We arrange college teaching through Balliol’s unique combination of tutorials and classes. In a typical week, a first-year Maths & Philosophy student will have two or three one-hour tutorials (usually with two or three students and a tutor), and three or four classes lasting a total of around six or seven hours. Each class is led by a tutor, and involves all the Balliol students taking the relevant course(s) (including Mathematics and Computer Science and straight Mathematics students, or Philosophy students in other joint schools, 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 work (constructing proofs, for example). They often involve large quantities of tea and chocolate biscuits! The classes tend to be arranged for late afternoons and are then often 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.
Third and fourth years
In the third and fourth years, students start to specialise more, and on the mathematics side, the teaching to complement lectures happens through intercollegiate classes (some of which are taught by Balliol tutors and Balliol graduate students). The Balliol maths tutors continue to provide support within College, through office hours, revision support, and individual meetings. In Philosophy, teaching continues to be through tutorials, usually individual and paired; some of these may still be with Balliol tutors but more specialised options often are taught by experts in the field at other colleges.