Teamwork and jigsaws

I was looking at the work of Daniel Stokols, an environmental psychologist, to see if I could find any work on how buildings and their design impacts reactions of students.

What I did find was the Jigsaw Classroom, a cooperative learning technique. The technique was developed to help teach in racially diverse classrooms and avoid situations like the Columbine massacre developing.

The idea is to get students to work in teams in such an effective manner, with each student acting as the proverbial vital piece of the jigsaw, that completes the puzzle. In this technique all members of the team learn to respect the importance and contribution of every other team members, learn to work with them, overcoming distrust and fear. Each person reliases that no one can be a freeloader or minimise the work of others.

It should be possible to adapt this method to tackle any kind of divisiveness based on difference of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age and even disability.

I find it amazing that there are such innovative techniques to help delvier better teaching!

In a bind

Student days… my glasses are misting in memory of those fun filled days: laughter, friends, evenings out, and such like.

Unremarkably, this kind of memory is a selective. In these sepia printed snapshots of my youth, there is no sign of the tensions associated with exams, report submissions and incomplete projects!

Well, as it is, I dont have to rely on memory for that!

I am attending the MA in Academic Practice here at City Uni London and along with the fabulous learning (on how to teach) come the assignments, group work, assessments and the like. So if this post is a little rambling forgive me for my brains are scrambled! Right now I am well behind on two chunks of my module on Technology Enhanced Academic Practice (TEAP):

- social bookmarking: we need to use a tool like DIIGO to bookmark sites and write about some of these
– the final project (also the biggest chunk of the module!)

This module has been all about using technology in a blended learning environment: mixing traditional teaching methods and approaches with technology. All of it felt new (even the traditional teaching and learning models, leave alone the new stuff).
I learned about things like:
•Salmon’s five step model
•Community of Practice/Community of Inquiry
•Reflective practice
•Constructive alignment
•Social constructivism
•Behaviourism
•Problem-based learning
•Connectivism
•Situated Learning
•Humanism
•Laurillard’s Conversational Framework
•Cognitivism

So the tech stuff (which is increasingly important given the digital nature of our lives) in the course was on:
– how to use online communities in teaching and learning. It is possible to use wikis and blogs etc. to get students to interact with one another as well as the instructor to learn, sometimes remotely and even asynchronously
– reflection: getting students to reflect on their work and learning to improve their learning outcomes
– tools like Diigo for social bookmarking, blogs for interaction

My project is on formative assessment using tools like Moodle (online platform used my many universities for education). The formative assessment idea is that students learn as they test themselves, but they learn better if they can get feedback very quickly (even real time) and they are able to judge where they are weak, or what mistakes they tend to make.
So I (over reached) and said that I would make a series of short numerical Physics questions, which can be delviered via Moodle and be set up in such a way that students can get feedback as they attempt the question.

Not only that! I then thought this was too easy. So I would then make a series of short videos explaining how people could use Moodle to set up such tests, since many colleagues find it difficult to do this. What was I thinking?!!!!

And now here I am, using this blog and online community to moan about the hardships of my student life. I have enjoyed the course tremendously and it has sparked so many new ideas in my head about teaching. But it has also reminded me how my students feel.

So if anyone of you is in danger of forgetting the pressures of student life, enroll into a course now!

Parity-time symmetry at OWTNM

One of the most interesting talks at the conference was on Parity-Time symmetry by H.Benisty and relating these to reciprocity or lack thereof.

Hermitian operators have real eignvalues. By adding imaginary terms of opposite signs to the diagonal terms, the eignevalues can still remain real! These imaginary terms in the physical picture can be seen as loss/gain. The possibility of spatial-nonreciprocity comes in.

Here are a list of papers worth looking at to get more on this:
1. Physical Review Letters, Vol. 80, pp. 5243-5246, 1998
2. Nature Physics, Vol. 6, 192-195, 2010
3. Optics Express, Vol. 13, pp. 3068-3078, 2005
4. Physical Review Letters, Vol. 106, 213901, 2011
5. Nature Materials, Vol.12, 108-113, 2012
6. Optics Express, Vol. 19, pp. 18004-18019, 2011
7. Optics Express, Vol. 21, pp. 21651-21668, 2013

Unusual two days at ECIO

Yesterday and today have been a bit unusual for me in attending ECIO. I have hardly listened to any talks these two days!

No, I haven’t been lounging by the beach….

My time has gone in some long discussions with the good folk at Photon Design, a company that makes numerical simulation software. We spent a long time discussing the modelling of band gap fibres, and how quasi-crystals could be modelled, as well as putting their new FETD software through its paces.

