E-assessment in higher education mathematics is explored via a systematic review of literature and a practitioner survey, and compared with other assessment approaches in common use in higher education mathematics in the UK. E-assessment offers certain advantages over other approaches, for example question randomisation allows individualisation of assessment, but it is restricted in the range of what can be assessed due to the limitations of automated marking.

A partially-automated approach is proposed in which e-assessment techniques are used to set an individualised assessment which is taken and marked by hand. This approach is implemented in a higher education mathematics module. The module uses individual coursework assignments alongside group work to attempt to account for individual contribution to learning outcomes. The partially-automated approach is used as a method for reducing the risk of plagiarism in this coursework, rather than replacing it with a written examination or e-assessment.

Evaluation via blind second-marking indicates that the approach was capable of setting a reliable and valid assessment. Evaluation of student views and analysis of assessment marks leads to the conclusion that plagiarism does take place among the undergraduate cohort, was a risk during this assessment, but was not in fact a particular problem.

The partially-automated approach is recommended as an appropriate addition to the repertoire of higher education mathematics assessment methods, particularly in cases where an assessment carries a high risk of plagiarism but the need for open-ended or deeper questions make an examination or automated marking system sub-optimal.

Alright, so you might not want to read the whole 184 pages, but you might be interested to relive the thrill of submission in 26th July 2004–23rd July 2013, or listen to an interview I did about my PhD and viva experience in Peter Rowlett: Viva Survivor.

Rowlett, P.J., 2013. *A Partially-automated Approach to the Assessment of Mathematics in Higher Education*. PhD thesis, Nottingham Trent University.

We don’t regard him as a miller, I’m afraid, we regard him as a very eminent mathematician whose work today is still being used in major industries and concerns.

– George Saunders, descendant of George Green, on being asked a question about bags of flour on the Alan Clifford show on BBC Radio Nottingham of 11th September 2014 (starts approx. 1:16).

The above quote is from a short interview with George Saunders and Kathryn Summerwill on BBC local radio about George Green. Green, of whom you may have heard, was a mill-owner in Nottingham and a genius mathematical physicist. The interview marks the opening of an exhibition, curated by Kathryn, ‘George Green: Nottingham’s Magnificent Mathematician‘ in the Weston Gallery at the Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham.

I was pleased to attend the opening of the exhibition and meet some of the people involved, including Lawrie Challis. You can’t read much about Green without coming across Lawrie, who has written on Green himself and led a campaign to restore the mill in the 1970s and 80s when a rumour emerged that the City was thinking of demolishing the derelict. The exhibition is fantastic, with many interesting items from the university’s Manuscripts and Special Collections archive relating to various aspects of Green’s life and works.

As well as the exhibition, there are three lunchtime talks on aspects of Green’s life, though I wouldn’t bother with the third one if I were you.

- ‘George Green and his Mill‘ by Tom Huggon, Chairman of the Friends of Green’s Mill, Wednesday 1st October, 1-2pm;
- ‘George Green’s Contribution to MRI‘ by Roger Bowley, Emeritus Professor in the School of Physics, University of Nottingham, Tuesday 21st October, 1-2pm;
- ‘George Green’s Mathematical Influences‘ by Peter Rowlett, some guy, Wednesday 12th November, 1-2pm.

The talks are free and take place in the theatre adjacent to the exhibition, but you must book a ticket in advance by phoning the Box Office on 0115 846 7777.

The wonderful Theorem of the Day website marked the opening of the exhibition on 12th September 2014 by featuring Green’s Theorem. The exhibition is open until Sunday 4th January 2015.

]]>

On puzzles and games, the report says:

The inherent interest of mathematics and the appeal which it can have for many children and adults provide yet another reason for teaching mathematics in schools. The fact that ‘puzzle corners’ of various kinds appear in so many papers and periodicals testifies to the fact that the appeal of relatively elementary problems and puzzles is widespread; attempts to solve them can both provide enjoyment and also, in many cases, lead to increased mathematical understanding. For some people, too, the appeal of mathematics can be even greater and more intense.

