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GROWTH OF SULTAN QABOOS UNIVERSITY -With Special Reference to Mathematics & Statistics Dr. E.V. Krishnan Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics (DOMAS) Sultan Qaboos University (SQU). Topics. Education in Oman General information about SQU Academic system at SQU

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GROWTH OF SULTAN QABOOS UNIVERSITY-With Special Reference to Mathematics & StatisticsDr. E.V. KrishnanDept. of Mathematics and Statistics (DOMAS) Sultan Qaboos University (SQU)


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Topics

  • Education in Oman

  • General information about SQU

  • Academic system at SQU

  • Dept. of Mathematics & Statistics

  • Undergraduate & Graduate programs in DOMAS

  • Research Activities in DOMAS

  • Future Plans for DOMAS in general

  • Inclusion of Modern Technology in teaching Mathematics & Statistics


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Education in Oman: An Overview

  • Education in Oman has gained momentum at a staggering pace since 1970. At that time there were only 3 elementary schools in the entire country, with a total strength of 900+ pupils and about 30 teachers.

  • But, NOW, in a space of over 35 years, there are over 1000 schools in Oman, with more than 30,000 teachers employed in the schools with a student strength of over 600,000. About 90 % of the schools are Government run.

  • Also, there are Education Colleges, Institutes offering Diploma in Banking, Business Administration, Economics, Commerce and Computer Science, PrivateColleges including Engineering and Medical Colleges affiliated to universities in USA, UK, India etc. and a few private universities as well.


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SULTAN QABOOS UNIVERSITY (SQU)

SQU, the first and the only national University of Oman, is the premier institute of higher education in the country and is considered as a leading university in the Gulf and the Middle East.

One of the Mission statements of SQU says: Sultan Qaboos University is an institution that makes student learning its central focus, promotes research, enhances faculty and staff development in its various forms and exhibits organizational learning as it deals with the challenges facing it.

All the infrastructural facilities at SQU were completed in about 5 years starting from 1981.

It commenced its academic activities in September 1986 with a mere 557 undergraduate students admitted to five Colleges, but the annual intake has jumped to 2301 students in September, 2006.


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During the last two decades, SQU has witnessed rapid and all round expansion in many areas such as:

  • Students’ intake

  • Academic programs

  • Establishment of various centres

  • Facilities

  • Postgraduate education

  • Scientific research

  • Staff (academic, technical, and administrative)

  • Cultural activities

  • New colleges and buildings

  • Publication of in-house scientific journals.


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  • The University admits the best students from the school leavers of Oman strictly by merit.

  • Its graduates have successfully earned higher degrees, masters or doctoral, from well known Universities of USA, UK and a host of other western institutions around the world.

  • They are occupying key positions in premier organizations of Oman including Government Ministries, Petroleum Development of Oman, and SQU.


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SQU Colleges ( Number of Undergraduate degrees offered)

  • College of Arts and Social Sciences (12 degree programs)

    (including degrees in Theatre Arts, Archeology, Tourism)

  • College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences (8)

    (including Bio-resources and Agri. Engg, Marine Sciences, Food Sciences)

  • College of Commerce and Economics - Business School (8)

  • College of Education and Islamic Sciences (10)

    (including Bachelor’s degree in Science and Mathematics Education)

  • College of Engineering (5 degree programs)

  • College of Medicine and Health Sciences (3)

    (including two 4-year degrees, and the mainstream 7-year degree)

  • College of Science (12 Specializations)


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  • Biotechnology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Biology, Earth Science, Geophysics, Medical Laboratory Science, Physics, Physics with minor in Medical Physics,

  • Mathematics, Statistics, and Statistics with minor in Health Statistics.


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  • One of the aims of establishing various Colleges in the same campus was to promote interdisciplinary courses as well as research.

  • For instance, an SQU Mathematics Major or Statistics Major can choose certain number of electives from other Colleges such as Commerce and Economics, Engineering, Agriculture etc.


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Support Centers at SQU

  • The Deanship of Postgraduate Studies and Research (DOPSAR)

  • The Deanship of Students Affairs

  • The Deanship of Admission and Registration

  • The Deanship of Educational Services

  • Career Advisory Services

  • The Student Counseling and Guidance Centre

  • Centre for Information Systems (CIS)

  • Centre for Human Resources and Staff Development

  • Centre for Educational Technology (CET)

  • Centre for Continuing Education

  • Language Centre

    (This is the largest academic Department, and is responsible for teaching of English Language for all students at SQU).


