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The online text and the flipped class November 29, 2017

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, physics, teaching.
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I ran into an issue earlier this year when I discovered that the ISBN I’d given to the bookstore for one of my classes was incorrect.  I thought I had provided the number for the full book but it turns out that it was only volume 2.  Since I figured this out a week before class and several students had already purchased the book, I felt like it was too late to go back and ask them to get volume 1 separately (which, I will also add, was a bit more expensive).

I decided this was a perfect time to try an online textbook and see how it went.  I thought this was particularly nice since it was free and no one could say they didn’t have the book.  While there are many advantages to the book, overall I’ve not been happy with it.

The first issue is that, as much as I hate to admit it, the published textbooks are a lot more comprehensive and rigorous.  They provide better overall explanations and the quantity and quality of example problems is much better.

The second and bigger issue, which may be somewhat specific to my class, is that online textbooks don’t really work well in class.  I teach a flipped class format and usually have students do problems out of the book in groups.  With a textbook, it only takes one person in a group to have a textbook, and that seems to work fine.  If they don’t have the tools to work the problems, they can go back into the text and find the answers.

With an online textbook, this process is more of a hassle.  First, only students who have laptops with them can access the book.  This is actually a fairly small percentage of my students (less than a 1/4), and depending on how they are arranged, there may be several groups without a laptop available.  I’ve started printing out the problems and making copies for each group.  The other difficulty is that students don’t have a place to look things up.  While some of my students take copious notes of the readings before class, that is also about a quarter of the class, and the rest don’t have any resources if they don’t have notes or a laptop/phone.

There are a couple positives to the online book, the primary one being that it’s free and so students aren’t going to be coughing up $200-$300 for a text.

Accessibility and convenience is not a clear benefit, contrary to what I thought.  The primary issue is that I have a lot of students who travel for sports.  While I thought the text being online would work better, not all of them carry laptops with them when they travel (for good reason).  They will, however, take textbooks with them.  I’d say the convenience issue is actually a draw between textbooks and online texts.

Overall, when I checked with the class, most of the students said they would rather have a regular textbook despite the cost.  That is my preference, as well, but it always helps to get student feedback.  I am not ruling it out for future classes, but I think the quality of the text would have to be substantially better to overlook the inconvenience caused by using it in a class with this format.


I hate giving quizzes September 23, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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This year, I chose to use a textbook for my class.  The problem is that while the textbook has a lot of good content, I use the class time to focus in on topics that I think are really important while assuming the students will at least skim through the remaining material.

I think I was delusional.  Like, seriously losing it…

I hate the idea of doing it, but I figured I needed to give them some incentive to read the book.  I therefore implemented reading quizzes this semester.  I can’t remember where I came across the idea (it may have been back on The Mind of Dr. Pion, but it was so long ago that I don’t honestly remember).

The first reading quiz consisted of them writing what they thought was the most interesting thing they read in the chapter.

The second one was multiple choice.  I posted a series of four pictures.  I asked them to identify the one that came from that week’s reading.  All they had to do was write a single letter…and honestly, if they thought carefully about it, they could have determined which picture it was simply through process of elimination.  Several students said this quiz was unfair…though I’m not sure how.

I’m rather disappointed as it seems that around half of them aren’t passing these quizzes.  I’m not asking them to read things in depth, and the book isn’t very technical at all, but I would like them to be exposed to the information in case they come back to it later.  I also don’t want to hammer them over the head with it.  It has occurred to me that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar, but it feels like any attemps in that direction will probably border on bribery.

I’m very much at a loss.  I have told them they need to pass two out of four quizzes, and some of them are getting nervous.  I don’t want to make them panic, but I do want them to take this more seriously.  I’ve told them that students who focus on their grades do worse than students who focus on content…but that’s hard to listen to when you’re worried about your grade.

What have I done?! June 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, papers, research.
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(As I sat down to write this post, I realized I have a dilemma tangential to the point of the post.  The Minion is officially no longer a minion, given he’s finished his undergraduate education.  Formally, he’s been upgraded to a henchman.  However, if I start calling him the Henchman, I realize no one will know who I am talking about.  Therefore, I shall continue to call him the Minion, but please try to remember that his rank is officially that of a Henchman.)

A couple days ago, the Minion asked me for help on something.  He’s doing some work on a topic with which I have very limited knowledge.  (I consider this sad because it’s something I have interest in but little time to explore.)  However, what he needed help on was a mathematical aspect.  After finally getting a handle on what he was doing, we sat down and came up with a way to solve his problem.  Mike came in and overheard us talking and suggested there may be a paper in what we’re doing.  The Minion thought it would be interesting but wanted to talk with someone who has more knowledge of the field (as I obviously don’t), and he was going to check with someone he knows.

I sat down and spent an hour writing out the formal mathematics for the problem so that it would be easier to present this to someone.  It looks very pretty (especially since I did it in LaTeX).  However, I couldn’t help thinking, as I proofed it, that I managed to take what, to me, seemed like a straight-forward approach to solving the problem and obscure it with symbology.

I think I could potentially have a career writing textbooks.

Wordless Wednesday: Microcat becomes aware of the turbulence around her February 29, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, photography, Uncategorized.
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Textbook destruction February 17, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, humor, pets.
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There are two books generally used for classes on antenna theory: Stutzman and Thiele or Balanis.  They’re both awesome books.  S&T doesn’t cover as many topics, but I find it’s easier to understand right out of the chute.  Balanis seems to make a better reference.  While we seem to use both books fairly regularly, I haven’t had the inclination to get the most recent copy of Balanis, so we’re still putzing around with the second edition.

Mike was talking to Layne, one of the undergrads who works for him.  Mike mentioned that our copy of S&T recently fell victim to Macrocat’s bladder issues.  Layne responded, “Ouch!  That’s $150!  It would’ve been better if he hit Balanis because you can get a second edition of that for $40.”

Somehow, I don’t think we’re going to be able to convince the cat to take cost into consideration when he’s wrecking our stuff.  On the other hand, I think I would’ve preferred if he’d hit Balanis because then I’d have an excuse to upgrade.

So what weird ways have your textbooks been destroyed?

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