Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Moodle training session (UKPSF K4)

Today I attended a two hour training session on Moodle quizzes run by our Dominic: in our department.

Some of the points to remember:

  • It is best to use the Moodle question bank to develop questions.
  • The quizzes are made from questions in the question bank. 
  • The questions can be put into categories.
  • Make sure to click the hidden button on a quiz to ensure that the students don't see it.
  • We did an experiment of exporting/importing a quiz.
  • Dominic recommended that we don't use the upload to Universities central store of marks. This is technically possible.
  • Dominic mentioned respondus as a way to convert questions in different formats.
  • The system for making random variables seems complicated. Somehow Moodle generates a certain number of random numbers, which can then be used in the questions. There were issues in decimal points.
  • There is no student ID in Moodle so the student ID is not included in the comma separated list, so this may make it hard to upload marks to S3.  A perl script would have to be written.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Physics Education Research: Investigations and Applications (UKPSF K1 K2 K3)

On Friday, I am going to an event organized by the IOP on teaching undergraduate physics.

The abstract for the meeting reads

Physics Education Research (PER) consists of investigations into teaching and learning specifically within the physics context. This one-day meeting focuses on PER, both in terms of conducting educational research and also applying its findings. It will be of interest to those seeking to conduct investigations of their own, and also to those who wish to apply evidence-based findings in their own teaching. The event will consist of a mix of presentation, workshop and panel sessions, and should provide an opportunity for Continuing Professional Development.

I am not planning on doing research into teaching physics, but I am interested in the results. One key issue is the incorrect physical models that students have of even Newtonian physics, which they ave direct physical experience.

It will be interesting to see whether they use any cognitive theory.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Communication -- making the effort (UKPSF V4 A5 )

As part of my research, I do know a lot of jargon about nuclear physics and computing. When I speak
to non-experts i do make an attempt to not assume that the person I am talking to knows my jargon.
When I was a graduate students at Edinburgh, we once got a new supercomputer. A Proffesor in another research group, asked me how fast the new machine was. I told him, it could calculate 10 propagators a night, which he didn't understand.

It is in important is software project that the developers learn how to speak to the clients, so that they produce useful software.

It is particularly important to try and get the language correct, when talking to students, who are just starting on their journey to becoming experts. When I taught statistics to engineers I did try to add lots of engineering examples.

I came across a blog post about a succesful essay submission for part of their PGCAP course. I can see why the PGCAP people who marked it like it. They probably come from a sociology background, so they are happy to see a discussion of teaching in terms of the French philosopher Foucault. He didn't read Focault for his PGCAP course, and probably he had learned about it from a course he took as an undergraduate. There are a couple of references to PGCAP sources, but it is not clear that he had read them. So essentially he was passed, because he shared the cultural references of the  PGCAP markers, rather for any attempt to learn their teaching methods.

I might add that it looks as though the guy, who wrote the blog post is a good teacher.

Of course, those of us, who have decided that postmodernism is  rubbish, are at a disadvantage. So, as a student is expected to learn a new set of jargon, but the teachers don't want to bother.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Maths reform strikes back. (UKPSF V4 K3 V3 V4)

I don't normally watch daytime TV. However, two weeks ago,  I was watching some magazine program. One of the stories involved some American professor (Jo Boaler),  who was writing press releases to stop  children being tested on the basic times table. The presenters seemed to think that children should memorize the times table, but they were not sure why.

I have started reading the book  by Jo Boaler, called 

Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching.

I have only read the first chapter, but she is advocating "project based" learning. She was also complaining about the state of maths education in California. However, that was the state where there had been a big reform movement of mathematics teaching. There is a history of attempts to reform mathematics written from the perspective a Professor who was against the type of reforms. The issue is whether students are ready for problem solving, if they don't have the  background in basic mathematical techniques, such as algebra. The reform movement was stopped in California, and teachers started back on traditional methods.

Given the large consequences of any proposed reforms, I think it is useful to study previous attempts to reform education,  to see what went wrong. It will be interesting to see whether Prof. Jo Boaler mentions the history of mathematics reform in California.  

Friday, 4 December 2015

Calculus reform (UKPSF: K5 V4)

I am slowly reading "How to teach Mathematics" by Steven G. Krantz. This is a book with a lot of helpful advice about teaching Mathematics at the University level. In one part of the book, he discusses calculus reform. His remarks on this are very conservative, but not too negative.

I didn't really know what calculus reform is. I had heard of the "New Mathematics" movement, where students were taught about deep mathematical structures rather than multiplication tables. This was widely viewed as a disaster  because the students were confused and they didn't see how the material related to any applications at all. I remember doing group theory at school. There were rules to fill in the table, but I doubt I knew why we were studying this topic.

