Meeting with Mick

Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: I Don’t Want to Wait (Paula Cole)
Topic: Interviews

So, went and meet Mick Bromilow yesterday to discuss linear programming and software. I thought perhaps he knew about linear programming in the UK and the OU, but as it turns out he is not in the linear programming research area – so, not able to network there. But he did share some light on the M373 course since he was part of the team that developed it. According to him, M373 (which had various versions before) was developed because they considered they should have an optimization course as part of the applied mathematics degree. LP used to be taught in a level 2 course but was removed to make more room for other applied maths like mechanics.

Mick indicated that although simplex is taught there are better algorithms now available such as the interior point method which students should be taught but believed that the simplex will continue as it forms part of most linear programming curricula.

He indicated that previously in-house software was created for LP, but because the need for continuous updates a commercial software was chosen – the reason for MathCad. Also, most of the students would be familiar with MathCad since they would have used it since the entry into their OU course (not to mention OU has a licence for it) – and hence made sense to do linear programming in this way. They developed a number of worksheets templates for the students and in these the students are able to solve the problem using the matrix method rather than the tableau method for formulating the problem for solving. The course is not concerned with the students being proficient at solving the linear programming by hand, but rather being able to set up large scale problems to be solved. Hence, the MathCad just requires the student for pressing F9 to solve the problem. There is however a window in which they can see how the calculations are occurring in the background, although students are required to know the terms pivot point, pivot row they don’t actually need to know these for carrying out the computer solution. However, TMA questions may require the student to examine the background calculation window to describe what might be occurring.

The templates were developed by them and the LTS team to make sure they could be readable and understandable to the student.

He also indicated that as this is a maths course they weren’t too concerned about the graphics side of the LP, as that is only a 2 variable problem – but it is taught to give an understanding of how solutions are found (I’m not quite sure if this is what he actually said – but I think so ).

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