ALTC Professional Development Workshop

Effective Learning, Effective Teaching in the Quantitative Disciplines

September 29-30, 2011
University of Wollongong, New South Wales

This practical, hands-on and interactive workshop will immediately follow the Australian Mathematical Society 55th Annual Meeting at the University of Wollongong (26-29 September, 2011). It has been designed specifically for lecturers and tutors teaching in the quantitative disciplines.

It has been funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.


The workshop will commence with a social and a talk from 17:00 on Thursday September 29 (following the close of the AustMS Annual Meeting). Sessions will be held from 09:00 to 16:00 on Friday September 30. The workshop program will be posted at a later date.


Attendance is free. Travel support for students may be available upon application.

Register early or receive updates about plenary speakers and program details.

If you wish to attend both the Professional Development Workshop and the AustMS Annual Meeting, please register here.


The University of Wollongong, New South Wales


The workshop will provide practical ways of sharing and developing strategies drawn from best practice in mathematics education. Participants and facilitators will work in small groups in interactive sessions to enable peer learning. Sessions will cover:

  • Service teaching
  • Collaborative learning
  • Assessment
  • Peer review
  • Professional development
  • Learning technologies


Plenary Speakers

Laureate Professor Jonathan Borwein, University of Newcastle
Shane Wilson, ING Direct Australia Using mathematics degrees in practice
Dr Paul Denny, University of Auckland



Professor Walter Bloom, Murdoch University
Associate Professor David Easdown, The University of Sydney
Dr Mark Nelson, University of Wollongong
Dr Caz Sandison, University of Wollongong
Dr Katherine Seaton, LaTrobe University
Associate Professor Leigh Wood, Macquarie University



Ms Jennifer Lai (Macquarie University) -

Previous workshops

Read about the proceedings of the 2010 Professional Development Workshop held at The University of Queensland. Abstracts and slides for the workshop sessions are available at the ALTC workshop 2010 page.

Project information

This workshop is being run as part of an Australian Learning and Teaching Council project. Read more about how the team is developing a professional development unit for lecturers and tutors in the quantitative disciplines.

Workshop resources

Plenary sessions


Evening social  

“67 Dining”Level 1, Building 67


Collaboration tools in tertiary teaching

Jonathan Borwein 

I shall describe my experience in Canada and Australia, running shared conferences, seminars and classes over the internet.  


09.00 – 10.00 

Room G01
Building 24

Using mathematics degrees in practice

Shane Wilson 

I will give an overview of my career since leaving UOW and areas in which I feel could be included in a mathematics degrees to make them more attractive to potential employers. 


13.30 – 14.30 

Room 17.106 “Earth lab”Building 17 


Peer power: student-generated online learning resources via Peerwise

Paul Denny 

As instructors, we are constantly dreaming up new questions with which to assess our students' learning. A compelling argument can be made for challenging students to author their own assessment questions. Not only can this be a valuable learning activity that engages students with the course material, but it can provide us with feedback about what our students feel is important and how they are coping. Moreover, if students are able to easily answer and evaluate one another's questions, a useful resource can result.

PeerWise is an easy to use web-based tool that leverages the familiarity students have with social software and Web 2.0, and engages them in a learning community. Using PeerWise, students work collaboratively with their peers to construct, share, evaluate, answer and discuss a repository of assessment questions relevant to their course. Students are given the responsibility of creating and moderating the resource, placing practically no burden of supervision on the instructor. By leveraging the creativity and energy of a class, a large, diverse and rich resource can result.  
 This hands-on workshop introduces the freely-available PeerWise tool, giving participants an opportunity to experiment with the interface and view typical examples of the real-time feedback that is produced. Participants will work together to create a shared bank of questions exactly as students would in an authentic course using PeerWise. Student perceptions, repository quality, and the relationship between student activity and exam performance have been formally studied and a selection of these results will be presented. Upon completion of the workshop, participants wishing to utilise PeerWise in their own classes will be able to do so in a matter of minutes.

Workshop sessions



10.30 – 11.30 

Room G02Building 24 


Writing assessment tasks

Leigh Wood and Katherine Seaton 

Assessment drives what students learn and shows them what we value. This workshop will look at the assessment cycle in learning and teaching mathematics and statistics. We will then move to tasks and work interactively on a range of examples to help you design interesting, efficient and effective assessment activities for your students.  


10.30 – 11.30 

Room G03Building 24 


A different kind of first year workshops

Caz Sandison  

Do you find students physically attend lectures without truly engaging with the content? Do you find large traditional lectures do not allow much scope for “hands-on” learning styles? In this session we will describe the workshops that were recently introduced in all first year calculus subjects at UOW to overcome these issues. The workshops provide a diversified way of presenting Maths to students that provides them with hands-on, student-directed learning and gives them grounding in team work.  


