Archive for: September, 2010

Video dispatch from the mouth of the cave of grading: why do we write the essay before the lecture?

Sep 29 2010 Published by under Academia, Personal, Teaching and learning

Another week, another stack of essays to collect (and read, and comment upon). This week, though, a student actually asked the question in class that I imagine many ask themselves: why are they writing essays on material before I've lectured on it, rather than after?

Because I'm too tired to type, I take on that question in a brief video dispatch.

3 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: outside of a rabbit.

Sep 24 2010 Published by under Critters, Kids and science

Outside of a rabbit, a book is a sprog's best friend. Inside of a rabbit, it's too dark to read.*

The elder Free-Ride offspring has been spending the majority of free moments with Snowflake Free-Ride, a New Zealand White rabbit. Today, the elder Free-Ride offspring presented me with a sketch of Snowflake, labeled with her parts:

External Rabbit Anatomy

Do you get the feeling that the elder Free-Ride offspring has observed this rabbit from many angles?

Rabbit detail 1

Coming and going?

Rabbit detail 3

Yeah, me too.

Rabbit detail 2

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you have any interest in drawing the internal anatomy of a rabbit.

Elder offspring: (with a look of disbelief) No.

Dr. Free-Ride: I didn't mean of Snowflake's internal anatomy!

Elder offspring: OK.

Dr. Free-Ride: I mean, I think you might find it fascinating. We could probably find some rabbit anatomical diagrams online.

Elder offspring: I just ate a quesadilla twenty minutes ago. Maybe after school.

Rabbit detail 4
*Clearly, I'm ripping off Groucho Marx here, although he said it with a dog and a man. (And with glasses and a mustache, neither of which I am sporting at the moment.)

4 responses so far

Job opening to support STEM students who are low-income, first-generation college students, or have disabilities

From Kim Hannula of All of My Faults are Stress-Related comes news of a position being advertised at her fair college as a director of a STEM student services program. Kim says:

We recently received a grant from the Department of Education, to provide support for science/technology/engineering/math students who are low-income, first-generation, or have disabilities. We have a similar program (the Program for Academic Advancement) for students college-wide, but this new program will support math, science, and engineering students. I'm excited about this program - our PAA program does a fantastic job helping students finish their degrees and move on to graduate school or the workforce, and I'm looking forward to working with the STEM3 program.

Here are the details (which you can also find here in the official job posting):

STEM3 Student Support Services Program
Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado

Fort Lewis College invites applications for the Director of its new STEM3 Student Support Services Program (a federally funded TRiO program). The position is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that requires application for renewal every five years. The Director is responsible for organizing and managing support services for 120 academically and/or economically disadvantaged college students. Services include tutoring and academic, career, financial aid, and graduate school advising for eligible students in the STEM disciplines. STEM disciplines include the Sciences (Agriculture, Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Exercise Science, Geology, Geoscience, Physics, and Psychology), Technology (Computer Science Information Systems), Engineering, and Mathematics. The Director will also be responsible for approving expenditures, maintaining budget control and responsibility for the appropriate use of grant funds; facilitating and overseeing development and implementation of effective, objective project evaluation; maintaining data collection and a program database for monitoring and tracking of participant progress and outcomes; working closely with the Dean of the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and the FLC STEM faculty to ensure program delivery will meet STEM student needs; overseeing preparation of fiscal and technical reports for the U.S. Dept. of Education and Fort Lewis College; managing and supervising program personnel; providing intrusive academic advising and monitoring, and financial aid advising to a small caseload of participants; attending STEM Department Chair meetings; and serving on relevant college committees.

Minimum qualifications are as follows:

  • Masters Degree in Social Sciences, Education, Educational Administration, Student Personnel Administration, Counseling, or related field and a BS / BA in a STEM discipline (see above)
  • At least four years experience working with disadvantaged students (low-income, first generation, students with disabilities) in higher education
  • At least two years experience designing comprehensive programs that include courses, activities, workshops, tutoring or supplemental instruction, student monitoring, or other services that promote retention of SSS eligible STEM students at the postsecondary level
  • At least two years experience implementing procedures for delivery of services, data collection, program evaluation or similar procedures that enhance program effectiveness and promote student retention in SSS or similar programs at the postsecondary level
  • At least three years of administrative and supervisory experience that includes budget oversight and management.

