The success of implementing a MATLAB project in a Medical Physics course

David Sterling, Radiation Oncology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Implementing computational projects in the classroom has helped my students understand material better and more quickly than they did before I used them. They have been a useful tool to make the students engage with the material in a way that a typical lecture doesn't allow. There have been some challenges with the implementation, but overall I would consider these projects a success.

The biggest challenge has been to convince the students, many of whom have never done any programming before, that the project isn't as challenging as they might think. I have worked on this by giving example problems in class with the solutions, and suggesting that they work through these simple examples before working on the more difficult questions in the project. I also stress to the students that I am not particularly good at programming myself. I am constantly searching for answers to my questions, and am relieved to see that I rarely, if ever, find a question that hasn't already been asked and answered by many others.

I stress to the students that they will not be graded on the efficiency of their code, but on their understanding of the material. One of the strengths of these projects is that the students must master the material in order to get the correct answer. This leads to them to have a much deeper understanding of the material covered with these projects than material that is presented in typical lecture format. In fact, the feedback I have received on these projects from the students have been overwhelmingly positive, and is often mentioned as their favorite part of the course. As a result of these successes, I am trying to implement more of these projects in my courses going forward.

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