…

We do not believe that mathematical activity in schools is to be judged worthwhile only in so far as it has clear practical usefulness. The widespread appeal of mathematical puzzles and problems to which we have already referred shows that the capacity for appreciating mathematics for its own sake is present in many people. It follows that mathematics should be presented as a subject both to use and to enjoy.

…

Whatever the level of attainment of pupils, carefully planned use of mathematical puzzles and ‘games’ can clarify the ideas in a syllabus and assist the development of logical thinking.

Cockcroft, W. (1982), *Mathematics counts: report of the Committee of
Inquiry into the teaching of mathematics in schools*. London: HMSO.

The premier maths documentary podcast, created by Samuel Hansen in 2012 following a successful Kickstarter. Relatively Prime is eight shows of stories behind mathematics, with topics including game-playing computers, music and architecture.

Cobbled together while I was working for the IMA, Travels in a Mathematical World mostly features short interviews with working mathematicians about their work. 2008-2010.

The Plus Podcast mostly features interviews on a diverse range of mathematical topics to support their written articles. Going since 2007 and still releasing new episodes, though infrequently.

All Squared is the Aperiodical’s own Katie Steckles and Christian Perfect in conversation with interesting mathematicians. Started in 2013 and still going, as far as I know, though infrequently.

Proper BBC Radio 4 documentary, A Brief History of Mathematics is ten episodes of maths history by Marcus du Sautoy first broadcast in 2010, each themed around a particular mathematician or group of mathematicians.

Math Mutation is a curious, short podcast in which Erik Seligman aims to explore “fun, interesting, or just plain weird corners of mathematics that you probably didn’t hear in school” (school, presumably, in the American sense). Going since 2007 and still releasing new episodes, though infrequently.

I believe host Samuel Hansen would describe Combinations and Permuations as a jokey panel discussion about mathematics. 2009-2011.

Strongly Connected Components is a series of 51 episodes released between 2009-2012 in which Samuel Hansen interviews an interesting range of mathematicians.

The Math Factor is a podcast on mathematics, logic and puzzles with Chaim Goodman-Strauss and Kyle Kellams in a series of radio episodes released between 2005 and 2010.

Will Davies made four recommendations.

- Wrong, But Useful: Colin Beveridge and Dave Gale discuss mathematical miscellany. I hadn’t mentioned Wrong, But Useful because I feel it is quite teacher-oriented and the query was for undergrads, but perhaps that’s unfair.
- More or Less. Statistical current affairs from Tim Harford and the team, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Didn’t I recommend More or Less? Oops! I always assume everyone listens to More or Less.
- The Naked Scientists, apparently, comprises “a media-savvy group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public”.
- Probably Science: “four professional comedians and incompetent scientists take you through this week in science. Incompetently.”

Colin Beveridge suggested science story-fest RadioLab, saying “it’s not often on maths, but it’s rarely dull.”

Samuel Hansen, as well as some of those above, added Math/Maths. I didn’t include this because I think of it as a topical show and it is on extended hiatus or ended (the hosts aren’t clear which), and because a problem with the Pulse-Project site currently means the RSS feed (and therefore iTunes) don’t show any episodes.

]]>I’m involved with three sessions – a fun Maths Jam, a ‘how I used history in my teaching’ workshop and a research talk based on half my PhD. Here are the details:

**Monday 14th April 2014**

*A Taste of Maths Jam *- with Katie Steckles and some other MathsJammers.

19:30 – we’re one of the after-dinner entertainment options!

Maths Jam is a monthly opportunity for like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts to get together in a pub and share stuff they like. Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting. Attendees range from hobbyists to researchers, with every type of mathematician and maths enthusiast in between. Events happen simultaneously in over thirty locations worldwide (mostly in the UK) listed on the website at www.mathsjam.com. Come to this event to get a taste of what happens at a typical Maths Jam night.