Preferred qualifications include:

  • Experience as a disadvantaged (first-generation, low-income, or disabled) college student
  • Experience working with a TRiO program or other program with a similar mission
  • Ability to provide ad-hoc tutoring support, especially in mathematics
  • Successful grant writing and grant management experience.

This position is a full-time, 12 month position. Candidates must be willing to work flexible hours including evenings and weekends. Some travel is required to statewide, regional, and/or national meetings. Salary is $42,000 with full range of benefits. The position is anticipated to begin in November 2010. Individuals with experience as a disadvantaged individual or assisting disadvantaged students are encouraged to apply.

Interested and qualified applicants must submit: 1) a letter of interest detailing experience that meets the minimum and preferred qualifications, 2) a current resume, and 3) the names, addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers of three professional references electronically to:

Deadline: Complete applications must be received no later than 5:00 pm on Monday, October 18, 2010 to receive consideration.

Fort Lewis College does not discriminate on the basis of race, age, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or veteran status. Accordingly, equal opportunity for employment, admission, and education shall be extended to all persons. The College shall promote equal opportunity, equal treatment, and affirmative action efforts to increase the diversity of students, faculty, and staff. People from under-represented groups are encouraged to apply.

If this sounds like your kind of job (and the qualifications sound like you), for heaven's sake apply!

If this sounds like someone you know (especially if he or she is currently on the market), please forward this information.

One response so far

Are ethical principles optional?

At White Coat Underground, PalMD ponders what to make of members of the same professional community with divergent views of the ethical principles that ought to guide them:

As I thought a bit more about the doctor who wrote the letter to the editor we discussed yesterday, I wondered how two similarly-trained doctors (he and I) could come to such different conclusions about ethical behavior.

The generally agreed upon set of medical ethics we work with has developed over centuries. Patient confidentiality, for example, was demanded by Hippocrates of Kos. But many of the medical ethics we work with are fairly modern developments that reflect the thinking of our surrounding society. The changing weight of patient dignity and autonomy vs. physician paternalism is such an example.

The very fact that our views (individually and collectively) or what is or is not ethical change over time is important to notice. The folks who believe there are "moral facts" in the world for us to discover might account for this in terms of improvements in our ability to perceive such moral facts (or maybe an improvement in our willingness to look for them). Myself, I'm not sure you need to be committed to the existence of objective moral facts to grant that the project of sharing a world with others may change in important and interesting ways as our societies do. And, I don't think we can rule out the possibility that in some respects, earlier generations may have been jerks, and that we can do better ethically, or at least try to.

"Justice" makes its official entry into the list of essential ethical principles that need to guide research with human subjects (whether biomedical or not) in the Belmont Report, which was convened to respond to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. That 30 year long study was notable for how unequally risks of the research and the benefits from the knowledge it produced were distributed, and the public outcry when the study was exposed in the newspapers (while it was still ongoing) made it clear that the behavior of the researchers was ethically abhorrent in the eyes of a significant segment of the American public.

In Belmont, it's worth noting, justice is one of three guiding principles (the other two being beneficence and respect for persons). The authors of Belmont acknowledge that the tensions that sometimes arise between these three principles can make it difficult to work out the best thing (ethically speaking) to do. However, attention to these three principles can help us rule certain courses of action right out (because they wouldn't fit with any of the principles, or only kind of fit with one while violating the other two, etc.). It's not a matter of throwing one of the three principles overboard when the tensions arise, but rather of finding a way to do the best you ca by each of them.

On the matter of someone who might say, "I don't believe justice is an essential ethical principle, so I'm going to opt out of being guided by it," here's my take on things:

Ethics do not begin and end with our personal commitments. Ethics are all about sharing a world with other people whose interests and needs may be quite different from our own. Ethical principles are meant to help up remember that other people's interests and needs have value, too, and that we can't just trash them because it's inconvenient for us to take those interests and needs seriously. In other words, in ethics IT IS NEVER ALL ABOUT YOU.

This is not to say that there aren't struggles (especially in a pluralistic society) about the extent of our ethical obligations to others. But you can't opt out without opting out of that society.

