Environmental sciences

The Second International Conferences on Green Computing, Intelligent and Renewable Energies

Date: 
Wed, 02/24/2016 to Fri, 02/26/2016

Location

Alabang–Zapote Road
1740 Manila
Philippines

New study finds men more likely to doubt evidence of gender bias in science fields

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New study on online comments suggests big gap in the way men and women perceive evidence of gender bias in sciences. What does that mean for efforts to diversify STEM?

The Conference Connoisseurs on where to eat in Indianapolis (essay)

Our gastronomic assessment experts review the options for the increasing number of higher ed conference goers in Indianapolis.

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How the liberal arts can avoid becoming road kill (essay)

The atmosphere at the university workshop on online learning was becoming a little edgy, with questions in the air like “What does flipping a classroom really mean?” And, more dauntingly, “Do MOOCs threaten our liberal arts model of education?” A high point occurred when one participant, addressing a panel of faculty and administrators, asked, “What is our solution to these changes?” with the not-so-gentle observation, “Because if we don’t have one, we are road kill.”

The response from the panel was slow in coming -- no big surprise. Fact is, there is no easy answer. That’s because the question of how not to become road kill presumes that we understand why we should not become road kill. It is only through a clear, here-and-now answer to the second question that we are likely to devise a credible response to the first.

So here is a here-and-now context for why. Truly harrowing challenges are upon us: climate change, with its companions, the sixth mass extinction, and ecological overreach, are all bearing down on us potential road-pizzas like a convoy of 18-wheelers.

By the time this year’s graduates are ready to send their children to college, the planet’s CO2 concentration will have reached 450 parts per million, summertime Arctic sea ice will be a thing of memory, and humanity will have committed a dozen future human generations to a minimum 2°C temperature rise. These are the terrifying facts of our current reality, and without proper leadership, our likely fate.

To meet these challenges, people -- our future leaders -- need the best possible technological expertise. More than that, they need to be able to think across multiple time horizons. If only liberal arts colleges provided that kind of relevance.

Well, maybe we do.

My daughter just got home from her first year at college — a liberal arts college. Had she experienced anything, I asked, that spoke to dangers that are so slow that they span generations, but are no less deadly for being slow? She looked at me as if to say, do you really know what you’re getting yourself into? Because that was the whole point of her paper about Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid.

This was her experience: She had cried when Aeneas killed Turnus. But more than that, she was outraged. For the sake of a moment of vengeful glory, Aeneas had lost his way from the past to the future.

And that related to my question … how?

Try a little empathy, she suggested.

I eventually got it. This, the early part of the 21st century, is our moment. Our willingness to make painful sacrifices for the latter part of the century depends on our ability to empathize with people we have never met — our future grandchildren. Experience in empathizing across a broad expanse of time is one kind of relevance liberal arts institutions have a lot of experience providing.

A second kind of relevance to those harrowing challenges is directly related to the Internet itself. Few would contest that the Internet is an indispensable asset in describing the complex environmental and societal processes that collectively make up what is referred to as climate change. Put another way, no college graduate today should be ignorant of the potential for Internet-based computational power and knowledge to model and predict future climate.

 This potential is, of course, much more general. Broadly speaking, the Internet and liberal arts share something very important. They are both about the creation and use of knowledge through collaborative work. How were Unix, Git, and LaTex created? All were the result of a very liberal-artsy vision for online collaboration.

Can liberal arts colleges provide that kind of relevance, too?

As educators, preparing future leaders to exploit the resources of the internet will require that we move into that space ourselves. We have to learn to recognize the opportunities for new paradigms for learning that the internet has created. One major shift already under way is a reorientation toward student-centered classrooms.

Flipping a class -- so that online lectures are viewed at home and class time is spent in active discussion -- is an example. Flipping isn’t new, but digital technology makes flipping easy, and that is new. It works because it lets humans and computers each do what they do best.

 Beyond that are new digital tools that we are just figuring out how to use. Examples are discipline-specific software products like Spartan. Spartan produces molecular electronic structures, in three dimensions, on the computer screen. It lets students see and manipulate these structures by solving the most basic equations known to science. Maybe I’m not making that sound as cool as it is, so let me try again. If you think chemistry is an impossibly difficult, jargon-ridden, mysterious science, you are right. Spartan changes that by making every sit-down experience with it a unique, original investigation into the nature of chemical behavior. This is digital-based pedagogy with methodological muscle, formerly a graduate school tool, now accessible to freshmen. You just have to find a way to make it happen in your classroom.

 It is through the combination of these two kinds of relevance -- Aeneas and Unix -- that students at undergraduate institutions, our future leaders, get wired for sound, classical judgment informed by the tools of modern life. And if individual liberal arts colleges can deliver these skills better than most, leveraging the advantages of small classes and inspired mentoring, then we are an important part of the response to that convoy rumbling our way.

