Researchers from the London Knowledge Lab, UK, collaborated with the training staff of car manufacturers in developing training tools for statistical process control (SPC), a method that is used to monitor performance and productivity processes in the automotive industry.
The aim was to design innovative learning applications that could help bring forward the abstract mathematical concepts behind SPC. Traditionally taught through the presentation of algebraic formulas, they appeared opaque to many employees. Instead, one of the new applications, for example, uses elements of a popular British pub game called “Shove Ha’Penny” to visualise these complex and abstract mathematical processes.
In the real game, players ‘shove’ coins across a board with a blow from the palm of their hand. The virtual version of the game, which uses a virtual ruler to flick a virtual coin, allows players to alter inputs systematically to see the effect on the process within given specification limits. These interactive elements allow trainees to explore the mathematical-statistical relationships involved in process improvement. The tools avoid any off-putting algebraic notation and assume little or no statistical or process-improvement knowledge.
Employees went on to make use of the applications in their everyday work. The SPC trainers and engineering specialists felt that the tools provided an innovative approach. In fact, they turned out to be so successful that they have been widely taken up for use in automotive plants across Europe and the United States.
The tools were developed as part of a larger project, called Techno-mathematical Literacies (TmL) in the Workplace. "In today's workplace, there has been a radical shift in the mathematical skills required, which has yet to be fully recognised by the formal education system as well as by employers," says Richard Noss, the project's co-director, and co-director of the London Knowledge Lab.
With the ubiquity of technology, he added, employees now must engage with mathematical knowledge that is grounded in the context of their work situations. "Today's companies are constantly struggling to improve the techno-mathematical skills of their employees, and straightforward training of mathematical skills is often no longer sufficient," he says.
This project was funded October 2003 - June 2007 by the Economic and Social Research Council, award number L139-25-0119, as part of the United Kingdom Teaching and Learning Research Programme.
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