AUXLAB or MATLAB, what should we recommend to students?

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AUXLAB or MATLAB, what should we recommend to students?

Post by bjkwon » September 28th, 2018, 1:26 am

This is not an apple-to-apple comparison. MATLAB and AUXLAB were created to serve different purposes, so a prudent decision should be made case by case. MATLAB is a general-purpose computing and graphing tool for scientific and engineering applications. AUXLAB, as a specialized tool for audio processing, lies in somewhat a narrower scope. A freshman in a college with a STEM major? It's MATLAB, definitely. No hesitation. What if the student is really interested in sound and audio, then I would recommend learning and using both at the same time. The bottom line is, anyone trained with MATLAB can learn AUXLAB in no time. It's only about getting familiar with some differences in the syntax convention.

But if the student is not in the conventional 4-year college with a STEM major, it's a different story. A real question to ask then is, whether there is a possibility that the student will need to use a general-purpose computing tool in his/her future. If it is yes, then MATLAB. On the other hand, the student is mostly interested in sound, sound processing and auditory perception with various sounds. AUXLAB should be recommended. Examples of the latter case would be students in experimental psychology, linguistics, speech and hearing science, music, and audio technology.

I have heard this argument--even for those students not in STEM, teaching them some sort of computer programming should be taken as investment and potentially beneficial in the future. Even in that case, teaching them a general-purpose programming language such as Java, JS, C#, Python, etc, wouldn't be the most effective for them to materialize programming for their immediate need for sound design and processing. So they turn to MATLAB, because that is obviously more established and better recognized than AUXLAB.

Here's my response to that argument. Educating computer programming skills as investment is only a bet against the future, where you may have a great return of investment or you may end up getting nothing. That depends on individual students' aptitude and their career trajectory and it is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, we all should agree that the value of programming language as a tool aiding the students' learning and training is whether it can meet their needs effectively. For that, the answer is clear. If they need to create sounds, listen to and evaluate their perceptual effects, you better use the tool created just for that, AUXLAB. Throughout years, students in the auditory perception field without a programming background are advised to learn and practice with some kind of programming, it was BASIC or PASCAL back in 80's, C/C++ gaining traction during 90's and 2000's and in recent years Java, Python, or MATLAB as part of their graduate coursework. Unfortunately most of them end up not using it later on and yet they become successful scientists in their own field. While some of them sometimes wish that they had more experience in "programming," it is really not necessary for them to be trained in those general-purpose programming language, because what they need can be successfully (and more easily) done in AUXLAB.

The bottom line is, we should use a tool that is most appropriate for the job. MATLAB is a tool for general scientific computation; AUX is a tool for specification and processing of sound signals. If you are a MATLAB user, you probably will not appreciate the rationale of AUX until you actually use it.

Regarding the point of using the "more established" programming language, consider the creation of MATLAB. When it was first introduced in late 70's, it was not considered a "programming language," as it lacked several important elements of what constituted traditional programming languages, such as C or FORTRAN. In those days, students were advised to study "real programming languages" such as C while it might be OK to use MATLAB if it was more convenient. Educators back then were concerned about the increasing popularity of MATLAB, because they thought that students were kept from being properly trained in programming. See what happened 40 years later. MATLAB has become one of the fourth generation computer languages (4GL), probably with the largest user population.

So, once again, here's my response:

MATLAB was created to serve different purposes from C/C++ and has a different philosophical approach in programming. Ideally students in science & engineering should be familiar with both and choose the right tool according to their needs. In reality, many students do not know C/C++ as much as their predecessors but they have successful careers with only MATLAB. MATLAB has an advantage because it provides a better solution than C does for certain (actually quite many) jobs.

AUX was created to serve different purposes from MATLAB and has a different rationale in programming. Ideally students in behavioral auditory science should be familiar with both and choose the right tool according to their needs. In reality, many students do not need to know MATLAB and they can have successful careers with only AUXLAB. AUXLAB has an advantage because it provides a better solution than MATLAB does for audio-related tasks.

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