Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Waves and blended courses

Perfect days in SoCal start by catching waves. At least for me. 
When I moved to San Diego (from Sweden nonetheless) I believed nobody could get depressed in a place like that. Later I discovered it is, indeed, possible to get depressed here. Especially when you think about the cost of living  :) But most of the time I feel very lucky to live here. 
Most bio-scientists who land here will settle down along the coast, usually from Del Mar in the North to Pacific Beach in the South, concentrated in La Jolla and Sorrento Valley, home to most research institutes, UCSD, and biotechs. There is a certain La Jolla- centered thinking in the newly arrived population that tends to believe that anything East of 805 and South of the 8 is some kind of barbarian territory. Many will visit Balboa Park, Coronado, Old Town, and the Gaslamp; some females will even venture to the San Ysidro Outlets. A trip to Tijuana for shopping and drinking used to be a must, but not so much with all the drug violence South of the border. 
After 3 years living in different parts of La Jolla, including Windansea (stage of Tom Wolfe's classic Pump House Gang),  life took me to different parts of the city and made me appreciate all it has to offer. From the bohemian cafes of South Park to the hippie vibe of Ocean Beach, I have come to love many of its facets. Currently I live in East County, 20 min from the coast, surrounded by mountains and great hiking trails. And sunny. In the summer, very sunny (read- very hot). In the winter, cold- I have seen frost here in some mornings.
But it is sunny so we don't have one of the banes of the coast- the marine layer. This morning we left around 7.30 am (too late, traffic was bad), and once we approached La Jolla, this is what you see.
The marine layer gets trapped in the hills around La Jolla, and stays there in the morning. That may lead in the Spring to the May Gray-June Gloom effect: no sunshine most of the day. Can be depressing after a while.
I confess I am a sun-lover, but there are many who prefer the presence of the morning marine layer- those who like it cooler and many surfers who do not like UV- light too much and prefer the amateurs away from the beaches. 
I am not a surfer (yet?) but I am an ok body-boarder. And again, my perfect morning is in the water catching waves. After being wiped out a couple of times, and/or caught some great waves, all the problems in the world disappear. 
Being in the water also helps thinking. These past days I have been musing about science education. I have come to education from a science career- I was trained as a research scientist and teaching was a by-product of my studies. Only in my grad student days was I required to take a pedagogy class, and Bloom's taxonomy is a fairly recent acquisition in my knowledge repository. To teach in higher ed, you do not need to have a lot of education background- which of course leads to lot of researchers doing crappy teaching, but I am not going there. I also started with steely powerpoint prezis, which are the bread and butter of scientific presentations. Then I started learning new ways to do things. And I have still lots to learn. But every time the STEM education issue comes up, I just have to wonder about science teachers. I am a scientist turned teacher. I am sometimes ashamed of teaching for so long without really knowing how to teach. But, how can anybody teach science without experiencing science? And how can somebody who has not experienced science pass that fire on to students? That is why I thought Professor Oppenheimer's idea of providing science mentors to elementary teachers was great. Now, is it viable? Probably not. As passionate I am about STEM education, having a teen at home has scared me about ever considering high school teaching. I do know that there are certain programs addressing science teaching such as the one at SDSU. Very nice. Also, very expensive. I am not sure that I want to go there.
Right now I am reading more about blended courses, see a great website here: http://cybraryman.com/blendedlearning.html.
 From what I see (my very personal perception), there is some resistance to online courses in science. Of course there are reasons for that- can online observation of the perfect histology really  replace the work of focusing and scouring a slide, identifying structures and discarding artifacts? Can a virtual physiology experiment replace the experience of electrodes attached, or a Youtube video give you the feeling of a dissected organ? So my take on this is to bet on blended courses. Lectures delivered by podcasts, videoconferencing for questions, Voicethreads for case studies, wikis for research projects- and onsite lab activities. 
I have a course in January that has a very high enrollment and some logistical issues with lab space. I am thinking that this is my chance to design my perfect blended course- concentrate on lab and active/group learning activities on F2F time, and deliver the rest online. Whoa. I will be busy during the holidays :)

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