This new FETD that Photon Design are offering, allows for higher order elements (shape functions) to be used, and is applicable for both 2D and 3D problems. the claim is that though it takes slightly longer than FDTD (which is first order accurate) if you want higher accuracy, with this program, it is possible to increase the order and get higher accuracy. The mesh is conformal and irregular so it can be concentrated in regions where the field changes more rapidly, and a combination of these two factors make it better than FDTD (a bit faster, and more accurate) for more demanding problems. I would like to of course try the software out to verify the claim and see how it performs for my problems of interest.

But this underscores some of the things I tried to get across at CLEO in my short course:
– test drive commercial software before buying
– benchmark their performance for problems with known solutions of increasing complexity (finally comparing where only experimental results are available)
– look at the documentation on offer: is it comprehensive, easy to understand and does it also agree with literature

LEts see what tomorrow brings!

The first day at ECIO

So I am here in lovely, sunny Nice on the Azur coast of France, to attend the European Conference on Integrated Optics (ECIO) and the Optical Waveguide Theory and Numerical Modeling Workshop (OWTNM).

As you can expect the conferences weren’t the only draw: Nice is lovely.It combines the charm of a pretty seaside town with great food and fabulous weather. Yesterday I had lunch at the seaside overlooking the blue, blue waves, while people kayaked, sunbathed, parasailed, speedboater and swam…

Onwards to the conference today, the first day. I always like coming to ECIO/OWTNM as these are slightly smaller and more intimate with 1 maybe 2 sessions in parallel, giving a lot of opportunity to interact. It feels less hectic and yet is still rewarding work wise.

The talk that I found quite enjoyable today was a plenary by G Roelkens (Ghent University/IMEC) on Silicon Photonics beyond the datacomm and telecoms applications. He described some of the work at Ghent and IMEC on using Si photonics for sensing. There was a very large number of experiments described: on sensing of biological species using Si ring resonators, trace gas detection, Laser Doppler Vibrometry to detect changes in object position, blood flow velocity, and many others.

One thing that he mentioned and I want to look up is this: out coupling of light from Si devices such as these can be difficult. Grating couplers made in these Si wave-guides, can suffer from Fresnel reflection (due to large index contrast between Si and the medium to which light is being coupled) and second order Bragg reflection. Apparently some tiled focused grating couplers can reduce the Fresnel reflection significantly. The papers he cited are:
Optics Express, 22278, 2012
Optics Letters, 37 (21), pp 4356, 2012.

If you read these let me know what you think of them!

Photonics video

SPIE have made a brilliant short video about photonics. Here is the link: http://laserclassroom.com/day-without-photonics/

Enjoy!

What I would love to do is build on this type of video: enlarge it a bit to cover more technologies and products and also to show the insides of these products, how these are made. Get into the factories, the shop floors, show all the people involved and what it takes to get a product out to market. Perhaps even show innovative ways that some photonics technologies are being used…

 

 

Wednesday and thursday at CLEO

So the jet lag is a little better and I was able to make more of the conference.
Which meant that yesterday I overdid the work: no time for lunch and even dinner!

Wednesday began with the presentations that recognised the new IEEE and OSA class of fellows. It was lovely to see these brilliant people being recognised for their contributions to Photonics.

Then came the fabulous presentation by John Dudley on International Year of Light (IYL). IYL is a big deal: the UN General Assembly has declared 2015 as the international year of light and light based technologies, recognising the huge role optics plays in daily lives and the hope it offers in solving the big challenges we face.
This is tremendously exciting because it means that next year the whole world will talk about light and what it can do. So for once, all of us who work with light, can bask in some public attention of our area and perhaps our own individual work. It also is a great time to get involved in and perhaps start work to reach out within our local communities to educate and and engage people about light. Have a look at the IYL website to see how you can link in!

David Payne then followed up this with his plenary talk on the future of fibres. As usual his talk was brilliant – as a speaker he is phenomenal and really knows how to make an impact on his audience. He even had a short (home made) movie on a more esoteric aspect of his talk!
One of the things he spoke about which I found very interesting was on anti-resonant hollow core fibre designs. Have a look at this paper that he cited.

Then most of my day was spent talking to many exhibitors at the conference. I am trying to raise some money to make a short documentary film on Optics for IYL. So it was a long day (enjoyable but very tiring).

the day ended with more networking over drinks in the reception and now I am missing the second half of the world cup opener between Brazil and Croatia to write this post and listen to some talks on solar cells. Such is my commitment!

Do you know the way

to San Jose?

Or so goes the song by Dionne Warwick! And why I ask the question, is that San Jose is where I am right now attending CLEO 2014.

Part of me is sleep walking because of the time difference and jet lag while the other part is enjoying the conference.
My short course,SC410, was today morning and had a full attendance…lots of questions and interaction which made it fun.

