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Teaching "expert systems"

Frank Carver
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Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Yesterday, the department of the college where I work had a planning meeting to select the courses we will be teaching from next September. I tried my best to dig myself out of the hole that is MS Access and Excel, and expressed an interest in teaching two units of the new course "Introduction to Software Development" and "Expert Systems". I have therefore been "given" the task of planning a draft scheme of work and assessment schedule for these two units.
Each unit has been allocated 60 teaching hours, and the students are most likely to be 16-19 year olds who for some reason or other dislike the more traditional "academic" style of teaching offered in the schools for that age range. The units are part of a "BTEC National Diploma for IT Practitioners" (a "level 3" course, if you are familiar with the UK system). To be awarded the diploma, students need to pass 18 such units over two years.
Has anyone here got any hints or suggestions from their experience of teaching either of these kinds of subjects? Recommendations for particular software or exercises?
All suggestions very welcome!


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Bert Bates
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Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
    5
Frank - Cool beans!
How long do we get to percolate before you need feedback? This seems like a really great opportunity... I'm envious!
Bert
p.s. One idea might be to create a simple rules engine... We did this as a project we might include in a book. It's cool because it really gets you into the heart of the matter, and you can start really simply and enhance and enhance all over the place.
[ November 20, 2003: Message edited by: Bert Bates ]

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Ernest Friedman-Hill
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Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24187
    
  34

I should point out that "Jess in Action" is being used as a text at dozens of Universities in expert systems/AI/agents kinds of classes. The Jess software itself is available at no cost for academic use.


[Jess in Action][AskingGoodQuestions]
Barry Gaunt
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Joined: Aug 03, 2002
Posts: 7729
Any good ? Kara Java
Not exactly AI but needs problem solving approach.


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Frank Carver
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Bert wrote: How long do we get to percolate before you need feedback?
Well, I'm supposed to report back with a draft scheme of work, a paragraph or so about suggested assessment options, and some indication of any staff training or resource needs by December 5. Detailled planning (and the asociated internal politics) will follow later, of course.
This seems like a really great opportunity... I'm envious!
I'm nervous!
One idea might be to create a simple rules engine...
Hmm. Depends on the students and how the "introduction to software development" pans out, I guess. I'm having quite a struggle herding my current classes though a very simple Access application (about 5 tables, an equivalent number of forms, queries and reports, no need for VB or even macros), and I'd be very surprised if they could produce even a basic rule engine without a lot of do-it-for-them.
There seem two differing possibilities for next year: (1) that we will get effectively the same students, the ones who would come to the college whatever course is offered, or (2) the different focus of the new course might attract students who actually want to do computer stuff, and care more about their learning.
I certainly learned a lot by writing a rule engine of my own, but I already had several years of Java under my belt, so I was free to concentrate on the rules-related issues.
Ernest wrote: I should point out ...
Thanks I would personally love to go this route, and I will certainly actively investigate the possibility. This new course is a great excuse to apply for an academic JESS licence, and maybe request a few copies of your book for the college library ...
One of the unknowns at the moment is what (if any) software we can actually get installed on the machines the students use. The network maintenance guys at the college are a law unto themselves, and getting anything other than Microsoft Office apps available to the students seems astonishingly hard. As a case in point, the old course has a "programming" unit (which I never got to teach). The syllabus pretty much mandated Visual Basic, but nobody seemed able to get any kind of real development environment in place, so the students are both taught and assessed purely on VBA inside MS Office applications
One part of my "hidden agenda" in taking on these two units in particular is to try and get at least a basic JDK available to the students, so they can have access to a more reasonable language, and the facilities which can then be added. If I could get agreement to make a server available to them to build (and test!) web applications on I'd be even happier.
Barry wrote: Any good ? Kara Java
Interesting. Reminds me of BlueJ which I also ought to investigate for the "intro" course. Hmm. looks like there's a book for that, now, too. I think I need to have a word with "the mapster" ...
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Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
Frank! What do you think about a comparative review on the books about rule engines?


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HS Thomas
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Joined: May 15, 2002
Posts: 3404
Originally posted by Frank Carver:
Bert wrote: How long do we get to percolate before you need feedback?
Well, I'm supposed to report back with a draft scheme of work, a paragraph or so about suggested assessment options, and some indication of any staff training or resource needs by December 5. Detailled planning (and the asociated internal politics) will follow later, of course.
This seems like a really great opportunity... I'm envious!
I'm nervous!
One of the unknowns at the moment is what (if any) software we can actually get installed on the machines the students use. The network maintenance guys at the college are a law unto themselves, and getting anything other than Microsoft Office apps available to the students seems astonishingly hard. As a case in point, the old course has a "programming" unit (which I never got to teach). The syllabus pretty much mandated Visual Basic, but nobody seemed able to get any kind of real development environment in place, so the students are both taught and assessed purely on VBA inside MS Office applications

Would it help trialing the Rules Engine out first on a machine which will be used solely for this purpose involving only the people you need to train. You should be able to get one whole class trained at the same time.
(voice of 6 months experience "teaching"). Something to discuss with the department heads as they must come across this problem regularly.
A lab controlled just by MS guys
regards
Steve Fahlbusch
Bartender

Joined: Sep 18, 2000
Posts: 581
    
    7

I taught a software development course taught a few years back. I had a group of younger students going into what would be considered information technology (2 yr, associates degree) and the course was tailored to teach software development not programming: such as SDLC, methodologies, requirements gathering and analysis, analysis, design, code, test, implementation, maintenance, documentation, project estimation, project management, team dynamics (that sort of stuff). Well this means that I has a lot (about 1/2) of the class that had no programming - and an administration that would not allow a new package on the system until it was checked out (seemed to be a two year process).
Since the focus was not programming per se, I had them implement the sytems in html and javascript (they all had browsers, there was some kinda programming and there were differences in the browsers so that they had compatability problems to address). Until I took over the course, there had never been any coding required in the course (looked on as a management course) - I of course wondered how anyone could estimate projects or manage teams of developers if they didn't understand what code was.

For a totally different group and location (west coast iso east coast) I was teachning a AI/expert systems/nerual net course - basically in two parts - the concepts, how to run, how to create rules, how to train, how to test; and the second part: given a c++ shell I developed how to implement. At that time I found there were a number of examples that would run in excel - not optimum, but again everyone had this and it allowed me to demonstate the concepts without running into the details.
The second part did require c++, but this administration trusted the faculity to identify the software packages we wanted to utilize (took only a couple of weeks for it to be installed).
-steve
 
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