I know I’m late to the party with this, but Wolfram Alpha really is a brilliantly useful tool for checking your maths work. Today I’ve been doing the exercises in Section 2 of the unit on differentiation, and I’ve already made good use of the site to investigate some problems that I just couldn’t grasp. In particular, I found Exercise 2.1(i) to be almost impenetrable – my solution for it was very different to the solution in the back of the book, and I just couldn’t see where I’d gone wrong.

This is where Wolfram Alpha has been coming in handy. The brilliant thing about it is that as well as calculating the value of a mathematical expression, it also displays the steps you could take to work it out yourself. This is brilliant when the solutions in the course text tend to be a bit terse! For example, the solution for the exercise mentioned above is this:

Not terribly helpful, if you’re as stuck as I was. But check out the Derivative section of the Wolfram Alpha page for the expression, and click on the “Show Steps” link – it gives much more detail about the solution, and after reading through that explanation I could see exactly where I’d gone wrong with my original answer. I suppose there’s a danger with sites like these that people might just enter TMA questions into it and copy the answers, but then again the OU apparently uses anti-plagiarism software that would probably flag up TMA solutions that were word-for-word copies of existing internet resources.

Anyway, plagiarism aside, I think Wolfram Alpha is going to be a very useful tool for me (especially if it means I can avoid phoning my tutor when I get stuck!).

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Wolfram Alpha must be taking note of students copying ditto the original answers that the site provides. There has to be some kind of markers used that would make it apparent about the source of the solution.

Richard

http://www.aafter.com

I think you’re right, they must have considered the possibility that the site could be used for cheating on coursework. And I guess even if students did copy the answers verbatim, they would probably still end up getting a low grade in any exams they took, since you can’t take Wolfram Alpha into the test with you!

Anyway, in practical terms, I think the final grade you get in an Open University course really just depends on the exam score, so cheating on TMAs seems like a bit of a pointless exercise to me; getting 100% on every assignment wouldn’t save you from failing if you do badly in the exam. So as much as I prefer coursework, I guess exams are valuable for making sure everyone gets something close to the grade they deserve.