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Scientific Centres at SQU

SQU has established nine Scientific Centres with the three main objectives:

  • To enhance specialized research activities at SQU

  • To offer scientific advice to the Government of Oman on key issues facing the nation

  • To conduct multi-disciplinary research which will render service to the industry and society at large


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Scientific Centres

  • Oil and Gas Research Centre

  • Water Research Centre

  • Communication and Information Research Centre

  • Remote Sensing Research Centre

  • Centre for Environmental Studies and Research

  • Centre for Omani Studies

  • Earthquake Monitoring Centre

  • Joint Virtual Reality Centre for Carbonate Studies

  • Central Analytical and Applied Research Facility


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  • Attached to the University is a 500-bed “state of the art” Teaching Hospital (SQUH).

  • It was opened in 1990 by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.

  • SQUH has a staff establishment of over 1300 personnel, including 250 + academic staff and over 1000 support staff.

  • The hospital has advanced diagnostic equipment and specialist departments for paediatrics, gynaecology, internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry and cardiology.


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The Academic System at SQU

  • SQU follows the credit-hour system which has a fair balance between horizontal and vertical education with adequate flexibility.

  • The system is based on successful completion of a number of credit hours at levels specified by the University for the award of the Bachelor’s degree.

  • The academic year consists of two main semesters: Fall (Sept.-Dec.) and Spring (Feb.- May), each with duration of 15 teaching weeks followed immediately by a 2-week exam period.

  • The Summer semester, paced at twice the teaching rate of a course in a normal semester, is for 7 teaching weeks followed by one week of exam, and it caters only to a specific set of students.


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Each course is graded by a letter grade with the corresponding grade point averages as follows:

  • A (4.0)

  • A- (3.7)

  • B+ (3.3)

  • B(3.0)

  • B-(2.7)

  • C+(2.3)

  • C(2.0)

  • C-(1.7)

  • D+(1.3)

  • D(1.0)

  • F(0.0)

    Each course and each instructor associated with every course, is officially evaluated by students on a 4-point scale.


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The Degree Programs and Assessment Criteria

  • SQU offers mainly Bachelor’s degrees (4-7 years duration) and Master degree ( 2 year course work including a thesis project).

  • The main course components of a Bachelor’s degree are:

    - University Requirements

    - College Requirements

  • Departmental Requirements

  • College Electives


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Assessments

  • The University regulations require that each course at SQU, with possibly some exceptions, have at least 3 components:

  • Quizzes, In-term tests, Assignments, Seminars, including a mandatory final exam.

  • For each assessment component, a range is prescribed with no component exceeding 60% of the total.


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Academic Advising

  • Among various duties expected of an SQU faculty, the “Academic Advising” is considered by SQU Administration as an important task.

  • Each faculty at SQU is asked to be an “Academic Adviser” to a group of 20-25 students from the faculty’s College/Department during the course of student’s stay in the University.

  • The main role of the adviser will be to guide the student so that he/she may have a smooth progression through his/her degree plan.

  • The important tasks for an adviser also include, among others, to advise students under him in selecting appropriate courses, choosing a correct career, to help solve his academic difficulties, etc.


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First 7 Faculty Members of DOMAC, 1986


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MATHEMATICS AND STATISTICS AT SQU

  • It is among the largest academic departments at SQU with 54 faculty members (49 with Ph. D. degree, 4 with Masters Degree and 1 with Batchelor’s degree), 3 coordinators and 1 technician.

  • The Department of Mathematics and Statistics (DOMAS), formerly known as Department of Mathematics and Computing (DOMAC), is almost solely responsible for mathematics and statistics education at SQU – for Math majors, other Science majors as well as service courses.

  • It has a huge commitment for Service Teaching across the University. For instance, in the academic year 2006-2007, DOMAS offered a total of 90 courses in mathematics and statistics to over 6000 SQU students across the University. It is among the largest service teaching departments at SQU.


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Structure

  • The HOD manages the administration of the Department through the coordination of the Deputy HOD, several committees and officers responsible for various activities.

