Free Webinar on Student Engagement 3/19/15 at 11am ET

5 Secrets to Spectacular Student Engagement

Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 11 AM EDT (US)
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Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Register for this complimentary webinar to learn how Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa, increased class participation to 99%. Hear how he transformed his classroom into an “active learning zone” with the use of a student engagement solution.

Get the full story behind Dr. Montpetit’s stunning findings – how student participation rates grew in his classes, grades improved and failure rates decreased. Register today!

Who Should Attend: All are welcome. Those in Academic Technology or Teaching and Learning Centers are highly encouraged to attend.

ScreenHunter_233 Mar. 10 08.07

MOOC Sightings 001: UNC and Cornell

MOOC Sightings2

Despite wholesale announcements by powerful academic leaders throughout the U.S. that MOOCs are dead, sightings continue to pour in from around the country and the rest of the world. For skeptics, the problem is physical evidence. People can offer them and take them, but no one seems to know what a MOOC looks like. Some point to Coursera and edX, but in the opinion of most MOOC experts, who are primarily from Canada and the UK, these are hoaxes.

So, in the interest of determining once and for all whether MOOCs are fo’ real, I’ll be opening Project White Book to publish promising sightings and photos of MOOCs. In this inaugural post, I’m sharing the photo, below, of what appears to be one person’s conception of a MOOC. I recently found it in the ETC spam queue. It was posted anonymously with the header “Da MOOC!” I’ll post photos as I receive them, so if you have one, email it to me (jamess@hawaii.edu) and I’ll publish the most interesting.

Is this a MOOC, a hoax, or just another weather-related phenomenon?

Is this a MOOC, a hoax, or just another weather-related phenomenon?

I’m also sharing promising sightings by Sarah Kaylan Butler, “50,000 Enroll in UNC Online Course” (Daily Tarheel, 2/19/15), and Blaine Friedlander, “Cornell Sinks Teeth into Four New MOOCs” (Cornell Chronicle, 2/19/15).

Butler reports that “almost 50,000 students have enrolled in a massive open online course on positive psychology taught by UNC professor Barbara Fredrickson.” Evidence that this Coursera-based course might be a real MOOC is very strong. It’s six weeks long, a departure from the usual quarter or semester time frame. It’s comfortably aimed at interest rather than college credit. According to Fredrickson, “Most people that are enrolled — 95 percent of them — say that they’re interested out of their own curiosity.” And the professor is on firm MOOC footing, looking for pedagogical guidance from the future rather than the past. She says, “I’ve written a couple of books for general audience and one of the things that’s clear about our changing audience is that people don’t necessarily want to read books, but they like ideas.”

Another promising sighting is from Cornell. Friedlander reports that “Cornell will offer four new [MOOCs] in 2016: shark biodiversity and conservation, the science and politics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), an introduction to engineering simulations, and how deals get done – mergers and acquisitions principles.” They’re still in the planning stages, so I’ll keep an eye out for more details as they become available.

Are MOOCs fo’ real? In this series, I’ll be looking at the evidence through a lens that’s forged from constructivist and disruptive theory as well as a dash of whimsy. In this process, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please share them in the discussion below. If you’re logging in from an address that has been previously approved, your reply will be posted automatically. If not, your first reply will be published within 24-48 hours. Subsequent replies from your address will be published immediately.

Mars One: 100 Still in Running to Be First Humans on Mars

Amersfoort, 16th February 2015From the initial 202,586 applicants, only 100 hopefuls have been selected to proceed to the next round of the Mars One Astronaut Selection Process. These candidates are one step closer to becoming the first humans on Mars.

“The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder & CEO of Mars One. “These aspiring martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.”

The Mars 100 Round Three candidates were selected from a pool of 660 candidates after participating in personal online interviews with Norbert Kraft, M.D., Chief Medical Officer. During the interviews the candidates had a chance to show their understanding of the risks involved, team spirit and their motivation to be part of this life changing expedition.

Dr. Norbert Kraft said, “We were impressed with how many strong candidates participated in the interview round, which made it a very difficult selection.”

There are 50 men and 50 women who successfully passed the second round. The candidates come from all around the world, namely 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania. The complete list of Mars One Round Three Candidates. Statistics on the candidates can be found here.

The following selection rounds will focus on composing teams that can endure all the hardships of a permanent settlement on Mars. The candidates will receive their first shot at training in the copy of the Mars Outpost on Earth and will demonstrate their suitability to perform well in a team. More information about the selection process can be found here: Mars One Selection ProcessContinue reading

New Exoplanets Very Old

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

With all of the hoopla over exoplanet discoveries in recent years, it’s a big surprise that this one did not receive more attention. Kepler-444 is a small star, about 25% smaller than ours, and is 11.2 billion years old. According to measurements made by the 600-million dollar Kepler space telescope, it has five rocky planets ranging in size from Mercury to Venus.

