About the Techno-mathematical Literacies in the Workplace Project
In this project, leading researchers from the London Knowledge Lab worked with key industry sectors (manufacturing and financial services) to investigate the combinations of vital mathematical and technological skills that people need in modern-day workplaces. Long-established preconceptions about mathematics are deeply ingrained, both in the world of work and of education. For example, in the past, who needed to know what was fairly straightforward, but these days it’s not so clear. Therefore the skills gap of techno-mathematical literacies (TmL) needs to be systematically addressed by employers—working with educators— in innovative and engaging ways. This requires a commitment of both time and resources on the part of employers, not only to come to terms with the burgeoning need for this new kind of mathematical understanding, but also to develop new approaches for teaching, training, and learning that makes TmL more accessible and open to exploration and development.
Working with luxury car manufacturers
For the purposes of this case study we are focusing on one particular aspect of the project: research conducted with two luxury car manufacturers. The need: employees had limited understanding of control and specification limits, variation and “capability measures” — all crucial concepts, as they are used to monitor performance and productivity. The solution: the research team subsequently worked with trainers in the companies to co-design interactive software tools and learning activities in which employees could visualise the concepts behind statistical process control (SPC), concepts many employees had previously found quite challenging and abstract.
The software tools addressed the specific needs and objectives of employee training and development in these companies. Traditional training approaches attempted to put across difficult concepts using complex algebraic formulas that appeared opaque to many employees. The interactive software tool co-designed for this project provided a visual model, allowing employees themselves to explore the mathematical-statistical relationships connecting the problematic concepts. The team also designed a process simulation tool that related these concepts to their practical application in automotive manufacturing.
The impact for the car manufacturers
Trainees went on to make use of the tools in their everyday work, and the SPC trainers and engineering specialists felt that the tools provided an innovative approach that is quite promising. In the final months of the project, the tools have been taken up widely in the automotive sector, and are being used across Europe, and in the U.S.
Issues the TmL project addresses
There has been a radical shift in the mathematical skills required in modern workplaces, which has yet to be fully recognised by the formal education system, as well as by employers. With the ubiquity of technology, employees are now required to master functional mathematical knowledge that is mediated by the IT systems that govern their work and grounded in the context of specific work situations. Employees often lack these critical techno-mathematical skills, and companies are constantly struggling to improve them—straightforward training of mathematical skills does not suffice.
What sets this project apart
The attempt by the researchers to intervene to improve learning came after two years of careful study. What further sets this project apart is the approach to collaborative co-design, testing and revision, a design-based research approach. The methodology of collaborative design between researchers and employer-partners has received little or no attention in research focusing on work-placed learning, yet our experience here clearly demonstrates the considerable potential of this methodology, bringing together a range of expertise essential to address this new gap in skills. What started out initially as researcher-led project, through the process of co-design, is now a tool that is being further-developed by the employers themselves.
Professor Celia Hoyles
Professor Richard Noss
Dr. Phillip Kent
Dr. Arthur Bakker