Keeping them engaged – tech solutions for in-class quizzes

clickerWhen I joined my current institution in 2012, I was offered the role of “Blended Learning Champion” – basically I had to promote a combination of the best pedagogical tools, including in-person techniques and digital technology. As soon as I started, I learned about what became known as “the clicker fiasco”. There was a time, you see, in the halcyon days of 2010/11, when all students in my faculty were given little devices that could be used to respond to questions during the class. It looked a little bit like the one on the right here, and worked extremely well. Lecturers would embed questions in their lectures, the students would answer using the clickers, and everybody was happy. At some stage some inconsistencies in the software versions, or possibly some old hardware (the exact cause is unknown), caused the whole system to come crashing down. What was frustrating about this situation is that there was substantial buy-in from academics to use these technological tools to enhance their pedagogical practice, but the failure of the clickers deprived them of both their favourite tools and their enthusiasm for blended learning. Now, I think I have found the solution: Socrative. Continue reading

Avoiding Attack! (a classroom kit)

I blogged some time ago about a Cafe Scientifique talk I gave on the topic of “Avoiding Attack” (broadly mimicry and camouflage in animals). I stole the title of the talk wholesale from the excellent book of the same name written by former colleagues Mike Speed and Tom Sherratt along with Graeme Ruxton). After giving that talk, I was asked to contribute to the Leeds Festival of Science – a great initiative where University of Leeds staff engage local people (particularly schools) with their research through on-campus and external events. As part of that event this year I took part in the “schools roadshow” where researchers go out into schools to teach about their work. I thought I would post the resources that I used here with some notes so that teachers can make use of the materials that I produced. Everything here is released on a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0).

20150318_094110 Continue reading

Making my research more open using Kudos

I’ve always tried to make sure that my academic work wasn’t tucked away on a dusty shelf (or paywalled in an obscure academic journal, which is the equivalent in the digital age) and that has meant that my digital footprint is huge. I have accounts on ResearchGateTwitterSlideshareLinkedInFigshareGoogle ScholarAcademia.eduFlickr, and Google+ (as well as probably a few more that I’ve forgotten!). I don’t think I have lost anything by “scattering my wild oats” across a huge swathe of the internet, because I assume that it increases visibility. Indeed I get a few views across all platforms:

However, what I have been looking for is a service that allows me to aggregate all this content. Ideally it would have (i) a single page per publication, where I could bring together all the bits of information relating to that paper (data, preprints, press coverage, and a lay summary), and (ii) a personal profile page that brings all of those publication pages together under my profile. Well, I think I’ve found it! Continue reading

Academic hiring, REF, and the Sports Illustrated curse

Universities are faced with a problem when hiring new staff: academics are the lifeblood of universities, but are expensive and almost impossible to remove once in place. This means that there is an enormous amount of pressure on hiring committees to identify those researchers who will prove fruitful once they are in post, but those predictions rely on extrapolation from a relatively short track record. Specific metrics that UK universities want to maximise are:

  1. Research income (keeps the lights on, maintains league table positions)
  2. “Impact” beyond the academic sphere (in Research Excellence Framework jargon: “Impact Case Studies” – you can see a few of my colleagues Case Studies here)
  3. High quality publications (number isn’t an issue, but the REF demands four publications from each academic in each 5-6 year reporting cycle)

Obviously the dilemma is this: when hiring a junior academic, that candidate will not have had an opportunity to apply for funding (often because they simply weren’t eligible without a permanent position). They will also not have had a sufficiently long career to be able to demonstrate the impact of their work. Most Impact Case Studies rely on 10-year timescales, from inception of a project, funding for that project, completion, dissemination, and implementation of findings. The only thing that academics can be judged on as they apply for jobs, then, is their publication list (which will also be short, because they’ve only just started!). Continue reading

A recommitment to blogging!

After seeing a discussion on Twitter about the “end of year” statistics that WordPress provides, I was curious about how many people were reading the blog. It turns out that this was the best year yet, with around 32,700 views in total. This pushes me well over 100,000 total views since I started the blog in 2011. However, I also noticed that I hadn’t posted anything since May 2015! So here’s my New Year (re)commitment to getting the blog up and running again (not my first refresh!). Just to get a few ideas out there, I’ll be trying for a post every two weeks (at least) and I’ll be blogging on the following topics:

  • Invasive reptiles
  • Dragonflies in cities
  • Social media in education
  • Opportunities for field experience
  • A whole host of paper summaries which are nearly finished!

I’m curious as to how other people structure their writing, though? Do you dedicate a certain time/day to it? Do you have a long list of topics that you want to write about or are you just inspired and sit down to write?

The lost art of foraging

wild-strawberry-523882_1280I had a fantastic day out recently at the Great British Food Festival, held at Harewood House in Yorkshire. However, tucked away in the line-up among the hog roasts, cooking demos, and coffee kiosks was a little treat: a guide to foraging. Foraging for food in the wild has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last decade, after two generations (really since rationing ended in the mid-1950s) of neglect. This has been helped by high profile chefs such as René Redzepi at Noma, a restaurant which has been awarded the title of “best restaurant in the world” in four years out of the last five, where locally-sourced and foraged ingredients are given centre-stage. Suddenly an innocuous-looking green weed growing up between the flags in your garden path has become haute cuisine!

I wanted to share a few interesting points that our foraging guide (Adele Nodezar) offered to the group: Continue reading

Is battling biodiversity decline like tackling terrorism?

brain-512758_640I attended a talk recently given by Dr Sara Savage from Cambridge University entitled “Bad Religion: when is faith healthy or unhealthy?”. The title was a bit of a misnomer, as there was little discussion of religion per se, but there was a greater deal of fascinating psychological research on the drivers of extremist ideology. Dr Savage outlined the theory of “integrative complexity“, developed by Peter Suedfeld over the past 30 years. Integrative complexity is a method of metacognitive reasoning (i.e. being aware of how and what you are thinking, and why) that incorporates empathic and diverse approaches towards the views of others in an attempt to construct a coherent and objective view of a given situation. The argument has been made that extremist ideologies (whether these are religious, political or social) tend to stem from a narrowing of perspectives (a drop in integrative complexity, or “IC”), and that conflict resolution is best achieved by those who “see complexity”. Indeed, Suedfeld and colleagues have published analyses of IC within the context of the Cuban missile crisis and surprise attacks. Continue reading