These kinds of tools are not online grading, and not MOOCs either. They represent a new kind of information literacy. True, we are not there yet; it will take effort, and a bit of daring, to figure out how to teach tools like these. But as we grow into them, we will discover previously unimagined new paradigms for learning.

 Rather exciting, actually, considering the stakes. And not at all like road kill.

Steven Neshyba is a professor of chemistry at the University of Puget Sound.

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Multidisciplinary teaching pushes professors outside their comfort zones (essay)

Professors -- especially senior ones -- should challenge themselves by teaching in multidisciplinary programs that force them outside their intellectual comfort zones, writes Michael Nelson.

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How senior professors can finish their careers vibrantly (essay)

Whether senior professors have a vibrant end to the later stages of their academic careers is largely in their own hands. Roger Baldwin and Michael Zeig offer guidance for how they can do so.

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Charles Eliot returns to Harvard after 100 years (essay)

Mark: President Eliot! I didn’t realize you’d be attending this alumni event. You know, given that you’ve been dead for almost a century.

Charles: Yes, it’s the strangest thing. Last I remember, I was skating on Fresh Pond….

M: Cryogenics are quite wonderful. Didn’t do much for Ted Williams, though.

C: Who?

M: Not important. I’ve read a lot about you. Harvard’s president for 40 years. You really were (air quotes) “Charles in Charge!”

C: (blink…)

M: Well, you’d never last that long today, especially spouting controversial views on education and society like you did. Didn’t work out so well for the last guy here.

C: Our positions demanded that we take leadership of the intellectual and moral issues of our day.

M: Now you’re just expected to raise money.

C: We did that as well.

M: Oh, it’s a different ballgame these days, a lot more complex. Higher expectations and greater accountability. But more perks and better pay, too. Some university presidents make over a million bucks a year. Can you believe it?

C: That’s preposterous.

M: You should ask President Faust about what today’s presidency entails.

C: Yes, I’ve been meaning to speak with him.

M: Her.

C: What?

M: Her. President Faust is a woman.

C: (air quotes) “Drew” is a woman?

M: Oh, yeah. Harvard’s first female president.

C: A woman president. Astounding.

M: Not really. Half the Ivy League has had female presidents.

C: Half the what? What’s an Ivy League?

M: It’s an intercollegiate athletic conference with Harvard and its peers.

C: Harvard has no peers.

M: Uhhh…

C: And that’s an idiotic name, Ivy League. Who coined it?

M: A sportswriter, I believe.

C: Figures. I detest collegiate sport, especially football. Barbaric. And the hooligans who play it. What a scourge on the academy. Have they done away with it yet?

M: Not exactly.

C: To me, exercising the intellect is far more important. I started the elective system, you know.

M: Yes, I know. And now we’ve taken that concept, a pragmatic extension of the curriculum, to a new level. Thanks to MOOCs, colleges are bringing courses to the masses, and often at no cost to the student.

C: Free courses? That’s truly preposterous. And who are these mooks you speak of?

M: MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.

C: Another idiotic name. Why not Free University Course Content? Oh… never mind. And I won’t bother to ask you what online means.

M: Just as well.

C: Surely no reputable institutions are in this business.

M: Princeton, Penn, MIT, Stanford…

C: That upstart out West?

M: That’s the one. And Harvard.

C: Heresy. Harvard cannot allow just anyone to feed from its trough. We must maintain impeccable academic standards and grant entry to only the brightest minds. Consider the possible damage to our…

M: Brand?

C: Reputation.

M: That ship has sailed. These days anyone can say they’re studying at Harvard, even though for now they won’t be getting degrees. Or even course credits. Again, for now.

C: (gulping martini…)

M: Of course, employers know the difference. Saying “I attended Harvard” doesn’t always mean the same thing.

C: It did in my day.

M: A lot has changed, Mr. President. You need to catch up on the last 90 or so years. Higher education is a different world. It’s more democratic and inclusive, but at the same time it’s even more selective than in your day. You’ll be pleased to know that Harvard routinely places first or second in U.S. News, a magazine that purports to rank colleges based on quality.

C: Second?

M: It doesn’t mean much to those ranked near the top, but the wannabes make a big deal out of it.

C: You’ve lost me.

M: Places like Harvard don’t worry about attracting the best and brightest.

C: Except that these MOOCs will attract all form of cretins who wish to suckle from Harvard’s teat in a shameless attempt to profit from our good name.

M: I…um…wouldn’t exactly put it that way.

C: So you approve of these MOOCs, do you?

M: Let’s just say I’m in favor of expanding educational opportunity, and that I doubt the reputation of places like Harvard will suffer as a result. At least not yet. If elite institutions start making relatively cheap degrees available to anyone with a computer, I might change my mind.

C: Computer, MOOCs, online, women presidents. It is all very perplexing. I suppose you will next tell me that we no longer require literacy in Greek and Latin for college entrance.

M: Let’s get another drink, Mr. President. This might take a while.

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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