Undergraduate students' conceptions of mathematics: An international study

Peter Petocz*, Anna Reid, Leigh N. Wood, Geoff H. Smith, Glyn Mather, Ansie Harding, Johann Engelbrecht, Ken Houston, Joel Hillel, Gillian Perrett

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    In this paper, we report on an international study of undergraduate mathematics students' conceptions of mathematics. Almost 1,200 students in five countries completed a short survey including three open-ended questions asking about their views of mathematics and its role in their future studies and planned professions. Responses were analysed starting from a previously-developed phenomenographic framework (Reid et al., 2003) which required only minor modification. Students' conceptions of mathematics ranged from the narrowest view as a focus on calculations with numbers, through a notion of mathematics as a focus on models or abstract structures, to the broadest view of mathematics as an approach to life and a way of thinking. Broader conceptions of mathematics were more likely to be found in later-year students (p<0.001) and there were significant differences between universities (p<0.001). The information obtained from the study not only confirms previous research, but also provides a basis for future development of a monitoring questionnaire.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)439-459
    Number of pages21
    JournalInternational Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007


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