Projects to improve mathematics performance at a university of technology

  • Ina Louw Tshwane Universiteit van Tegnologie, Pretoria
Keywords: Wiskundeprestasie, universiteit van tegnologie, tutoriale, assessering, uitkomsgerigte onderrig, assesseringskriteria, kwaliteitsleer, kwaliteits-beheer, assesseringspraktyke, fokusgroeponderhoude.


Lecturers at tertiary institutions have been expressing concern about the quality of students in mathematics for a long time now. Blame is usually placed at the door of secondary schools, but through put figures are still determining state subsidies and as such necessitate institutions to constantly revisit their efforts in terms of improving performance in mathematics. In this article, the results of two studies to improve the mathematics performance at a technical university are reported. The first study took place at the former Technikon Northern Gauteng and was an action research project with an experimental design. The study entailed the implementation of tutorial sessions and it revealed certain traits of tertiary mathematics education. Data were collected through structured observation, questionnaires and focus group interviews. A standardized questionnaire, Study Orientation Questionnaire in Maths (SOM), was introduced and “study habits” was the field in the test that featured most significantly in both the experimental and the control groups. The results revealed, inter alia, that timely assessment is needed to detect and correct misconceptions as soon as possible. It also pointed out that attendance of lectures (and tutorials) impacted strongly on performance. Lastly, it was found that students preferred communicating mathematics through the medium of English and not by using their mother tongue. The second project was conducted at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and consisted of an investigation into assessment practices in first year mathematics. The study was executed with action research as strategy and data were collected through interviews, questionnaires and focus group interviews. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected and respondents were exposed to contemporary assessment strategies as suggested by OBE. The aim of the study was to enhance the respondents’ insight into contemporary assessment strategies and to empower them to execute their assessment in a more accountable way. The merger of the institution was still underway at the time, which left many respondents with questions and uncertainties about their future. Some of the findings were, inter alia, that some respondents were convinced that new assessment strategies would lower the standard of teaching; some respondents mentioned the poor quality of students and were convinced that the Tshwane University of Technology would benefit from reviewing their admission criteria, and respondents cited large class groups, lack of marking assistance and ignorance about Outcomes Based Education (OBE) as reasons for failing to undertake assessment renewal. In the mean time class groups got even bigger and a new solution needs to be found as a matter of urgency
Original Research