13 September 2016

The cripple leading the blind

James is a senior academic with very impressive knowledge on system Earth. He is slightly less knowledgeable on modern technology. As he is the person whose assignment I had changed from a paper-and-colour-pencils exercise to a coding exercise, he was the person to try it out before it would go online. He was a bit apprehensive! He has never used anything like MATLAB before. The students are way ahead of him; they are taught MATLAB from year one, and this is a third year module. I had made an extra info sheet for him to point out things the students would know but he wouldn't; I hoped that would be enough.

Suzie, the module leader, suggested she'd attend too so she'd know what I'd done to the assignment. I thought that was an excellent idea and James was fine with it too, so with the three of us there we started. James wasn't quite sure where to begin! And asked some questions on what the students would be told in advance. That lead me to suggest we go through the introductory lecture first. That would also give me another opportunity to test the interactive bit! So we did that first. The technology went well, and both James and Suzie had constructive comments. Great!

Then we did the first part of the assignment. This is pretty much all prescribed; James managed almost flawlessly. And I picked up on some minor inaccuracies in the instructions (e.g. when you give the name of an output file, you have to give it including extension; that wasn't specified). But the time ran out! In the second part, the students have to figure out themselves how to do the same analyses but this time with both modern and fossil data as input. This is where they have to think for themselves! We will have to do that later. James wasn't sure where to start. Maybe the students won't either. But there is still time. If Suzie and James think I leave too much to the imagination I can just put some more explicit instructions in! It was good to play-test it. Let's get this right!

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