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Mar. 31st, 2016

paper birds

RAC working on CC

I have been a member of the Royal Automobile Club of WA (RAC) for over 25 years and have watched the organisation grow and change in response to the interests of their members, as any club should. So yes they are still interested in cars, roads and travel in general but their considerations go much wider than that.

In the latest members magazine they have outlined the infrastructure projects and policies they will be lobbying for in the next election. They include in the infrastructure projects - Perth light rail, network management technologies to enable semi-autonomous driving in the city to reduce congestion and the extension of the Thornlie passenger rail line. In the policy area they will lobby for more funding for public transport infrastructure and cycling infrastructure. They would also like to see a CO2 emissions standard for the new light vehicle fleet because we do not have one.

Other articles in the magazine tell us things like "In one year, the average Australian passenger car will emit about four tonnes of CO2" and now is the time to get ready for winter storms with a list of things people can do.

They have conducted a walking survey which they consider to be their first step to "ensure the needs of pedestrians are well understood and not overlooked in infrastructure planning".

The RAC have in the past supported new commuter technology, and in the current magazine they are trialling a driverless shuttle bus so they can test and understand autonomous vehicle technology. They want people in WA to "experience the technology, to ride in it, and to consider the possibility of autonomous vehicles in their day-to-day lives".

So I guess the message of this post is, when looking for changes in society which might help us get to a sustainable future, look in all the places, likely and unlikely.

Mar. 29th, 2016

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BOM Links Weather to Climate

So the first step in dealing with climate change for your area is to understand the climate you will be dealing with and who better to ask about this than the Bureau of Meterology or BOM for short. Here are a couple of useful links to get you started. The first is a gold mine of information. The deeper you dig the more you find. It would be easy to lose a good chunk of a day wandering around in there.


The second provides information on the El Niño and La Niña weather systems that govern the weather in the North of WA and are likely to send more weather our way as the Earth's atmosphere warms.


The short version is that it is going to get warmer on average. The exact amount of warming depends on the concentration of the various greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere but if they do not keep increasing then a new equilibrium will be reached. If the concentrations can be reduced then the effect on the Earth's climate and weather will not be a bad as it could be. So it is never too late to get started.

People in other parts of the world manage to live in harsher climates than Perth +2C even Perth +6C. We have much to learn, much to do and much to think about, technically, socially, morally and ethically so we may as well roll up our sleeves and get started.
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Stories of Climate Change Survival

The stories that we tell ourselves can be powerful things. They colour our outlook on the world and they affect our interactions with people and the world around us. What I discovered at SwanCon yesterday was that we are not telling many science fiction stories about climate change survival. I can only guess at the reasons for this: it takes time to research and write a book, people may not have the words yet to describe the new society, the future will be shaped by a complex mix of technology and social change and it will be on a local scale.

While climate change is a global phenomena the specific effects will be local. They will depend on the prevailing winds and ocean currents, local geography and population distribution, supply chains and energy resources and also the political climate and the resiliance of the people.

So there are many questions that can be asked about the future and therefore many stories that could be written in response. Perhaps the topic is too big? Then we need to break it down into manageable parts. Cat Sparks asked us where are the stories about proactive governments who create policies and social structures that make it easy for private enterprise to do the right thing for the land and its people. Perhaps the current western free enterprise structure has been around so long that younger people have not known anything else. Then we have to look to other societies, both past and present, for answers.

What I would like to do in this space for a while is tell the true stories that I find from the past and present that can act as a springboard for the science fiction stories of our future.

Mar. 28th, 2016

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Working Towards a Sustainable Future

I spent today at SwanCon. Normally I spend all Easter there and fret about lost time in the garden. This Easter I made a compromise by spending it in the garden with one day at SwanCon. It has been a busy 12m and the garden was being neglected, the weather had turned and it was time to start the growing season. Also I had been promising myself that I would turn the 80cm high garden "tank" into two half sized gardens. A couple of times now I have filled the bottom of that tank with bales of straw and put soil on the top only to watch the "land" in my garden subside. Time to do something about it. Anything deeper than 30cm would be wasted soil so the two half sized beds were to be turned into wicking beds, water at the bottom and soil on top. I had seen it done on TV in Gardening Australia, found the instructions on the website, (http://abc.net.au) worked out where to source likely material and was ready to go. It would only take a day surely? It took two and a half and the hardest part was getting the spout out through the hole at the 10cm level so that the water would only rise so high and not turn the new patch into a bog. It is done now. I will give it a week to settle into a routine and plant veg next weekend.

Sep. 16th, 2014

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Re-reading My Evaluators Report

Time to start sorting out the to-do list, and where better to start than my evaluators report from the major interim report. There has been another minor one since then which I suppose should have gone on the list in the last post!

Anyway stop procrastinating...

1) "The Fellow agrees that the Reference Group now has a role to validate the Work It Out approach and assist with dissemination."

Hmm... So I need to find a time when at least the local peeps are all free and hold a half day workshop to go through the material produced so far. There are some holes in the teaching material that I am not going to have the time to fill – perhaps they can help with this.

2) “The major focus of the remainder of the Fellowship will be on dissemination - developing a ‘community of scholars’. The Fellow sees this as not ‘selling’ the Work It Out approach, but in using it to start a conversation about learning and teaching.

I need to develop a community of scholars and use the WiO approach and the associated resources to start a conversation about learning and teaching.

Question… How/where is this conversation to take place?
• Face-to-face at conferences?(poster/presentation) > Immediate but ephemeral and not sustainable
• In journals? > Very slow but physical output
• Web interfaced discussion > Difficult to start and difficult to sustain but physical output
• Face-to-face in workshops > Some physical output, fairly immediate feedback/discussion. Need to find ways to capture the conversation.

