Name of the participant and other supporting  staff if relevant

Gareth Tribello, supported by Emma McKenna (Science Shop) and Jason Donaghy (community partner)

Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info

 SOR3012: Stochastic Processes and Risk, Mathematics, Level 3, 2022

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

Fermanagh Community Transport

CERL project title(s)

Embedding simulation for community in an undergraduate mathematics module

What they changed about their programme/course in relation to CERL

The module was redesigned around the community engaged project with Fermanagh Community Transport.  The module content was taught during the first six weeks through a series of structured formative assignments.  Students learned to write simple programs for modelling random time series through completing these formative assignments.  They were also taught how to write up the results that they obtained from these simple models. 

In the second half of the module the students then used what they had learned to complete a project for Fermanagh Community Transport.  Students could either choose a project that the module lecturer designed for them or they could design their own project (For a higher mark).  Guidance was also provided for the weakest student on a final very structured project that they could complete for the community partner.

Can you provide any tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria –  please copy paste below if yes – NB Get module code

Anything you want to probe for here based on your knowledge of this participant?

The learning outcomes that I imagined assessing when I designed this module were:

 •       Describe how simple models can be used to generate random variables, report results from investigations performed using models so that others can reproduce their results and describe how the values for the variables generated depend on the model parameters.

 •       Use Bayes theorem and the central limit theorem.  Calculate the limiting stationary distribution of a Markov chain and the hitting times and hitting probabilities for Markov chains.

•       Argue for policy change by using the results from investigations performed by mathematical modelling.

•        Appraise their own written work by critically reflecting on how well less-specialized audiences might perceive their arguments.

The third of these learning outcomes is assessed by students completing the project for the community partner.  The first two are assessed by the formative assignments done in the first six weeks of the semester.  The last outcome is assessed through the reflective pieces the students complete in class.  In practice the module does not quite work like this as I am not currently able to convince my colleagues that the assessment breakdown needs to be changed.

How was it taught:

·        number of students

·        student groupwork or individual,

·        how they worked with the partner,  

·        how the project proceeded,

·        any reflection done with students,

·        evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,

·        Could or should we follow up with students?

·        tech used

·        Anything else interesting?

The course had 20 students.  The work the students did was designed to be done by individuals.  Many students chose (spontaneously) to work with a partner on their project, which I allowed as long as they submitted separate reports.  The students had no meetings with the partner.  Instead they were shown a video of an interview that I did with the partner in order to motivate the project.  Some of the reports that the students produced were then sent on to the partner at the end of the project.

 Students completed some reflection tasks in lectures.  Reflection quizzes were also provided on CANVAS although not many students completed them as no marks were available for completing these activities.

I made the video below about the experience of teaching this module:


What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

The students learn how to perform a piece of research using mathematical modelling.  As the module is run over quite a short timeframe and because the final assessment is quite demanding the lecturer is forced to think about how students are going to produce a written report that will make sense to the partner.  I found I was forced to focus on the important aspects of producing such a report and that I spent less time going over trivial mathematical derivations that can be found in many textbooks.  I also was surprised at how little students understood about what good research looks like.  Students failed to pick up on things that to me seem obvious.  For example, that if you are showing two data series on a graph and doing a comparison the data should come from different sources.  If students do not understand these things then it is unlikely that they will understand the derivations that are presented in other courses.

 One student also commented that “This project requires you to use your own initiative, which is exactly what was required in my work placement.”  I think this is a good summary of the benefits this kind of module offers to students.  It provides them with an opportunity to produce a real world application of what they have done.  As another student wrote “I have never felt as passionately about a university assignment.”

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?

As Jason explains in the later parts of the video that I have linked in above, the benefit for Fermanagh Community Transport is around raising awareness of the issues that the users of their service face.  Research performed within universities offers a level of rigour that this organisation would not normally be able to access.  Students bring a fresh perspective to these problems and have the time to pursue research directions that busy statisticians and managers do not have time to investigate.

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

Students only really interacted with my perspective on these problems during the module.  The next time I teach the module I will invite colleagues from other schools and the community partner (hopefully) to interact with students directly.  This will give students the opportunity to interact with perspectives on the problem that are different to my own.

Any challenges and how you overcame them


Student attendance at lectures was very low all semester.  I think I was able to work around this by providing a set of rich activities that students could work on in their own time.  I also removed as many deadlines as I could, which students really appreciated.  This caused me no problems as students were more respectful of deadlines when it was clear that I could do nothing about them and that they were not arbitrary.

Advice you would give to someone starting a CERL project with students? 


Make sure that you make time to discuss your expectations with students.  Explain the rationale behind what you are doing and what you think the benefits are of this way of teaching.  Do not promise anything to the community partner.  Basically organise things so as to minimise the pressure on students, the community partner and most importantly yourself.

Any good quotes from stakeholders?

In the evaluation, one student wrote:

 Gareth is the only lecturer I have had who truly got the class involved in lectures. We learnt concepts through games, whiteboard activities, and unorthodox teaching methods which in turn helped the class to remember everything we were being taught. He made an active effort to learn every student’s name and had a good relationship with each of us. He was always reachable and replied to emails in a timely manner. If we needed extra help for programming he would set up meetings in his free time to talk us through the code that didn’t make sense. He is truly one of the only lecturers I felt like actually cared about the students and how they did in his module. Although, this module was maybe the most difficult I have taken at my time in queens Gareth has made it an enjoyable module and has helped me immensely overcome all obstacles within the course.

 To other lecturers I would advise, get to know your students, spend the time to explain concepts to them that do not make sense and explain it in an approachable manner and not in a patronising way, from my experience when I have reached out for help where I have been stuck I have been left feeling more confused and stupid for asking. This has never happened with Gareth, he explains everything in a way that makes sense and does not undermine anyone in our class.

 I think if other lecturers were more like Gareth we would all be doing a lot better at Queens. I could not fault him and his module has been my favourite module I have taken at my time in queens even though it was extremely difficult Gareth made it feel manageable and assured me that I was more than capable of doing the work.

 I think if I had had a different lecturer for this module I would have struggled immensely.

 I would recommend all students to take this module if Gareth were taking it again.

His Fermanagh project at the end was so interesting and not like anything I had done previously. Using what we had learnt to investigate our own research questions practically was so interesting and I have never felt as passionately about a university assignment.

 A special thank you to Gareth for making my last semester at queens an enjoyable one and I am so grateful for all the work you put into this module . 

Anything else notable about the practice that there wasn’t space for elsewhere


I had taught the module that I changed 6 times prior to the iteration that I did involving the community partner.  Much of the formative assessment work that the students have been working though has been designed over a large number of years.  My point is that the work had been put in over a period of years to get the module to this point.

Anything else they want moving forward with their CERL practice?

I wish that there was more recognition within the university for doing this sort of work.  I think it is enormously exciting and rewarding.  It saddens me that many of my colleagues simply want to talk endlessly about maths at students when they could be doing work like this as part of their teaching.  This sort of teaching, where you are working in partnership with students on something that actually matters, is far more rewarding than giving a lecture.