Author Archives: Robert Talbert

November 25, 2014, 9:10 am

4+1 Interview: Linda Nilson

It’s been a while since our last 4+1 interview, so I am very happy to get this series going again. In these interviews, we pick an interesting person somewhere in math, education, or technology and ask four questions along with a special +1 bonus question at the end.

9781620362426_cf200Our guest this time is Linda Nilson, founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. She’s the author of numerous papers and books on teaching and learning in higher education, including the essential Teaching At Its Best, and she gives regular speaking and workshop engagements around the country on teaching and learning. Her latest book, Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time, is IMO maybe the most innovative, provocative, and potentially revolutionary one she’s done, and that’s the focus of the interview.

I first met Linda …

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November 19, 2014, 3:57 pm

Making screencasts: The working example

This is the last of three videos that I made for the An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching on Coursera. Here, I describe how I make what I call a “working example” video, one in which I am working out an example as if at a whiteboard, only on an iPad screen.

As with everything, there is more than one way to do this. I used to use a Wacom tablet and the Flysketch app to annotate PDF’s and record the action. I’m more iPad-centric these days but even now my methods are still a work in progress. Since the making of this video, I’ve tried to make a couple of working example videos for my classes, but the Doceri window that appears on the Mac has a lot of flicker on it, so much that it’s distracting when viewing the final product. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s led me to consider other workflows, including recording the entire screencast on Doceri…

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November 11, 2014, 1:50 pm

Making screencasts: The talking head

Here is the second video in the three-part series that I did for the An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching on Coursera. This is one gets under the hood about how I make the videos I call “talking head” videos — where it’s just a voiceover and some lecture slides running. The talking head video is very similar to a traditional lecture or a conference talk, so for those instructors out there who are looking to transition to a flipped learning model, or make additional video content available to students and are looking for the simplest place to start, this would probably be it.

I should note that I probably overcomplicate this process. In PowerPoint and Keynote, for example, you can record a voiceover while the slides are playing — just use the built-in computer microphone, and there’s no additional hardware or software needed. I’m just a stickler for good…

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November 4, 2014, 9:26 am

Notes to my sleep-deprived self

Grumpy_CatRemember how earlier this semester I wrote that, despite the constant influx of projects and tasks that I am working on, I am really focusing on just four things: relationships, balance, simplicity, and kindness? Well, unsurprisingly it turns out that this is harder than it looks. In fact, as the semester creeps into the final few weeks, I’m freshly aware of just how hard it is to summon the humanity and the charity it takes to not throttle a whole lot of my students treat each student with the care and respect she or he deserves.

This was particularly clear last Monday morning. I have this condition I call “Sunday Night Insomnia” which involves me sleeping extremely poorly almost every Sunday night. I don’t know why this happens. It’s not because of nervousness – most of the time I’m not even thinking about work the next day – or being in front of the TV, or drinking …

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October 29, 2014, 12:55 pm

Making screencasts: The pedagogical framework

Last week I was honored to be part of the MOOC on An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching that’s currently being offered by Vanderbilt University through Coursera. Derek Bruff (who did a 4+1 interview for us last year) is one of the lead instructors of the MOOC, and he asked me to contribute three videos about my use of screencasting and lecture as part of the flipped classroom.

Those videos went out on the MOOC last week, and now that the Courserians have had a week with them, I’m going to share them with you as well. I made three of these videos. The first one, below, has to do with my approach to lecture and the pedagogical framework for screencasting as part of a flipped-instruction model. The second and third, which I will post later, get into the nuts and bolts of how I actually construct screencasts. I get asked a lot about those nuts and bolts, so it was …

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October 21, 2014, 9:10 am

Questions and answers from Cal Poly

aerial-09-500pxThis past weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting California Polytechnic State University, aka Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, CA for a day of consulting with faculty on teaching and learning issues and giving a talk on “Re:Designing Class for Flipped Learning Experiences”. Here is the talk I gave. The visit was set up by Stan Yoshinobu, a prof in the Mathematics Department and the head of the Academy for Inquiry Based Learning.

I enjoy giving talks but I really enjoy getting one-to-one or small-group-on-one with faculty to listen to their stories, hear their questions, and help them get their work done. I met with several groups of faculty and a group of students* who had great questions about the flipped classroom. I’m going to try to remember some of the better questions that haven’t been discussed here at the blog already, and outline my answers. (Or at least, what I wished I’d…

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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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