Being taught and teaching

What would it be like to sit in the eye of a hurricane? When do we notice disruptive changes that redefine our lives in some way?

I wonder if we only really appreciate the impact quite a while after the change has occurred. It seems to me that teaching and education are in that phase as well. cartoon comparing innovation and with dishwashers!

There are huge changes in the technology of teaching and discussions on the very philosophy of teaching which will be fully understood perhaps years later. In turn these changes are affecting technology and social behaviour. And here we are right in middle of it all perhaps unaware of size of the wave we are surfing!

MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses have now been around for a few years and several top universities offer them (see the top few here). The pros and cons of MOOCs have and continue to be debated. With MOOCs the internet has made it possible for hundreds of thousands of people distributed globally to attend courses offered by one professor. From the students point of view this is free education from globally renowned experts at one’s convenience– wow! Interestingly to offer such a course, the instructor needs to consider practical aspects such as how more than 100,000 assignments can be graded? One solution: the use of crowdsourcing in assessment becomes important in the logistics of assessing and literally changes the nature of learning as well! How successful MOOCs can be in the long term is anyone’s guess. The more interesting question is what are the new things we will learn about learning through MOOCs?

Another aspect of teaching that is now being discussed is Just in time” approach. “Just in time” is a case of inductive learning and to an extent involves “flipping” the role of contact time in the teaching cycle: the students are asked to complete some learning outside the classroom on their own time and their feedback is used to inform classroom activities/lectures. This could mean quizzes being completed beforehand (encouraging students to engage with the material and thinking about it) and the feedback on these (what topics students found hardest, for example) being used to determine what topic class time would be focused on. Another way to interpret “just in time” is to assign students practical /problem solving projects and for them to learn the concepts and acquiring the knowledge essential to complete the project. All this is designed for learning to be more effective and interactive.

I want to be part of these developments too. So I have signed up to learn through a MOOC on solar cells and I am going to use “flipping” in my teaching this term. Then maybe I will have a stronger sense of the change that’s happening.


Why do people want a 1 way trip to Mars…

In response to plans for sending manned missions to Mars, there has been a tremendous response.

Listen to some enthusiastic people talking about why they want to go to Mars/why there should be space exploration:

Imagine if we could be the generation that sends the first human being to Mars. What a story to be involved in or tell.
Exciting times….

Balancing the STEM equation

This latest short film/documentary (A chemical imbalance) from a group of 5 chemistry professors at University of Edinburgh, Prof. Polly Arnold and colleagues, again brings up the issue of such few women in STEM especially at higher levels.

Also read this article about why there are such few female VC’s (in the UK) on the Times Higher Education website.

We need a change. That has been said many time by many people. Yet the change in not really coming through. What is the bottleneck?
I think that even now not everyone fully apprecaites the value of gender balanced departments, management teams and leadership in academia. Several research studies have shown that gender balanced teams out perform teams that are predominantly male/female. So why does this not permeate into STEM leadership?

One thing that I have seen cause some change is the decision of certain research councils to refuse to accept grant proposals from universities that are not signed up to the Athena Swan charter. This suddenly prompted several universities to start applying for membership and Athena Swan awards, while also (hopefully) improving things for female academic staff in their STEM departments.

Perhaps we need more funding bodies (read all government funded grants) to require that institutes demonstrate real committment to equality for women, in order to be eligible for any research and even teaching related funds.

We also need effective tools to measure this. Mere box ticking exercises that dont engender positive change really need to be on their way out.