Tag Archives: conferences

Diagnostics for first year students

The SEB113 teaching team last semester (me, Ruth Luscombe, Iwona Czaplinski, Brett Fyfield) wrote a paper for the HERDSA conference about the relationship between student engagement and success. We collected data on the timing of students’ use of the adaptive release tool we developed, where students confirm that they’ve seen some preparatory material before being given access to the lecture, computer lab and workshop material. We built a regression model that looked at the relationship between the number of weeks of material students gave themselves access to and their end of semester marks (out of 100%), and it showed that students who engaged more obtained better marks, where engagement also included active use of the Facebook group and attendance at workshop classes. I had assumed that we’d be able to get data on students’ maths backgrounds coming in, but with so many ways to enter university, we don’t have the background info on every student. QUT has set Queensland Senior Maths B as the assumed knowledge for SEB113 (and indeed the broader ST01 Bachelor of Science degree) and I’m interested in knowing whether or not the level of maths of students coming in has a bearing on how well they do over the course of the unit.

This semester, we decided that it’d be good to not just get a sense of the students’ educational backgrounds but to assess what their level of mathematical and statistical skills are. We designed a diagnostic to run in the first lecture that would canvas students on their educational background, their attitudes towards mathematics and statistics, and how well they could answer a set of questions that a student passing Senior Maths B would be able to complete. The questions were taken from the PhD thesis of Dr Therese Wilson and research published by Dr Helen MacGillivray (both at QUT), so I’m fairly confident we’re asking the right questions. One thing I really liked about Dr MacGillivray’s diagnostic tool, a multiple choice test designed for engineering students, is that each incorrect choice is wrong for a very specific reason, such as not getting the order of operations right, not recognising something as a difference of squares, etc.

I’m about to get the scanned and processed results back from the library and it turns out that a number of students didn’t put their name or student number on the answer sheet. Some put their names down but didn’t fill in the circles, so the machine that scans the answer sheet won’t be able to determine who the student is and it’ll take some manual data entry probably on my part to ensure that we can get as many students as possible the results of their diagnostic. So while I’ll have a good sense of the class overall, and how we need to support them, it’ll be harder than it should be to ensure that the people who need the help are able to be targetted for such help.

Next semester I’ll try to run the same sort of thing, perhaps with a few modifications. We’ll need to be very clear about entering student numbers and names so that we can get everyone their own results. It’d be good to write a paper that follows on from our HERDSA paper and includes more information about educational background. It might also be interesting to check the relationship between students’ strength in particular topics (e.g. calculus, probability) and their marks on the corresponding items of assessment. Getting it right next semester and running it again in Semester 1 2017 would be a very useful way of gauging whether students who are weak in particular topics struggle to do well on certain pieces of assessment.


Australia-China Centre turns 1

Has it already been a year?

This week the Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management had its second annual meeting, at QUT. We got updates on the various research activities that have happened, are happening and are planned. There’s lots of interesting stuff being done to tackle a variety of problems, such as reducing workplace exposure to air pollution, quantifying the exposure of individuals and using unmanned aerial vehicles to measure air quality.


Tuesday night we had the conference dinner out at the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, at the function space at the cafe/restaurant out there. I don’t think I’ve been there since my cousin’s wedding reception 15-20 years ago. I really liked that efforts were made to ensure each table had a mix of senior professors, mid- and early-career researchers and PhD students. It made for a very inclusive dinner and many different topics of conversation. Luckily I was sat with a co-worker with whom I could trade my fish entree and mains for something a little more land-based. There was even a birthday cake (chocolate mousse cake) and a number of people joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to the ACC.

Wednesday we spent the day workshopping the various planned projects to determine what issues need to be addressed in the collection and analysis of data. I ended up sitting with a group looking at the impacts of indoor temperature on mortality rates, particularly trying to estimate the relative risk of extreme heat and cold. It was good to be confronted with some new challenges to think about, rather than the same stuff I’ve been working on almost non-stop this year.

All in all, it was a good meeting even though the stress levels around here were through the roof in the lead-up. I ended up taking photos of nearly all of the presenters on the Tuesday as well as group photos with our Chinese collaborators and special invited guests.

EMAC2013 semi-wrap

Today’s the final day of EMAC2013, starting with Joe Monaghan’s talk on numerical methods for the dynamics of fluids that contain particles (in 20 minutes, so I’ll be brief).

I attended yesterday’s “Education” session and saw some interesting things about how maths education is going around the country. The University of Tasmania is engaging with TasTAFE to deliver maths courses to engineering diploma students in order to prepare them for the mathematics they’ll encounter in their bachelor’s degrees. UTS is doing some interesting analysis of their maths course results to rejig the prerequisite pathways for their maths courses. A particularly interesting case was the use of a first year linear algebra course as a predictor of performance in a second year stochastic models subject that previously only had a first year probability course as its prerequisite.

I chaired and presented in yesterday’s “Environment” session, presenting the mathematics behind the personal sampling that we’ve been working on with the UPTECH project. I got quite a number of good questions and was overall quite happy with the talk I gave. The other talks in the session were about: using approximations to a sum of Pareto distributions, developed by actuaries, to determine whether extreme values in biomass luminescence were real or artifacts from the new sensors; and incorporating insolation into global climate models.

Josef Barnes (Griffith) won the student prize (for, I assume, his talk on cardiac geometries), with honorable mentions for Kristen Harley and Lisa Mayo (QUT) and Laith Hermez. Bill Blyth, for whom the prize is named, pointed out the quality of the student talks at EMAC2013 is getting higher year after year. This can only be good news for the applied mathematics sector in Australia (and New Zealand) as these students will likely go on to academic positions and generate high quality research.

