August 22, 2014, 9:58 am

Approaching balance in an academic life

3832406129_c81191cc27_mRecently, I received an accolade that not only meant a great deal to me, but also set many thoughts in motion about how I think about work. OK, this is just a Twitter mention, but it comes from a person whose own work I respect; and for me, “succeeding at research and teaching while staying human” is a pretty economical description of a successful academic career.

This tweet has come into sharp relief lately. Our semester is starting up on Monday and the ease with which I can find balance will lessen considerably. Also, when I look back on some of the comments I’ve received on recent blog posts, there’s a pattern showing up that has me concerned for some of my fellow academicians, namely that there’s a desire to have a more balanced approach to work – excellent research and excellent teaching – but this balance is disincentivized or downright impossible. There seems to …

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August 18, 2014, 9:30 am

The four things I am really working on this semester

14825779592_d5263cf57e_mThis week at my university, like a lot of other universities and colleges in the US we are making the transition into the new academic year. It’s the end of the summer. I’m sad that the break is ending but I’m very happy with what I was able to get done. For the first time in years, I didn’t teach a summer class. Instead, I spent a lot of time on the road, speaking and giving workshops in places ranging from my own university to North Carolina, Indiana, and Cardiff, Wales – even Paris, via prerecorded video. I’ve dug into Haskell, object-oriented Python, and category theory. I indulged in a lot of the “someday/maybe” items I’ve been squirreling away. And I managed to spend a ton of time with the kids, hitting the beach, going on hikes, hanging around the house playing Mario Kart, or whatever the day and the mood called for. I didn’t waste a lot of time, and that’s…

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August 12, 2014, 12:22 pm

Is lecture really the thing that needs fixing?

d510c2df-22fc-47b9-8511-e1e69a9d560bOne of my Twitter people asked me to share my thoughts on yesterday’s Chronicle article, “Can Universities Use Data to Fix What Ails the Lecture?” At the time, I skimmed the article and replied that LectureTools, the technological tool developed by Perry Samson to gather real-time data from students during a lecture, reminded me of the contraption you see in the photo to your left. That’s an automated chalkboard eraser. As technology goes, it’s quite effective in what it does. Just look at how clean that board is! Which is great but… that’s a chalkboard for goodness’ sake. A piece of communications technology that is not significantly different than prehistoric cave drawing, and which has been improved upon countless times. (Purists who still cling to chalkboards: You guys are Luddites. Sorry.)  Strapping an awesome piece of technology to a chalkboard doesn’t make the …

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July 25, 2014, 1:17 pm

Clients, not customers

3313998177_d38c471257_mThis morning the Chronicle had an article with the expertly-crafted headline “5 Dirty Words Admissions Offices Should Embrace”. The first one of these was “customer”:

Many people who work at colleges dislike the word, preferring to call students “students.” But as more Americans question the value of higher education, Mr. Niles said, institutions must think more like businesses, with customers to please, customer-service to enhance: “It gives you a sense that you have a responsibility to them.” Colleges exist to serve students, he insisted, and not the reverse. It’s worth noting the terms used every day in admissions offices include “inquires,” “prospects,” and “suspects.”

(Ed.: “Suspects”? Really?) Unsurprisingly this generated a number of comments, some of which may contain actual dirty words.

As much as I’m uncomfortable with business-buzzword …

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June 28, 2014, 9:57 am

Grand challenges for mathematics education

1054180042_90c9dace1c_mOn Twitter this week, someone sent out a link to this survey from the NCTM asking users to submit their ideas for “grand challenges” for mathematics education in the coming years. I forget the precise definition and parameters for a “grand challenge” and I can’t go back to the beginning of the survey now that I’ve completed it, but the gist is that a grand challenge should be “extremely difficult but doable”, should make a positive impact on a large group of mathematics students, and should be grounded in sound pedagogical research.