And here's where we get to the researcher or physician (my expertise is in the ethical standards guiding communities of researchers, but PalMD notes that the current position of medical ethics now embraces justice as a guiding principle). He's free to say, "I'll have no truck with justice," if he is prepared as well to opt out of membership in that professional community. Alternatively, he can stay and try to make a persuasive case to his professional community that justice ought not to be one of the community's shared ethical values; if he changes enough minds, so goes the community. (This could have implications for how willing the broader society is to tolerate this professional community, but that's a separable issue.*)

But, he cannot claim to be part of the community while simultaneously making a unilateral decision that one of the community's explicitly stated shared values does not apply to him.

I think Pal nicely captures why physicians (among others) should take the community standards seriously:

Why should physician’s adhere to any code of ethics? Can’t we just each rely on ourselves as individuals to do what’s right?

As doctors we are given extraordinary privileges and responsibilities. Physicians have always recognized that this demands high standards of behavior. The way we act professionally must take into account not just what we each believe, but what our patients and our society believes. Ethics are easy if we all have the same values. Ethics get hard when we don’t share beliefs. And when we don’t share beliefs, we must at the very least remember our core principles, those of helping our patients, and not causing them harm; of granting them autonomy and privacy; of treating them with basic human dignity.

Even physicians have to share a world with the rest of us. Our ethics, whether as members of professional communities or or society at large, are a framework to help us share that world. Maybe you can make a case for opting out of an ethical principle you don't care for if you are the supreme leader of your world, or have a world of your very own with no world-mates. Otherwise, it behooves you to figure out how to play well with others, even if sometimes that's hard..
*While it's a separable issue, it's worth noting, as I have before, that the codes of conduct, ethical principles, and such adopted by professional communities exist in part to reassure the broader public that these professional communities mean the public well and don't plan to prey on them.

4 responses so far

First dispatch of the semester from the Cave of Grading.

Today, a brief video dispatch from the Cave of Grading.

First Plagiarism of Fall

I would have typed something, but I was afraid it would end up being a pastiche of frequently used paper comments, and that would just be confusing.

6 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: the glorious return of the science fair!

At least, the Free-Ride offspring's elementary school thinks it has money in the budget for a science fair this Spring. Sure, I know that grown-up science is frequently constrained by a rapidly changing funding landscape, but I'm not sure that including this element of scientific activity is what will catch a kid's imagination.

Anyway, I asked the sprogs to jot down their current thoughts on what they might want to do for the science fair this year. Here's what they gave me.

The elder Free-Ride offspring (now in sixth grade) hasn't really latched on to one idea yet. The current list of options reads as follows (with my commentary in square brackets):

  • Which food does Snow like best? [We definitely need to read up on the rules about observational studies of domestic animals in science fairs. As well, this kernel of a project idea requires some careful thinking about controls.]
  • Snails or slugs: which are more efficient? [Efficient at what, wonders Dr. Free-Ride.]
  • Which is more viscous, honey or syrup? [I reckon we'd need a few more substances in the comparison. Plus some exploration of what it is about each substance that makes it more or less viscous.]
  • Trick people's palates! [Intriguing! But also cryptic. Is this going to be about food chemistry, or tastebuds, or psychology?]
  • How heat affects bunny naps. [Again, we need to get right with the rules on animal observational studies. And we may be running out of really warm days to use as data points.]

The younger Free-Ride offspring (now in fourth grade) has been gravitating toward an idea inspired by a family camping trip at Lassen Volcanic National Park:

Working with sulfur.

Found in Sulfur Works, Bumpass Hell, & Devil's Kitchen [all sites at Lassen].

What do you have to do to make sulfur smell like rotten eggs?

Can we find sulfur in foods we have in the house (besides eggs)? How could we get the sulfur out?

What happens if we put wet soil and trapped steam (don't know how) in a bowl, then put sulfur soil (ground sulfur to a powder) on the top layer?

This could be really interesting ... but I'm wondering now if our kitchen is going to need a fume hood.

Stay tuned.

2 responses so far

As the new-ish semester kicks her butt, your blogger surfaces for a moment.

Verily, the new semester is kicking my butt.

Lots of students means lots of name-face correlations to memorize (something I'm still working on), and, of course, lots of papers to grade.

A departmental edict against making more photocopies than are absolutely necessary means I need to spend extra time converting what once would have been handouts into PDFs and web pages, and making sure the links to them actually work. (Also, I need to convince the students for the Logic and Critical Reasoning course to actually bring copies, be they hard or soft, of the homework questions with them to our class meetings.)

