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.