First day of classes Spring Semester…

It may be foggy and cold here in Washington, but it’s also a day full of anticipation as we begin the Spring (yes that’s the operative word, Spring!) semester here at Mason.

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching in a bit. I’ll be teaching 50 undergraduates in a cellular neuroscience core course. I’m very much looking forward to trying out some new pedagogical ideas….

In the meantime, the first snowdrop blooms are out in our neighborhood. If the winter continues to be as mild as it’s been so far, we should have crocuses within a couple of weeks.

This semester will also be one of transition here at Mason as we salute Alan Merten for a job well-done and welcome Angel Cabrera as our new President on July 1. Change is part of life, no less within the academy. It will be interesting to watch this marvelous place continue to evolve and grow.

Special Teaching Deals Being Called Off…

From today’s Chronicle here. My colleague, Jorge Haddock, dean of our School of Management, is part of the story:

Some administrators are beginning to make changes, sometimes by giving professors a choice in the process. At George Mason University, professors who agreed to chair one of five “areas,” or departments, within the university’s School of Management had always taught just one course a year, compared with the usual faculty load of four courses per year. When Jorge Haddock took over as dean of the management school two and a half years ago, he thought the course release for area chairs was too generous. So he offered them a new deal: They could teach two courses a year, with pay for one month during the summer, or teach three courses a year with pay for two summer months. While the university pays more, Mr. Haddock says it’s worth it to make faculty workloads more equitable across the board and to get full-time professors back into the classroom.

More on ditching Blackboard and powerpoint in teaching…

At least one of my colleagues here at Krasnow teaches using Facebook. I’m guessing he uses some combination of Facebook “pages” and “groups” and I’m hoping he set up another professional identity/login separate from his personal one.

Another colleague, she teaches in the Boston area, mentioned dropping the canned powerpoint slides that come with adopting a textbook these days.

Still other colleagues use Apple’s Wiki Server on in-house machines.

The key to all of these ideas is that the learners and teachers are able to leverage the collaborative power of the Net without falling prey to having the learning process (think learning management systems) absorb all the energy that should go into the class subject matter….this is especially true with regards to neuroscience, since the subject matter can be quite technical.

So here’s a bleg for Advanced Study readers: how would you use what’s free on the Cloud to teach undergraduates science?

Powerpoint in teaching

I’m teaching NEUR 327 in the Spring. That’s one of the core neuroscience courses for the undergraduate major, Cellular, Neurophysiological and Pharmacological Neuroscience. I’m inclined to ignore Blackboard and teach using a combination of Facebook and Google tools. I’m also leaning towards minimizing the use of Powerpoint just because of its tendency to make the eyes roll upwards into their sockets.

Quite seriously, the use of Powerpoint for creating slides, is dangerously oversold, at least from the standpoint of pedagogy, as distinct from a research talk. I can’t decide whether it’s the formulaic slide lay-outs or the inane animations that arouse my distaste. Or perhaps it’s the ubiquitous use of images and graphics that are only tangentially related to the subject matter at hand….

As for Blackboard (the pretty much ubiquitous electronic learning platform across many colleges and high schools)…..I find it clunky–especially in comparison to Google’s collaborative tools and what one can do creatively on Facebook.