It probably doesn't help that soccer coaching is on my plate and that my team plays weeknight games as well as really-early-Saturday-morning games. (It does help that my team seems to have embraced teamwork from the get-go, so huzzah for that.)

As I'm treading water over here, a couple of things I'm pondering:

  • Sure, I'm saving trees by not duplicating and distributing full syllabi, detailed descriptions of assignments, and such. Probably without all those handouts more students are actually accessing the course websites (where I have always mounted electronic versions of the handouts). However, now I'm wondering whether the barrage of handouts at the first class meeting actually helped to scare away people who didn't really want to take my class, thus freeing up spaces for the scores of people who were telling me that they were desperate to add it -- not just because it filled a requirement for graduation, but because the subject matter really speaks to them.*
  • For a long time, I have graded student work in ink that is not red whenever possible, on account of gestures some of my pedagogical mentors have made to research suggesting that red ink on work they are getting back conveys to students OMG I did it WRONG! and am STOOPID!. This is not, as you might guess, a mindset that is conducive to learning more stuff. However, now I'm starting to wonder if we may be training a new generation of students to recoil from comments written in purple ink.

Things have to settle down soon. Right?

* I have my suspicions that the extent to which any of my courses "speaks to" people who want to add it might be contingent on how badly they need it to graduate, how swiftly their planned graduation date is approaching, and how nicely my course fits in their schedule. Not that I'm cynical or anything.

6 responses so far

Back-to-school crankiness.

For the Free-Ride offspring, this is only the seventh school day of the new academic year, and already the weekly newsletter from their elementary school has achieved a tone that could most charitably be described as weary:

This is a large school with over N students. Please consider the priorities of the school staff when making personal requests. It is unreasonable to meet with staff 3 times to make the same request, after you have been denied in person. Thanks you for considering the needs of the other N-1 students when making personal requests for your child.

My thoughts:

  1. If this (or really, anything the school does) succeeds in cultivating a bit more empathy and altruism from the parents, I will be impressed. And surprised.
  2. Was this item in the newsletter prompted by multiple parents engaging in this kind of won't-take-no-for-an-answer behavior? Or just one child's parents?
  3. If just one child's parents, I'm suddenly curious about just what they were requesting, and why that request was shot down so decisively (not to mention why it was so important to keep asking after the first denial).
  4. Also, if just one child's parents, I wonder if those parents recognize that this paragraph in the newsletter is about them.
  5. Finally, given the priorities of school staff, is what may amount to an admonishment to one set of parents (out of something on the order of magnitude of N sets of parents), a good use of scarce staff time?

Fasten your seat-belt. It's shaping up to be one of those school years.

8 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: The new school year.

Sep 10 2010 Published by under Kids and science

It's been a bit of a week here, partly owing to the crush of the Free-Ride offspring's new school year. (I suppose, since it started in the middle of last week, it's better described as a newish school year.)

The sprogs (and their parents) have been sufficiently busy that we haven't yet had an extended discussion about the academic year that stretches before us. However, I was able to extract a bit of information from the elder Free-Ride offspring about the focus of the sixth grade science curriculum.

Earth Science

The sixth grade will, apparently, be studying Earth Science. According to the list the elder Free-Ride offspring dashed off for me, this will include such topics as volcanoes, weather, rocks, and ecosystems.

And there will be sixth grade science camp.

I do not know if they will get around to discussing what gravitational forces might explain the shape of the Earth in the picture above. I do know that the elder Free-Ride offspring's teacher this year majored in biology.

I'm thinking that if things ever get less hectic, this could be a pretty good year.

3 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: Kids Day at SLAC 2010 and magnets.

The younger Free-Ride offspring continues recapping Kids Day @ SLAC 2010 with a report on another workshop:

Dr. Free-Ride: Tell me about the magnets at Kids Day.

Younger offspring: Well, the magnets ... first we got to make our own magnets, and we had a piece of steel or something -- a bar of steel. We wrapped a lot of wire around it; the two ends were sticking out. We also got a battery with it, with two chicken clips.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK. We used to call them alligator clips, but I understand that reptiles and birds have a common ancestor, so chicken clips works.

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