**Wednesday 16th April 2014**

*The unplanned impact of mathematics and how research is funded: a discussion-led activity*

Session F6 – 09:05-10:05

Mathematics is sometimes developed (or discovered) by a mathematician following curiosity with no thought of application. Later, perhaps decades or centuries later, this mathematics fits some application area perfectly. This aspect of mathematics has serious implications as increasingly researchers are asked to predict the impact of their research before it is funded and research quality is measured partly by its short term impact. A session on this has been used successfully in a UK undergraduate mathematics module on how maths interacts with wider society. This explored the concept of ‘unplanned impact’ and views on the phenomenon, as well as its impact on the way research is funded. This workshop will describe the session and demonstrate some of the activities used.

This session is one of a series on the History of Mathematics in Education coordinated by BSHM.

*Development and evaluation of a partially-automated approach to the assessment of undergraduate mathematics*

Session RI15 – 16:15-17:45

This research explored assessment and e-assessment in undergraduate mathematics and proposed a novel, partially-automated approach, in which assessment is set via computer but completed and marked offline.This potentially offers: reduced efficiency of marking but increased validity compared with examination, via deeper and more open-ended questions; increased reliability compared with coursework, by reduction of plagiarism through individualised questions; increased efficiency for setting questions compared with e-assessment, as there is no need to second-guess the limitations of user input and automated marking. Implementation was in a final year module intended to develop students’ graduate skills, including group work and real-world problem-solving. Individual work alongside a group project aimed to assess individual contribution to learning outcomes. The deeper, open-ended nature of the task did not suit timed examination conditions or automated marking, but the similarity of the individual and group tasks meant the risk of plagiarism was high. Evaluation took three forms: a second-marker experiment, to test reliability and assess validity; student feedback, to examine student views particularly about plagiarism and individualised assessment; and, comparison of marks, to investigate plagiarism. This paper will discuss the development and evaluation of this assessment approach in an undergraduate mathematics context.

**Edit 24/04/2014**: My paper in the proceedings is now available online:

Rowlett, P., 2014. Development and evaluation of a partially-automated approach to the assessment of undergraduate mathematics. *In*: S. Pope (ed.). *Proceedings of the 8th British Congress of Mathematics Education.* pp. 295-302. Available via: bsrlm.org.uk/IPs/ip34-2/BSRLM-IP-34-2-38.pdf.

Nathan says:

I see this as a great resource for researchers, research staff, academics and those who support researcher training. On the run up to my viva I had great advice from my supervisor, but I didn’t know about other resources that might help me prepare. The Viva Survivors Podcast will provide listeners with stories from people who have been through the viva, and give some insight on what to expect, what to do to prepare, and where to turn for help.

On the run up to my viva, I listened to a lot of the back catalogue and read Nathan’s e-book ‘Fail Your Viva: Twelve Steps To Failing Your PhD (And Fifty-Eight Tips For Passing)‘. Having used this in my preparation, I volunteered to be interviewed (you can offer to be interviewed too). The description for my episode says:

In this episode I’m talking to Dr Peter Rowlett, who recently completed his PhD at Nottingham Trent University. Peter’s research was multidisciplinary and was in the areas of computing and maths education; he did his PhD part time as well, and so we had a lot to talk about for this episode!

Viva Survivors Episode 23: Dr Peter Rowlett. Or subscribe.

Drinking game idea: take a drink every time I say “viva” when I clearly mean ‘thesis’.

Aside: Nathan is conducting a survey of PhD graduates of UK institutions since 2000. He explains why in a blog post. Consider filling it in.

]]>As well as rehashing Why do $0!$ and $a^0$ equal $1$?, and engaging in a little silliness, I think we touched on some interesting topics. Is $6\times 4$ four lots of $6$ or six lots of $4$ (Dave’s blog post on this is here)? Is the Pythagorean theorem part of trigonometry? Why should people be made to study maths? What is ‘mathematics’, and why don’t we have different words for maths at different levels? Why do students hate ‘show that’ questions? Why do people think maths is about getting the correct answer? What are continued fractions good for? And more. I’m not sure we answered any of this very well, so perhaps you will listen and let Colin and Dave know what you think.

Listen, and leave comments, over at Flying Colours Maths: Wrong, But Useful: Episode 13 or find the podcast on iTunes.

]]>My talk is part of the research strand of the conference, organised by the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics. This society is “for people interested in research in mathematics education”, and I am a member.

