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Matlab for Psychologists – 3-day intensive course at the University of Nottingham

I’ve just come across a fantastic-looking 3-day course running at the University of Nottingham called ‘Matlab for Psychologists‘. The curriculum looks like it starts from the very basics at the beginning of the course, and works up to some fairly advanced material by the end of the three days. The summer course has just finished, but there’s another one due to run in September.

Without a doubt, if you’re a PhD student or post-doc at the beginning of your research career, learning Matlab is certainly one of the most useful things you could possibly learn. You can use it for… well… everything really, since it’s a true, general-purpose programming language, albeit wrapped up in a semi-friendly GUI. Presenting stimuli with the psychophysics toolbox is one really popular usage in psychology research, as is general statistical analysis and plotting, and of course analysing fMRI data with the mighty SPM. If I was a PhD student I’d be begging my supervisor and/or department for the £375 to pay for this course – it’s likely to be some of the best money you’ll ever spend on your education.

The course is run by Antonia Hamilton of Nottingham University, and she also has some really good Matlab resources on her website here.

One other thing – while googling ‘Matlab for Psychologists’ I also came across this book with the same title, which was just published a few months ago. Not a whole-hearted recommendation as I haven’t read it, but it looks like it might be worth checking out if you’re keen to give Matlab a try and can’t get to the course.

A view of electronic learning from 1910.

A fantastic image from 1910, drawn by a French postcard artist named Villemard, imagining the future of education in the year 2000. Wonderful stuff.

(Originally seen in this post on Wired.com on electronic textbooks.)

Automatic Essay Marking

The absolute worst experience for any educational professional is to sit down on an evening or a weekend (it always seems to be an evening or weekend, when you should be doing something more enjoyable) with 100 essays or exam scripts, all on the same topic, and slowly, resentfully, plod your way through and grade them. It’s hell. At times like that I would have been willing to cut off a finger if somebody could have showed me a way that they could all be marked automatically.

Well, recently it seems the prayers of educators may have been answered. Several companies are working on software that automatically gives marks/grades to written assignments. This article covers the basics, but briefly, students can upload their work to a web-portal, and get instant feedback on their written work. One particular company has produced a piece of software called ‘SAGRader‘ which they claim uses artificial intelligence and NLP (Natural Language Processing) algorithms to effectively ‘read’ the essay, and thereby provide much more detailed and specific feedback on the content. Such a system should in theory be able to not only grade on simple things like spelling and grammar (Word processors have been detecting and correcting these things for years) but on the actual semantic content of a piece of work. If it works, this would be a massive help, and the numbers and testimonials on the SAGrader website do seem to suggest that it works. What you have to remember is that human graders are massively fallible so, to be useful, a piece of software doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be better than human graders. Read the rest of this entry