Maths in the bio sciences, and elsewhere

By Suzi Wells

Last week I attended the HEA BioMaths Challenges workshop at the (rather grand) Nuffield Foundation building in London. It was an excellent event, and I came away with more interesting things to follow up than I will have time for.

As well as the usual drivers – mixed student ability, experience and confidence in maths and statistics – several speakers mentioned the changing requirements for maths in the Bio Sciences. More and bigger data sets are available, that you can’t begin to understand without quite advanced statistical techniques. And maths is required to create predictive models of biological systems, models which have become possible as our understanding of these systems has become more complete.

Confidence was also mentioned, with one speaker declaring war on maths phobia. Toby Carter  (Anglia Ruskin University) demonstrated the impressively fun-looking StartLogo TNG which they have used very successfully with 3rd year students and postgraduates as a way in to simulations that does not require programming experience. It also got me wondering how much the Code Club initiative, after-school programming clubs for 10-11 year olds, might be indirectly addressing maths confidence and helping to open up advanced maths to students.

Hearing about how people used open educational resources (OERs) within this context was also interesting. Not much mention of repurposing them and incorporating them into an institution’s own material. But students would use them, sometimes being directed to them within problem classes, and one person mentioned using them as lecture notes: printing them out and talking around the maths.

Following this event there will be more information on the Biomaths Education Network website, set up by Jenny Koenig (Cambridge) and Dawn Hawkins (Anglia Ruskin University). At Bristol I’ll add more to our Maths and Stats Teaching (UoB only) section on Blackboard. I believe the slides from the day will also be available in the future.

(Note to speakers / attendees – as we were told Chatham House Rules applied, and my notes were somewhat disorganised, I haven’t attributed anything than wasn’t in people’s slides as they appear on the data stick. Drop me an email if you’d like me to change anything.)