Monday, January 1, 2018

Yes, Scantrons Still Require a Pencil


Do Scantron machines still require that the forms be filled out in pencil? You'll find many sites online that claim the answer to be "no", that was only truly a requirement some decades ago, and that one should feel free today to use any dark pen ink (example). However, with a colleague at my college I've recently tested this (December, 2017) on two different recent models of Scantron machines, and found that blank ink is entirely not seen by either machine (all such answers scored as if blank/incorrect). So from the evidence at hand, the answer seems to be "Yes, Scantrons still require a pencil".


A standard Scantron answer sheet was filled out in standard pencil, with three questions marked. A student response form was filled out using a black felt-tip PaperMate Flair pen (link), with two questions marked correctly and one answer incorrectly. See forms below.

Scantron forms; sample student response in black ink on the right.

These were run through two separate machine available at our college: a Scantron 888P+ and a Scantron Score. Both systems are identified as using OMR (Optical Mark Recognition), which several online sites claim should work identically for pencil and ink. I've been unable to find exact dates of production, but the Scantron Score is a newer model. The 888P+ has been installed at our college for at least 12 years; the Score was installed more recently, I think some time after 2010. Both models tested are shown below.

Scantron 888P+

Scantron Score


On both Scantron machines, the sample student form in ink was marked with all submitted answers wrong, the same as if every entry was blank. See the image of the forms above, with the sample response for graded on the right. Every question has a letter to the right, indicating correction of an incorrect student response; the total score in the bottom-right is 000 (zero) for both models. (This form is double-marked after being run through the two machines; 888P+ markings are in red, while Score markings are black.)


Scantron OMR machines, even fairly modern ones in the last few years (as of 2017), fail to recognize marks with blank ink all of the times we tested it, across two different models. Instructors should continue insisting that students bring pencils to tests graded with Scantron machines, and make sure to not advise students that ink pens will work the same way.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Quiz on Finding Intercepts at Automatic-Algebra

We added a new quiz to the Automatic-Algebra site recently: a speed drill in finding intercepts for linear equations written in standard form. This supports speed-graphing lines written in this same defining format, or as usually presented for systems of linear equations (and, of course, is a commonly assessed skill on basic algebra exams). Please check it out and send any feedback that you might have!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Bill Gates Tries Again

Announced last week: Bill Gates will pouring another $1.7 billion into various education initiatives in the next few years. He has previously spent over $5 billion on various initiatives which he admits hasn't shown much in the way of results. This time:
He said most of the new money — about 60 percent — will be used to develop new curriculums and “networks of schools” that work together to identify local problems and solutions, using data to drive “continuous improvement.” He said that over the next several years, about 30 such networks would be supported, though he didn’t  describe exactly what they are. The first grants will go to high-needs schools and districts in six to eight states, which went unnamed.
Sounds a heck of a lot like Achieving the Dream (the network for community colleges).

More at Washington Post.

Monday, October 2, 2017

NY Times on Coding Boot Camp Closures

Recently several large coding boot camp institutes closed their doors, suggest that we may have a bursting bubble in that sector. Among them are (1) Dev Bootcamp, bought by Kaplan, with 6 schools, and (2) The Iron Yard, backed by Apollo Education (Phoenix University), at 15 campuses.

This article asserts that the average course lasts 14 weeks and costs $11,400. Some courses last 26 weeks and cost $26,000. The sector is apparently transitioning such that about half of the registrants are individuals paying on their own, and half are companies paying for employees to up-skill.

Among the difficulties are that the boot camp model only works with intense, face-to-face interactions, and therefore has difficulty scaling to modern profitability levels (contrast this with the MOOC model which seeks to cheaply automate learning for hundreds of thousands, but has failed catastrophically at trying to create success for low-skilled and remedial students). While the Flatiron School in New York has an online offering, it costs $1,500 per month, and personal instructors online throughout the day (the article includes a story of the vice president making a phone call to one panicked student).
“Online boot camp is an oxymoron,” said Mr. Craig of University Ventures. “No one has figured out how to do that yet.”

New York Times.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Thesis Defense Horror Stories

A rich assortment of STEM thesis defense horror stories of the format, "Famous professor X disproved this guy's thesis at his defense in thirty seconds". An example:
A case I know of first-hand: A doctoral student in engineering developed some powerful pattern matching theorems based on various transformations including one that was introduced in a major conference paper. At the student's defense one of the examiners pointed out an example showing that the transformation doesn't have one of the key claimed properties. The student sat silent for a minute and then simply said that his thesis is wrong. The examiners were shocked and assured him that the situation couldn't be that bad. It turned out that it was that bad and the student did not complete his doctorate. Fortunately his advisor helped him land a good job in which he has established a successful career.

Computational Complexity

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Difference Between Humantities and Mathematics

Consider the charts of Polish national high-school exit exams below.

From Imgur. Discussion on Reddit.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Matt Might on How to Get Tenure

Matt Might, faculty at U. Alabama (and several other institutions), writes on how to get tenure, or more generally, how to approach an academic career with a sense of inspiration. Key takeaway:
Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn’t become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.
Matt Might.