Postprint of: Whitting, JW, Budgeon, P & Crowley-McHattan, ZJ in press, 'The effect of academic skills support for numeracy on student performance in a first year university health sciences unit', International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology.
Increasingly in recent times, first year higher education (HE) students are under-prepared for academic study, with many lacking the necessary numeracy skills for success in mathematically based units of study. This study aimed to determine the efficacy of a numeracy skills assistance strategy for students enrolled in a mathematically based first year health sciences unit at university. Students enrolled in an introductory biomechanics unit were invited to participate via a survey. Participants (n=79), who also indicated their level of prior mathematics experience, were tracked to determine whether they attended supplementary numeracy assistance sessions and whether there was an effect of attendance at these sessions on academic performance in the unit. Results demonstrated no significant effect of attendance at these sessions on performance and no interaction effect of attendance and prior levels of learning. There was however, a significant effect of prior mathematics learning levels on academic performance. Despite a lack of effect of the academic skills intervention, these findings demonstrate that the level of numeracy competence that students bring to university is a clear determinant of performance. In reference to clear evidence in the literature, it was also acknowledged that the intervention investigated in this study may not have sufficiently targeted ‘at-risk’ students and that other factors, such as student beliefs, attitudes and motivations play a substantial role in determining the success of academic skills interventions. Simply advertising the availability of a supplemental assistance programme, whether formally embedded in an academic unit or not, may not be enough to elicit the desired effect of improving performance and retention in new undergraduate HE students who are under-prepared and lack necessary numeracy skills upon enrolment.