  • The Departmental Board, comprising all academic staff members of DOMAS, elects the committee members and officers each year, and they report regularly to the DOMAS Board at the mandatory monthly meetings.


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Department’s Main Objectives

  • Help young Omanis to acquire and develop skills in Mathematics and Statistics.

  • Maintain high standards of teaching and research.

  • Provide requisite mathematical and statistical skills for students majoring in other disciplines of SQU.

  • Produce its own graduates who can serve the nation with enthusiasm, confidence and necessary skills.

  • Work with College of Education and Islamic Sciences to produce mathematics teachers, who could serve the need of the nation as effective teachers or educational administrators.


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Undergraduate Programs

  • Starting with just one degree in 1986, DOMAS strives hard to continuously broaden its appeal and now offers three degrees:

  • B.Sc. in Mathematics

  • B.Sc. in Statistics

  • B.Sc. in Statistics with minor in Health Statistics


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Students take a minor of 20 credits from other disciplines in the College or from College of Commerce and Economics.

Students doing any major in the College of Science spend 10 semesters at the University.

At least one semester is devoted to the English Language in the very first semester of the degree program, and the remaining 9 to the specialized courses of their degree program.

However, those who pass the challenge examination in English can go directly to the credit program.


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  • A successful completion of a total of 135 credits (roughly 5 courses per semester) and a minimum cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 2.0 ( from a maximum of 4.0) are required to graduate in a math/Science degree.

  • Students opting for a B.Sc. in Mathematics or Statistics must complete 48 credits prescribed by the Department.

  • Besides the core courses, a student has the freedom to choose as electives specialized math and/or stat courses, to broaden the student’s horizon and career.


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Undergraduate Projects

One of the highlights of DOMAS undergraduate programs is the six-credit Undergraduate Projects, which constitute an important part of our mainstream B.Sc. programs.

  • The intensity of activities in the DOMAS corridors and College of Science Seminar rooms during the 13th and 14th weeks of a semester is an ample proof of the seriousness and enthusiasm with which the students take projects.

  • In the first few years, the number of credits for the project was nine.


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The main aims of UG projects are:

  • To train the students to work as a team, to work independently, and manage time effectively;

  • To familiarize them with specific mathematical and statistical techniques and their applications;

  • To introduce them to library search method;

  • To train them in their collection of relevant information and in its analysis, organization and presentation in a coherent form;

  • To summarize their project highlights in a department seminar.


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  • The students of DOMAS have, in the past, also carried out specific projects at the request of or with the help of prospective employers such as government ministries, oil companies and banks.


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Drop-in Centre

  • DOMAS, with the help of part time tutors with M.Sc. qualification and a few teaching assistants, provides extra help to students who need help in courses such as Precalculus, Calculus I, Calculus II and the first course in Statistics.

  • This is essentially meant for underperformers. The Department is trying its best to improve the study habits of the students and thus attract weak students to the drop-in centre. The department had a couple of workshops to address this issue.

  • Besides the part time tutors and the teaching assistants, a large number of faculty is also involved in helping the students at the Drop-in Centre.


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Graduate Programs

  • The M.Sc. programs, one each in Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics and Statistics, have begun only in the last few years.

  • They are designed to provide deeper understanding of the subject material and to develop independent thinking through research activities in mathematics and statistics.

  • So far, 6 students in Applied Math, 2 in Pure Math and 3 in Statistics have successfully graduated with M.Sc. degree from DOMAS.


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  • The programs are designed to run for two years, and include a course work (24 credits = 4 core courses + 4 electives) and a research project.

  • Some students, particularly coming from the Education Colleges are required to do an additional year of courses called Bridging year before embarking upon the master programs.


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  • Students are required to give two project seminars, one during the semester they start their project about their proposed study and one towards the end of the program about their work in the thesis.

  • An external assessor from another university and two examiners within the university assess the thesis.

  • Ph. D. rules and regulations are being discussed by the University authorities and most departments are contemplating the start of Ph. D. studies in the near future.


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Research

  • The DOMAS considers scientific research as an integral part of its mission. The SQU administration too formally expects each faculty to be involved in research work and to publish regularly. There are several active research groups in the fields such as:

  • Analysis, Algebra, Topology, Functional Analysis, Fluid Dynamics, Nonlinear Waves, Mathematical Modelling, Numerical Analysis, Time Series, Design of Experiments, Sampling and Multivariate Analysis, Biostatistics, and Operations Research.