David Lovell gave a great talk yesterday about multi-, inter-, trans- and ante-disciplinary research. I’m reading the article he referred to yesterday about the way disciplines will have to deal with each other and knowledge sharing over the coming years.

And I’m off.

Posterior Samples

Thiago Martins has posted a neat little tutorial about using R to calculate and visualise Principle Components Analysis, using Fisher’s Iris data. PCA is something I’ve struggled with as I’ve gone further into statistics, as it comes across as being based on mathematics rather than statistics. I’d like to learn more about the Indian Buffet Process and associated non-parametric Bayesian methods but if I’m going to be looking at long and wide data sets (say, UPTECH questionnaire data) I’d like to have somewhere to start. It looks like this may provide that.

Rasmus Bååth’s done a tutorial on Laplace Approximations in R (hat tip to Matt Moores for this one). Laplace Approximations are an alternative to MCMC simulation that can provide good approximations to well-behaved posterior densities in a fraction of the time. The tutorial deals with the issue of reparameterisation for when you’ve got parameters which have bounded values (such as binomial proportions). As a piece of trivia, Thiago (above) is based at NTNU where R-INLA is developed.

I’m at the emac2013 conference this week. We’re about half way through day one of the talks (of three) and there’s already been some fascinating stuff. Professor Robert Mahony (ANU) gave a talk that shows that the development of more advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones) involves some quite complex but elegant mathematics, involving Lie group symmetries, rather than just coming up with cooler robots. Hasitha Nayanajith Polwaththe Gallage (QUT) showed some really interesting particle method (mesh-free) modelling where forces and energies were used to determine the shape of a red blood cell that had just ejected its nucleus.

Some good news

Our personal sampling paper got accepted for publication quite quickly once we’d made the changes the reviewers required. This paper came from almost nothing about a year and a half ago to a really nice piece of mathematical and statistical modelling that will give us a lot to work with in future UPTECH papers, where we’ll be looking at the relationship between inhaled dose and child health. I’m presenting this work at the EMAC2013 conference next week (gotta write slides!) so it’s good to have the paper online now.

My current post-doc is drawing to a close at the end of the year but I’ve got the contract in the email for my position for the next few years. After that, who knows? We got a grant under an international exchange program which means I may be off overseas for a few weeks/months during my next appointment. I’m looking forward to being able to spend some time outside the country at another university, having got a bit more experience now than when I went to Finland about two years in to my PhD.

And it looks like I’m about to get my second PhD student to co-supervise.

Upcoming conferences

It’s more a note for myself here but I’ve got an abstract accepted for EMAC2013, discussing the modelling we did for personal sampling in the UPTECH project.

ISBA 2014 abstracts close December 1. ASC-IMS 2014 abstracts close October 30. I need to get abstracts for these conferences together. I’ll probably talk about UPTECH at ASC-IMS as it’s a conference with an Australian focus. I think ISBA 2014 I’ll try and present the modelling associated with the field work I did about a year ago (we’re still writing the analysis).

Becoming a grown up (at least a grown-up academic)

There are only four months left in my current postdoctoral appointment and I’m discussing plans for next year with my supervisor. There’s still a lot of unfinished UPTECH work that needs to happen, including helping a handful of PhD students with the stats in their papers for their thesis, dealing with the clinical data and putting together some research plans for what to do next. The plan at the moment is to look for some funding both internally and externally to provide a research appointment. I’m also interested in continuing lecturing next year, whether in SEB113 or another mathematics/statistics unit.

Most of ILAQH is away as of today or tomorrow, as they travel to Prague for the 2013 European Aerosol Conference. The work that I’ve been doing with some colleagues from ILAQH and Italy, on personal sampling, will be featured on a poster. The paper has been submitted to ES&T but hasn’t been accepted yet, so unfortunately I can’t put a preprint up to show off the cool statistics that I had to learn to do the modelling in the paper. As a result of everyone being away, I’ll be one of two academic staff members left here. It’s going to be quiet, with most of the staff and a few PhD students gone.

Barring the Finnish paper that I’m still revising, this personal sampling paper has been the paper which has required the most creative and original programming as there have been many different steps along the way. I am particularly proud of this paper and the work that went into it. When I was first brought on board there didn’t appear to be much clarity regarding what we wanted to investigate; we had a lot of personal sampling data but didn’t quite know what to do with it. I think the paper we’ve developed does service to the amount of work that was put into collecting the data and is aligned with what the UPTECH project was set up to do. I’m grateful to all co-authors on the paper (and everyone who was out there in the schools) for the work that they put into bringing this to fruition.

I’m still finishing the final corrections for my thesis, due in a few weeks time. After that’s handed in I’ll be taking another step in becoming a grown-up academic: supervising a PhD student. I’ll be the replacement associate supervisor for a student whose original associate supervisor has moved from QUT to another university. QUT requires an internal primary and associate supervisor and I’m the one most familiar with the modelling that this student is doing as part of their thesis. We’ve already set a meeting schedule for the time when his primary supervisor is overseas and have discussed what sort of things I’ll expect to see. It’s a strange responsibility to have for someone who’s only just finishing up their thesis. I wonder how long it will be until I’m the primary supervisor for a student. Two years? Five? Ten?

Worrying about funding, writing grant applications, supervising students, lecturing (writing assessment!). It’s a strange place to find oneself.