I stayed through the end of BioQUEST and then hit the road toward home. I drove to Champaign on Saturday, Lucy and I left early on Sunday, and we arrived home midafternoon on Monday. It was a very long drive, but largely uneventful.
On Monday evening, I was invited to dinner with the speakers of the NSM conference on science education for the following day. They had reserved Chez Albert for the evening and offered a delightful meal. My only quibble was that I couldn't get De Ranke XX Bitter, although the chardonay they had selected was quite nice. I kept drinking the chardonay in spite of ordering meat for the meal. I've never claimed to be more than a gourmand.
The conference was interesting with many excellent speakers. I was a moderator for one of the breakout sessions. It was a little confusing in that there was both a "moderator" and a "facilitator" and it wasn't perfectly clear what each was to do. In the end, the "facilitator" deferred to me and I simply ran the whole session -- several people told me they appreciated how I ran the session. I offered a few remarks to frame the issue, which was designing effective introductory laboratories. I said
I've always been interested in teaching laboratories, because they're a place where it's obvious that students are supposed to do something. Jerome Bruner once said, "Learning is not the product of teaching -- Learning is the product of the activity of the learner." Building an effective introductory laboratory is a challenge, however, because you have a large population of extremely heterogeneous learners and often a large population of heterogeneous instructors, many of whom are inexperienced. Building effective labs requires optimizing across a complex array of factors and often requires substantial compromises. We have today two speakers who have designed effective laboratories and we invite them to share with us how they navigated this complex landscape of challenges.
I was pleased that, one of the speakers after lunch, referenced and used my quote from Bruner, indicating that I'd had at least some impact.
The biggest shortcoming of the conference was the lack of time. Each speaker had only 10 minutes -- we then had to spend half-an-hour with questions from the audience, which tended to be dominated by a few cranky people. There were many good questions as well, but there were two people in my breakout session who ended up, at the end of the conference, probably having spoken more than most of the speakers -- and they were not the ones you might have wanted to set the tone of the conference. It would have been better to have longer presentations and provide separate, smaller "birds-of-a-feather" sessions for discussion, perhaps with a mechanism for reporting out the substance of those discussions to the whole group.
The biggest statement the conference made to me was the idea that someone in the administration actually cared about science education and modern pedagogy. When Lombardi arrived, the tone of the administration seemed to be that the quality of education didn't matter -- the only thing that mattered was that you did some and that it wasn't unacceptable. Given that the dean is leaving, however, its not clear how much impact the conference will have long term, or if there will ever be another.
I was pleased to have arranged an invitation for Ethel Stanley to speak at the conference. Her flight was late getting in, so unfortunately she didn't get to join us at Chez Albert. We did spend the afternoon after the conference, chatting in my office and then went to Bub's Barbeque with Tom and Buzz and all our kids. I don't believe Ethel had seen Charlie since he was two. She was charmed to see how he's grown. We also took Ethel to breakfast the following morning. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. It's great to belong to a community with such wonderful people.
This morning, I got back on my bike and was able to actually ride for the first time since my crash. I just rode to work. My knee is stiff, but I think that soon I'll be able to ride without any serious impairment. I can't wait.
Next week, I head for Montreal for TAKE.