n South African Journal of Higher Education - Critical variables that influence students to study tertiary mathematics : using a pilot study to empower novice researchers




A pilot study was conducted as part of a project designed (i) to identify critical variables that influence students' decisions to study tertiary mathematics and (ii) to provide a fuller understanding of factors influencing both participation and performance in tertiary mathematics. A group of 54 volunteer students following the Science Foundation Year Programme at the University of Transkei were administered a questionnaire, 10 agreeing to be interviewed. Significant gender differences were found in students' beliefs about tertiary mathematics, while the main influences on participation and performance in mathematics were the students' own decisions to study the subject, their preference of mathematics and mathematics being a prerequisite for other courses. Running concurrently within the research project were coordinated activities that enabled each member of the research team to engage directly in all aspects of the research process through hands-on participation. This article reports on the major findings of the pilot study as indicators for the main investigation, reflects on the processes the novice researchers were engaged in and highlights the synergistic benefits of these research capacity development activities.


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