Defining success in summer research

Yesterday marked the first day of the summer research season. One of the things I really like about my job is the cycles of the academic year: the excitement and anticipation of the new school year every fall, the sense of exhaustion just before the break, autumn on campus (you can almost picture the tweed, I know), intermission between semesters, etc. Summer research with students is one of my favorite times.

I was at the dentist yesterday morning, and he was asking what projects I was working on in the lab for the summer. I told him a few of the new directions we were heading and he commented that he hoped everything went well and that we had a successful summer. That exchange started me thinking about what defines a successful summer for me, and it may not be exactly what you would think.

Of course the highest form of success for summer research is to generate publishable data, and I make this the clear goal for the students. In an ideal world, they would work on an important question, carry out carefully controlled experiments in a systematic way, and find a clear difference between their control and experimental treatments. Although the first 3 of these factors are under their control, there is no way to know the outcome of an experiment and its significance in advance, so I try not to think of success in terms of the outcomes of experiments and whether or not they represent publishable results. If I were at a research university, I’m sure I would have a different perspective, but I’m not, and the nature of working with undergraduates doesn’t permit this definition of success.

If the publishability of the results doesn’t determine the success of a summer research experience, what does? For me, I think summer research has been successful when a student has done real research. That means they grasped a question (see below for more on this), conceived of an experiment to test a hypothesis, performed the experiment, analyzed the data, and evaluated the results in light of their original hypothesis. Sometimes (hopefully) their work forms a unit on or around which other units can be built into a paper.

‘Grasping a question’ is not to say they get free reign to choose any topic they want. In my lab, students have to focus on an area that supports the direction of the lab as a whole. I think it’s important that they own the project to some degree, but the only way to ensure the importance of their project is to limit it to something in my area of expertise.

Are MOOCs textbooks masquerading as courses?

About an hour before class on Friday, it began to dawn on me that half of my plant physiology class could be out for the day. Many were attending a botany conference in Columbus, others had emailed that they were sick. When I arrived at class, my suspicions were confirmed — 8 of 15 students were there. I decided to record my comments for the day later and held an impromptu study session for the upcoming exam. I had no idea what it would take to “just record my lecture” for the day.Watch Shark Exorcist (2016) Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

inspector panel in Keynote

When you’re used to standing in front of a class and explaining things, it’s very hard to explain things to a computer screen in an empty office. Very, very hard. Not in the technical sense, as Keynote (and I imagine Powerpoint) has that covered. I just opened up my Keynote slideshow for the day, opened the slide inspector, started a slideshow recording, and boom. I made it through the first slide. I glanced at the next slide and drew a blank. I paused the recording, collected my thoughts, and resumed recording. Blanked, paused, resumed, etc

Two hours. That’s what it took me to record 35 min of lecture over 36 slides. The last few slides were a slog, I was drained — way more than after a regular classroom session. After I finished it and sent the link to the class, I started wondering what it must be like to do this for every class. I recently saw an article reflecting on the development of a new MOOC on Coursera, in which the author describes her efforts and those of the production team. I guess I should be happy with only needing 2 hours to record 35 min of material, since it took an hour for her to record a video that will run 3 minutes! 

On one hand, I wish I had the time and talent to build a complete online course from the ground up and have students around the world learning from me, no doubt there is something alluring about that. But I can see how the kind of resources required to do that and do it well keeps it beyond the reach of all but a few faculty. In fact, it seems not unlike the resources needed to create a textbook. Both projects would need several subject area experts, dozens of artists and editors, several experts in learning technology and assessment, a production staff, and I’m sure many others I haven’t imagined. I think this is no coincidence, as I can see MOOCs coming to replace, or at least heavily supplement, traditional textbooks in some courses or parts thereof. Although some publishers see MOOCs as a big sales opportunity due to their large enrollments, it is notable that Coursera itself is urging instructors “not to require any textbooks that cost money” (quoted from previous link). This makes me wonder whether the MOOC platforms (Coursera, edX) are in more direct competition with textbook publishers than anyone really realizes. In fact, that may be a useful lens to evaluate their impact on education, by way of comparison to textbooks, which are all now scrambling to “become digital,” just like MOOCs.

Reusing a Grading Rubric in Numbers for iOS

Last fall, I wrote about using Numbers on my iPad to create a rubric for grading lab reports. This semester, I wanted to use the same rubric with some minor modifications to score the same kind of report. Not much has changed in Numbers since then, but I wanted to jot down what I did so I remember for next time.

The first step was to duplicate the spreadsheet on the iPad, so that I wasn’t overwriting last year’s grades. I actually like to keep these around for when students ask me for recommendation letters, as they provide a record of details about a student’s work habits that I’ve long since forgotten. I think it can help a letter immensely to be able to say, “I knew this student when she was a freshman, and she was already a shining star on her first scientific report.”

After making a new copy of the spreadsheet, I deleted all rows except the first and copy/pasted this year’s roster into it. I slightly altered the requirements for the report, so I (luckily) remembered to modify the items and point values to reflect my expectations. After that, I was off to the grading races, this time using a form to do data entry rather than entering values directly on the table. I’ve commented on this view before, but this turns Numbers into a little bit of a database-flavored tool, giving just a bit more focus on an individual student’s ‘record’ than a spreadsheet allows.

NumbersFormwatch full xXx: Return of Xander Cage 2017 film online

The major change this year is that Numbers on both iOS and the Mac are both connected to iCloud, making it completely seamless to access the grade sheet back on my Mac. Like last time, I set up a ‘mail merge’ (outdated name) to generate a one-page report for each student, which required that I save a copy of the spreadsheet to my Mac from iCloud. I guess the mail merge feature isn’t iCloud-aware just yet. This year, rather than creating a separate PDF for each student, I just copy/pasted the output in Pages into the body of an email, which was cleaner than last year’s PDF attachment. 

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