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Mathcad White Paper: Visualising Solutions at Queens College

    Students use Mathcad to visualise patterns, build general ideas about science

    “We wanted something that allowed students from all different kinds of experiences and backgrounds to get involved in math, computer sciences, and other hard sciences. We started looking for a visual tool and found Mathcad!”

    First and second year computer science students at Queens College in Flushing, NY, are getting help with visualisation, modelling, and algorithm building from an unlikely source: Mathcad. Professor Bon Sy explains:

    “Within computer science, a typical task is to build an algorithm. Students program in Mathcad using the animation feature, and then we help them extend beyond that. We’ll do an animation of an object flying around, but then make it more complex by introducing turbulence through the use of Mathcad’s random number generator. Then, within that context we introduce the concept of a quadratic model.”

    In Professor Sy’s experience, students at Queens College tend to be more visual, and don’t like learning formulas. Mathcad’s visual interface helps them connect with more abstract concepts. After working with Mathcad in the Computer Science department for 5 years, Professor Sy and his colleagues are now trying to draw in students from other disciplines, such as Biochemistry and Environmental Science, to use Mathcad for data analysis. In general, he says, students use Mathcad “to visualise patterns and then build more general ideas about science.”

    “When I show Mathcad to students, they are always amazed,” he says. Even in graduate classes, such as data mining, Mathcad is a useful tool. “We use it with high dimensional data sets to teach them how to visualize space. We use projections and animations to get a handle on the data.”

    From non-technical majors to graduate computer science students, Mathcad serves many Queens College students because of its ease of use and versatility. Professor Sy explains: “Our user base is more liberal arts and sciences; we might have a music student trying to visualize a tune, for example. For a student like that, Mathcad is just easier to use than other products.” He also notes that Mathcad is a lifelong tool for many students. “They can go back to it whenever they want to for other math and science classes. It’s such an aid for learning.”

    Professor Sy and his colleagues also like the support they get from Mathsoft, the makers of Mathcad, from the help desk to development. “We really like the support staff,” says Professor Sy. “And we like that Mathsoft tries to get users involved in the product development cycle through betas.”

    As Queens College prepares its students for a wide range of academic and professional pursuits, its pedagogy is firm. According to Professor Sy, Mathcad provides a “tangible vehicle to illuminate how to learn in an alternative way. We have certain learning paradigms, and Mathcad helps us do things our way.”