11.30 – 12.30 

Room G02Building 24 


Building leadership capacity in the development and sharing of mathematics learning resources across disciplines and universities

Mark Nelson 

This presentation will provide an overview of a project funded by the Australian Learning Council.This project involved developing human resources, aligning objectives with the needs of an institution and addressing the legal and technical issues to allow Australian academics to share teaching and learning video resources. Through symposia, workshops, meetings and engaging with the wider academic community, participants have been able to develop their skills in tablet technology, create resources and deploy them in new learning designs. These resources and learning designs have been associated with improved learning outcomes for students. The presentation of issues related to resource creation, video genres, evaluation and learning designs in many venues has inspired others to become involved.The sustained hosting of a collection of resources has been possible through the alignment with core university infrastructure at the host institution, the University of Wollongong (UoW). The resources are available through Content Without Borders <>. To minimise legal risk associated with hosting resources from other institutions with diverse intellectual property rights a Memorandum of Understanding between the host institution and contributing institutions was developed. Several Australian universities are now engaged in the process of completing and at times negotiating the refinement the Memorandum of Understanding in order that their staff may contribute to the Share World collection.


11.30 – 12.30 

Room G03Building 24 


Transforming practice using threshold concepts

David Easdown 

Participants: please think beforehand about two or three threshold concepts that seem particularly important to you, either as a learner or instructor, and the reasons why. Think about strategies for incorporating them effectively in your favoured curriculum or unit of study. I will kick it off by explaining why ‘x’ is a threshold concept of significance to me personally as a learner, and mention some others that are noteworthy in my experience as an instructor, and even some that you might not think of as a threshold concept at all! Then over to you...Some background:

Threshold concepts (in the sense of Meyer and Land, 2003) are characterised by being transformative, integrative and irreversible. Typically they may be counter-intuitive and troublesome. As a threshold concept is mastered, one might imagine a pupil or student passing through a “portal” that opens up hitherto unknown vistas and possibilities, and the opportunity to progress rapidly and think more creatively and productively. Threshold concepts may act as springboards for activity and learning in a particular discipline. But, unless approached carefully, they may also be a source of frustration, bewilderment and failure.

Thinking about material in terms of threshold concepts can transform practice, both as a teacher and learner: focusing on and expecting “bottlenecks” rather than a smooth linear progression; emphasising the topography of the learning landscape, rather than relying on well-worn pathways and scaffolding; not feeling guilty about experiencing frustration or lack of progress; recognising the amount of effort required at some particular point; appreciating what might be the main or substantial portals, and finding effective pathways towards them; thinking beforehand and strategically about appropriate contexts and tools.

Some natural examples of candidates for threshold concepts in elementary mathematics might be: zero, one, x, xy, x^y, equation, fraction, integer, prime number, real number, decimal expansion, geometric series, polynomial, polygon, graph, area, volume, infinity, induction, recursion, limits, continuity, smoothness, derivative, anti-derivative, integral sign, Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, … of Arithmetic, … of Algebra, exponential, logarithm, set, cardinality, function, one to one, onto, multivariable function, partial derivative, grad, div, curl, composition of functions, arithmetic of functions, ODE, PDE, mean, standard deviation, probability, conditional probability, Bayes’ Theorem, probability density function, central limit theorem, hypothesis test, confidence interval, degrees of freedom, square roots of negative numbers, complex numbers, circular and hyperbolic functions, Taylor series, radius of convergence, vectors, vector space, basis, dimension, linear dependence and independence, spanning set, matrix multiplication, rank of a matrix, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, diagonalisation, Jordan form, mathematical proof, theorem, lemma, corollary, mathematical implication, necessary and sufficient conditions, equivalence, quantifiers, axioms.

Threshold concepts may be broad and coarse-grained (e.g. mathematical proof) to highly technical or fine-grained (e.g. standard deviation). They can refer to an entire discipline (e.g. calculus) or to core elements for most school or undergraduate mathematics (e.g. particular aspects of the arithmetic of real numbers), depending on context. They provide useful levers for thinking about the purpose of a particular course in mathematics, any prerequisites and assumed knowledge, and for producing clear and achievable aims and outcomes.


14.30 – 15.30 

Room G02Building 24 


Service teaching strategies for classes having multimodal distribution

David Easdown 

In this session we plan to discuss some models of teaching and learning, highlighting any general principles along the way, their strengths and weaknesses, with practical tips towards approaching service teaching, especially where students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have divergent interests, skills and attitudes. Learn about and discuss the ubiquity of the Leunig Model, the utility of the SOLO taxonomy, the Comfort, Stretch and Panic Zones, and the boundaries between, the Halmos Principle, the Plateau Principle, the Principle of Reflected Blindedness and quirky interplay between communication and entropy.


14.30 – 15.30 

Room 17.106 “Earth lab”Building 17 

Presentation 1 

Presentation 2 

Language of mathematics and software

Walter Bloom 

In this workshop session, participants will be introduced to some of the basic features of Scientific Notebook, which in practice can be taken on board by first year students within 20 minutes. We also look at some more advanced features and discuss how Scientific Notebook can be integrated into tutorial and laboratory sessions to facilitate student learning. One important aspect is the use of Scientific Notebook to check solutions to mathematical problems, isolating errors when the solution turns out to be incorrect. The emphasis will be on the student doing the problem by hand, but using Scientific Notebook for support where a particular calculation is causing difficulty.
Scientific Notebook is a computational mathematical software package that is very easy to learn and very useful for many of the calculations that a student would meet in an undergraduate degree, be it mathematics, engineering, physics or any other discipline where mathematics plays a significant role. It is a menu-driven WYSIWYG system that is well suited to handle both mathematics and text.


 ALTC Professional Development Workshop 2011 Photo Gallery

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Updated: 09 Sep 2015