May 6, 2013, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

Let’s go back to the research paper on screencasting that I first blogged about here. In that post, we saw that students on the study generally watched the screencasts, even without explicit rewards like grades, and the tended to do so strategically. But what about student learning? Did it help?

To answer that question, we have to go back to a previous paper by the authors [PDF]. (That one is in the queue this week to read and blog about.) In that paper, the authors did find a positive correlation between screencast use (which they tracked using stats for the class’ course management system) and overall performance. But – this correlation does not imply causation, and indeed when the data are sliced along various demographic lines, sometimes the students’ performance was better explained by GPA than by screencast use.

I haven’t gotten into that second paper yet, but what …

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January 25, 2013, 9:27 am

By Robert Talbert

Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt’s book *Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences* is considered one of the seminal works in the literature about STEM education in higher ed. It’s certainly one of the most cited. Even though it’s 15 years old, it still wields a powerful influence over a lot of thought about university-level STEM education.

Mark Connolly, a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, recently reached out to me to make me aware that he and Anne-Barrie Hunter of the University of Colorado Boulder are conducting a follow-up study to re-evaluate one of the claims made in the original 1997 study by Seymour and Hewitt study. Mark asked me to post about this to the blog and solicit your help in conducting the study. This involves taking a two-question survey. Here is the announcement from Mark and Anne-Barrie, and I hope you can find the time…

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December 18, 2012, 4:17 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m excited and happy to be teaching linear algebra again next semester. Linear algebra has it all — there’s computation that you can do by hand if you like that sort of thing, but also a strong incentive to use computers regularly and prominently. (How big is an incidence matrix that represents, say, Facebook?) There’s theory that motivates the computation. There’s computation that uncovers the theory. There’s something for everybody, and in the words of one of my colleagues, if you don’t like linear algebra then you probably shouldn’t study math at all.

Linear algebra is also an excellent place to use Peer Instruction, possibly moreso than any other sophomore-level mathematics course. Linear algebra is loaded with big ideas that all connect around a central question (whether or not a matrix is invertible). The computation is not the hard part of linear algebra — it…

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September 10, 2012, 3:13 pm

By Robert Talbert

Sorry for the absence, but things have been busy around here as we step fully into the new semester. The big experiment this term is with my flipped introduction to proofs class. As I wrote last time, I was pretty nervous going into the semester about the course. But things seem to be working really well so far. I don’t want to jinx the experience by saying so, but so far, nobody in either of my two sections of the course has given any indication that the flipped model isn’t working for them. In fact, I gave a survey in the first week of class that included an item soliticing their concerns or questions about the flipped model, and here’s a sample of the responses:

*I think the “flipped” structure will be better for a lot of the students and end with success from more students than normal.*
*I think this sounds really great. The idea of actually working on problems in class …*

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July 5, 2012, 4:13 pm

By Robert Talbert

Amid all the shuffle of the #mtt2k phenomenon and my piece on Khan Academy this week — which is well on its way to being the most-read and -retweeted article I’ve ever done — Konstantin Kakaes put up a response to critiques of his Slate piece on educational technology. In it, he addresses both my critique and that of Paul Karafiol. I wanted to give just a few counter-critiques here. I haven’t had a chance to read Paul’s piece, so I’m just going to focus on the part of the response that referenced my post. (Here’s the full post I wrote about the Slate article.)

Let’s go back to the original Slate piece, which said:

Though no well-implemented study has ever found technology to be effective, many poorly designed studies have—and that questionable body of research is influencing decision-makers.

The Slate piece suggests that researcher bias, brought on by having a financial stake in…

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June 27, 2012, 11:52 am

By Robert Talbert

Slate magazine has been running several articles on education this week, including two today that are of interest. This one by Konstantin Kakaes is worth looking at more closely, if only because it somehow manages to gather almost every wrong idea about technology in education in existence into a single, compact article.

The piece proposes that the effort to increase the use of technology in education “is beginning to do to our educational system what the transformation to industrial agriculture has done to our food system over the past half century: efficiently produce a deluge of cheap, empty calories.” I’m not sure which “effort” Kakaes is referring to, since there is no single push being coordinated from a secret underground bunker that I know of, and some efforts are better-conceived than others. But nevermind.

There are two overriding conceptual errors that drive this article…

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June 14, 2012, 10:00 am

By Robert Talbert

The following is a shameless plug for the Mathematics Division of the American Society for Engineering Education. I am the division’s program chair for next year’s conference in Atlanta, GA — the dates haven’t been released yet, but it’s always in the first half of June — which means I get to recruit presenters, set up the talks at the conference, and manage the logistics. The main thing is that we need presenters, and that’s the nature of the plug.

If you are an engineer with a passing interest in mathematics and its instruction, or a mathematics person with a passing interest in the education of engineers, this is the conference for you! And you should give a talk at the Atlanta conference. There are a number of reasons why:

- It’s a big conference, with over 4000 attending the 2012 meetings and about that many attending this year’s. Big stage for your ideas.
- It’s a different …

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March 7, 2012, 9:30 am

By Robert Talbert

This week is Spring Break, which means students get to go on vacations while faculty get caught up on work. And get caught up I did. Yesterday I set aside the entire day to focus on a single project: the completion of a draft of an article that I started in May 2011 (!), which got back-burnered last summer during our move to Michigan, and never quite made it out of neutral. The unfinished nature of that paper has been weighing on me for almost a year, so I wanted the thing done.

Rather than try to tweak and edit the existing manuscript, I just threw the whole thing out and started over again with a clearer concept, a clearer argument, and a clearer mind. Four hours later, I had completely rebuilt a 15-page article from the ground up, and I should be able to send it off to the journal by the end of the week. I’m a little shocked by this. It brought to mind three points about writing an…

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February 9, 2012, 8:48 pm

By Robert Talbert

Today I was excited to attend the startup meeting for a faculty learning community on the scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) here at GVSU. This group is sponsored and facilitated by our Faculty Teaching and Learning Center; it consists of the FTLC director and fellow faculty members from philosophy, history, computer science, and movement sciences. (And me.) Together over the next calendar year, we’re going to be working together to help each other develop research questions and projects in SoTL and serve as a sounding board for each others’ ideas.

I’ve been an end-user of SoTL for a long time and have done a lot of you might call “scholarship” in SoTL — for example all the writing and speaking I’ve done about the inverted classroom and clickers — but I’ve not done what I consider actual *research* in SoTL. One of the reasons I came to GVSU was to have the time, space, and …

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December 12, 2011, 7:45 am

By Robert Talbert

*Welcome to Math Monday! Each Monday here at Casting Out Nines, we feature a mathematics-themed article. Today’s is a new installment in an ongoing virtual seminar on columnar transposition ciphers. *

Let’s return to our ongoing look at the columnar transposition cipher. In the last article, we introduced the notion of cycles. A cycle can be thought of as a cluster of points which are moved around in a circular nature by a permutation. All permutations — including the permutation implemented by a columnar transposition cipher — break down into a product of disjoint cycles, and we can determine the order of a permutation (the smallest nonnegative power of the permutation that returns it to the identity) by finding the least common multiple of the lengths of the cycles in its disjoint cycle decomposition.

Since one of the main questions we are asking about CTC’s is about their order,…

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