Update on New Year’s resolutions

Now that I’m six weeks into the first semester, and therefore half way through, I decided to give an update on where I’m at with my New Year’s resolutions.  If you haven’t read about my resolutions check them out here.  The main plan when I set out my resolutions was to change how I do what I do.  While I haven’t used the technologies that I set out at the start I think I have made some progress in changing what we do in class.  My three main resolutions were

  1. start a blog
  2. use a wiki, specifically a discussion forum
  3. create podcasts to support my course notes
The blog has been started, and continues to be updated, and I must say I am really enjoying writing these blog posts.  I had hoped to have used a wiki and podcasts at this stage but unfortunately I can’t give an update on these technologies in this post.  Regarding using the wiki, I haven’t used a discussion forum yet but the plan is to get this started next week.  I had planned to use it from the start, but decided to let the students settle in before I brought this in to the mix.  Having taught Maths to 1st year computing students for the past 4 years and to 2nd year computing students for the past 8 years, I often find that the students ease with Maths ranges from being very comfortable with the topics, right across the spectrum to sheer terror at the mention of an ‘x’ or a ‘y’.  This year with my first years seems to be following the same pattern.  The challenge for me, is to move on with those who are comfortable, and show them where and how they might use the Maths topics as future Computer Science graduates, while building the confidence of those who are terrified at the very thought of Maths.  I think the time is now right, to bring in the discussion forum, so here’s hoping it gets the students thinking about how Maths might be useful to them in their chosen field of study.
With the podcasts, or more correctly the videocasts, I have made very little progress so far.  This is mainly due to not having the correct equipment and work generally getting in the way of work!!  I have used a Logitech webcam to make an initial videocast, but the results were far from ideal.  I have since been told that a Livescribe Pen is what I really need, to do what I want to do, so the order is in and I can’t wait to get started with that!!  As always, the update will be here at some stage in the future 🙂  While I haven’t created my own podcasts, I have provided Youtube clips to support the topics that I have been covering in class.  These seem to be proving popular with students, particularly those who are less confident with Maths.
Enough about what I haven’t done yet, and on to what I have done and what seems to be working.  One of the problems we often find with students who study on Computer Science courses, is that they have very little idea of what they are getting themselves into, and are often very disillusioned when they realise what is actually involved.  With the availability of so many applications and various technologies, the perception is often that a computing course will involve just using these applications and technologies.  What a lot of people don’t realise is that, on computing courses, students are creating content rather than consuming it.  Writing applications and testing them is a very important aspect for a lot of our courses so that’s what I have been focussing on in class.  We have coded in Java in Maths class, check out the blog post on how we got on here.  We’ve used Java again this week, coding loops to calculate the terms and the sum of the terms in an arithmetic sequence.  I’ve been able to stress the importance of being able to calculate test data to make sure that their programs are working as they should.  We’ve also discussed why it’s important that the students can work through the various calculations themselves, as this understanding is crucial if they want to be able to code applications which perform these calculations.  In previous years I have spoken about the importance of understanding calculations and being able to create test data but I haven’t taken the next step of actually coding.  This year, I decided to take that step and the feedback so far seems positive.
So, the plan for the next 6 weeks of the semester is to use the discussion forum and to create podcasts and make those available for students.  I’m also hoping to bring in guest lecturers from industry to speak to the students about where Maths is used, to give a context to what they are covering in class.
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