Friday recommended reads #18

  • Have you always wanted to trash (or praise) a paper publicly? Check out PubPeer, “the online journal club.” All of the comments also show up in PubMed, too.
  • Just like nearly every other fad in education, “flipping” a classroom is not really an innovation and not a big frickin’ deal. This is explained really well by Rebecca Schuman in her column in Slate. (Yes, Slate is click-baiting pablum, but everything Schuman has written there rocks. If you want a reality check on issues in higher education, and you are a twittery person, follow her at @pankisseskafka.)
  • I learned a number of things in this essay by Tricia Matthew, about Teaching While Black.
  • It’s conventional knowledge that the increasingly competitive job market has increased the time it takes for a postdoc to land a tenure-track position. Surprise: that’s flat-out wrong. At least in my field. For more than a couple decades, the mean PhD-to-tenure-track duration hasn’t changed at all, and is just under 4 years, among ecologists those who start tenure-track positions. Here are the data (it’s a paywalled pdf.)
  • Don’t forget that Taxonomist Appreciation Day is coming in less than a month, on March 19th! To warm us up, here’s a heartwarming and science-laden post by David Maddison called The Legacy of a Taxonomist.
  • If you’re thinking about taking someone else’s poop and shoving it up your butt, be careful, because there’s a growing call for government regulation.
  • What does the largest bat in the Neotropics eat? Other bats! Here’s a video of this discovery, and be sure to turn the volume up for crunching sounds. [update: old fact, just a new video. thanks to Dan Janzen for setting this straight.]
  • New York City has some great wildlife, especially ants. Now there’s a great new, and free, book about them written for the general public. Great for a variety of ages. Get it here. You can get a pdf or an interactive iBook.

Anything you want to share? Please add them in the comments.

For links, thanks to Morgan Jackson (via @BioInFocus) and Sharlene Santana (via TheBatcave_SS) and Meghan Duffy (via @duffy_ma).

5 thoughts on “Friday recommended reads #18

  1. It is well known that Vampyrum spectrum eats bats and birds (and very likely small rodents), and has been well known for at least 50 years (since I was in graduate school). When you have one in captivity, you simply feed it small other bats.

  2. Given your focus on good teaching, I was a little surprised by your comment about flipping being nothing new. I’ve never read Schuman’s work at Slate, but I have to say that it wasn’t very impressive. She starts off ridiculous: watch out, your professors are experimenting on you! (Duh! This is how people improve their courses, isn’t it? Try something new you’ve heard about from a colleague, blog, or in the literature, and see if it works for your classes.) I gave her the benefit of the doubt, especially since she hit her stride with a Ghostbusters reference followed by one of the cleaner definitions of flipping I’ve seen. However, much of the rest of the post suffered the acceptance of some pretty weary and fear-laden misunderstandings: 1) why change things that have worked for hundreds of years? (because sometimes new things work better than the old things – anybody still type all their manuscripts on a typewriter and put them in snail mail?); 2) USA Today says flipping doesn’t work! (surprise: this story might have been a little disingenuous and oversimplified: see; and 3) this is one step away from making myself obsolete a la MOOCs (what flipping DOES do is free up time in the classroom for active learning, which requires a teacher who is both expert and present – unlike MOOCs: see

    She then ends with a conclusion that is essentially, “I tried this once, and it didn’t work. Therefore, that whole flipping thing is a useless fad. Luckily, it makes for effective punishment, so at least it’s good for something”. It didn’t really sound to me like she knew what she was doing or had made much of an effort to plan an effective approach. Maybe some more research was in order before she jumped on the condemnation bandwagon (though in fairness she does mention that flipping can be useful in some disciplines – just not the humanities).

    Sure, flipping is similar to good-old discussions, but it differs in that students can get extra exposure to different material before class while working on more active learning in class (discussions aren’t always so active, as we all know). Yeah, it can involve videos like MOOCs do, but there’s a big, big difference (see links above). Yeah, it’s popular now (and has been around for over 10 years), but so are blogs. And even though blogs are basically just electronic diaries, letters to the editor, paper commentaries, etc., I think we’d all agree there also something more to them that is innovative and different enough to warrant their popularity.

    • I think the broad interest in flipping, and the term ‘flipping’ itself, is new. But I do agree with Schuman’s major point, that it’s not as innovative as we sometimes read. There’s a lot of hype about it, and I like this article if anything because it’s the counterbalance that we don’t see, from someone who actually teaches at the college level.

  3. The bigger problem that I had with Schuman’s article is why would anyone want to flip a literature class? It’s already got the key elements: students do the reading outside of class, and come to class to discuss the text. The professor asks questions and the students try to answer them. No need to create artificial problem sets as she did; the student involvement and active learning is already there.

    In contrast most classes in the natural sciences and social sciences are much more lecture based, with students passively sitting in a lecture hall watching a lecture that they could’ve watched just as well on video the evening before. That’s where flipping a classroom can make a difference.

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