We arrange college teaching through Balliol’s unique combination of tutorials and classes. In a typical week, a first-year maths student will have one or two one-hour tutorials (usually with two or three students and a tutor), and three classes lasting a total of around five hours. Each class is led by a tutor, and involves all the Balliol maths students taking the relevant course(s) (including Mathematics and Computer Science and Mathematics and Philosophy students where appropriate). The classes complement the individual attention available in tutorials by giving students and tutors an opportunity to work together on understanding challenging new topics from the courses, as well as other aspects relevant to the transition to university maths (constructing proofs, for example). They involve large quantities of tea and chocolate biscuits! The classes tend to be arranged for late afternoons and are then traditionally followed by a trip to the College Buttery, for drinks and more informal chat about maths and anything else that crops up.
The second-year Balliol students have frequent tutorials with College tutors on both the core courses and the options that individual students choose. In addition, each student prepares a short talk on a topic that interests them, which they give to the other second-year mathematicians in Balliol. This gives students the opportunity to research a piece of mathematics that they’re excited about, to develop important presentation skills, and also to hear what their fellow students are interested in. Recent topics have included black holes, non-standard analysis, earthquakes, fractals, algebraic data types, and Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems.
Right: the Balliol maths octopus reclines on a portrait of James Bradley, a Balliol mathematician who became Astronomer Royal.
Third and fourth years
In the third and fourth years, students start to specialise more, and the teaching to complement lectures happens through intercollegiate classes (some of which are taught by Balliol tutors and Balliol graduate students). The Balliol tutors continue to provide support within College, through office hours, revision support, and individual meetings.