Jacques Hugon ’79

Technology Partner and Fellow

Mathematics Instructor, Computer Science Instructor

Jacques Hugon brings to the Institute significant teaching experience, including serving in the Phillips Academy (PA) Mathematics and Computer Science Department since 2001, and a professional background as an engineer and manager for several start-up and small-size high-tech companies. In his dual role of Technology Partner and fellow, Hugon is an integral member of the Tang Institute.

A number of Institute projects have technical dimensions, ranging from a project that aims to bring new digital resources to the humanities to a project focused on developing a Web-based collaboration forum for astronomy research. As fellows work toward their project goals, Hugon’s position as Technology Partner helps to give shape and structure to early ideas and to offer input on technology that might advance their efforts. In this role, he is working closely with the school’s Information Technology department to ensure that technical decisions are made with PA needs and IT infrastructure in mind. As relevant, Hugon also collaborates with other colleagues to help transform promising technology solutions discovered at the Institute into tools that could benefit the wider PA community.

In his work as a fellow, Hugon is focusing on a number of innovative, community platforms and technical projects, including:

Andover Math Problems: An Iterative and Incremental Solution

For years PA’s math faculty have shared math problems that they developed for tests and quizzes in an as-needed, mostly written form. But Hugon envisioned a streamlined, technology-based system that could enable colleagues to exchange best practices and do their jobs more efficiently. The result is Andover Math Problems, an online platform that Hugon is designing to help faculty curate and share an intelligent, member-rated database of math problems.

Hugon is currently enhancing the platform on a number of fronts and testing and refining it in collaboration with colleagues. As the platform continues to develop, there may be opportunities to use it in other departments and to share it with larger academic teaching audience.

The platform provides faculty with a number of ways to use the system and to contribute to it, including:

  • Knowledge share: As teachers are able to add new content to the database—including problems, answers, and graphs—and tag their contributions by course and topic, the platform becomes more robust and easy to search.
  • Dynamic rating system: The platform’s rating system operates similarly to a travel review site. Teachers may vote, for instance, on how easy or difficult a problem is and thereby enable colleagues to make informed choices as they compile tests and quizzes. The system also enables these ratings to evolve over time.
  • Flexibility in output and response:  The teacher can export the problems from the database to a variety of external formats, such as PDF and Excel, and can connect the problems with Canvas, the school’s Learning Management System. The database also has the ability to handle several types of question and answer formats, such as multiple choice, free response, and potentially others in the future.

Academy Compass: Faster and Better Testing

Hugon initially built Academy Compass to streamline and to enhance the Academy’s former process for the math placement test. Until 2005, the math placement test was mailed to students in a standard, 75-question format; students then filled out the test and sent it back again through postal mail. The department chair scored each test by hand, made placement recommendations, and filed the papers. At the time, this was a fairly standard process throughout academia. But, with the help of technology and colleagues in the math department, Hugon began to design an efficient, online testing system, now called Academy Compass. Academy Compass enables students to take the test through an online platform which then automatically scores students’ answers and places them into a corresponding level of math class.

There are also opportunities for students to serve as database contributors. A few classes are already designing projects in which students create their own problems and answers; teachers may then curate and import these problems into the database.

Recent Developments

This online testing platform has been in use by the math department for entering juniors during the past few years and is now being used as a central portal for placement tests offered in other subject areas. Hugon is working with the Dean of Studies and her office, for example, to deploy the platform in the Music and World Language departments. Hugon and his colleagues are also discovering that the platform can help to streamline additional tasks, such as teacher recommendations for incoming students and a variety of other documents. The main focus, however, remains on deploying the platform to help improve classroom knowledge.

As he builds on the existing platform, Hugon is also regularly adding technical improvements. One recent improvement involved restructuring the test to provide one question at a time, rather than a single block of 75-questions. A larger-scale improvement he’s planning to address during his fellowship is to enable the questions, in real-time, to adapt as the student progresses through the test. This type of intelligent testing, he believes, would help to make a better class placement for the student. He is also exploring ways in which the Academy can analyze some of the data from the testing process and subsequently tie it to the student’s progress through a given curriculum.

Astro Database: Sharing the Stars

The Astro Database is another community-oriented project, which Hugon identified as a technology solution alongside his colleague Caroline Odden, a Physics Instructor at PA and another Institute fellow.

Digital photograph files of the sky are large, which makes them difficult for teachers to share and store; and sometimes astronomers might take 150 pictures on a given night. Emailing files of this size and number in order to share them is nearly impossible. Another challenge teachers face is to keep up with student demand for new images of the sky, as students embark upon image-dependent work such as variable star discovery.

The solution Hugon and Oden are designing aims to provide Odden and other astronomy teachers with the ability to upload large images and to share them with one another. Hugon also envisions helping teachers to organize and classify images by project types. These projects would consist of the astronomer who initially shared the files and the instructor and students interested in that particular set of photographs. The main purposes of the project would be to allow an instructor to monitor the students’ work; to allow students on the same project to share information; and to connect the astronomer with students, so that the astronomer knows about the student findings and so that the students may query the astronomer with questions and requests for additional data.

As Hugon and Odden look to the future, the possibilities for how useful this platform could be among like-minded schools seem nearly as endless as the stars.  If science teachers in other schools are able to share their image assets, they could greatly improve upon student access and learning everywhere.