Dr Poh Hillock

A support learning tutorial program to help struggling students excel in mathematics has earned University of Queensland School of Mathematics and Physics lecturer Dr Poh Wah Hillock a national teaching award.

Dr Hillock is one of three UQ academics to be awarded a 2017 Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in the Australian Awards for University Teaching.

Dr Hillock teaches MATH1051 (Calculus & Linear Algebra I) at UQ, a first year tertiary level mathematics course with a yearly enrolment exceeding 1500 students.

Noting that many students were dramatically underprepared for university maths, she developed the mathematics support learning program.  

The program provides a community of practice, which fosters hard work and perseverance and builds confidence, with resulting improvements in student success.

“The reasons for failure in first year tertiary maths are well known; these include weak basic skills and the difficult transition from high school mathematics,” she said. 

“Beyond the mathematical reasons, low self-confidence and poor motivation can lead to a cycle of failure. 

“My MATH1051 students are no exception and for many of them, this course is a barrier to degree completion.”

Since 2012, 489 students have attended the support learning tutorial, of whom 60 per cent  were deemed  at risk, being either repeat students and/or having  obtained a low pass in  MATH1050, Mathematical Foundations, UQ’s equivalent of high school advanced maths.

Attendees consistently outperform the overall cohort both in pass rates and the quality of results gained; pass rates are typically around 85 per cent with 55 per cent achieving a credit or better.

Her work has previously been recognised with a Faculty of Science Teaching Excellence Award and a UQ Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning Award.

 “While the recognition that the student learning tutorial has received is encouraging, my greatest satisfaction comes from having made a difference to my students,” Dr Hillock said.

“One such student is Sue, who joined the support learning tutorial after having made six previous attempts at MATH1051.  She achieved a distinction; no mean feat for someone struggling with Year 10 mathematics only 13 weeks previously.”

The Commonwealth Government Department of Education and Training will host an event to honour Queensland citation winners on Thursday 5 October at Customs House.

There will be a further opportunity to congratulate UQ national winners at the UQ Teaching and Learning Awards ceremony (to be held during Teaching and Learning Week) when the UQ Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Learning will be announced.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Joanne Wright and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching & Learning) Professor Doune Macdonald congratulated Dr Hillock and two fellow national Citation winners, thanking UQ’s great teachers as students approach the end of the academic year.

Media: Dr Poh Wah Hillock, p.hillock@uq.edu.au, +61 7 336 53337