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bulletIntegrating IT (hypermedia) into Final-Year course on Civil Engineering Fluid Dynamics

Shengcai Li & Peter Carpenter 

The development of IT (Information Technology) has made it feasible to use Hypermedia to enhance teaching and learning. In particular, 3-dimensional moving images can simulate complex fluid flow. This greatly aids learning by providing, a visual alternative to the rather abstract mathematical equations and concepts. A preliminary version of this concept was tried by Li in the early 1980's in China, using the graphic function of BASIC programming to generate the motion graphics simulating the pressure wave (shock wave) during a transient process in a hydraulic system. It was then used for teaching a course on Fluid Transients. The students found this simulation to be of real benefit despite it being very crude by the standards of today. It was also tried by Li in the Engineering Department at Warwick in the late 1980's. The present technology of Hypermedia is much much more effective and powerful than the graphic function used in the preliminary study. It can allow students to access WEB -based knowledge at any time in-an interactive way. The main objectives of this project are:

  • To present difficult concepts and dynamic behaviour in WEB-based (3D) motion image form as well as in mathematical formulae and text.
  • To provide logic links, giving access to related topics.
  • To allow the students access to this information at any time to enhance tutorial and seminar work.
  • To facilitate the students' research ambitions by using this information in an interactive way to observe the variations in flow behaviour caused by changes in initial and boundary conditions (input by students).
  • To serve as a pilot project for applying IT to other parts of the course and other courses; if appropriate.

This WEB -based IT will be able to:

  • demonstrate the stability mechanism of free gas nuclei, and simulate the dynamic behaviour of single bubble collapse with and without internal non-condensible gases and the impact of initial conditions (bubble size, internal gas pressure etc.)
  • simulate the generation, propagation and attenuation of the pressure wave (shock wave) caused by transients in a hydraulic system, and t,he impact of.initial and boundary conditions
  • accept the initial/boundary conditions input by students to demonstrate the resulting variation in flow behaviour. This research-like approach will enhance the students' study and more importantly lay a foundation for their future research and development activity.

The funds sought will be used:

  • To facilitate the employment of a post-graduate student to assist with (a) setting up a WEB site and designing a logic link chart, (b) investigating the appropriate hypermedia approach for the above simulations.
  • To fund one visit (two persons) to the Centre for Humanities Computing, Oxford University, to investigate the design development of the Hypermedia by Dr Stuart Lee.


The project will develop documents such as a user's manual. The findings from the project will be disseminated firstly through the Fluid Dynamic Research Centre's seminar series, then throughout the Division by means of activities such as seminars, circulating documents, and the production of a report. The most important outcome, though, will be through improved final-year teaching of complex fluid phenomena, both for taught courses and project work.

The successful completion of this project may well lead to journal and conference publications, and may lead to a proposal aimed at raising external funds.

bullet  Structured learning packages for the development of transferable skills in chemistry students

Paul Taylor, Chemistry 

Chemistry graduates need a knowledge of chemistry, but they also need the skills to explain, extend and exploit their knowledge. These skills, known variously as key skills or transferable skills, are increasingly recognised by academics and demanded by employers. We believe that the key skills can usefully be developed through the learning and application of chemical knowledge, and this means creating suitable teaching resources. To address this need, structured learning packages (SLPs) are being developed at the University of York. They are based on real industrial case studies and designed to be tackled by teams of students. In the exercises, the majority of the work is performed independently with a number of plenary sessions for the presentation of results and discussion of the topics. There is an emphasis on teamworking and on the oral and written presentation of results. This process provides a real chemical context in which a range of key skills can be developed, in particular "teamwork", "problem solving", "communication skills" and "information retrieval".

Results of Trial

Through our contacts at York, we were privileged to be able to use the new SLPs in a trial exercise. Eight third year BSc students (two teams) completed two packages in weeks 16-20 of this academic year. Our observations and the data from the course questionnaires demonstrate the success of the approach. Of the six respondents to the statement: "I would recommend others to attend a similar course", five strongly agreed and the other agreed. The questionnaires showed. that the students felt they had made substantial progress in learning the four key skills identified above and this was also clear to the assessors (PCT and Prof Terry Kemp). The two course leaders (PCT and Dr Nigel Lowe, York) have been invited to contribute a communication to Education in Chemistry on the subject.


At the Chemistry Staff Meeting of 15.5.98, the Department agreed unanimously to support the establishment of SLPs as a permanent teaching resource at Warwick and extend the SLPs to ALL chemistry students. This will require: One -month of Dr Lowe's time, during which he will prepare stand-alone versions of the SLPs, permitting us to run them without his knowledge and skills. Purchase of five essential books which are not available in the Library. A substantial amount of printing and photocopying of explanatory material, data sheets and key articles not available in the Library. We therefore request Dr Lowe's salary for one month, travel money for Dr Lowe to attend meetings at Warwick and a 50% contribution to "consumables".

