Category Archives: Education

December 2, 2014, 2:03 pm

Thinking about grading

2158796487_8133cf75dd_zAfter reading about specifications grading in this article and then interviewing Linda Nilson about her book on the subject, I read Linda’s book over the holiday break. It’s causing a chain reaction in my mind about how I view and assess student work that expands outward into how I think about teaching and learning on a fundamental level.

Whether or not you’re on board with the idea of specifications grading, Linda’s book is a challenge to re-think the fundamental assumptions we in academia often make about assessment and grading. For me, there were four things that were very clear to me after reading the book that were only partially clear before.

1. Traditional grading systems work against my goals as a teacher. At the beginning of this semester, I publicly stated that I was organizing my work around the principles of relationships, balance, simplicity, and kindness….

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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 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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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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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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April 28, 2014, 12:00 pm

Flipped learning skepticism: Is flipped learning just self-teaching?

3366045227_b2c630bde5_mI had to take a bit of a hiatus for the last two weeks to finish up the semester and to give and grade exams. Now that this is over, I wanted to come back and address some of the comments in these two posts. Specifically, many of those comments are principled skepticisms of flipped learning and the flipped classroom, and rather than bury my responses in an already crowded comment thread, I thought they deserved to be brought up point by point for discussion.

Here’s the first one to bring up, and it’s a tough one. This (and many of the other topics I’ll be bringing up) come directly from Manda Caine’s comment on one of those earlier posts. She said:

When my colleagues and I have [taught with a flipped classroom], students do not perceive that a professor is teaching them at all, so we have comments such as, “We could just do this at home” or “Why am I paying all this…

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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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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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