I’m presenting the ‘what I did’ portion of my PhD; well, most of it. Anyway, the peer-reviewed proceedings have now been published. My article is ‘Development and evaluation of a partially-automated approach to the assessment of undergraduate mathematics‘. The abstract is below.

This research explored assessment and e-assessment in undergraduate mathematics and proposed a novel, partially-automated approach, in which assessment is set via computer but completed and marked offline. This potentially offers: reduced efficiency of marking but increased validity compared with examination, via deeper and more open-ended questions; increased reliability compared with coursework, by reduction of plagiarism through individualised questions; increased efficiency for setting questions compared with e-assessment, as there is no need to second-guess the limitations of user input and automated marking. Implementation was in a final year module intended to develop students’ graduate skills, including group work and real-world problem-solving. Individual work alongside a group project aimed to assess individual contribution to learning outcomes. The deeper, open-ended nature of the task did not suit timed examination conditions or automated marking, but the similarity of the individual and group tasks meant the risk of plagiarism was high. Evaluation took three forms: a second-marker experiment, to test reliability and assess validity; student feedback, to examine student views particularly about plagiarism and individualised assessment; and, comparison of marks, to investigate plagiarism. This paper will discuss the development and evaluation of this assessment approach in an undergraduate mathematics context.

Rowlett, P., 2014. Development and evaluation of a partially-automated approach to the assessment of undergraduate mathematics. *In*: S. Pope (ed.). *Proceedings of the 8th British Congress of Mathematics Education*. pp. 295-302. Available via: bsrlm.org.uk/IPs/ip34-2/BSRLM-IP-34-2-38.pdf.

**Edit 28/03/2014**: It seems these papers were released early in error, and have now been removed. The page on the BSRLM website says “The proceedings will be available here after 14 Apr 2014″.

**Edit 24/04/2014**: The papers have now appeared on the BSRLM website. I have reinstated the links in this post. The page numbers are different from those reported previously.

That is to say, the university have sent me a degree certificate, and I’ve shown it to the bank. So that’s pretty darn official.

]]>One of my students, Callum Mulligan, tweeted this question.

Why does 0! = 1 better yet, why does a^0 = 1 I must see a proof! #Mission #Unanswered #MathRage

— Callum Mulligan (@Calified) February 1, 2014

Saying “by definition” or “because it makes a bunch of stuff work” won’t cut it. So how to answer this question? To give a somewhat intuitive understanding of why this should be the case to a first year undergraduate. It may be obvious, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how to explain this, so I share some thoughts here.

Basically, I think it comes down to $1$ being the multiplicative identity.

Think about adding zero. If I take $x$ and add no things to it, I get $x+0=x$ (zero being the additive identity). Similarly, if I take $x$ and multiply it by no things, I ought to expect to get $x$ back, not $0$. The empty product must therefore be $1$, so that I get $1x=x$.

For $a^0$, think of this as $a$ multiplied by itself zero times. This is an empty product, so $a^0=1$.

$n!$ is $n$ things multiplied together, so $0!$ is zero things multiplied together. This, again, is an empty product, so $0!=1$.

I also came across some interesting ways to try to get a feeling for what is going on.

For $a^0$, I quite like this:

\[1=\frac{a^n}{a^n}=a^{n-n}=a^0\text{.}\]

Alternatively, since

\[a^b=a^{b+0}=a^ba^0\text{,}\]

it follows that $a^0=1$.

For $0!=1$, I quite like the reasoning that uses the definition of each factorial in terms of the previous. So $6!=6\times 5!$, and, in general,

\[ (n+1)!=(n+1)n!\text{.} \]

Rearranging this, we get

\[ n! = \frac{(n+1)!}{(n+1)}\text{.} \]

So

\[ 0! = \frac{1!}{1} = 1\text{.} \]

Also, if you like $n!$ as the number of ways of arranging $n$ objects, then think that there’s only one way to arrange zero objects, so $0!=1$.

I found this useful on ‘Why is x^0 = 1?‘ and this on 0!=1. I’d be interested to hear what you think in the comments. How do you convince someone that $a^0=1$ and $0!=1$ feel *right*?