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  • Some groups collaborate with other departments within the College, with faculty of Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering and Medicine, with leading local organizations of the Sultanate or Universities abroad, including applied research on problems of relevance to the nation, e.g. sand movement, ground water research etc.

  • The department has very active programs of weekly seminars on general and specified areas by academic staff or visitors.

  • Each year, a large number of DOMAS visitors from abroad, on short-term appointment as teaching consultants or for collaborating in research with SQU faculty, give specialized seminars.

  • DOMAS faculty is known to publish their research results in internationally recognized journals and conference proceedings.

  • Several faculty members serve as editors and referees in reputed journals, and have been honored by international organizations for their research work.


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  • The SQU administration funds a large number of research projects in which funds are available for a research visit in Universities abroad and a research consultant from a University.

  • The administration also provides partial support to SQU faculty in attending and presenting papers in one international conference per calendar year.


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Facilities and Equipments

  • DOMAS considers the use of technology in teaching and learning as an essential part of education process. Some Faculty members are using WebCT for their courses.

  • The students are now encouraged to use symbolic software packages such as Mathematica, Maple or Matlab in their courses. SQU has acquired licenses in adequate numbers for many of them.


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  • Statistics courses in DOMAS make extensive use of packages such as SPSS, SAS and MINITAB in classroom instructions.

  • Besides its own computing labs and a lab for Health Statistics program, the well equipped labs spread across the University are available for the courses needing computing element.


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  • Separate Resource rooms for final year Undergraduate students and Master students are well equipped.

  • Each staff in DOMAS has a PC in his or her office, which is connected to university network and 24-hour internet.

  • Advanced computer facilities are available to staff, including access to a Unix workstation.


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Future Plans for DOMAS

  • New programs that address the needs of the society:

  • Investigate the possibility of offering diplomas, joint degrees with other departments, and minors, for example, Diploma in Statistics, Mathematics with Finance/Management, Statistics with Operations Research etc.


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Graduate Studies and Research

  • Revise and update the M.Sc. courses and introduce the Ph. D. program which will create a productive research environment in the department.

  • It will also promote a better research atmosphere than what exists now through research groups, seminars within the research groups and speakers from universities abroad.

  • We have existing facilities for exchange of visits through internal research grants among researchers and we hope the University will provide the same for longer duration.


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  • Recently, Sabbatical Leave has been introduced and hope this will be continued in the future so that it will lead to fruitful interaction between researchers.

  • The Department Strategic Plan has recommended conducting 3 research workshops, one each in Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics in the coming three years.

  • The Department had a few separate workshops in Complex Analysis, Topology and Algebra with speakers from other gulf Universities and SQU in the last 5 years.


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Manpower Resources

  • The Department does not have sufficient competent technical staff. Currently, we have only one and we intend to have two more for the smooth running of our labs and for attending to the computer related queries of our staff in this large department.

  • We have Omanization plans and to achieve this, we assess the current distribution of Omani faculty, and set up a plan for Omanization with respect to different specializations.


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Equipments

  • The existing labs have been upgraded and three more teaching labs have been set up.

  • The undergraduate and graduate resource rooms have been upgraded with more computers and printers.

  • Also, it will be ensured that academic staff has up-to-date computing facilities with fast computers for those who do extensive computations.


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Buildings

  • Currently we are facing shortage of space and in the future it will be ensured that adequate office space is available for faculty, demonstrators, teaching assistants and the Drop-in Centre.

  • At the moment there is no common room where the staff can interact which will hopefully be available when the new building comes into existence.


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Interfacial Activities

  • We intend to develop and maintain links with relevant government ministries and industries and consulting services for people and departments on and off campus for which we will establish a database of experts and research interests within the Department.

  • Also, we will establish formal consultancy groups in the Department and advertise the services provided. The Statistical Consultancy Group is already functional.

  • We will also enhance the department’s profile on and off campus by advertising its programs and activities, including their relevance to Oman.


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Inclusion of Modern Technology in Teaching

Most of the Mathematics courses in DOMAS are offered in the traditional way of lectures and tutorials of problem solving.