The interesting thing about this conference, is that apart from the formal technical sessions, there are several special sessions taking place at various times. For example, a session where people could meet the editors-in-chief of some of the top OSA journals. While others included the topical group meeting on metamaterials, and the one I attended from 6.45-8pm on Optics for Energy. In this session there were very short presentations and time for networking and informal discussions, rather than the standard Q&A that follows each talk and then everyone has to rush off to the next session!

After my own short course, I managed to elude the jet lag long enough to listen to a talk on hyper crystals.. the basic principle is really marrying photonic crystals and metamaterials: this way one can obtain the best features of both! Have a look at this paper and see what you make of it.

In other news: ThorLabs is celebrating 25 years and sponsored free cake (which tasted so much like the pineapple pastries I used to eat in Delhi growing up)- nothing quite like the taste of childhood! the gripe with Thorlabs is however that the T-shirts they are giving out this year are a slightly garish pink-purple for women and blue for men. So here we go again with the blue is for boys and pink is for girls…Why the gender stereotyping? This is especially irritating because as a general rule I love the Thorlabs T-shirts. Ah well.

Tomorrow is a busy day with a few talks to listen, but for the most part I intend to meet the exhibitors…

Optics, economics and common sense

What was the latest film you saw at the cinema? When did you last go to the IMAX? How much are you willing to pay on average for a film (in the cinema)?

An article on laser projectors in film is prompt for these questions and this post.

Said article discussed how advances in laser based projector technology will revolutionise the film industry: faster frame rates, brighter and sharper images, 3D, longer life (projectors) and so on. This will allow for a more vivid and intense viewing experience for audiences, allowing cinemas to charge more for the premium viewing “experience”.

This in turn will help help cinemas/film studios fight the competition posed by services such as Netflix and the rise of the home theatre, the smart phone, the tablet and so on. With better quality and larger TVs at prices that people can afford, footfalls in cinemas are no longer assured. An extra “oomph” factor is needed to ensure that the public leave their large TV sets, smart devices, football matches, and DVDs at home and queue up outside the nearest IMAX.

I can buy the technology improvement argument: a better visual experience for the viewer sounds good to me. However the economic argument just leaves me cold!

Still higher prices! For what used to be mass and affordable entertainment, cinema trips are now competing with live theatre/concerts/sports/gigs. That is simply crazy!

To me the philosophy of celluloid is (partly) that it is for everyman and woman. Entertainment that is affordable and accessible. Consider the facts:
– a film once made can be played over and over (millions of times if desired) and each show generates profits
– can be played to millions of people over time and across continents
– sold on DVDs for further profits
– once completed, the “stars” are not needed for the film to be played

All this allows studios to make films (putting in good money) and price them reasonably and still make huge profit. The buying power of billions of people fuels the profits that cinemas, studios, film stars and all involved in the trade can make.

On the other hand, live events (especially at smaller venues) usually command a premium in price because they are:
– live as opposed to recorded and only very small audiences can attend in comparison to film
– needs the physical presence of the “stars”!
– these stars age/die/retire/get injured and hence there is a time limitation to when and for long we can see them perform
– no two peformances are the same!

So I simply cannot understand or agree with this concept of over pricing cinema tickets. Justifying the prices on the basis of better technology, high paid stars etc. is just false or incomplete information. In my opinion this is pure greed. It is also poor economics and lack of common sense.

Consider this example:
The Wimbledon all day ticket (for matches on courts 3-19) costs £20. This means that one can watch some of the top 128 players in the tennis world play for about 8 hours. Imagine watching a legend like John McEnroe or Martina Navratilova play live.

The BBC Proms serve up some of the most distinguished classical musicians performing (live) at a historic venue (Royal Albert Hall). Whether you like Vivaldi, Mozart or prefer opera, you can potentially manage a 2-3 hour performance for anything between £7.50- £125, depending on how expensive or cheap you want your evening to be.

Or think of seeing Kevin Spacey or Ralph Fiennes on stage, live in a play by the one of the greatest bards ever. You can get standing tickets at the Globe theatre for £5.

When I went to see Skyfall (3 weeks after it was released) on a Wednesday, and not in 3D, it still cost me £18! A James Bond film is fun and the effects are definitely better enjoyed on the big screen. But should it cost more to see it than the Proms/Wimbledon/Shakespeare? Especially since I can hire a DVD and watch it on a 50” TV with Bose speakers to give great sound for a fraction of the price? For me the decision is simple: I spend my money on live gigs and watch most films on the telly… By making cinema so expensive studios and cinema chains are keeping away customers like me.

Each person would probably have their own take on this and accordingly spends their money on entertainment.

What is your’s?

By artiagrawal Posted in General