Lecturer: Dr. Alex Mogilner,University of California, U. S. A.
Location: National University of Laos, Dong Dok Campus Vientiane, Laos
Dates: August 10, 2009 - Aug 28, 2009
Course: Applied Mathematics and Modeling
List of topics covered: 1. Scaling analysis and non-dimensionalization. 2. Perturbation theory. 3. Calculus of variations. 4. Partial differential equations (diffusion, drift, diffusion-reaction, drift-reaction, etc.) 5. Mathematical models in industry, physics and biology.
Schedule: 13 two-hour-long lectures (26 hours total), plus about 10 'office hours'. There was 1 lecture per day, five days a week, for 3 weeks, first in the afternoon, then in the morning. One day we spent in the computer lab.
Description: I assigned a few problems for homework every day; all of them were from the textbook I used: D. Logan "Applied Mathematics". I gave the class 3 textbooks, and distributed copies of the covered chapters. There were no formal quizzes, exams, and no grading, by the request of the Laotians. Suggestions to the future visiting lecturers: Hopefully, by the next time, internet connection will be better at Dong Dok (National University of Laos; Laos is building modern telecommunication system this year), so it is highly advisable to figure out all schedule and details in advance. The good contact person is Math department chairman, Sackmone Sirisack; Most of people who take the course have decent reading and comprehension English skills, but very poor ability to speak, and very modest writing skills. It would be very useful to schedule one meeting with each of the students and just try to chat with them, solve problems etc in the one-on-one setting. In terms of the material-they enjoyed a lot the single computer lab, and are very hungry for more, so more numerical analysis would be good. Also, I did not have time to cover many actual models-this would be very useful.
Thoughts/Experience: It seemed to me that the course was useful; people appeared to be very grateful for the experience. It is important to realize that they are getting paid ~ $100 a month, and to live even a modest life, they have to growing rice etc, so math is not their whole life. But they really like math, and they realize that if they want to be a decent university, they have to have a better systematic education in English, so any genuine effort in this direction will not be wasted. The goal of the lecture, however, was partly achieved. There were indeed an audience of 20+ people, and it was a good advanced undergrad / beginning grad level. The Laotians gave the students certificates upon the completion of the course. There was no exam this time but they agree now that in the future, exam has to be administered. Department chair, Sackmone Sirisack, and departments' faculty were most helpful. However, in the future, there will have to be a detailed plan for the preliminary work and follow-up, which would be easier to do after this first time.
The nicest part of this program was certainly freshness. It is invigorating to teach people who live a hard life, and still find time and energy to make a mental effort and appreciate mathematical beauty. It's great to see their eyes sparkle when they understand something new.