Recommended reads #174

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Here is a piece of educational research on the relationship between undergraduate research and depression, another product Brownell lab at ASU. The article includes specific recommendations for those doing research with undergraduates to promote inclusive research experiences for students with depression. Sounds like a must-read for all of us with undergrads in our (currently virtual) labs.

When universities start teaching in the Fall, what choices does the pandemic give us? Here’s a full taxonomy of fifteen options. (Including HyFlex, which seems to be popular even though it’s also perhaps the most difficult for faculty to pull off well?) What is your university saying it will do, and what do you think they will actually do when the Fall arrives?

As if you didn’t know this, but: Colleges that are reopening are making a big mistake.

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Should we be using EdTech surveillance tools because of the pandemic?

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When we made the switch to online because of the pandemic, I imagine we all were asking ourselves: “How can students learn under these circumstances, and how can I possibly teach well?” Now that we’ve adjusted somewhat, I think now is the time for us to consider another consequential question: Which technological tools might be harming the educational environment of our virtual classroom?” In particular, is it a good idea to implement automated electronic surveillance of our students in this time of crisis?

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Recommended reads #173

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Teacher evaluation form for Spring 2020, from McSweeney’s

This is a very handy and straightforward resource to help you create an accessible online course.

Asking little kids to “do science” is substantially more impactful than asking them to “be scientists.” Just in case you wondered whether words matter, and whether subtle differences can have a big impact.

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The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching

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While I’ve mentioned it briefly in the past, now I’m ready for the full announcement: my book is good to go and is available for pre-order!

One of my goals with this blog is to make evidence-based teaching practices more accessible to scientists who aren’t prepared for a deep dive into educational jargon and theory. I sometimes have been asked to recommend a book that does this, and I couldn’t find one. They say that you should write the book that you think the world needs, so that’s what I did. It’s an outgrowth of Small Pond Science, but it’s all new material.

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No, the pandemic is not making me more productive

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Thank goodness, nobody I am working with has asked or expected me to maintain my productivity at the level it was before All Of This started. Though from what I’m hearing from others, there’s some folks expressing that this social distancing is a great moment to write a crap ton of papers and grants. Yeah no, it’s not working out like that. For those who are positioned to do so, I wish you well.

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Recommended reads #169

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I hope you all are safe, well, and that your loved ones are cared for. I’m not positioned to give you a brilliant or witty post, but did want to share some reads.

The race to put thousands of miles of English walking trails back on the map

A new funding opportunity from NSF: PurSUiT (Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa)

We need to talk about Zadie Smith: Why an entire generation quit writing

The invisible labor calculator

A resource guide for transitioning your class online

The accusations were lies. But could we prove it?

And three pandemic reads that I think are really good:

How the coronavirus became an American catastrophe

The doctor who helped defeat smallpox explains what’s coming

How to science in a pandemic, from Gina Baucom and her lab

Oh, and definitely not least: Stephen Heard’s new book is now out! “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels” (amazon|indiebound) My copy has still yet to arrive! This definitely looks fun.

Changing pass/fail policies for this absurdly discombobulated semester

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Yesterday, I was reading how some K-12 districts were switching to a pass/fail model for this semester. Two beats later, I thought — hey — this is something that looks important to college students too.

This morning, I saw that higher ed twitter has been talking about it, and many universities have already taken action. And it’s part of the discussion in the slack channel for my department (which after some years, is no longer moribund). So, this is a thing (and it’s not my idea), and if your institution isn’t on it, perhaps this would be a moment for some leadership and bring it up with the policy makers?

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Recommended reads #168

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Here is a rather substantial list of sites with online laboratory modules for a great variety of STEM disciplines. If I was teaching a lab this semester, and was compelled to teach online on very short notice, I’d probably be spending hours combing through what’s available. It looks really useful for this moment that we are in. It was assembled by folks on a POD Network listserv*.

It looks like folks who have more than a tangential relationship to the Pruitt affair are now being quite mum, as Dr. Pruitt has done gone lawyered up and sent out a bevvy of nasty letters bearing what I imagine is letterhead from a very scary law firm. I only know about this from this news story that came out in Science yesterday. The kicker in that article, a quote from the EIC of Ecology Letters, pretty much sums up the slowly unfolding situation: “I don’t think it looks promising that a simple, nonfraud, compelling explanation will surface.”

