Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

On confirmation bias

August 12, 2012

Doug Natelson has done an outstanding job at debunking a ridiculous charge of confirmation bias allegedly affecting a recent study of climate change. Such a charge is put forth in an article published in the popular press (on a very prominent venue). While ostensibly aimed at educating the general public about some aspects of how science works, the article sneakily rehashes one of the most common and dangerous misconceptions that exist out there about science, namely that in the end it is not as “objective” as its practitioners claim.

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Online notes

August 5, 2012

Why do students who take courses with me (but colleagues tell me of similar experiences) routinely insist that I scan and post online my very own notes, the hard-to-read, disorganized and sketchy gibberish that I use for lecturing, whereas if I post a neatly put together summary of the basic concepts and formulae — typically after painstakingly making slides, drawings and animations — I am invariably told that “that stuff is useless” ?

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Instructional technology and college education

June 30, 2012

In this op-ed on the New York Times, Jeff Solingo, editorial director of the Chronicle of Higher Education points to a few concrete, urgent actions that universities and colleges across North America should take, in order to weather the financial crisis affecting institutions of higher education.

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The mystery of quantization

March 5, 2012

Quantum mechanics owes its name from the hypothesis that originated it, initially proposed by Max Planck, and successively extended by Niels Bohr and others.
The hypothesis of quantization can be formally expressed through Bohr-Sommerfeld conditions, which constitute the core of what is presently called the Old Quantum Theory. Their most immediate consequence is that the energy of an individual particle is in some cases quantized, i.e., only allowed to take on specific, well-defined values, arranged into a regular pattern, describable mathematically by simple formulae.
In these cases, an experimental measurement of the energy yields no other outcome than one of these “allowed” values — nothing in-between is ever observed. This is what is meant by “quantization”.

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Letter from the trenches

February 20, 2012

I have received a letter from a student who obtained their doctoral degree with me a few years ago, and after one postdoctoral appointment decided that their heart was really into teaching.
They wrote me to let me know how things are going, and gave me permission of posting their letter here (I am withholding the person’s name). It may be of interest for those who might be considering switching from research to a teaching career. Currently, only a tiny fraction of doctoral degree holders take that path.

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Education disadvantage

January 21, 2012

If a cash-strapped province or state had to make painful cuts to public services, the immediately noticeable effect would be the outright elimination of some of them.
One would not think of, say, laying off a fraction of all bus drivers and asking the remaining ones to work longer hours, in order to keep all existing bus routes active — some would be phased out, based on various considerations of priority, in order to minimize the inconvenience to denizens, while continuing to offer as much of the original transportation as possible. Some people, however, would have to go to work or to the grocery store in some other, less convenient or more expensive way.

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Customers

December 15, 2011

Imagine the following, hypothetical situation: the owner of a small high-tech company needs all of his employees retrained, in view of the adoption of a new, company-wide software system.
He decides to send a few of them to a week-long course with a private firm, specialized in offering short courses on the particular software that will be acquired. A firm representative promised him that at the end of the course, these employees will be proficient with the new system, capable of operating and managing it, and able in turn to train other colleagues. That way, the company will be up to speed in little time.

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The boss is out to lunch

November 18, 2011

The two basic criteria to establish whether someone is your boss are:
— Can they fire you ?
— Can they give you a raise ?
Unless the answer to both questions is yes, then they are not your boss.

(can’t recall who said that to me… my dad, maybe ? Nah, it’s impossible, that would make him right…)

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Sliding into Fall

September 17, 2011

Oops, it did it again…. The Fall term 2011 has managed to sneak up on me, like its 2010 predecessor. All of a sudden, it’s all back. I am facing a crowd of 400+ students, teaching the same introductory physics class I taught last year, in the same humongous, with its microphone, its two big screens and no white board.

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Exams never end

September 5, 2011

(Title of famous play by Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo.
To my knowledge, it was not inspired by his own PhD defence)

Dear fellow Committee Members,

as the appointed Chair of the Examining Committee for the upcoming doctoral exam of Mary J. Great, who will be defending her dissertation next week, I thought I would share with you ahead of time my views on what a doctoral exam should be, and my expectations on how I wish to see it administered. I understand that some of my views may seem unorthodox, but the notion that some things should be done in a certain way just because “they have always been done that way”, has never sounded very convincing to me.

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