To that list of parameters, I added that the result of any grand challenge should include a set of free, open-source materials or freely-available research studies that anyone can obtain and use without having to subscribe to a journal, belong to a particular institution, or use a particular brand of published curricula. In other words, one…

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June 23, 2014, 9:41 am

Guest post: Blending and flipping modern architecture

There’s a lot on this blog about the flipped or inverted classroom, and it’s primarily from the mathematics and STEM perspective. I am often asked how the inverted classroom might look in the humanities or social sciences. I’d like to welcome Jeff Schramm, an associate professor of History and Political Science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, whose guest post today details his use of the flipped classroom in a history of architecture course. Enjoy! –rt

IMG_4765How many of you reading this have a formal dining room in your home? A separate room, not just a dining area in a kitchen or great room. How often does this dining room get used for its intended purpose? Daily? Weekly? A couple times a year on major holidays?

This is how I begin my Architecture, Technology and Society, 1750-present class. It’s my first attempt at helping my students to think about the built…

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June 16, 2014, 5:18 pm

Three updates on Mathematica and The Wolfram Language

wolfram-language-and-mathematica-icons1Greetings from Indianapolis, my old stomping grounds, where I’m attending the 2014 American Society for Engineering Education Conference. I’m speaking tomorrow morning on the flipped classroom in calculus and its implications for engineering education, and I’m also the Mathematics Division chair this year and so I have some plate-spinning functions to perform.

But what I wanted to just briefly note right now are some news items that I picked up from some folks at the Wolfram Research booth about upcoming developments with Mathematica and the still-sort-of-new Wolfram Language.

First: Mathematica is not being rebranded as the Wolfram Language. Two weeks ago, this post was put up at the Wolfram Blog that said

Back in 2012, Jon McLoone wrote a program that analyzed the coding examples of over 500 programming languages that were compiled on the wiki site Rosetta Code. He…

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June 13, 2014, 2:40 pm

Three issues with the case for banning laptops

2984626120_6f756e2da7_mThis article, “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom”, written by Dan Rockmore for The New Yorker, has been getting considerable airtime on social media this week. As a classroom instructor I can certainly attest to the power of technology to distract and interfere with student learning. But I had three issues with the “case” being made.

1. Because the headline focuses on banning laptops from the classroom, it’s easy to miss this very important point made in the article:

These examples [of how learning is negatively affected by the presence of technology] can be seen as the progeny of an ill-conceived union of twenty-first-century tools (computers, tablets, smartphones) with nineteenth-century modalities (lectures). I’m not discussing the “flipped classroom,” wherein lectures are accessed outside of class on digital devices and the classroom is used as a…

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June 5, 2014, 8:00 pm

Four things I wish I’d known about the flipped classroom

I have been spending this week at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina as a plenary speaker and instructional faculty at the Teaching and Learning Institute of the Appalachian College Association. This is the second year in a row I’ve been at the TLI as a plenary speaker and staff member, and I’m honored to have been asked back, and it’s been a great week. I’ll have more to say about the TLI in upcoming posts.

For now, though, I wanted to share another thing I did this week, which was to give a talk to the faculty at Ecole Centrale Paris, one of the foremost technical universities in France on the flipped classroom. I was able to be in two places at the same time because the talk to ECP was given via pre-recorded video. That talk was given at the same time as my plenary talk at Lenoir-Rhyne, in fact! Is there a prize for this?

The talk was titled, “Four Things I…

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May 19, 2014, 12:25 pm

Technology, learning, and institutional mission statements

13164220234_91e79f4575_mRight now I’m preparing for a talk I’m giving next month, in which I’ll be speaking on using technology to connect students, faculty and institutions to the fundamentally human activities of learning and growth. Of those three groups – students, faculty, and institutions – I’m finding it to be a lot easier to talk about students and faculty and their relationship to technology than it is to talk about institutions. I’m wondering: Why is that?

After all, people are messy – we are a combination of social backgrounds, economic statuses, geography, past learning experiences, attitudes, preconceptions and more. When we advocate for the “use of technology” in learning, this phrase has to take all of these aspects of each person involved into account. That’s what makes the “use of technology” hard – and it explains why simplistic applications of technology in…

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