National Teaching Fellow 2015
Dr Lara Alcock has taught mathematics and mathematics education in both the UK and the US; she has extensive experience of working with individual students in both countries and in particular in Loughborough University's Mathematics Learning Support Centres.
Lara conducts research studies to investigate undergraduate mathematical learning, differences between student and expert thinking, and the effectiveness of educational interventions. Her main interest is in the challenges students encounter during the transition from calculation-based to proof-based mathematics. She believes that most students who choose to study mathematics are perfectly capable of making this transition, but that neither everyday reasoning nor previous mathematics prepares them for the rigour required. This means that although mathematicians try hard to communicate clearly and students apply their existing study skills in sincere attempts to capitalise on earlier mathematical success, gaps in thinking between the two groups can be so large that, even with the best of intentions, lecturers become frustrated and students become disheartened.
Lara aims to improve this situation by building bridges between mathematicians and their students so that each can better understand the other’s expectations. As an education researcher she conducts pedagogically-relevant empirical studies to improve our understanding of undergraduate and expert mathematical thinking; her experience of working in mathematics departments means that she can address issues that mathematicians recognise as problematic for their students. As a colleague to mathematicians, she shares the results of this research in practitioner-friendly formats and develops national and international collaborations to promote pedagogical innovation.
As a teacher, Lara helps students to develop not only content knowledge but also logical thinking and mathematical study skills. She has done this locally by constructing and evaluating resources for her own lectures, and nationally and internationally by producing the research-informed mathematics-specific study guides How to Study for a Mathematics Degree and How to Think about Analysis. Her experience of listening to individual students during interview-based studies allows her to write in a voice that is accessible to students, helping them to understand what their lecturers expect and what they can do to have a successful and enjoyable learning experience.