Author Archives: Robert Talbert

April 14, 2014, 2:57 pm

The hidden costs of unsolicited textbooks — a view from the mailroom

Back in January I posted an article calling for an end to unsolicited review copies of textbooks being sent to professors. Interestingly, on Reddit a student at my university who works for the mail services department did an AMA, and I had the chance to ask: What kind of impact does it make on the university, from an infrastructure or mail services point of view, to have all these unsolicited books being sent in? Keep in mind that we’re a public university of 24,000 students and lots and lots of faculty. Here are some highlights from his response, which I thought was pretty interesting though not totally surprising:

Ugh, I HATE those! Nobody wants them, nobody asks for them, and they take up valuable space in our truck and our holding area.

As far as the cost it passes onto us, it’s definitely hard to quantify, but I can tell you all the different ways we waste time on those…

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April 11, 2014, 9:30 am

Weekend reading (April 11)


Spring, rising from the ashes. Or the mulch.

It was a busy week here at Casting Out Nines, with this post generating more comments than any other one I’ve ever had – and quite a lot of heat as well in the comment section. Let’s take a break from all that with some interesting stuff from around the interwebs:

I’ve been a big fan of the programming language Scratch – designed for kids to use – for a long time, and Mark Guzdial reports on the new ScratchJr project that aims to bring coding to kids of even younger ages. I’d be thrilled to have this publicly available by summertime so I can foist it upon my 10- and 8-year olds.

Lifehacker describes how being humble, kind, and calm will make your life easier. This is always good advice, especially for people in academia and doubly so this time of the …

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April 8, 2014, 2:58 pm

The problem is not the students.

Last week I posted what I considered to be an innocuous and mildly interesting post about a proposed formal definition of flipped learning. I figured it would generate a few retweets and start some conversations. Instead, it spawned one of the longest comment threads we’ve had around here in a while – probably the longest if you mod out all the Khan Academy posts. It was a comment thread that made me so angry in places that it has taken me a week to calm down to the point where I feel I can respond.

It takes a bit of backstory to explain why I was so emotionally worked up over some of the comments in that thread, so bear with me for a minute.

We’re in week 13 of our semester here. I am teaching three courses (two preps), all using flipped learning models. One of these courses is part of the General Education curriculum, and the other serves mostly students in the CS…

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April 4, 2014, 10:00 am

Weekend reading (April 4)

3283750854_5beaf38c6f_mFrom around the interwebs this week:

Wired Campus reports on how taking notes by hand benefits recall. I’ve believed in this for years. One thing I’d have liked the article to mention is that “writing longhand” and using a computer are not mutually exclusive – I take almost all my notes from meetings, reading, and talks longhand on my iPad using Notability and a Boxwave stylus.

Software developer Jason Lewis has a well-thought-out post on computational literacy and learning math. From the article: “If we want kids to code, we must not only allow them to apply that knowledge whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, we must also train teachers to always and everywhere encourage the application of computational thinking (as well as programming) to whatever problem set presents itself as a viable candidate.” In other words, teach the teachers first.

A while back I…

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April 1, 2014, 2:34 pm

Toward a common definition of “flipped learning”

2014-04-01_14-33-25We’ve seen a significant ramping up of interest in – and exposure to – the flipped/inverted classroom over the last few years, and it’s been nice to see an uptick in the amount of research being done into its effectiveness. But one thing that’s been lacking has been a consensus on what the flipped classroom actually is. If a professor assigns readings to do before class and then holds discussions in class, is that “the flipped classroom”? I’ve said in the past that it is not (necessarily), but that’s just me. Now, however, a group of educators and others interested in flipped learning are proposing a common definition of flipped learning, and it’s pretty interesting.

Their definition of flipped learning goes like this:

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and…

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March 21, 2014, 11:44 am

Weekend reading (March 21)


This is not what Spring looks like in Michigan at the moment.

Welcome to your weekly small-shiny-objects-from-the-web post:

Is banning PowerPoint slides the key to having meetings that are more informative, interactive, and community-driven? Well, it couldn’t hurt. I’d heard about US military command groups banning PowerPoint in meetings but the similar ban from physicists is new to me.

Some states are beginning to allow computer science classes to count toward the foreign language requirements for high school students. You might think that’s a boon for CS educators, but this post explains why maybe it isn’t such a great idea.

Good article at Wired on why punishing students for using electronic gadgets will only make things worse for them in the future. Better to design instruction that engages the…

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March 18, 2014, 4:34 pm

What should mathematics majors know about computing, and when should they know it?

5064804_8d77e0d256_mYesterday I got an email from a reader who had read this post called What should math majors know about computing? from 2007. In the original article, I gave a list of what computing skills mathematics majors should learn and when they should learn them. The person emailing me was wondering if I had any updates on that list or any new ideas, seven years on from writing the article.

If anything, over the past seven years, my feelings about the centrality of computing in the mathematics major have gotten even more entrenched. Mostly this is because of two things.

First, I know more computer science and computer programming now than I did in 1997. I’ve learned Python over the last three years along with some of its related systems like NumPy and SciPy, and I’ve successfully used Python as a tool in my research. I’ve taken a MOOC on algorithms and read, in whole or in part, books…

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March 11, 2014, 2:34 pm

Getting off on the right foot in an inverted calculus class

5524669257_ab67585fd0_mIn the previous post about the flipped/inverted calculus class, we looked at getting student buy-in for the flipped concept, so that when they are asked to do Guided Practice and other such assignments, they won’t rebel (much). When you hear people talk about the flipped classroom, much of the time the emphasis is on what happens before class – the videos, how to get students to do the reading, and so on. But the real magic is what happens in class when students come, prepared with some basic knowledge they’ve acquired for themselves, and put it to work with their peers on hard problems.

But before this happens, there’s an oddly complex buffer zone that students and instructors have to cross, and that’s the time when students arrive at the class meeting. Really? you are thinking. How can arrival to class be such a complicated thing? They show up, you get to work, right? Well…

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March 7, 2014, 9:00 am

Weekend reading (March 7)

Tacos and Spanish Rice

Here’s a picture of some tacos, for no real reason other than it might make you happy.

It’s been a busy week of blogging around here with the posts about the flipped calculus class. I’m taking a break from that series until next week, but in the meantime here are more items to read and discuss.

  • If you read one thing from this list, read this article in which Evan Selinger and Andrew Phelps argue that colleges need to start acting like startup or face obsolescence. It’s a perplexing read. On the one hand, their thought that innovation is the correct lens through which to consider higher ed is compelling. On the other hand, I think their three pillars of startup-hood – density, shared resources, and nurturing communities – don’t always apply to successful colleges, and the focus on these has the…

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March 6, 2014, 2:25 pm

Getting student buy-in for the inverted calculus class

370413613_6869b53f24_mSo far, regarding the inverted/flipped calculus course, we’ve discussed why I flipped the calculus class in the first place, the role of self-regulated learning as a framework and organizing principle for the class, how to design pre-class activities that support self-regulated learning, and how to make learning objectives that get pre-class activities started on a good note. This is all “design thinking”. Now it’s time to focus on the hard part: Students, and getting them to buy into this notion of a flipped classroom.

I certainly do not have a perfect track record with getting students on board with an inverted/flipped classroom structure. In fact the first time I did it, it was a miserable flop among my students (even though they learned a lot). It took that failure to make me start thinking that getting student buy-in has to be as organized, systematic, and well-planned as…

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