From the pages of Nature: “You can’t fight feelings with facts.”

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Advice post: Teaching in the time of COVID-19

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Some of us have already stopped holding classes in person. It looks like a lot more of us will be making the shift online very soon, as the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to expand in the United States.

We have a couple months left in the semester. I don’t think anybody knows whether campuses that go to online teaching will switch back to campus before the semester is over? It looks like we need to be prepared to stay online through the end of the spring.

This post is for advice.

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How is your classroom management?

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Did you hear about the recent-ish story about the white professor who called the cops into his classroom to exert power over a black student in his class? By all reports, midway through a lecture, the professor commanded his student to move to a seat at the front of the class. And when the student explained that he was well situated in his seat and was sitting near a plug so he could charge his laptop, the professor decided that his request was an ultimatum, and he unwisely escalated the situation.

How can an incident like this happen? Of course, let’s be clear, it’s racism. The actions of this professor are symptomatic of deep problems in higher education and our country.

From a pedagogical perspective, how is it that a highly experienced professor could make such a poor decision?

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Recommended reads #167

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What if we didn’t grade? A bibliography.

Joe Travis’s essay for the E.O. Wilson award in Am Nat is a contemporary ode to the enduring significance of natural history that I think will emerge as a classic. There are so many pull quotes I’d could share with you, but, just go ahead and read it.

Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife. Always nice to see something on this topic in the pages of Science.

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Cover letters for journal submissions

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I think one of the sillier rituals in academia is composing cover letters to accompany our manuscripts when we submit them to a journal.

We stopped submitting manuscripts by post about 20 years ago. You’d put three copies of your manuscript into a manila folder, and cover these manuscripts with a letter, as a form of explanation. “Hi, I’m sending you these manuscripts because you’re the editor and I’m submitting it to your journal.” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to write few lines why you think the paper is exciting and relevant for the audience of the journal.

But now that we’re not doing manuscript reviews by post, why are we still doing cover letters?

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Articles with simple statistics that are good examples for teaching

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I taught biostatistics for several years. You know what was one of bigger challenges of teaching that class? Finding articles to use in class that had straightforward application of the statistical principles that we were learning in class.

Let’s fix that! How about we crowdsource a list of articles that have great examples of common statistical concepts for us to use in teaching? I’ve created a google spreadsheet for this, please feel free to add to it! I’ve gotten it off a start with two papers that I’ve used a lot. (They date to the mid 2000s, because, well, that’s when I started teaching biostats, but they’re still great examples.) Please check out, and add to, this spreadsheet!

Here are a couple figures from one of the papers I added to the spreadsheet (Frederickson and Gordon 2007):

Hark, what is that I see? A straightforward example of an ANOVA with a Tukey post-hoc, in the wild? Can it be?

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What’s the hurry with the job offer?

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Last week, I had a conversation with someone who was mildly cheesed off about how some universities make tenure-track job offers that expire within a couple weeks. If you don’t really understand how and why this goes down, please let me explain.

But if you don’t want the explanation, I’ll spare you the cognitive load: If you don’t want to be in a position where you might have to accept or decline a job offer in a window of a couple weeks, just save everybody the trouble and don’t apply for tenure-track positions at universities that are not highly ranked.

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Who can we trust?

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A few weeks ago, I was hit by an unexpected gut punch. It was an email from a trusted colleague, obliterating trust to smithereens. It has taken me a while to recover my breath. I’ve been in the process of rethinking who and how I trust. What should it take for a person to be granted trust, and what does it take to maintain or lose that trust?

Shortly after news of the Pruitt affair broke last week, it didn’t take long for a lot of us to ask ourselves: Can we trust all of our peers to be ethical? When our professional success, and the success of our students, rides on successful collaborations, what is the pathway to building successful collaborations? As this worry has been occupying far too much of my mind for weeks now, and current events have triggered discipline-wide introspection into the same question, I don’t feel so alone.