Artist's concept of the 11.2-billion-year-old star Kepler-444, which hosts five known rocky planets. Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

Artist’s conception of Kepler-444, an 11.2-billion-year-old star, and its five orbiting rocky planets. By Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

The above information is sufficient to generate great excitement. When you realize that the universe is only about 13.6 billion years old, you know that this star and its planets formed in the early days of a very young, only about 2.5 billions years old, universe. Our own star is less than half as old at 4.6 billion years and has an expected lifespan of around 10 billion years.  Continue reading

The Science of Deflategate

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The New England Patriots have muddled up the Super Bowl in a grand fashion. It might as well be an MIT prank but on a national scale. We haven’t see the like since Caltech (MIT’s famous rival in the prank world) jimmied the Rose Bowl’s card stunts half a century ago. (Personal note: I was a member of the Caltech group of twelve that did that. Also see this LA Times article.)

Denials are not going to change any fan’s mind. If you’re a Patriot fan, you probably don’t think it’s important. If you’re not, then you will believe any evil of the New England dynasty.

Before delving into the science, I should note that reporters have said that the ball deflation was discovered during halftime and rectified. As the final score was 45-7, and the second half score was 28-0, even if every Patriot point in the first, seemingly flawed half were rescinded, the score would still be 28-7 in favor of the Patriots. We are not discussing, therefore, who should play in the Super Bowl. We are instead discussing how balls would have become low in pressure.

As any high school physics teacher will tell you, PV=nRT, the ideal gas law. Okay, that’s gibberish to many, but it’s really very simple. So simple in fact that you can do the calculations yourself with calculator or even readily with paper and pencil. Let’s deconstruct this equation.  Continue reading

‘Better Than Earth’? – Baloney

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

“Superhabitable” worlds may be common in our galaxy, making ideal homes for extraterrestrial life — Scientific American cover, January 20151.

Years ago, Carl Sagan famously wrote about a scientist’s “baloney detection kit” in The Demon-Haunted World (1995). You can learn all about this storied chapter by searching on the Internet for “baloney detection kit.” His point was that scientists obtain this mental tool kit as a side effect of their training and that we should similarly train everyone.

Scientific American magazine just published an article, “Better than Earth,” which shows us that scientists are not immune from broadcasting baloney themselves at times. The article is really quite good and interesting. Its statements are, as far as we can tell, accurate. Where is the baloney then?

At one point, the article states, “[T]he more closely we scientists study our own planet’s habitability, the less ideal our world appears to be.” The article also faults our own star’s “short” lifetime of about 10 billion years. “By some 1.75 billion years from how, the steadily brightening star will make our world hot enough for the oceans to evaporate, exterminating any simple life lingering on the surface.”

Looks as though we evolved just in time to enjoy our planet for a billion years or so before we are all steamed to death. Slower evolution may not have left enough time for us to exist here.

We circle a G-class star. According to the author, the next step down in star size, “K dwarfs[,] appear to reside in the sweet spot of stellar superhabitability.” K dwarf stars will shine for tens of billions of years, many times longer than our star. However, the author cautions that our planet is too small for conditions suitable for life to exist for that long period of time. Our core would have cooled too much to sustain our magnetic field and plate tectonics, both necessary to life.  Continue reading

What Sort of Intelligence?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

You may have noticed recent news about Stephen Hawking predicting the demise of the human race due to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)1. Others of genius rank, such as Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil2, have also made this prediction. With “The Theory of Everything” (biopic about Prof. Hawking) in theaters right now, this prediction is resonating across the English-speaking world.

Before digging your shelters or heading for the hills, you should ask, “What is artificial intelligence?” A bit of history may help put this entire subject into perspective. The term was coined in 1955 by John McCarthy, who called it “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”3 “When?” you ask. “That’s nearly 60 years ago! Before I was born!” (I actually was born well before then, but statistically you probably weren’t.)

Funny how AI has not taken over the world in the 60 years it’s had so far. Why the sudden worry? Computers are becoming more powerful and less expensive. Computer memory is dirt cheap, speaking historically. This trend of more computer power and more memory shows no signs of abating soon. Could it eventually reach the tipping point where machines are sentient and self-reproducing? Would they then remove the “scourge” of humans from the Earth’s surface? Might the end be less dramatic in that they would render people superfluous? Imagine a world in which all work, including creative work, is done by machines. Who needs Beethoven when you have the Ultra-Composer Mark IV?

This entire discussion circles around to defining machine intelligence and estimating exactly how smart machines might become. Right off the bat, understand that intelligence, as we commonly understand it, has not been seen in machines yet. No one truly knows if it ever will be. To comprehend why, you must have a feeling for the nature of computers and computing.  Continue reading