma guide. For those working towards HEA Fellowship, attendance at and engagement with this event, and reflection on its implications for practice, could help to provide evidence towards elements of the UK Professional Standards Framework.

Further information, contact Chetna Patel.

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Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace -19 October 2015

Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace is a free, online course from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University starting on 19 October on the FutureLearn platform.

The course, being presented for the second time, aims to prepare students for employers’ numeracy testing which is a barrier to employment for many. Over the three-weeks, students will learn about the rationale for psychometric tests, refresh the numeracy skills that they need to be successful and improve their mathematical confidence. Course components consist of video tutorials, onscreen articles, discussion forums and quizzes for lots of practice. Students may work at their own pace taking longer to complete the course if needed.

"This was a brilliant course! I found it really useful, thank you so much. I feel that I'm much more confident when working with numbers and I'm sure I will definitely score a higher mark in the next numeracy test that I take. I've learnt that I really need to slow down and read the question properly. That was my biggest issue [..]." Tangila Begum (14 July 2015)

To register:

Contact Janette Matthews ( for further information.

Sustaining Excellence
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sigma Network Mailing list (SIGMA-NETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK)

The sigma Network uses the sigma Network mailing list (SIGMA-NETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK) to promote events and announce funding calls. The mailing list is also used by mathematics and statistics support practitioners to seek information and discuss items of mutual interest. Archives of previous posts are accessible from the SIGMA-NETWORK JISCMAIL home page.

Please encourage your mathematics and statistics support colleagues and tutors to sign up to the mailing list. It is possible to opt to receive a digest weekly instead of ad-hoc email communications.

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Recent reports and research publications

This regular column lists recent publications relevant to mathematics and statistics support practitioners. If you are aware of any publications that may be of interest to this community, please will you send them to It is our intention to compile a bibliography which will be available from the sigma Network and mathcentre websites.


No presentations were submitted for this issue.

Journal and Conference Publications

Johann Engelbrecht & Ansie Harding (2015) Interventions to improve teaching and learning in first year mathematics courses. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology DOI:10.1080/0020739X.2015.1070441

Henderson, K., Gwynllyw, R., Hooper, A. P. and Palipana, A. (2015) Using e-assessment to promote engagement in engineering mathematics. In: Hersh, M. A. and Kotecha, M., eds. (2015) Conference Proceedings - IMA International Conference on Barriers and Enablers to Learning Maths: Enhancing Learning and Teaching for All Learners. IMA.

Peter K. Dunn, Christine McDonald & Birgit Loch (2015) StatsCasts: screencasts for complementing lectures in statistics classes. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology Volume 46, Issue 4 (521-532). DOI:10.1080/0020739X.2014.990530

Lesley Wilkins (2015) Maybe we could just count the boxes of chocolates? Measuring the impact of Learning Development mathematics support for undergraduate students. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, Vol 9, No 2

Janelle Wilkes, Lorelle J. Burton (2015) Get Set for Success: Applications for engineering and applied science students. IJISME International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education Vol 23 (1), No 1

Conference Presentations

No presentations were submitted for this issue.

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The sigma e-Newsletter is a quarterly community publication and the views expressed do not
necessarily constitute recommendations from the sigma Directorate.

We welcome contributions on any topic that may be of interest to practitioners and academics
supporting higher education students in their learning of mathematics and statistics. Please contact
Janette Matthews (

The deadline for contributions for the next edition (December 2015) is 13 November 2015.

For more information, visit
or contact
#mathssupport, #statssupport

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The sigma Network gratefully acknowledges the funding it receives from HEFCE. hefce logo