Anyway calculus reform seems to be  a  different subject. The introduction of one strand of calculus reform was done at Harvard. Calculus reform is described by this web page.

One feature of the Harvard Consortium Calculus was an emphasis on application. Normally, this would be a good thing, but it can also confuse the students, because it requires additional knowledge that students may not have.

Interestingly the author of the above web page warns against using too many "concept questions".
See the paper for a more positive review of concept questions.

On pretending to be a student (UKPSF K2 K3 V4)

There is archive at Cornell for papers on physics education. A couple of days ago, there was an interesting, but some what weird paper on a tutorial at a workshop for staff on the topic of physics education. The idea was for staff to pretend to be students and then do an exercise. Given that one section heading was "The whiteboard as contested territory", this tells the reader that the exercise was
a disaster. My conclusions are that the person who was leading the discussion did a poor job. Also it is not clear what the point is of the staff members pretending to be students is. The whole point of evidence based teaching is that the research should be based on the understanding of real students.

As some of my colleagues pointed out, there doesn't seem to be enough content for a publication.

For reasons not totally clear to me, I probably to know a little about sociology, to pass this PGCAP course. I was searching for some information when I found this BLOG entry.  This guy notices that his behaviour as a student in the PGCAP course is not very different to when he was a pupil at school. He talks with other people during lectures, so he is disruptive. Part of the problem is that he doesn't want to be at the lecture in the first place.

I can see why he passed the course, but looking at the references he didn't really do a great deal of additional work. A lot of the references are to the philosopher Foucault,  So I assume he already knew about Foucault, given that he is in School of Applied Social Science, so he just shoe horned his previous knowledge into a framework the people marking the essay liked. 

After reading the introduction to the blog post, I think  he is a reasonable teacher. It is not clear that the PGCAP course helped him improve his teaching. They passed him, because he shared a common language with the PGCAP markers. 

In one of the  PGCAP lessons I attended the teacher said "you can quote Foucalult", and I thought  I am not quoting any of that postmodern crap, but I probably should, if I want to pass the course.

Anyway the linking theme of the paper and the blog post is that staff members are not so different to students when they are being lectured too, or when they are in a tutorial group. I don't think that this observation can be used to enhance, student centred learning, because the staff members are still different to students. 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Stalking the Second Tier (UKPSF K3 V4)

I have seen a couple of references to the book: They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier by Sheila Tobias

 This was a report about an interesting study, where they got some students who had dropped out from science courses to take say creative writing courses at the undergraduate level. The students kept a journal of their experiences. This was obviously a study done at an American University, because by the nature of specialism in the UK, the majority of the students in the English department would not know enough mathematics to deal with a physics course.

The first student found that he was solving a lot of problems. He didn't like the fact that he couldn't discuss physics with the teacher in the class. He felt that the exam was much easier than all the home works. He also noticed that the students didn't work together on problems. Also there was a lot of competition between the students about the grades they were given.

When I look at what the student wrote, I see that the problems started very simply, but they gradually built in complexity. I don't see anyway to teach any other way . If the problems are too complicated the students will not be able to do them. However, it is clear that we need to relate different parts of the course, so that the students see the "big picture." Also it would be good to develop some concept questions.

We also need to make clear the teaching method.

I am sure the student enjoyed discussing different aspects of novels, but what did he really benefit, if everyone has an opinion, which is equally valid.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A paper on cognitve load theory (UKPSF A4 K2 K3)

Volume 27, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 99–105
Current Research Topics in Cognitive Load Theory
Third International Cognitive Load Theory Conference

Contemporary cognitive load theory research: The good, the bad and the ugly

I started reading the above paper, available via the library of Plymouth University.

It contains a review and introduction to a number of papers on cognitive load theory. This is a field of cognition that is important for "worked examples".

I particularly surprised to see the phrase:

 It is an unfortunate reality that the field of cognition and learning continues to lack from evidenced based theory driven research
because the PGCAP community are always insisting that their ideas are "evidence led."

The start of the paper describes how many experts in "cognitive load" are looking at complicated problem solving situations, which mirror the real world. This is good for developing content for the employability of the students.

One paper had data on how much help should be given to the students. A fully worked example gives the students a lot of help, but the problem solving method gives very little help to the students.

There was a review of a study which attempted to teach a "schema" for knowldege. This was good for transference of problem solving.

