As I bow out as the leader of MatRIC, I take the opportunity to say a sincere heartfelt "thank you" to all those who have contributed to MatRIC's actions over the last seven years. I reflect on the period that began when we first set pen to paper, (or finger to keyboard) to start writing a proposal. I want to express my gratitude for the friendship, support, and encouragement I have experienced, and for various contributions to the development and evolution of MatRIC.
I add some reflections about MatRIC, I want to focus on what WE, I mean the higher education mathematics community in Norway, have achieved over the past seven years. That I have had a role in the developments is a professional experience I have cherished. However, I am in no doubt that anything that has been achieved is the result of the imagination, creativity, insight and engagement of others. I personally, and MatRIC as a community, are deeply indebted to everyone who has contributed.
Excellence in mathematics teaching is distributed
When I stood up to receive the SFU "award" in November 2013, I hope that no one listening doubted my belief that excellence in mathematics teaching was distributed around all the higher education institutions in Norway. My belief, more a hypothesis, in 2013 has been confirmed by empirical evidence as MatRIC has allowed me to meet many of the excellent mathematics teachers working in Norway and many other countries. I have not met one higher education mathematics teacher over the past seven years who has not been concerned about her or his students experiencing excellence in mathematics learning. We may differ in our opinions about what counts as excellence in learning, in mathematics and in teaching. Still, we share a common goal of wanting the best learning opportunities for our students. As my confidence in teachers and teaching in higher education has developed, my concern about the contexts in which our students are expected to learn has deepened. Institutionalised challenges are experienced through, for example, huge classes often taught in inadequate or unsuitable accommodation; students lacking (expected) basic competencies at the outset of courses; over-reliance on inadequately prepared, albeit enthusiastic and committed, teaching and learning assistants; and too often evidence of a study culture that appears to endorse an attitude that students' attendance, engagement and effort sustained over the whole course and not just brief periods before the examinations is somehow optional. I wish I could reflect on my time leading MatRIC and think that I had done something to at least challenge this institutional context, I am sad that I cannot.
Developing a learning community of inquiry
When I came to work in Norway in 2004, it was as a researcher in a Research Council (NFR) financed project led by Barbara Jaworski. The project was called "Learning Communities in Mathematics (LCM)" and faithful to its title we worked with teachers in eight local schools establishing communities of inquiry. My vision of MatRIC was built on what I learned from working alongside Barbara and colleagues. My aim has been to develop higher education mathematics teachers throughout Norway as a learning community of inquiry. How successful we have been in working towards that vision must be left to others to evaluate more objectively than I can. However, thanks to the many good colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure to work towards MatRIC's vision over the last seven years, I can reflect on some achievements. One of those achievements is I believe the networking of our Norwegian community with similar communities and leading researchers in other countries – RUME (USA), INDRUM (Europe & further afield), khdm (Germany), sigma (UK), MEC at Loughborough University, and many individuals and universities. It has been an exciting time.
I do not mean to downplay the value of individual contributions. From the outset, MatRIC benefitted from the creativity, enthusiasm, enterprise and engagement of MatRIC's network coordinators – Per Henrik, Morten and Yuriy. Anyone that engaged in their network activities would have had a good foundation for the online teaching that was suddenly imposed upon us last March (2020). Nevertheless, if sustainable, self-generating change towards our vision of students experiencing transformed and improved learning of mathematics is to be achieved, I am convinced it must be a shared enterprise. Further, I will assert that personal and collective inquiry must be the driving force. No other strategy for change will suffice. I thank Barbara and the LCM project for the foundation and MatRIC for the confirmation of my faith in inquiry communities of learning. It is great to see Yuriy pushing ahead with this on a European scale with the PLATINUM project. Look out for the book the PLATINUM team are producing, I believe they hope it will be published autumn 2021.
Networking and collaboration
MatRIC has been and continues to be a collaborative enterprise. I am extremely grateful that so many colleagues from UiA and other higher education institutions around Norway have shared the vision. Nothing that has been achieved would have been possible without the collaboration and engagement of many people. At the risk of missing something important, I will pick out a few examples. First, the development of MatRIC TV, the videos produced were a joint enterprise of UHR and MatRIC and recorded by a group drawn from several universities. Then I point to colleagues who took up MatRIC research grants, and then shared their experiences at conferences (MatRIC, MNT, INDRUM, etc.) Those who have worked hard to establish the Drop-in mathematics support centres at UiA (which have proved of great value during the recent lockdown). Others have provided the space for our PhD fellows to do their fieldwork. Recently a large number of lecturers and over a thousand students have responded to the two surveys that have gone out. The first at the end of last year in collaboration with The Norwegian Mathematics Council exploring teaching approaches in higher mathematics education, and then more recently about online teaching that took place during the lockdown. We hope to publish results from both of these surveys soon.
Project Managers have a crucial role
In addition to being surrounded, supported and encouraged by many valued colleagues around Norway, and on the Management and Advisory Boards, I have had the very great good fortune to be able to work with two excellent Project Managers, first Line Eielsen Malde, and then for the last four years with Lillian Egelandsaa. An enterprise such as MatRIC requires very careful coordination between the academic/scientific and the administration – only well-coordinated action can serve the educational goals effectively. Line and Lillian have been a great source of support and advice (even when I have been somewhat unwilling to accept the latter!).
Support from university leaders
While acknowledging many to whom I feel a great debt of gratitude, it would be remiss not to mention the support of the top management of UiA. The Rectorate and Directorate, Deans, and department leaders have facilitated and enabled, they have contributed substantially both financially and with their strong support for MatRIC's activity. From my perspective, it seems that the university and faculty leadership have shared both the vision and sense of value that the SFU brings. Perhaps the most remarkable of all is that as I have tried to promote MatRIC as a Norwegian national Centre, and thus tried to tone down the local UiA ownership, there has not been a murmur of complaint – at least expressed directly and explicitly to me. There have been times I have been expecting to hear some complaint. For examples, I point to the MatRIC website with its own domain name independent of the university; the mathematics teaching induction course promoted as a MatRIC/NTNU action; and forthcoming, as soon as the pandemic subsides, a new course for mathematics teacher educators that will be promoted as a joint MatRIC-NSMO action.
And so to the next chapter in MatRIC's life
MatRIC has been fun, challenging, stressful, and demanding work. My engagement with MatRIC does not end at this point, it just changes focus as I take up opportunities for research and find opportunities to tell the MatRIC story. The good news for me is that I relinquish the responsibility and hand over to a very competent successor. I have great expectations that under the new leadership of Thomas's Gjesteland MatRIC will take some new and exciting directions, the Centre will develop in strength and resilience. MatRIC will make a valuable contribution to higher mathematics education in Norway, especially during these unprecedented times of Covid-19.
Kristiansand July 2020