Future Aspects

The immediate objectives are improved transferable skills in Chemistry students. However, there are two long term implications for teaching ,both in Chemistry and in other, Departments. The students appear to learn (in the true sense) more chemistry during this course than in conventional lecture courses, as well as gaining transferable skills. This ought to encourage us to extend such methods more widely through our curriculum. Once established, the SLPs require relatively little staff input and may provide an excellent solution to effective teaching of large groups.


  • a permanent resource for the teaching of transferable skills to Chemistry students
  • Chemistry graduates better-equipped with a range of transferable skills
  • a full paper in a Chemical Education journal

bullet  Creating a Distance-Learning environment for Mathematical Subjects:Phase 2


  •  To develop a web-based tutorial system using a program such as First Class to offer a  hierarchy of student support through electronic conferencing.
  • To investigate and implement alternative computer-assessment software that will avoid the limitations of Question Mark and will also offer assessment at a distance.
  • To develop and typeset further materials for directed learning through problem-solving.

 This request for funding refers to the second year (phase 2) of a 3-year project, which was begun with  RTDF support in the current academic year (see previous summary). The project centres around the course MA246 Number Theory in the second year of the Mathematics Undergraduate Degree Programme, but its methods and outcomes will apply equally well to any mathematically-based course amenable to numerical problem-solving. Phase 1 had two main objectives:

  1. The preparation of directed-learning materials and their conversion into LaTeX sources files suitable for Web or hard copy delivery. (LaTeX is a sophisticated and elegant computer program for typesetting mathematics to a professional standard.)
  2. The investigation of software suitable for assessing mathematics and its implementation on the University network.

Objective 1. has been achieved with considerable success. Five weekly workbooks were written and four of them were translated into LaTeX format. The directed-learning mode through problem-solving was well received by the 170 students registered for the course, and their performance on the weekly tests suggests a high level of engagement with the course material. The comparison of this year's written examination results with last year's will provide a more convincing measure of the  effectiveness of this method of teaching. (An interesting side-benefit of producing LaTeX source files of the Number Theory material was the help this gave to a blind student on the course who has learnt to access mathematics written in LaTeX format.)

Objective 2. was also carried through successfully although our ambitions were somewhat inhibited by the disappointing limitations both of the software, Question Mark, and of the means of  delivery. Its inability to transfer mathematics to the Web is its most serious drawback. A full account of this will be given in the project report.

Phase 3 has three objectives:

  1. The creation of a networked tutorial support system based on the program First Class; in  particular, the development of a suitable means of communicating written mathematics electronically both in real time and via bulletin boards: two possible approaches here are electronic writing pads and the  acquisition of a pidgin TeX already used by professional mathematicians in e-mail. The fact that second year students live off campus strengthens the case for a 24-hour electronic tutorial support system.
  2. The search for a suitable assessment software with Web capabilities that offers a broader and more flexible range of options for testing mathematical knowledge; the development and implementation of such software. The tool, WebTest, being developed at Heriot-Watt looks promising, and  systems based on Scientific Workplace that use powerful symbolic-computation engines likeMaple and Mathematica to drive them will be looked at.
  3. The preparation and conversion into LaTeX of four new directed-learning workbooks in the format used this year (their themes will be: (a) Fermat's Last Theorem, (b) Prime Numbers, (c) Quadratic Residues, (d) Waring's Problem). The purpose here is to broaden the scope of the course with a view to introducing in 1999-2000, a new 6 CAT course called Introduction to Number Theory in the first year of the Undergraduate Programme which would lead on to the existing second year course MA246. This would expose our undergraduates to the directed-learning mode in their first year of study.

The last of these objectives is straightforward. The second is more problematic, but the first-named investigator will attend a major international conference on University Mathematics Education in July. Educational technology is high on the agenda of this meeting and he expects to find out more about what mathematics assessment software is available or being developed world-wide. The first objective moves the project into an exciting new area for Mathematics. It will provide the greatest challenge both technically and pedagogically. A serious start will be made during the academic year 1998-99 and will be built upon during the following year.

There are a number of students in the Department who are skilled TeXnicians (we run an annual course on LaTeX with sponsorship from Coopers & Lybrand and this has generated a sizable pool of talent.) Writing good LaTeX is a time-consuming and highly-skilled activity. The Teaching Development Fund can make an important contribution to Phase 2 of the project by (i) contributing to the costs writing LaTeX source files for the new workbooks and (ii) helping to pay for technical help with implementing the web-based assessment and setting up the electronic tutorial network.


The Department will gain first-hand experience of running a multi-layered teaching support network using electronic conferencing. If it proves to be successful and cost-effective for the Number Theory course, we will be in a position to extend and adapt it to other courses and learning modes.

There is no doubt that the Friday tests based on each week's workbook played a significant part in maintaining the students' engagement with the course material. A web-mounted assessment system will provide (a) randomly generated tests (b) with instant feedback and model answers, (c) at a time and place convenient to the students, and (d) examining a wider range of mathematical achievement.

