Gas station without pumps

2012 October 30

Stages of acceptance, reversed

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:28
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In Stages of Acceptance, Nick Falkner wrote

There’s a pretty standard set of responses, indicating the evolution of acceptance over time:

  1. It will never work.
  2. It may work but it won’t work here.
  3. Of course we should do that.

We see so much separation between the different communities of practice across the disciplines and, regrettably, it’s possible for teaching practitioners to be (effectively) at stage 1 when the educational researchers and designers are at stage 3.

I would posit that there is another series of responses to educational fads:

  1. It is great, everyone should do this.
  2. Maybe it doesn’t work that well in everybody’s hands.
  3. It was a terrible idea—no one should ever do that.

Think, for example, of the Gates Foundation’s attempt to make small high schools.  They were initially very enthusiastic, then saw that it didn’t really work in a lot of the schools where they tried it, then they abandoned the idea as being completely useless and even counter-productive.

The difficult thing for practitioners is that the behavior of proponents in stage 1 of an educational fad is exactly the same as in Falkner’s third stage of acceptance.  It is quite difficult to see whether a pedagogical method is robust, well-tested, and applicable to a particular course or unit—especially when so much of the information about any given method is hype from proponents. Educational experiments seem like a way to cut through the hype, but research results from educational experiments are often on insignificantly small samples, on very different courses from the one the practitioner needs to teach, and with all sorts of other confounding variables.  Often the only way to determine whether a particular pedagogic technique works for a particular class is to try it and see, which requires a leap of faith, a high risk of failure, and (often) a large investment in developing new course materials.

Getting a new pedagogic technique to be widely adopted requires having enough initial plausibility for early adopters to experiment with the technique, big enough successes by the early adopters for them to continue to push the technique, development of course materials that later adopters can use without a huge time investment, and sufficient success by late adopters that the method doesn’t fade out.  Some techniques have stuck around for a long time because they work relatively well for the effort expended (lecturing, for example), while others have a brief lifetime, either because they don’t work well, or they work, but only in the hands of exceptional teachers or only with extreme levels of effort.

2012 October 29

More on group work

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:23
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I have often spoken out about the mis-use of group work in today’s schools, grouping kids together to do projects that could more efficiently be done individually. (See, for example, Group work)  I’m not opposed to group work that is genuine (for example, in theater, sports, or engineering senior design projects).  Nor am I opposed to pairing students in labs to share equipment.

My objection is to the idea that forcing kids to work together on projects that they could more easily do separately somehow prepares them for the workforce, or is “good for them” in some other way.

Another person who sees group work in a similar light is Katherine Beals. Her latest post, Out In Left Field: Real-world group work, talks about how groups in the “real world” of work are organized, and how greatly this differs from the usual school “group work”.  The basic idea is that most “group work” in the real world consists of occasional group meetings separated by intense individual work, and that groups are often highly hierarchical.  Who the boss is and how effective they are makes an enormous difference in how well a group works.

A different way forward for circuit course

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:30
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Eleven days ago, I posted about a discussion I had with the EE undergrad director about a political way forward for the applied circuits course.  When I sent a summary of that discussion to the interested members of the undergrad curriculum committee, he responded that I had gotten it all wrong.

I had another meeting today with the EE undergrad director and my co-instructor (also the bioengineering undergrad director who is my department chair), to see if we could find a way forward that we can agree on.  Here are some of my notes from that discussion:

  1. My co-instructor and I will prototype an applied circuits course this Winter as a “group tutorial” that does not require higher levels of approval than the department.
  2. The course will not attempt to be an equivalent to the EE circuits course. Instead we will make it as broadly accessible as possible, consistent with it
    meeting the needs of the bioengineering majors for a solid engineering design course.
  3. We will document the course as best we can so that others can potentially teach it in future.I will document the labs as best I can, and we will put any lab handouts or lecture notes we develop publicly accessible on the web.
  4. The course that we teach will be accepted by the bioengineering major as satisfying the circuits course requirement, but will not be accepted by EE as a prereq for courses that require their circuits course as a prereq. That means that this course will be suitable as a terminal electronics course, but not as a gateway to the
    bioelectronics course (unless students follow it with EE’s circuits course).
  5. After the course has been taught, we will meet with any EE faculty who are interested to be debriefed on the course design. At that time decisions will be made about whether the course is ever taught again (it is an experiment and it could fail badly), if it is adopted/adapted by EE as a new course, or if our department offers the course in future. (Other outcomes are also potentially possible.)

Other items not discussed at the meeting (and hopefully not controversial):

  • My co-instructor has checked with people who schedule the lab times that lab time can be scheduled next quarter, as long as we only need fixed time blocks, and not open access.
  • I have asked the scheduler to schedule the lecture course MWF next quarter, not conflicting with my co-instructor’s schedule. I’ve suggested a cap of 24 students (one lab section), but if the course fills and we can schedule another lab section, we could raise the cap to 40.
  • I have informed the bioengineering staff adviser of the group tutorial course, and she will check how students register for group tutorial courses.
  • Later this week, I’ll send out an e-mail announcement to all bioengineering majors, minors, and pre-majors, letting them know of the existence of this experimental course and how they can sign up for it.
  • We do not expect a TA for the group tutorial, but would like to hire a (cheaper) undergrad group tutor/grader to help out. In future years, if the course if taught on a regular basis, it should probably have one instructor or professor plus a TA.

I hope that this time we heard the same points as agreement, so that I can continue moving forward with the course design, and not keep getting sidetracked into politics (which, quite frankly, I’m terrible at).

My co-instructor and I have agreed that we will try to use free on-line materials instead of a textbook, and that student money freed up by not buying a textbook will be used instead for tools and parts for students to purchase.  I’m estimating a budget of about $100 for tools and parts per student, but we may end up having to break that up into separate “kits”, especially if we redesign later labs based on experience in the early ones.


2012 October 27

New PC board design for pressure sensor

I designed a new breakout board for a pressure sensor today, for the MPX2053DP sensor. It took me a while to get the unibody outline drawn in an Eagle library so that I could place the part.

I could get 10 copies of the board from ITEAD for the same price as the instrumentation amp prototyping boards ($9.90 for 10, plus shipping), since they are 1.25″×1.1″, or 3.175cm×2.794cm, which is under the 5cm×5cm breakpoint for that price.  I could get 3 copies from OSHPark for $6.88 (including shipping).  If I later need a larger number of boards, I can get 100  boards smaller than 5cm×5cm for $75 or 200 for $120 from ITEAD, but I don’t think I’ll need that many this year, since we’ll either make a dozen pressure sensors for the lab, or have each student solder up their own (for which 30 boards would be plenty this year).

I also found a source for a cheap capacitor collection that we may be able to use for the student kits.  It has 10 each of 25 different values from 1pF to 0.1µF.  I would have preferred slightly larger values (say, 47pF to 4.7µF), but at $4.80 for 250 capacitors it seems like a pretty good deal.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell if they are 0.1″ or 0.2″ spacing on the leads, which would make a difference for my protoboard design.  If I order the pressure sensor breakout boards from ITEAD, I could order capacitors at the same time.



Antiscience beliefs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:04
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Scientific American has recently published an article by, Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy.  The article provides some historical context for anti-science politics in the US, but is mainly an opinion piece about the dangers of the growth of anti-science positions in mainstream US politics.  It is an article well worth reading if you worry about the future of the US (and the world).

The article also points to an evaluation of the two presidential candidates on several key science-policy questions.  Neither candidate did particularly well, but there were some clear differences between them.  If there are any scientists still undecided about which candidate to support, the article is worth reading.

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