Friday links: great new ecology blog, a talk made of tweets, teaching tips galore, and more

Now in our third year of giving in to, and encouraging, availability bias. 🙂

This week Meg and I did this:

(image from here).

Besides the stuff in the post title, check out teaching evaluations even worse than yours, good teachers > good teaching methods, Alex Bond calls in the wolf, WW II vs. statisticians, toddlers vs. their moms, the Pope vs. climate change, original data on unoriginal preprints, and more. Oh, and someone whom I hope is joking says scientific jokes are unethical (!)

From Meg:

The New York Times recently had an article on introducing active learning to introductory college classrooms. One quote from it: “It’s more work, and you’re not as in control.” Yep. The NYTimes post relates to this post of mine where I talked about what it was like to flip the Intro Bio classroom this fall. (tl;dr: it was good for the students, but it was a huge – perhaps unreasonable – amount of work) Then again, there’s this article, too, on how some or all of the value found in studies on active classrooms may be because the people who first adopted these approaches are especially gifted teachers (ht for this last one to Clay Cressler).

And, in a related vein, a new study showed that values affirmations helped reduce the performance gap in an Intro Bio course between first generation college students and second+ generation college students. (One of the study authors, Cindee Giffen, is a colleague of mine here at Michigan and has been heavily involved in our efforts to flip Intro Bio.) Values affirmations were covered in my post on ways to counter stereotype threat. In this new study, they found that values affirmation improved course grades, overall GPA for the semester, and retention in biology. Impressive!

And another one in a similar vein: a new study found that writing about test anxiety can reduce that anxiety and improve performance.

Are you feeling bad about your teaching evaluations? Well, at least you (probably) weren’t referred to as “coarse, stupid, easily enraged, dogmatic and opinionated”:

And then there’s this great cartoon, which is a good reminder that we tend to focus in on the negative:

Women with kids are more productive at work – but not during the toddler years

This is an interesting idea from Alex Bond – he’s posted a list of languishing projects that he’d be happy to collaborate with others on. I will be really interested to see how this works – it could be a great opportunity!

NASA’s top images of Earth from space from 2014. They are stunning! (ht: @tideliar)

Pope Francis will issue an edict arguing a need for action on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Here’s a post containing 10 tips to better manage your time in academia, by Charles Ofria of Michigan State. I found tip 6 related to email particularly interesting – he forces himself to deal with one waiting email each time he checks, as a way to try to avoid viewing email as a quick diversion. I’ve been trying to avoid reflexively checking my email, so hearing how other people avoid doing that is interesting to me.

And, finally, here’s a post from Terry Wheeler reflecting on things he did right and wrong in his first 20 years as a professor. It’s a great post. (UPDATE: attribution of this post fixed.)

From Jeremy:

A talk about the value and effective use of Twitter for academics–consisting entirely of tweets.

Welcome Stephen Heard to the list of blogging ecologists (don’t call it a blogosphere)! His fine first post, on the pluses and minuses of hopping among topics or study systems, reminds me a bit of my first post for Dynamic Ecology, and also this one in praise of side projects. It also makes for an interesting contrast with various posts in which Meg has emphasized the importance of sticking with one system so that you know it back-to-front, thereby avoiding making silly mistakes (e.g., this). And in his second post Stephen argues provocatively (but cogently) that there are some serious downsides to reading the previous literature before you embark on a new line of research! He has a point; a big reason I was able to write my posts and TREE paper critiquing the zombie IDH is that I don’t work on disturbance and am not over-familiar with the literature. And while it would be silly to argue you shouldn’t read the literature at all, I think Stephen’s post is a strong argument for reading broadly (even at the cost of depth), and reading critically. (ht @smvamosi)

My Calgary colleague Steve Vamosi with some advice for applying and interviewing for faculty positions at research universities. Here’s my own excruciatingly detailed “behind the scenes” description of the search process, with a bit of advice thrown in.

Terry McGlynn with an interesting post on how some ecological experiments don’t really teach you anything, but rather function to convince (and impress) others who don’t know your system as well as you. On the other hand, I bet lots of ecologists have had the experience of setting up an experiment that they were sure would come out a certain way, only to get surprised by a different outcome.

How statisticians shaped WW II, and vice-versa. (ht Simply Statistics)

The discoverers of a promising new class of antibiotic think that bacteria won’t be able to evolve resistance to it, at least not very soon. I hope that’s true, but color me skeptical. When was the last time someone bet against natural selection and won? More specifically, the rate at which resistance evolves depends on much more than just the rarity of resistance-conferring mutations and their fitness costs in an antibiotic-free environment.

