Saturday, September 11, 2021

Getting Students To Turn On Their Video Camera During Zoom

While many schools are back to in-person classes, there are still many courses being offered online due to the pandemic. In fact, a number of schools had to revert to online classes after severe COVID outbreak on campus. So online lessons are not going away anytime soon for traditional in-person schools.

At the start of the Fall 2021 semester, during many of the meetings I attended with faculty members from my department and other departments, one of the most common "complaints" that I hear was how to get the students to turn on their camera. The school has made it abundantly clear that we cannot force the students to do that, and that turning on their cameras was something voluntary.

Still, many faculty members were having a hard time teaching to "blank boxes" on their screen. They complaint was that they find it frustratingly lonely when they look at their screen and see no faces and no one there at the other end. They also said that they couldn't see any body language to gauge the students' reaction, as if looking at a live Zoom window could tell you the accurate body language of a person.

To be clear, many of the faculty members who moaned about this were from the language/humanities/etc. department. So eventually, I had to say something about this.

What the issue here really isn't about turning on someone's camera or being able to look at a person on the screen. Rather, it is the issue of STUDENTS ENGAGEMENT on the subject matter. When we teach in class, we can judge how much the student is engage in what we are teaching, and there are many face-to-face interactions that engages the student into understanding the material.

We can't do that in an online lesson, be it synchronous or asynchronous. Treating an online lesson the same way as you would a f2f class will suck, as I've said many times. As an instructor, we have to rethink EVERYTHING when we teach things online, because the whole emotional/psychology of things are different.

I told my faculty colleagues from other departments that, if anything, *I* have a greater need to see my students in terms of being relevant to the material being taught, and not just for my psychological needs. I told them that when I teach the topic of magnetic field, such as when a charge particle moves in a magnetic field, we find the direction of the force acting on the charge particle using the cross product depicted by the so-called "right-hand rule". When I taught this in class, I can see how the students were lining up their right-hand and how they "curl" their hand to finally look at their thumbs to show the direction of the force.

So here, there is a direct and academic need to be able to see what the students are doing, and not simply just for my benefit. Thus, if anyone here has a greater claim to want to see the students during a lesson, I argue that it would be me. Yet, I make no such requirement to the students. I told them that if they want me to verify that they are doing the right-hand rule correctly, they should consider turning on their cameras, and that was it. I don't bemoan the situation that I couldn't see my students, etc. and it somehow made it feel "lonely" or as if I'm talking to nobody. It isn't about me. It is about the students!

I think that a lot of people do not realize the extra and unique challenges of teaching STEM subjects remotely/online, and this includes non-science administrators and faculty members. STEM faculty members should make their voices heard more often, and be involved in the relevant committees so that we don't get left out in course design, etc. Otherwise, a lot of things that they think will work, won't for the courses that we teach.


Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Is 1/3 smaller than 1/4?

I'm sorry if this is old new, but I just found out about this recently.

I read a rather amusing account on why A&W 1/3 pounder lost out to McDonald's quarter pounder, even though they were both at the same price.

Confused why A&W's burgers weren't able to compete even though the burgers were priced the same as their competitors, Taubuman brought in a market research firm. 

The firm eventually conducted a focus group to discover the truth: participants were concerned about the price of the burger. "Why should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat?" they asked. 

It turns out the majority of participants incorrectly believed one-third of a pound was actually smaller than a quarter of a pound. 

I hate to say it, but this is no longer surprising to me. I look back on my take on the public's understanding and perception of science, technology, and math, and the dismal state seems to have persisted. Nothing has changed. In fact, when I said this back in 2010 .... 

As scientists, we cannot forget this, because it explains the fickleness in the support that we get. That overwhelming support that is there one day can easily go away the next day, and not because of some scientific evidence, but possibly because someone else has better bells and whistles.

... I just never expected it to be illustrated so glaringly during the past few years. Many in the public do not have the ability evaluate the validity of a claim or evidence, and science can easily lose its support because someone else has a more attractive message, even without any valid evidence.

What are the odds that this is the root cause of our debacle today?