Professor Tony Croft CMath FIMA, Professor of Mathematics Education, Loughborough University
Professor Duncan Lawson CMath FIMA, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Formative Education, Newman University
for an outstanding contribution to the improvement of the teaching of mathematics.
The heart of this joint citation springs from a sustained and continuing programme of work, led jointly by both medal winners, concerning and focussing upon improving the learning and teaching of mathematics by students of all disciplines. This work has currently evolved into the sigma Network for Excellence in Mathematics and Statistics Support.
While both medal winners are well known and recognised academics with impressive curricula vitae in their own rights, it is their collaboration over the development of mathematics and statistics support and its extraordinary impact over many years which catches the attention.
The nature and particular importance of mathematic and statistics support is well captured on the sigma-network website:
“Mathematics underpins many university subjects to a significant extent, and quantitative methods are becoming increasingly essential in all disciplines. For many students, difficulties with mathematics and statistics can be a barrier to successful study in higher education. One of the key roles of mathematics and statistics support is to enable all students to achieve their full potential in their chosen discipline by helping them to develop confidence, knowledge, skills and understanding in relation to mathematics and statistics.”
An account of the key milestones in the development of sigma may be found on the sigma Network website. The story begins in the 1990s, when Prof Lawson at Coventry University and Prof Croft at Loughborough University were developing and disseminating expertise, and demonstrating leadership in university-wide mathematics and statistics support. In 2005 their collaboration led to the award of 5 years of HEFCE funding for a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). At the end of this period, their achievements were rewarded by the 2011 Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Student Support. Development work continued from 2010 to 2012 supported by the HE STEM Programme, and the importance of the work was further recognised by HEFCE funding of £800,000 in 2013.
Prof Croft and Prof Lawson have been leading lights in these developments throughout, working in the academic community, at all levels and nationally and internationally, and also with external bodies such as funding bodies. They are currently joint project directors for the most recent tranche of funding.
In providing and developing leadership, both nationally and internationally, Duncan and Tony display an entirely suitable style which has led to the successful building of the network. They acknowledge that they are working within a very diverse community, but always aim to build that community further, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. They take a scholarly, research-informed approach, and are widely respected for that in the mathematics support community.
The body of work which has underpinned and created the sigma network makes impressive reading, for instance: increasing numbers of support centres set up using the good practice and support developed by sigma; a thriving annual conference; an array of regional events and workshops; the creation, maintenance and growth of a wide ranging set of mathematics and statistics support resources; the incorporation of mini-projects carried out by undergraduates; an active JISCMAIL list; the recognition of the need for mathematics and statistics support and the professionalization of that support; the careful nurturing over a considerable period of time of a highly active community of people who have mathematics and statistics support at the heart of what they do.
Duncan and Tony have together with great patience and determination led the way in working on advancing the mathematics and statistics support agenda over more than 25 years, and they are worthy winners of IMA Gold Medals.