Scenario: First-Year Graduate Student with AssistantshipAuthor: Gerd Kortemeyer Final Draft Jen-nien has been in the United States for four months now, coming from Mainland China. He entered Major State University to pursue graduate studies in Mathematics, which he could only afford because he was offered a teaching assistantship right from the get-go. Now he is struggling with taking two graduate-level courses, developing a research proposal, and grading two sections of introductory calculus. NextGenCMS quickly became his main hub for all of these functions, making it easy to switch between tasks without having to switch logins and interfaces. Jen-nien does not own a full-featured computer, but only a relatively cheap wireless thin-client device, which he carries around with him on campus throughout the day. NextGenCMS acts as the backend for all of his application, communication, and storage needs. His father was a little amused by this notion, as he used to work in an “outdated” terminal/mainframe environment – “it all comes back in circles,” he said. In spite of his father’s amusement, Jen-nien is happy with his “retro” computing environment: a real computer would be expensive, the software licenses for the mathematical packages he uses would be expensive, he does not have to worry about backup, he does not have to do software maintenance, he has ready access to any campus printer, and his computing device is rugged and lightweight. And anyway, there is no comparison: even for starters, his father’s text terminal would hardly have been able to display the characters of NextGenCMS’s Chinese interface, and his father could only have dreamt of carrying his connectivity around with him. Right now, Jen-nien sits in his Multivariate Analysis course. Before coming to the US, Jen-nien was very worried about his English language skills, and not being able to follow the classes and take notes. He is more relaxed now: while a lecture is going on, the professor, the blackboard, and the audience are recorded, and the video streams are made available in NextGenCMS immediately following the lecture. The streams are synched with the recorded projection screens and any personal annotations students make through their client devices during the lecture, so the timeline of the lecture becomes searchable and indexed. Instead of taking complete notes, Jen-nien just scribbles a few annotations onto his screen, such as “Important” or “Unclear.” The character recognition still has problems distinguishing some of Jen-nien’s Chinese handwriting from little drawings or sketches he makes, but it will learn over time. The professor has just spent 30 minutes explaining an analysis method to test hypotheses, and is now asking the students to apply it to a sample dataset that she has made available. Through NextGenCMS, Jen-nien is able to access the departmentally licensed statistical analysis software packages, load the instructor-provided dataset, and construct and run his analysis. A few minutes later, the professor polls her students regarding the outcome of the hypothesis test they just ran, again through NextGenCMS – responses show up on the projected seating chart of the lecture hall: yellow for undecided, red and green for the two possible test outcomes. Jen-nien cannot see the difference, he is color blind. But whatever is projected to the whole course is also available on each NextGenCMS client screen, where his accessibility preferences make sure that the colors are distinguishable to him. Regarding the hypothesis test, Jen-nien finds himself in the minority, but: his solution was correct. The professor realizes that this needs some more elaboration, and anonymously pulls up on the projection some of the recorded wrong approaches the students had just taken, and discusses them in detail. For sure, the same problem will now also be in the homework. As the class is over, Jen-nien pulls up his To-Do items. Top on the list is scheduling a meeting with his advisor. NextGenCMS already matched the advisor-provided timeslots against Jen-nien’s own schedule, and offers three dates. Jen-nien picks the furthest date out, still a lot of reading he needs to do before being brave enough to report on the progress of his research proposal. NextGenCMS confirms the date on both calendars. Next comes grading: while Jen-nien was in lecture, three students turned in homework. NextGenCMS has a sophisticated assessment engine, which can provide individualized homework problems (different numbers, differed graphs, etc) for every student. It can do a lot of the grading automatically, providing instant feedback and multiple attempts. Especially for Mathematics, Jen-nien is glad that it can recognize and grade mathematical equivalency between entered symbolic formulas, but unfortunately, all the sophistication stops when it comes to evaluating and grading mathematical proofs: just like his teaching assistant colleagues in Liberal Arts, where NextGenCMS makes no attempt to for example grade musical compositions and poetry, Jen-nien has to grade these by hand. The first two proofs are easy to grade: NextGenCMS reports that they have 98 percent overlap between each other, and a 96.5 percent overlap with a proof turned in two semesters earlier – Jen-nien forwards them to the instructor in charge of the course. The next proof is definitely unique: it starts from an interesting approach, but about two-thirds of the way into it, the student should have distinguished between two different cases. Jen-nien makes annotations along the way, inserts some cross-references to the online course material, already assigns partial credit, and sends the annotated proof back the student. If she chooses to turn in a corrected version before the deadline, she will get full credit. Next he goes through some of the student messages, which got routed to him based on their section numbers. As he opens each one of them, contextual information is provided, for example, which resource in the course they refer to, and any notes Jen-nien had previously made about the sender. For homework problems, the particular student’s version of the problem and their recorded previous attempts are also available. He answers some of the messages individually, but NextGenCMS alerts him that most of the messages refer to one particular homework problem. It also sorts these messages according to detected answer patterns, which might be indicative of the learners having similar misconceptions about it, Instead of answering these messages individually, Jen-nien decides to put together a targeted mini-tutorial for his sections, with cross-references to the lecture material. He then proceeds to have NextGenCMS notify the students in his section, as well as the other TAs, of its existence. Jen-nien really does not want to even look at his research proposal, so he gets himself a snack instead and eats it by the river, watching the ducks. About halfway into his sandwich, he realizes that for one of his own homework problems, he might be able to use a concept discussed in the Tuesday lecture. He takes out his computer and pulls up the projected screens from that day, flips through them, and after narrowing in on the particular section, replays the corresponding section of the video recording. Indeed, the theorem he is likely going to need is derived there. Jen-nien sets a bookmark in the video, writes a little note (in Chinese), and attaches both to his homework problem. He also starts drafting an outline of his solution. For his formulas, Jen-nien still likes to type in good old raw LaTeX code, because he feels that he has most control over the layout and logical structure of his formulas that way – most of his colleagues rely on the handwriting recognition or use the WYSIWYG editor (which Jen-nien finds too slow of a method), but in any case, the software does an impressive job rendering the formula output for screen or print, while the stored code is searchable and compatible with digital libraries and preprint servers. Eventually, Jen-nien feels he needs to do a little work on his proposal after all. Through NextGenCMS, he has all of Major State University’s electronic library holdings at his fingertips. As he finds relevant materials, NextGenCMS allows him to drop the references into his proposal in online linked form, and also automatically generates the references list at the end. Maybe at the end of the week, he will grant access to his proposal for his advisor, who will be able to annotate it and make editing suggestions. Meanwhile, a duck finished his sandwich. |