Python Concepts/Open academia

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This page is for proposed action plans for implementing Python in the colleges and schools. If you have any ideas of your own please add them.


Getting students to actively support open source teaching by letting them write test questions[edit]

By user:Guy vandegrift

We recently obtained laptop computers in the classroom used to teach Astronomy, and this has allowed "labs" in which students work in groups to write their own test questions. My most prolific question writer came up with these questions in the first two hours. A "conceptual course" is for non-majors with little or no mathematics. Such a course needs a testbank of 200 to 1000 questions. The reading can be taken either directly from Wikipedia pages, or these pages can be condensed and placed on Wikiversity for students to read.

The most difficult challenge for such a course is finding ways to encourage students to read the article and not just memorize the questions. Having them write their own test questions addresses this challenge.

Somebody once told me that the "purpose" of the university is to educate, but its actual "function" is to accredit. Education is a byproduct of that accreditation. The internet is very good at educating, and Wikiversity is beginning to make meaningful contributions. The next step is to permit students to establish competency using the internet. Wikiversity is poised to do that with open source testbanks.

Links:   Quiz   Help:Quiz   Test and Quiz   Help: Quiz-Simple

Using Wikiversity to cross-link advanced and introductory programming[edit]

This was an effort to persuade the university to place Python on campus computers. Before it could be shown to administrators, the Astronomy lab was equipped with laptops that have Python on it. The idea shown below involves cross-linked activities between advanced and beginning courses ("Engineers" and "Conceptual"). This idea has yet to be tested. But plans to introduce a basic Python unit in "How things work" in the Fall of 2015 are underway.

If you wish to sign this proposal click here. You are welcome to edit it.

YesY The 10 new laptops in the physics lab now have Python--2/12/2015

About this proposal's PI
Tsa-Yig-on-scroll.gif This user has 21 refereed publications.
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Wikipedia-logo.png This user believes that anyone who thinks Wikipedia is an unreliable source should continue their quest to find a better website.

Why this proposal is also a metaproposal[edit]

This proposal for re-configuring a computer lab at Wright State Lake Campus also a proposal about proposals, or a metaproposal. We should not always judge a proposal by how much is requested. Sometimes the figure of merit should be how little funds are requested. The only cost associated with this proposal is that of maintaining the open source Python on some of our on-campus computers.

The debt to both students and governments associated with higher education is approaching unsustainable proportions. Conservatives want to cut the government and let capitalism solve the problem, while liberals take the opposite view. Both philosophies are compatible with an effort to set learning free, or more precisely to make learning cheaper. For example, universities can and should make a greater effort integrate their mathematical curriculum with the Khan Academy.


Two entirely dissimilar groups of students will collaborate to develop teaching materials for Python in the open source Wikiversity environment.

  1. The 'engineering' students will not actually learn Python because doing so will cause syntax confusion with their primary high-level computational language (MATLAB). They will be enrolled in a first-year university physics course, and will gain technical writing skills as they facilitate in the documentation of the Python codes. They will also facilitate in the design of Python codes designed to teach physics principle and analyze data taken in physics labs. Engineers are expected to adopt to different computing environments to solve different problems, learning just enough to 'get the job done'. This project gives them the opportunity take this goal-oriented approach with Python and Wiki markup.
  2. The 'conceptual' physics students are in a non-mathematical course called "How things work". This proposal addresses the formidable design challenge arising from the fact that physics cannot exist without mathematics. The use of Python will permit students to see how equations are used to model the physical world, without forcing them to reproduce the algebraic steps. Instead they will learn to read Python code and demonstrate skill by writing Python code.

Does this project satisfy the course catalog requirements?[edit]

Yes[1]. The project should occupy approximately 1 credit hour for each course (i.e., 20%-25% of the entire student effort in the course). Both groups will be performing calculations relevant to physics, and both groups will engage in technical writing as per any good college lab course.

Does it make sense to mix two such disparate groups?[edit]

Yes. The emergence of computers in solving physics problems has brought about a curious convergence in how two entirely disparate groups of students should be taught. Advances in physics arise from four types of mathematical methods:

  1. The invention of new mathematics
  2. The algebraic, or pencil-and-paper manipulation of this mathematics.
  3. The solving of complex mathematical equations numerically, using what people have been calling computers for over a century (see computer).

Both the 'engineering', as well as the 'conceptual' students must learn that it is necessary to understand how this process works, and both groups are exposed to this representation via simplified versions of the actual theories. The primacy of Newton's laws in classical mechanics was established with the invention of calculus and the proof that planets move in ellipse as per Kepler's laws of motion. Both the 'engineering' and the 'conceptual' students are exposed to these ideas via an introduction to vectors and a study of free-fall in a uniform gravitational field. Both groups of students tend to solve such problems with calculators, and both need exposure to more appropriate computing tools such as Excel, Python, and MATLAB.

