MATLAB outside classroom

Henok Mawi, Mathematics, Howard University

The research topic that I work on is mostly theoretical; theorem and proof of mathematical statements that arise in modeling in geometric optics. However it also involves developing convergent iterative methods to solve the problems. In theory these algorithms are known to converge and MATLAB comes in while trying to implement these algorithms and supplement the theory by computational results.

For most part, I try to involve undergraduate students in STEM field to do the computational component of the research, after introducing them to as much story of the problem as is accessible for their background, which usually is multivariable calculus.

The most challenging component of this task is that the students who plan to participate in the project have very limited or no background in MATLAB or any type of coding related instruction. So, the first thing they need to do will be to indulge themselves in self instruction; which sometimes might lead to frustration and even worse quitting; while the intention is actually to give them an opportunity to integrate computational skills into their training and also understand how to conduct research in a STEM field. The question becomes how to start MATLAB outside classroom without causing frustration?

So far, the solution that I used to overcome this difficulty to sign the students for a Coursera course in MATLAB. This course which is 8 weeks long can be taken for free if no credit or certification is sought but requires fee for certification of completion of the course. But due to shortage of time, the students might have to complete it in lesser time. After going through this course as a crash course, the students will have basic ideas on how use MATLAB. But of course when it comes to trying to use their knowledge in from the Coursera course for the actual project, it will be different story. It requires a lot of patience and motivation. Encouraging the students to develop the perseverance that takes them through the challenge successfully is an everyday task.

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