Suggestions and Comments

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Click on Comments to read comments and suggestions from students.


Therese Jones said:

The several comments I have are:

1. I think that perhaps the course at PSU should have been more math-based and less computer-based. PSU students seemed to struggle with methods of solving differential equations by hand (I took math 251 two years ago, so the material is not fresh), and could have used more of a review. I think it's much easier to understand the computational aspect if you understand the pure mathematics first.

2. Tell students to bring their differential equations books (from 251 or otherwise) with them. Matt brought his, and due to our failing memories of what we did in 251, the book has been very useful.

3. Perhaps a different textbook or supplementary textbook would have been good to describe more of the pure mathematical concepts our book covered. Many of us think that the book jumps around a lot, and it doesn't give a lot of examples for us to follow (maybe the 251 book covers these things, although I think we cover more material in this class).

Therese Jones

Nathan Doty said:

1) In order to increase the interaction between the students from different schools, I believe it should be more strongly encouraged that they not only do more work with one another, but also that they spend more time outside of campus together. It can seem awkward and even difficult to interact with one another and I feel that the professors can provide a more vital role in this aspect.

2) Previous training in matlab should be strongly encouraged, if not required, in the recruitment process.

3) I feel that it would be beneficial to meet more than once a week during the spring semester. Like any other class, it is simply easier to remain caught up with the material if there's more frequent class time.

~for the first of its kind, I feel that this program has been very successful in meeting its goals; there are changes that should be made in order to increase efficiency however

XIANTAO LI Author Profile Page said:

I agree with both Therese and Nathan. I think that perhaps in the Spring semester, we should have reviewed some materials on differential equations before we discuss computational methods. I also agree that we should meet more often each week to make sure everyone can follow.

I think some students from China are quite involved in some of the activities, even outside the classroom. But some other students are kind of shy to interact with students from Penn State, maybe because they are not confident about their language skills.

Another problem I have discovered is that since all the lectures are in English, some of the local students have trouble connecting some technical concepts or notations to what they have learned before, which was in Chinese. Either we let them figure it out by themselves or we can recommend a similar textbook that is in Chinese.

One last thing is the students from PSU do not have access to printers. We need to ask the math department for such access.

Yongjia Song said:

I think the whole activity is well-organized, especially the culture activities, including visiting places of interest and famous restraunts.

The course, although every professor have prepared for it completely and carefully, is too short. We are not able to get the whole view of either analytical differential equations or numerical concepts. So I suggest that professors leave some references and articals after each point, for those who are going to continue the study in PDE, this could be a much better help.

I also have some points of view on the extra-curriculum activities. Admitted that culture activity is the most important, some sports should also be taken into consideration. In my point of view, to take sports together may be a good way to improve the interaction between students. So I advise you to organize some sports like tennis, basketball and so on next time.

Thank you very much!

Desmond Kinuthia said:

Having completed with the course this morning, I wanted to leave my comments on how the class fared and some suggestions for future programs.

Firstly I'd like to say that this was a well organized program between PSU and PKU. It was great to have the opportunity to come to Beijing and further my knowledge in Numerical Analysis.
A small portion of the material of this class was taught in PSU. We had one lecture per week, where we mainly focused on the fundamental topics and were assigned HW respectively. Given that this is a four credit class, I believe there would be more value added if there were a minimum of two lectures a week at PSU. Additionally a couple of small project assignments would also help with familiarizing the students to MatLab. This was something a number of the students struggled with.

Once at PKU, it was my feeling that some of the lectures were very rushed, however the graduate TA's were very accessible and willing to help. There has been a lot of material that we’ve learnt in a short four weeks but all in all I felt the class structure was tolerable and I really enjoyed working on the group project. Being an exchanged program I really enjoyed interacting and befriending some of the local students. The final presentation of our project was a great idea and I think is something that should be kept for future programs.

To conclude I felt that the program was very successful. A mix of Mathematics and Tourism in China has been a great experience and one that I will not forget.

Zai Jin

Sylvie Garrett said:

I agree with what has already been said about the following:

-We should meet more often in the Spring semester, and cover more of the basic material. I took ODEs instead of PDEs, so in the spring when we jumped straight into numerical analysis I had no idea what was going on. In the future I think it would be good to make sure that students understand the anlytical portion well, before they learn the numerical.

-Matlab should be emphasized more in the spring. I have used Matlab often before, but never for the sort of thing we were doing in this class. Several in our class had never used Matlab or even had a programming class before. If optional programming assignments were given (not involving in-depth math), these people could catch up.

-Interactions between PSU and PKU students should be encouraged more. I like the idea of organized sports to get to know each other better. The PSU students should also be encouraged to work with PKU students on homework as well. For the most part I worked with other PSU students on homework, but there were two or three PKU students that worked with us on a regular basis, and I got to know these students fairly well.

In addition to those things,

-I do not think that there should be a research project at Penn State in the spring, or at least not one that is similar to the ones we were given. As a non-math major, math research is not something I am interested in doing (especially not while I am taking an overly full course load of classes from my major). The research projects could be mentioned as something for those who are interested to pursue on their own, but for me, the project detracted from the time I could have spent trying to learn the course material.

