IMA Workshop: Programming in the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum

Summary (part of report for IMA)

The fourth workshop in the IMA Higher Education Teaching and Learning Series 2018/19 was held at Middlesex University on June 27th. The title of the workshop was Programming in the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum. The intention was to provide a platform for colleagues to discuss approaches to teaching and assessing programming to mathematics students in undergraduate mathematics programmes, and to disseminate good practice. As more emphasis is placed on developing employability skills in undergraduate curricula Peter Rowlett (co-organiser) and myself felt it would be useful to run this workshop to collect experiences of teaching programming.

The workshop consisted of seven talks by speakers from both academia and industry. The talks covered a number of areas from industry-focussed curriculum design to case studies of assessment tools used at different institutions.

The morning session began with a talk by Noel-Ann Bradshaw, To code or not to code? For employers there is no question, on the employability of mathematics graduates and their journey into programming in industry. Having worked both in industry and in academia this authoritatively delivered talk served to set the scene for the day and provide a useful focus for subsequent talks.

A number of talks related experiences of running courses either specifically teaching programming or with programming embedded in the curriculum. Notably most speakers taught Python rather than other languages citing its simple syntax and ease of use, as well as the move more towards machine learning and data science as routes into employment. A number of talks demonstrated the use of web-based syntax-checking tools used either as formative or summative assessment. Some evidence was given to suggest their use improved student engagement and achievement in programming assignments.

A particularly interesting talk by Vincent Knight, Four stories: four models of learning, discussed different strategies to engage and teach students at different levels from first year undergraduates to PhD candidates. Although slightly outside the remit of the workshop (which was intended to discuss the undergraduate curriculum only) this talk served to highlight different needs of students at different levels and discussed approaches to teaching that address these needs.

The workshop was a useful opportunity to pool common experience and approaches to programming and highlighted a number of different approaches to its inclusion in the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.

Matthew M. Jones (local organiser)

List of talks

Abstracts are available by clicking the following link: Download

Noel-Ann Bradshaw To code or not to code? For employers there is no question
Peter Rowlett Programming as a mathematical activity
James Denholm-Price Nooblab and MATLAB: Teaching programming to maths and computing students
Vincent Knight Four stories and four models of learning
Matthew M. Jones Group assessment and design patterns
Stephen Lynch Programming on a Maths Degree to Enhance, Teaching, Learning, Assessment, Research and Employability
Chris Sangwin Automatic assessment of students’ code using CodeRunner