There was a review of a paper on cognitive load with students working in groups
While modern education strongly advocates working in groups and collaborative learning environments, very little research actually moves beyond fuzzy “feel good” explanations as to how and why group learning can be beneficial.

The research suggests that it is better for students to work in groups when dealing with hard material, but individual work is better for simpler problems. In groups the student can spread the memory load accross the students.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Worked examples (finally some theory) (UKPSF: K1 K2 K3 K5)

A standard way to lecture to students on theoretical physics or mathematics is to write down basic theory. Next a number of worked examples are shown to the students. Outside the lecture, the students have to work homework problems, which are similar to the examples shown in the lectures.

When I used to teach calculus to first year student's at the University of Liverpool, I used to write up some basic examples of differentiation. Some of the students at the back of the classroom used to gasp in amazement. It wasn't clear how to help them use the worked examples. Also a common concern is that they just memorize the solutions methods, so only gain "surface" knowledge.

While preparing something else I found out about worked example effect.  A collection of studies seem to find that it is very efficient for the students to study worked examples rather than just do problem solving.

For many complicated topics, it would surely be too time consuming to do problem solving from first principles.

The theory behind this is cognitive load theory.  

I liked the idea of tbe faded example, where not all the steps in a calculation is included. This should be used for "experts", so perhaps start the course with fully worked examples, before moving to examples with "missing steps."

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Teaching Excellence Framework (UKPSF V4)

The government is proposing to create something called the Teaching  Excellence Framework (TEF) to try to improve the teaching in higher education.

  • See the article by Peter Scott in the Guardian for a negative view bout TEF
  • See the collection of links from the Times Higher education section.
The goverment is preparing a white paper about the TEF. The record of the speech given by Jo Johnson MP,   gives the goverment's current thinking about TEF. A couple of points from the speech
  • The overment wants to increase student numbers and widen participationof students from all classes.

  • Some surveys have shown showed that only around half of students felt their course had provided good value for money
  • Between 2006 and 2015, the graduate earnings premium decreased from around 55% higher to around 45% higher than the earnings of non-graduates, with graduates now earning on average £31k and non-graduates £22,000.
  • There has been a 300% increase in the percentage of firsts since the 1990s. So the goverment wants to include a fine tuning of the grade.Perhaps a GPA.
I was amused to see the phrase
But many full time students are still not being sufficiently stretched.
He complains that many students report low weekly hours on their course, but do they know how much independenet study they should be doing? In the mathematics degree, there is an implicuit assumption that students spend time woking through their lecture notes. 

I was at  fitrst excited to see the phrase
I am also pleased to see the piloting of new National Student Survey questions that measure the engagement of students with their course, staff and fellow students.
Someone from Poland told me that their student questionair's includec questions to know whether students were engaged in the course, before they can complain. However, I expect that it will be the lecturers fault if the students are not engaged in the course.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

UK skills framework (UKPSF K3,K6,V2,A1)

Brief notes and discussion 4th November.

Below are my thoughts on filling in parts of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF)

K3  How students learn
       Perhaps a good thing to look at is "troublesome knowledge" as featured by the key note speech at the teaching and learning conference at Plymouth University 2015.
I need to learn more about the way students learn mathematics.

K6 Quality assurance
      This is to really to ensure that a good degree is obtained. I need to look at the motivation for quality assurance in education.

V2  Professional values
      Be careful of examples  that are based  on UK TV. I am not sure that this note from the class makes too much sense.

A1 areas of activity
     Design and plan learning module
         Probably good to discuss the design of the quantum universe course as well as writing the module record for "Mathematical Programming."

Remember for the first module only two area need to be covered.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

What can I learn from Coward's lecturing (UKPSF A2, K1, K2)

There was an interesting article about Alexander Coward a lecturer at Berkeley. The lecturer was very popular with the students, but he did seem  to have pissed the faculty off. I don't want to get into his strike breaking activities, but I would like to see why the students liked him.

He did his PhD at Oxford and he had passed the PGCAP exam.

Looking at the content of the course, it is more technical than we would teach at Plymouth as a service course. For example, it includes limits.  The course is very close to a text book. This is a very US way of teaching.

There is a blog of his teaching, which seems to be written by students.

Here is a link to a video.  Oh, dear did he really start the class by walking around and saying "I am really proud of you."

He is not systematically organizing the material. It looks as though he is just giving good lectures with examples.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Statistics books (UKPSF K1)

The statistics  books I used for teaching STAT353 (Engineering examples). I used the statistics books with Engineering themes to present many examples to the students. This is essential for motivation. In a staff student committee, a student said that there were many examples from Engineering.