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Unordered thoughts on the Pruitt situation

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If you’re not one of those folks who pays close attention to social media and the lil’ blogosphere of ecology and evolution, it’s possible you haven’t heard about this, yet. But I imagine you will, soon enough. Before this ends up in the pages of Nature and Science and the New York Times, I have some thoughts I’d like to share (though not in any particular order), but first, I’ll give you the lowdown.

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Hanging newly graduated students out to dry

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My head spins when I see science opportunities designed to increase the diversity of applicants to graduate STEM programs, they are designed to exclude students who just graduated. I think this filters out a lot of the target population.

Low-income students receive less support as undergraduates, so it’s harder for them to make the transition into grad school while they’re enrolled as undergraduates. Then, once these students graduate, they get even less support!

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Recommended reads #163

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It’s been a whole month since the last one of these? How about I prune this down to the gems, how about that?

You want to write for the public, but about what? This is a short and very sweet guide to being an academic in public. It does a great job of explaining how you need to talk outside what you have been trained to think what your lane is.

Rationality vs Reasonableness — how do people consider them to be useful measures of judgement in our daily lives? This is some cool science. (also, did you catch my recent deficit model post?)

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Some ideas for better office hours

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Welcome back to a new semester! I don’t know about you, but I am often generally unpleased with how office hours go. Either there’s the crickets/deluge dynamic, or the students who really think would most benefit from coming in don’t. I don’t have any magical cures, but I have heard a variety of suggestions about switching up office hours to make them more accessible. Maybe some of these are new to you, eh?

-Don’t hold office hours in your office. Hold them in a more public location, such as a campus coffeeshop, or a non-quiet part of the library, or (when the weather improves), outside. Why do this? Because professors’ offices are intimidating and they’re our territory. Also, because some students have had bad experience interacting privately with professors, meeting in public is kinder to them.

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The deficit model of science communication

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This is central concept for science outreach. Some interactions today have led me to wonder whether we are all on the same page, so let me ask you:

Early in the days of this site, I started eavesdropping on conversations among experienced science communicators. I kept hearing over and over that we needed to kill “the deficit model” with fire. And then I did a bit of reading, and it was easy to see what they were seeing. For professional science communicators, it’s frustrating to see scientists who dabble in outreach using the deficit model, because they’re just getting it wrong and fouling the environment.

The deficit model of science communication is the idea that the target audience has gaps in their knowledge of science, and that through outreach, we can teach people and fill in these gaps. There’s a long history of research to show that this Deficit Model doesn’t work.

Seriously. Explaining science to people doesn’t lead to them understanding or accepting the science. It’s weird, right? People are irrational. Including us.

I’m not an academic expert in science communication. So when it comes to learning more about the deficit model more formally, I’ll point you to the academic literature. And wikipedia.

I see the irony that I’m here to spread word about the ineffectiveness of the deficit model by simply informing you about it with evidence. According to the deficit model, this isn’t expected to work for people who are simply browsing this blog periodically. So, what am I supposed to do?

Science communication experts tell us that we need to use narrative, and put the stories first that engage people with feelings. This is what the evidence tells us.

So if I’m really trying to convince you to drop the deficit model when you talk about science with non-scientists, I really should be doing this by telling a story. And I do have a great story for you! About how when I used the deficit model, it failed miserably! It’s a hilarious story! (Here’s the link to the post with the story about ants and snakes, which you presumably haven’t seen if you are new to small pond within the past five years).

I genuinely think that our understanding of the ineffectiveness of the deficit model is important for the future of our species, because collective action on climate change requires more of us to become passionate about switching to a clean energy economy. And we’re not going to get there by teaching climate science.

When you’re talking about climate change, feel free to mention the evidence, but more importantly, tell stories about how climate change has affected you and people you love, and find out how climate change is affecting the people you’re talking with, and tell that story. If you’re discussing the evidence, there are so many compelling stories about how people have uncovered evidence of climate change and how we are causing it, such as the folks behind the Keeling Curve. And the people being impacted by droughts and floods and fires and wars over access to water and hydrocarbons. For people to believe that rapid action on climate change is necessary, change must come from the heart, which means we’ve got to speak from the heart.