A good example of the overlap between both groups involves a sort of inverted ballistic pendulum. The video clip shows an low-tech experiment appropriate for the budget of any high school. Beginning and conceptual students could take data and explore the ratio of heights required to knockdown a block with a happy or sad ball. The actual calculation is appropriate for high school teachers seeking accreditation for post-secondary education.

Conceptual physics course[edit]

Students in the lower level conceptual physics course will get a taste of computer programming by writing one or two simple Python programs, and also by learning to download the open source Python code from the internet. They will also be given programs that solve the simple algebra associated with certain introductory physics problems, such as these wikiquizzes on conservation of energy.

Wikiversity is already being utilized in "How things work" at Lake Campus. For example students are assigned this reading from Wikipedia with this wikiquiz counting towards their grade in the course. The lack of academic integrity associated with any Wikipedia article is resolved by the fact that students prepare for the quiz by studying a permalink which has been verified by the instructor to be reasonably accurate. Students in this course are also required display mastery an historically significant low-level language by mastering this quiz.

By utilizing Wikipedia/Wikiversity in this way, we flip the classroom. The lab is currently open for 5 hours per week (as per any conventional 5 credit course), but students are able to perform much of this work at home. They come to class only for quizzes and on-campus labs can be conducted with smaller class sizes, since nearly 5 class hours per week are now available.

Calculus-based introductory physics course[edit]

Typically, the largest portion of most introductory physics courses consists of pre-engineering majors. Back in the 1990s a needs survey went out to those who hire engineers. The only physics-content related need near the top of the list involved "unit conversion", a relatively low-level skill that is usually covered in the first week of an introductory course. The need for competency in "unit conversion" was ranked near tenth place. Engineering employee needs with higher rank than any physics-related topic included "teamwork" and "communication" skills. This proposal addresses the need for engineers to communicate technical concepts to a non-technical audience. This is a true engineering internship for the engineers, with the conceptual physics students serving as the customers.

Engineering students with good writing skills will be encouraged to edit any section of Wikiversity's Python resource. A subpage of Wikiversity's Python will be reserved for students whose writing skills need improvement.

Installing Python on campus computers[edit]

A preliminary investigation by User:13hartc suggests that it takes only minutes to install Python onto a laptop situated at Wright State University Lake Campus. Permanent installation in the Lake Campus Business computers requires approximately 10 months of lead time, presumably in order to verify that this software does not interfere with other programs already present on the computers. In a worst-case scenario, the following alternative might be acceptable:

  1. Many (if not most) students could permanently install the Python on their own computers.
  2. Some students will wish to temporarily install Python for temporary use on campus computers, with the understanding that the installation is reversed when the student logs off.
  3. The physics lab is scheduled to receive a collection of laptops in order to run the Vernier software that was recently purchased. Python could be permanently installed on those computers.

Final thoughts on Wikiversity's "set learning free"[edit]

A WSU Lake student's drawing of the ballistic pendulum. While images of the ballistic pendulum abound, we do not yet have an open source image on commons. But this is a beginning.

It is remarkable how a single slogan can embody two almost opposite ideas:

  1. By putting both materials and quizzes online, we "set learning free" by removing not only the cost of the textbook, but also the labor associated with teaching the material and developing exams. Instead of developing testbanks and taking measures to ensure that students don't have access to them, we make everything open source. Construction of a conceptual quiz testbank and a numerical quiz testbank are underway. Wikiversity also reduces the cost of education by having students edit and critique each others work, essentially doing the work of a teacher. Since edits are recorded in the history page, the teacher can assess not only a student writing skills, but editing skills as well.
  2. Wikiversity also "sets learning free" with project oriented learning. Students pick projects and do what they feel best serves the goals educating fellow students.

The first of these manifestations of "set learning free" is economical, but also somewhat regressive with its emphasis on memorizing material for multiple choice quizzes. But the economical facet of 'set learning free' releases the resources required to pursue the superior project oriented learning approach.

How you can become a co-author of this proposal[edit]

Although this proposal is written specifically for Wright State University Lake Campus it contains ideas relevant to education at large. Anybody on this planet can become a co-author simply by editing this document. You may also declare yourself a co-sponsor by signing below. If you have a Wikiversity account, just type *~~~~ at the bottom of this section. If you like part but not all of this proposal, declare yourself co-sponsor and help fix what you don't like.

References and footnotes[edit]

  1. Phy2400: Introductory survey of mechanics for science and engineering students. Uses of interpreting physical phenomena. Topics include vectors, kinematics, dynamics, energy, momentum, rotation, oscillation and thermodynamics. 5 credits with lab.
    Phy1060: The physics associated with everyday scientific and technological phenomena and devices, including those associated with the generation, detection, and application of sound, light, and energy. 5 credits with lab.