  • In the latest curriculum revision, efforts have been made to introduce technology in teaching and learning in a number of courses.

  • With the acquisition of some new computer laboratories this will be implemented very soon.


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  • Calculus is the core requirement for science and engineering students and is one of the most difficult aspects of undergraduate mathematics education.

  • Theory of limits is the basis of calculus and major concepts such as continuity, derivative, and definite integral are all defined by limit. This concept is new for most of the beginners and is different from arithmetic operations.

  • It is the bridge from elementary mathematics to advanced mathematics.

  • Thus the limit concept requires the learners to study mathematics with different thinking and study methods to advance from elementary mathematics.


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  • From my experience, I feel that many students need new approaches and powerful tools to overcome the difficulty in studying limit concepts which will help to have a smooth transition from secondary level to the tertiary level.

  • Computer Technology is a powerful tool and a helpful aid in teaching and learning mathematics.

  • Computation, visualization, and animation which are its components could be helpful in developing new approaches to the teaching of the limit concept.

  • This will help students to overcome their difficulty in understanding this important concept.


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  • During the years of teaching undergraduate courses, one of the things we have heard most from students is that they wish they had constant and immediate access for instant and unlimited tutorial help.

  • Whenever needed, some one could answer their questions and grade their homework, day or night.

  • This is possible only with technology.

  • Our objective is to develop an on-line learning and tutorial system which can play exactly that role for students.


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  • The scheme should have four components: initial log-in; material review; self test and on-line test.

  • The database management must contain a problem bank in its database and store all the data from users for instructor's use.

  • The problem bank includes problems such as testing understanding of concepts, solving equations and working on word problems.


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  • After log-in, they can select the chapter or the section they wish to start with.

  • In each chapter or section, one can choose to review the material and concepts, or self testing, or take an on-line test.

  • The system will report the results to instructor as a reference of student class performance.


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  • In the Review component, the system will provide the explanation of the concepts for each section.

  • User can go back and forth to learn and understand the concepts until they feel comfortable and fully understand.

  • For example, with the concept of limit which is one of the most difficult topics in beginning level Calculus course, system puts a function curve on the screen.


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  • When user uses mouse to approach any point along the curve, both x and y coordinates appear when the cursor moves. They can see exactly how y coordinate changes when x moves.

  • Another example is the definition of continuity and derivative. User can see how slope of the secant line approaches the slope of the tangent line by looking at the animated display on the screen.


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  • In the self testing component, the system will randomly take problems from its bank, selected by the instructor, and a digital clock is at the corner for timing purpose.

  • For each problem, if user gets the right answer it will move to the next problem, otherwise it can ask the user to re-try.

  • After several unsuccessful attempts, the system will prompt the answer with explanation.

  • The number of allowed re-try's will be configured by instructor.

  • At the end of each test, the system will produce a detailed report of the results, including the correct answer for each problem and user's input, how many attempts were made, time for each problem and total time of the test.


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  • Although not officially recorded as student performance, these data will be statistically collected for instructor's teaching reference.    

  • In the on-line test component, problems will be selected from the same bank.

  • The format, the number of problems and the type of problems will be exactly the same as in the self test component.

  •  But user will not be given chances to re-try any problems, and the scores will be recorded to both students and instructor, as a measurement of their performance.


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LEARNING OUTCOMES

  • The learning outcome from this using the technology is expected to be very positive.

  • Students and instructor will benefit from it tremendously. Student will be able to master the material much better, and have a stand-by tutor available 24 hours a day as long as they have internet access.

  • They will have their homework graded instantly when they practise, and know how well they understand the material by self testing.

    CURRICULUM

  • It is the need of the hour to integrate the system in our curriculum as part of our teaching and testing mechanism, starting from Precalculus and Calculus courses.


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  • Many universities and colleges have already embraced technology for years and it is high time we follow the path and have standardized uniform tests in those courses.


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Acknowledgement

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the following colleagues of mine who gave me encouragement and valuable suggestions:

  • Dr. Nirmal Sacheti

  • Dr. Mohammed Saleh

  • Dr. Ali Benmerzouga

  • Dr. Pallath Chandran

  • Dr. Charles Bakheit


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A BIG THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR LISTENING TO MY TALK


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