The Python in My Syllabus

By Steph Solis, Staff Writer
@stephmsolis

Just because Professor Carruthers can./PHOTO VIA Steph Solis

Most professors dive into their lessons on the first day of class, but engineering professor Jeffrey Carruthers took a different approach with his students.

Students in EK128, “Engineering Computation,” which teaches students the programming language Python, looked through their syllabus and found that the professor included an algorithm for how the class will be grade — in Python.

The algorithm shows an example of one student’s results, calculating the final grade to be a B+.

“The code below, which you will understand eventually, shows you how grades will be assigned given a set of scores,” the syllabus reads. “Most of the course will be graded by Python scripts instead of humans.”

The language, named after the British comedy “Monte Python and the Flying Circus,” can be used to program anything from computer games to robots. It is seen as an alternative to MATLAB, another programming language (there is ongoing debate about which one is worth learning/using).

Carruthers said the introductory engineering course focuses on problem solving using Python and Python tools known as “SciPy” for engineering (number crunching, plotting, etc.).

The professor used to prepare his syllabuses with help from programming languages and then produced a polished PDF that hid the process. So he decided to give his students a chance to see that work.

“I give them an active piece of software that they will come to learn how it works, but right now they can use it to estimate their grades by typing in example homework and exam results,” Carruthers said in an email.

He added that he has used Python to solve other problems like generating exams for midterms and finals, including in his class EK 307 “Electric Circuits.” He also uses it to create visual demonstrations of electrical engineering concepts in class.

“Anyone can learn Python and use it to get your computer to do something it does not currently do and which you don’t have the time or money to pay someone to calculate or solve for you,” Carruthers said.

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