Wait, the annual joke issue of the British Medical Journal is unethical because once in a while somebody mistakes one of the joke papers for a real one? All scientific satire needs to be labeled as such in case somebody doesn’t recognize it as satire? Or tagged in such a way that it won’t show up in searches on the topic of the satire? I’m going to assume that this is itself a satire, because otherwise come on. (ht Not Exactly Rocket Science)

New data on plagiarism in science (well, physics, computer science, and mathematics): only a small fraction of ArXiv preprints include lots of text copied from other ArXiv preprints. They mostly come from a relatively small number of prolific serial offenders, concentrated in certain developing countries (not China or India). The papers in question mostly aren’t much cited, and copy papers that themselves aren’t much cited. (ht John Mashey)

And finally, R is amazing and cutting edge! Let’s email call fax carrier pigeon smoke signal somehow contact the R Foundation to thank them! 🙂

16 thoughts on “Friday links: great new ecology blog, a talk made of tweets, teaching tips galore, and more

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Jeremy. With my appearance in Friday Links I think I can figure it was a great day and go relax… and it’s only 8:22 a.m.! Well, OK, maybe I’ll finish putting together that talk first.

  2. Meg, as a teacher how much does that paper questioning the effectiveness of active learning worry you? On the one hand, it’s only one study, and it certainly has its own design issues (e.g., classes and the profs teaching them weren’t randomly assigned to either active learning or the lack thereof). On the other hand, it does raise a real and possibly serious issue. What attitude do you think someone like me (considering whether to flip a class, but daunted by the effort required and so wanting to be really confident that the effort will be worth it) should think or do in light of this piece? You know way more about this stuff than me, so tell me what I should think!

    • I think its a valid question, Jeremy. The studies I’ve read on K-12 education (limited but not zero) indicate that the best predictors of learning are: innate student qualities>quality of teacher>class size>everything else (style of teaching, curriculum, etc) with each effect more or less completely dominating the effect below it. I suspect it generalizes to university level (except for class size K-12 the debate is over 15 vs 20 vs 25 – not the 5 vs 500 contrast we have in universities where class size clearly has a big effect).

      • A while back I linked to some massive meta-analysis that compiled average effect size estimates for every factor anyone’s ever studied. Wish I could remember it now.

        Of course, there’s still the question of bias and generalizability in those effect size estimates. Another piece I linked to a long time ago commented on how infamous it is for all sorts of educational interventions to work well in small studies but to not generalize. Quite possibly because pre-existing features of the students and the teachers are the two biggest effects.

    • From my personal experience, I think my students learned a lot more this semester with the flipped model. I plan on doing a Bloom’s taxonomy of my exams from the last time I taught vs. this year, but I’m sure I was asking higher level questions, and the means on the exams were about the same. But, at the same time, I think both the students and I were spending more time on the course, so it’s hard to factor that out (as we’ve discussed before). And I’m sure that it matters that I was fully on board with flipping and thought it would help the students — I felt more ownership over the course this time, and probably was more engaged in class as a result.

      So, in short, I still feel pretty conflicted on how strongly to recommend flipping to colleagues. Not the clear cut answer you probably wanted, eh?

      • “Not the clear cut answer you probably wanted, eh?”

        If the answer was totally clear cut, I probably wouldn’t need to ask the question. And if you thought the answer *was* totally clear-cut, it’d probably mean your answer wasn’t a great answer.

      • I think you can totally do active learning as a primary approach without flipping, without much more time/effort than typical lecturing. Am I off or an oddball in thinking this?

      • @Terry:

        Yes, I am planning to try go back to your old post on active learning the easy way (was that the title?) as I prep my teaching for this term.

      • Interesting – I didn’t do a full flip – just clickers (but clickers with student discussions before & after) in an intro bio class. I had the exact same result. Nearly identical means, but I felt like the test was addressing higher concepts. Never formally evaluated that though.

    • FWIW, I feel like most studies of teaching methods model students as simple organisms – poke one here and it wiggles like this, poke it there and it wiggles like that. They completely ignore the idea that students can simply chose to pay attention and work hard or not. IME, motivating students is by far the most important factor. Once they are motivated, you can use the traditional lecture and note method as long as you hold up your end and provide clear lectures. IME Intro courses can be a bit of a drag in that respect bcz there’s not enuf time to xpln lots of stuff as clear as you’d like. I taught intro geology – you always have some non-believers in isotopic ages. Hard to get to details in an intro class

  3. Pingback: Conservation Friday: Environmental legislation you should care about | ecoroulette

  4. “Women with kids are more productive at work – but not during the toddler years”

    I always wonder if these sort of studies suffer from survivor bias.

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