The workbooks have encouraged habits of independent study and co-operative learning according to individual students' preferences and personal circumstances. Number theory lends itself to the cultivation of understanding of abstract ideas through computation and concrete investigation. The existence of a range of workbooks will broaden the base of the existing course and prepare for a  second course.

The experience gained in the areas of resource-based learning, computer-assessment, and electronic tutorial support will be shared and published (a) locally through ETUG (b) nationally through talks and newsletters, and (c) internationally via professional journals, at conferences, and on the Web.

bullet  Auto-interactive Teaching and Assessment System (ATAS)


Giving students experience of problem solving has always been a major part of university science teaching with a set of problems usually accompanying each lecture course. These problems are not normally assessed, and regrettably many students do not attempt to solve them or they leave them until well after the course is finished.

Marking the solutions dramatically increases students' interest and participation. However, it requires a large amount of extra time. In my experience marking a simple weekly assessment takes at least 5 minutes per student, which equates to over 7 hours a week for a course with 100 students.

Auto-Interactive Teaching and Assessment System (ATAS) uses the WWW to reduce dramatically the overhead associated with distributing the problem sets, collecting the students' submissions, marking and recording the marks. It is specifically geared to courses with a high mathematics content.

The lecturer prepares a text file with problems in LaTeX format. ATAS processes this to produce:

  • a hardcopy version of the problems, which is distributed to each student
  • an electronic version which is published as an interactive WWW page, which the studentsuse to submit their answers (these are normally in the form of algebra expressions.

ATAS parses the students' input and complains about any syntactic errors (like non-matching brackets). After the deadline (which is set individually for each problem) the correct answer is published and a preliminary mark is awarded by ATAS. These preliminary marks are then moderated by the lecturer. The lecturer can either mark submissions individually or instruct ATAS to award a mark to all students who have made the same error.

The final marks are published electronically so that students have access to their own marks and the class averages.

Trial results

I tested the first version of ATAS during my second year physics course which was attended by about 70 students. Nine problems were offered in the space of five weeks. It took about an hour to mark each weekly submission by 70 students which represents almost a five-fold time saving. I attribute the saving to the following factors:

  1. Correct submissions are marked automatically (students get 100% if the equation they submit is equivalent to the correct answer).
  2. It was usually possible to spot a typical "not quite correct" answer and award some marks for all students with equivalent answers.
  3. The system automatically displays the answers in a convenient form and records the results.

ATAS and other software for computer based assessment

Existing software for computer based assessment, such as Question Mark Designer, Examine, Diagnosis and other in-house developed systems that we have seen do not deal well with mathematical equations and symbols. As alternatives to ATAS, they would involve considerable time and effort on the part of the lecturer to prepare questions for assessment. In particular, they can not reuse LaTeX files with questions prepared for non-assessed course handouts.

We therefore believe that ATAS may well be potentially marketable product for mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry and other disciplines which use heavily symbols which HTML (the markup language of the Web) can not currently represent.

The integration of ATAS into the Web ensures that it can be utilised by staff (authoring tests) and students (taking tests) on UNIX, PCs and Macintosh platforms. This provides also some futureproofing and enables rise of this system in any future distance learning programs the University may wish to establish,

The project

The aim of the project is to re-implement the ATAS engine to

  • give the engine a modular structure so that additional types of assessment multiple choice questions, image submissions ...) are possible
  • build a better lecturer's interface
  • develop a robust real time backup system for students' answers
  • improve the (LaTeX-based) authoring environment

The project's objective is to make the ATAS system easily accessible to other lecturers. I believe that these features are crucial for the system's success as a universal Web-based assessment tool for subjects with high mathematics content.

In collaboration with George Rowlands and Nicholas d'Ambrumenil we plan to use the new version of the engine to handle assessed components of two other second year physics lecture courses: Mathematical methods II and Thermal Physics II.


The ATAS engine already comprises 2,500 lines of Perl and to accommodate the new features the next version will need to be bigger. Rewriting it requires at least three month for a qualified graduate student (one has already expressed interest in this work).

The enhancement to the LaTeX authoring environment would need the collaboration of a LaTeX expert with experience in writing assessed parts of mathematical courses. Mark Hadley, who is currently employed by the Physics department, would be ideal for this work. After helping to refine the LaTeX interface he would also be able to advise lecturers on how to prepare problems for use with ATAS.

The backup system needs an Iomega Zip drive or similar hardware to store students' submissions. The backup offered by Computing Services is made only on a daily basis which is not frequent enough.


The new version of the ATAS system should be usable throughout the University as a Web based assessment tool for all courses with mathematical content. Lecturers would be able to benefit from the very substantial time-saving while retaining all the benefits of an assessed component of a lecture course.

A seminar and/or series of training courses will be conducted in the context of the Staff Development Program to help colleagues to assess the value of ATAS as an aid to their teaching and wherever suitable to help them to use it. The work will be disseminated via the above sessions, the newsletter of ASDO (Forum), Interactions - the Web journal of the Educational Technology Service, and the ETUG (Educational Technology User Group).

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