To err or not to err

The other day a colleague was talking about “making sense of mathematics”. That brought back memories. Years ago, when I and my batch-mates had just started programming on a real computer for the first time (before that we learnt programming only as theory, computers were too expensive to be affordable for my institute, yes stone age….),  one of my batch-mates had the following code in his program,

If (a>b) then


We incessantly laughed about it (and still do). (OK I admit it, I was about to write something as ingenious, but caught myself in time). When I put this bit of programming wizardry on a social forum another contributor came up with the following gem,

If (a>b)  goto 10

Code ……

10     goto 100

Code …..

100    …………………….

He wrote that the girl who had written the above code was aptly nick-named “go to 10 to go to 100”.  A  professor once told me about people who write the code but forget to output the results, he remarked, even if no one else knows, the computer does know the results (though now, with neural nets,  that statement has taken up a completely new meaning).

On a more serious note, I remember after submitting a particularly tough analysis in an exam,  my Prof. , as was his practice, discussed a bunch of solutions in the class. After discussing my solution (which was wrong), he turned to me and asked,” why didn’t you cross-check?”. I was crest-fallen and thoroughly embarrassed, because cross-checking was very easy and immediately told me that I had goofed.

Through the years I have seen such errors being made by students quite so often.  People get carried away by the processes too much and forget to run simple checks to see how meaningful their outcome has been.  I believe this happens at multiple levels in life, with consequences of corresponding magnitudes.  Teachers get too much involved in grading the students correctly (a colleague, once showed me an old evaluation he had done, ( 2.36 out of 5 marks), and then sheepishly said that he did not really mean that good a resolution) and end up ignoring the  actual goal of learning.

As one of the chef’s in the show “Master-chef Australia” says, taste everything that you cook.

Tech Enabled Education

When some of the online tools and resources are used in the classroom, the student experience becomes quite rich. Following are screenshots from some of my courses


I made my lectures available on moodle which is a course management software, and made them available on the internet to everyone, not just my class. There was a discussion forum for students to interact and ask questions and all course related material, including attendance and grading was available from anywhere.


It was possible to give quizzes which were flexible in the sense that students got randomly selected questions from a question bank and could answer the quiz on their mobile phones. The quizzes got corrected instantly and could be accessed by students from anywhere.

Interesting open source resources made the courses interesting. I used quite a bit of media from wikipedia. The rewards kept coming in interesting ways. My favorite is that when I was teaching a class in a huge auditorium with about 250 students present, as soon as an animation started, I saw a student nudge his neighbor and asked him to look up because something interesting was taking place.


Designs in Action

We had been debating pros and cons of getting students work away from home.

  • It makes them connect and work with new environments and cultures, against it increases the responsibility of faculty members for students wellbeing.
  • It makes them independent versus how do we enforce discipline?

So when the opportunity presented to accompany the Olin colleges ADE (Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship)  team at their “cycle-rickshaw project” site we happily grabbed it. Prafullbhai, the then VC of the Ahmedabad University was very upbeat about learning from the experts and gave us all necessary support.  I am glad we did, because the experience was amazing.


One cold winter morning, I found myself waiting at the airport for one of the team members, the chirpy and irrepressible Radhika, after I picked her up, chatting about books from Rand to Tolstoy, we draw down to one of the tiny streets of the old city in Ahmedabad, an area I had never visited before to pick-up axels, flanked by several curious urchins and one or two well-dressed goats (in the winter someone had the bright idea of dressing up their goats in discarded cloths).

I could visit the team on-site only for four days due to other engagements but was impressed by the teams discipline and the buzz of activities. We shared all mealtimes, laughter, anecdotes and work-notes.