Gleanings

I couldn’t resist mentioning a couple of things from recent blogs.

On Dick Lipton’s and Ken Regan’s wonderful blog “Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP”, there is a post about on-line university courses, and whether traditional courses are doomed. What a time for this to appear: I am deep in the preparation of course materials for a new course on “Mathematical Structures” that I am going to deliver next year!

One of the features of my course that the first-year students (all 300+ of them) will have to give short presentations. This is one of the “transferable skills” (sorry, I will just go away and wash my mouth out) which universities are now supposed to provide. I am not at all sure how an on-line course copes with students giving presentations …

The other thing was a guest post by my favourite cartoonist (but I am biased!) on Matt Finch’s blog, about using comics as a way to get children interested in, not only reading, but also producing literature. As he says, there is a very low barrier to entry with comics: kids can start producing them right away. The whole point is that it is not hi-tech; and I don’t believe that on-line classes for kids to learn to produce comics will take over any time soon.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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10 Responses to Gleanings

  1. Matt Fayers says:

    You certainly should wash your mouth out: the terminology “transferable skills” is outmoded by at least two generations; when I did a certain disreputable teaching course (which need not be named here) they were called “core skills”, and they now seem to be “graduate attributes”. But presumably they will be have been re-named again by the time the new first-year undergraduates manage to acquire any.

  2. Ross Templeman says:

    “One of the features of my course that the first-year students (all 300+ of them) will have to give short presentations. This is one of the “transferable skills” (sorry, I will just go away and wash my mouth out) which universities are now supposed to provide. I am not at all sure how an on-line course copes with students giving presentations …”

    An interesting idea. Will these presentations be in front of the entire class or in your office? and what percentage of the overall mark for the course will these presentations be worth?

    I have an evil streak, so I would invite their parents to come and watch, waa! haa! haa!…

    Joking aside, I do recall from my undergraduate days that even well into the third year, a noticeable number of students were often timid and hesitant about raising their hands during lectures to either ask or answer questions, even though the lecturers were approachable. If having to give presentations early on helps to break this particular bad habit, then it can only be a good thing.

    Regards.

    • I feel I am giving away trade secrets now – hope none of the new students are reading this! They get no marks for this, and they are not thrown out if they refuse to do it; we have to point out to them that this is a good thing, whatever the current terminology for it is. But they won’t have to stand up in front of the whole three hundred classmates, only their own tutor group. And there is no way I can sit through all these presentations …

  3. Ross Templeman says:

    Thank you for your response sir.

    “And there is no way I can sit through all these presentations …”

    That’s a little pessimistic isn’t it sir?, surely they won’t all be coma inducing? A bit of coffee and some stoicism and I am sure you would be fine.

    On a different topic, I have recently visited the web page for the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary and noticed that the department now offers an MSc in Finance.

    Whilst understandable, I always thought that Operations Research would have been a more natural choice for a new MSc program at QM; given the preference for discrete maths and statistics there. The world has enough bankers QM, it needs more problem solvers.

    Regards.

    PS. I noticed that “Games and Linear Programming” is no longer offered. A shame from my standpoint; it was one of my favorite modules.

    • It’s simply that the only way we can fit so many presentations in is by having them running concurrently in different tutor groups. Unless I can work some kind of quantum trick I can’t be in different places at the same time. (And even if I do manage it, as soon as somebody notices that I am there, I will presumably cease to be in any of the other presentations!)

      Don’t get me started on the subject of financial mathematics.

  4. Perdita says:

    The way an online course copes with students giving presentations is probably “peer evaluation” which is what they (Coursera, anyway) do for all stuff they want students to be evaluated on but whose marking can’t be automated. For presentations from the point of view of the transferable skills (or whatever we call them this week) this is not such a terrible idea, if you ask me: online classrooms that let anyone with a webcam and a microphone give an online presentation to the virtual equivalent of their tutor group (minus the tutor, of course, but who need one of them?) would be well within current capabilities. Personally I’m more bothered by peer evaluations of proofs! But even there, it’s probably soluble by a pyramid model: the true peers mark correct anything that exactly matches the model answer, mark incorrect anything that matches a “common mistake” list, and pass anything else up to the next level of the pyramid…

    • Oh dear. One of the biggest problems with school exams in Britain (especially GCSEs) is that they are marked exactly as you describe, but without a next level of the pyramid. In fact it is worse than that. If the right number appears somewhere in the scrawl, the student gets a mark.
      As for presentations: Is that really comparable to standing up in front of a group of people and saying something? Not for me it isn’t.

      • Perdita says:

        I’m in the UK – Perdita Stevens. I know you even if you’ve forgotten me (which would be entirely forgiveable!)

        I am sure the exam boards would object to your characterisation of GCSE marking, especially as the people doing it are not the “peers” of the people sitting it but typically, people qualified to instruct them, but I don’t have to be the exam boards’ apologist…

        Presentations: no, giving I’m sure giving an online presentation isn’t the same as giving an in person presentation. However: it clearly does include a lot of the same skills; it isn’t obvious that it’s easier; and it might be argued that for students starting now, it’s likely to be as useful a transferable skill.

      • I haven’t forgotten you. I said “In Britain” because there are one or two people in other countries who read this. And I said what I did about GCSE marking because I have just been told this by someone closely involved. I would certainly not take the exam boards’ word for what happens.

      • Perdita says:

        🙂 ; 😦

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