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Friday, May 27, 2011

About M381 mathematical logic or how to study an Open University booklet

How to study an Open University booklet? Well, don't if you have an alternative classic source. Study the source first, then go back to the booklets and do the exercises. Just because the TMA questions are modeled after them and the model answers are written in that style. Remember that your tutor wants to get through your work asap. The more they look like the model answer the better. The rule is 'when in doubt it is wrong.' Tutors are NOT professors, so don't expect them to be.

Studying the source is essential. Because that's what the authors of the booklets used when they wrote them. You should be able to write these booklets yourself and sooner than you think. Besides, the vast body of mathematics is written in source classics, not in the form of OU booklets or lecture notes. - ( An Open University booklet is roughly comparable to a set of lecture notes brick university students get, I suppose. )

Take for example the M381 mathematical logic booklets. What a Layman would understand as Mathematical Logic is called Propositional Logic and is covered early in the track in the MS221 course. The title of the course 'Mathematical Logic' is thus somewhat confusing. And it is not just the title that is confusing. I noticed on the forums that students considered the M381 logic part rather 'difficult'. The principal author of the booklet is Alan Slomson, now a professor in Mathematics at Leeds University. ( A host of other names are listed in the credits including Jeremy Gray: Wise Beard Man, the face of the OU ). Anyway, the source book is: "Computability, an introduction to recursive function theory" by Nigel Cutland.". ( I checked all available books on Mathematical Logic, I have no doubt that this is the book that was used. ) The thing is that the material in the course booklet looks a bit fuzzy, somwehat unclear, rather difficult to be honest. Well, it isn't. Not if you read Cutland's original first. Then you recognize what they ( Slomson ) are -trying- to explain. It's just the presentation in the booklet that makes it foggy. It would have been better if they simply have used Cutland's book ( like Apostol's in the Analytical Number Theory course ) and write a Reader's Guide. In a Reader's Guide you can use informal English to explain things while for the formal math definitions you can refer to the book. - ( Under Slomsons wings another book on Computability has been published by Brian Cooper : Computability Theory. Here too you'll find Cutland's URM and a lot of his original examples. )

Despite my occasional criticism I feel quite at home at the Open University.


  1. In the old days most OU courses were like that with the occasional embellishment. Then they switched to their own style and as you say it can get very confusing at times. One of the things I detest about the M208 course material and the M337 material is the constant breaks for audio visual material. Unlike MS221 or MST121 crucial steps are buried in the course material. Anyway hope you are enjoying the courses

    Best wishes Chris

  2. Yes, by communicating essential material in audio mode only, the OU math department shows a lack of understanding how people learn, which I find hard to believe. Maybe it's because a lot of mathematicians want to 'lecture' instead of writing things down. A sort of escapism when things get too difficult even for them. - I take in hardly anything via audio ( or lectures ) for example.

    If you are not on Math Overflow ( graduate ) or Math Stack Exchange ( undergraduate ) yet you should really go and register there. - It's an excellent way to measure where you stand in your mathematical development.


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