Although there are several things that I would change in the future, this was still a very good program, and I enjoyed myself a lot. Here are a few things that I particulary liked:

-The interactions with local students are definitely a strong point of the program. I had a great time getting to know some of my PKU classmates, and I am hoping that I can stay in contact with them after leaving. I think that the ties we made with the students will be beneficial as well if any of them come to Penn State for grad school, since they would already have friends in what for some might be there first home away from home.

-I got to go visit all of the local "attractions" that I wanted to. We had very good support from the professors, TAs, and local students while assisting in our trips, without which we would have probably had a hard time finding our way around the city.

-The financial support for the class was awesome. Not only were airfare, housing, and food covered, but we also did not have to pay for most of the tickets for the places we went to visit. Since we are all poor college students, this was definitely a plus.

Overall, the program was a great experience. As Desmond said, math and tourism all in one!

Sylvie Garrett

RYAN THOMAS MODRAK Author Profile Page said:

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like the last three weeks went by extremely quickly? Here are some of my thoughts about the trip:

About a week ago, I was reminded of the existence of this blog in an unexpected way. I was surprised to hear that the comments and experiences described here might carry some weight. Thus for the past week now, I've been pondering what to write. (Also, I promised Dr. Liu I'd write a full blown essay :D)

First, some common sense remarks. The nature of an embedded program is that you have almost all the advantages--i.e. all the strikingly new experiences and interactions--of a non-embedded program, plus a built-in group of friends from your own college or university. You have an added feeling security during the trip, plus the fact that some of the friends you make will be your friends when you get back as well. A quick side note: In addition to creating close friendships, I've heard somewhere that overseas programs have been known to foster romantic relationships as well. Well, looks likes this holds true for our group as well ;)

Having made the above general comments, I should say that general remarks alone fail to describe just how enjoyable and beneficial this program has been. When sightseeing abroad, the importance of a committed and knowledgeable guide can't be underestimated. In this respect, Dr. Liu has been fantastic.

I understand that this course is a pilot program and that the PSU and PKU professors are in need of some practical input concerning the students' academic experience. Here are a few tips and observations:

1.) Besides the fact that it took place abroad, the most special feature of the course was the opportunity for interaction with faculty. Faculty involvement on this trip has been beyond anything I might have expected, and far beyond what normally is seen at Penn State.

2.) By far the most glaring aspect of the course was the difference in the level of prior knowledge among participants. Among the PKU students I counted at a dozen or so computational math majors. As far as I could tell, all but a handful of PKU students were math majors of some type or other. I got the feeling that for many, the material here was largely a review. In contrast, less than half the Penn State students were math majors. Perhaps only one or two had a computational background. Far from being a review, for many of the Penn State students, this was their first acquaintance with rigorous math. Most of the difficulties encountered in the course, I believe, can be explained by the above disparities. To provide an example, for the majority of Penn State students, the unfamiliarity with the terms "C1 fucntion" or "L2 norm" made the last two lectures by Prof. Zhiping Li (although they were of extremely high quality) very difficult to follow. Likewise, for the PKU students, the considerable class time spent reviewing separation of variables might have been a strain. This course was numbered as 400 level, and rightly so. As such, I feel that for the Penn State students, previous high level course work (above the 200 level) should have been a prerequisite.

3.) Certainly, I feel, the teachers for the course recognized the disparities pointed out above. Most of the lectures were effective at finding a compromise between those who knew very well what was going on and those who had little idea. By getting the word out about the program and selecting a more homogeneous group of participants, future programs might surpass the already high degree of success achieved this summer.

4.) From a standpoint of content and material alone, the course was well organized and solidly taught. The textbook was excellent and provided a necessary level of structure. The result of the careful planning which went into the course, I feel, was a well balanced curriculum that, given additional experience on the part of the students, would have yielded even greater returns.

5.) Having just come back from Dr. Liu's session about grad school earlier today, I can say that the quality of the advice I've gotten on this trip beats anything else I've had at Penn State. The research talks given last week, for instance, were most invaluable. I now feel that all 400 level courses should include a presentation about the professor's research as a mandatory requirement for the professor.

6.) As a visitor to Peking University, time and time again I felt myself feeling thankful for the graciousness our hosts. Besides being able and willing to talk to us in English, the local students were helpful in showing us around the campus and also very good at basketball and karaoke. Overall, I feel like I got to know two or three PKU students fairly well. I was impressed by their knowledge about math, the United States, and current events. I will look back on this trip, I think, as one of the highlights of my time in college.

Wu Yu (Peking Univ.) said:

I strongly agree with Sylvie about the homework part. Actually I really enjoyed the time we spent together trying to figure out homework problems before the due date. We had a long discussion and learnt a lot from each other. So I think it would be beneficial if we have some problems open to discuss in large groups.
Besides, I enjoyed the whole course and all the activities, including visits, dinners, sports, clubbing, and especially, the birthday party of Sylvie. ;-)
Thanks to all the teachers and students from PSU and PKU!

September 2010

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