Randomised course-work.

Posted in: Teaching

I have taught 1/2 of the 2nd year course "Quantum and Atomic physics" (PH2013/60 if you care) for three years. My section, 5 weeks long and 15 1-hours teaching sessions takes the students from solving the Schrodinger equation for a hyrogen atom, through to spin-orbit interactions, all the way to term symbols for multi-electron atoms. What I have felt is missing, and what I have failed to find time for, is to demonstrate that the large and unwieldy 3D operators really do work and really to return the energy, or the angular momentum or whatever it may be. Therefore I have designed a new piece of course work for this coming year: A question-sheet for answers to be handed in and marked.

Why is this  worthy of a blog post? Well for the class of 160 2nd year students the point is to get each one to sit down and do the questions. None will be too hard, though many will involve fairly tortuous mathematics. So the aim is not to get marks, but to try the problems. Since this is a hand-in course work there may be a temptation to simply regurgitate a friends answers. Hence I have introduced some random element into the mix.

The sheet consists of three main questions, with each having an array of sub-questions. For each students I wanted each main question to be randomly assigned a possible wave-function (i.e., starting point) out of a catalogue of 8 wave-functions.  No two (within reason) problem sheets will be the same. Students will therefore find it hard to copy from friends, but will be able to apply the methods to their own version of the problem sheet. It will also mean they will be exposed to three different wave-functions and get a feel for what they are.

But we can do more. Using some cunning Matlab and LaTeX coding, each question sheet will have printed on it the unique exam code each student has. I have no access to the data base that has the key to transcribe code into name. This course-work will therefore be as anonymous as the exams are, removing any potential subconscious bias. This is especially important as after this year's trial I hope to make this course-work count towards the mark for this course.

The practicalities are that I cannot handout individual sheets, it would take too much time. Instead the Matlab/LaTeX code  generates a pdf for each student that comprising the question sheet and a cover-sheet. This will be uploaded to our on-line teaching forum for this course . The cover-sheet has a marking grid and also the student's exam number. They can simply staple this to the handwritten answers.  At a click of another button I will be able to generate bespoke solutions sheets for each students, again uploaded to the on-line teaching resource.

One downside is that there are 13 questions, and 8 possible starting points so I require individual 104 solutions. That is what PG demonstrators are good for! And I will have a bit of marking to do.



Posted in: Teaching


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  • open source the code doctor sloan

    • I'm more than happy to share the code with other lecturers etc., just drop me an email and I'll see what I can do. Although a word of warning, the code is not pretty but does work.