3) Website needs on-going maintenance.

True and we can work on this at the end of semester when my Web Dude has finished teaching for the year.

4) The rest of the collected data needs to be analysed and turned into journal papers / conference presentations.

This can happen after the Fellowship has finished – if there is ever enough time!

5) Final report has to be written.

6) Plan for on-going research.

Sep. 15th, 2014

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Where to from here?

It is week 9 of a 17 week semester and this is the first time I have sat down to map out where I am going with my Fellowship this semester. There has been soooo many distractions.

1) I didn't get as much buy out for my teaching as I would have liked, not for a want of trying and not for a lack of money but just for a lack of people to do the job.

2+3) I am organising the Physics post-grad conference and the Women in Physics lecture as part of my Australian Institute of Physics committee membership. This counts as part of my service workload for the university.

4) As is organising a couple of talks for the undergraduate physics students by successful physicists on how they ended up in the job that they ended up in. Penguins and everything...

5) Staffing the physics bit of the Science and Engineering Help classes because there is no-one else to do it.

6) Joint research with a couple of other Fellows which I guess could be seen as applicable to my Fellowship in a broad sense.

7) Preparing a poster about said research for the ACSME conference in September

8) Preparation, not yet finished, for a workshop about <i>Inquiry Oriented Learning</i> at the discipline day at the ACSME conference. I have to find a way to work what I am doing with the Fellowship into it.

9) Sign up to give a workshop at the STAWA Future Science Conference about the Open Education Resources (OER) produced as part of my Fellowship, and how to use them. 5th December

10) There was a WAND Fellows Day at Curtin Uni where we chatted with people who were thinking about doing a Fellowship or applying for a grant.

11) There is a L&T showcase thing happening here at Murdoch this week and everyone is looking for posters.

12) A WAND Sharing day is coming up in October

13) I have done the corrections on my main WiO paper and resubmitted it for publication.

14) Physics at Adventure World is happening at the end of semester and somehow I seem to be organising that as well for Murdoch.

15) Finally there is the AIP Congress in December where I will be presenting my OER (Dr. C's First Year Physics Demos) and a presentation about the work the Fellows and I have been doing about engagement for students in a first year physic unit.

16) Most fun of all - I have a new piece of equipment that does reflectance spectroscopy. It fits into a suitcase! So I can use it in my office, if I tidy up, or I can use it at home, or in the field. Did I ever tell you how much I love looking at data and how fascinating I find light? Geek heaven!

Aug. 27th, 2014

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Open and frank more-so than bare Naked Scientist

I am still picking up the threads of the Fellowship from where I left them 7 months ago. The second interim report has been signed by my DVC L&T (deputy vice-chancellor for learning and teaching) and gone in to the OLT (Australian government office for learning and teaching). You can see why people use acronyms - in this 3 min attention span world, we would never be able to get our message across without them!

Talking about attention spans...yesterday I attended a science communication master-class given by Dr. Chris Smith, aka "The Naked Scientist"{C}{C}. I know what you are thinking and I am not going to go there! It was an interesting session. In one activity we got 2 min to get our message across and then a different member of the workshop was asked to say what that message was and Chris also gave feedback on the presentation. With all my years of teaching I was actually nervous because I was trying to put what I had just learned into practice as well as get my message across to a group of "experts". The old impostor syndrome was strong in this one at that time because they were all talking about the fantastic science research that they were doing and here I was talking about education. I probably gave the shortest pitch of any of them and ended by saying who I was at the end rather than starting with it which was not a disaster. So what did I learn during the workshop?

  • In a recording (podcast, lecture, documentary) don't talk for longer than 2 min without having some sort of change to recapture the audiences attention. This can be achieved by asking a question e.g. How does the Earth know that it has to apply a different force to the medicine ball and the golf ball to get them to both fall with the same acceleration? Or it can be achieved in an interview / discussion format.

  • In an interview you will get around 40s of a monologue before being interrupted by the reporter or edited out in post production. So bring the punch-line to the beginning of your pitch then fill in the background. The first 40s has to say

a) why your work is important
b) give some sort of size to the problem
c) how does your work relate to the real world
d) answer the question "so what does this mean to me - the person listening to the interview?"

e.g. Australia society is based on science and technology, it is all around us, so we need to train people to know how it works and how to use it. Many Australian universities therefore teach science and engineering which means around XXXX students a year in Australia have to study some form of basic physics at university. The majority of these students will be under prepared for a variety of reasons and my Fellowship is looking at ways to assist those students fill the gaps in their background so that they have a better chance to succeeding in their chosen field. Hello I am Chris Creagh, Physicist, and one of Australia's OLT National Teaching Fellows.

  • Then you can go on to talk about what you are doing in more depth about how you are trying to solve the problem and the type of results you have.

  • It is best to build your talk (argument) logically one point on top of the next rather than bringing in lots of diversions. Also link your statements together don't talk in bullet points.

  • If you can tie the spiel about your work to matters of heart, health or wealth then you have a better chance of keeping your listeners interested.

  • Use humour, be chatty, fun and engaging.

  • Polish your spiel so there is no padding in it and no jargon

  • People remember the first thing you say and the last thing so this is why the introduction and conclusion to your talk are so important

  • When you are asked a question you do not wish to answer remember ABC. A - acknowledge the answer, B - bridge to what you wish to talk about, C - communicate your message.

  • In an interview anticipate the questions and work out an answer before the interview

  • You could even give the interviewer some pointers about what your area is and the types of things you can talk about.

There was a great deal more useful information about websites, promotion, and production, such as - If you wish to set up an ongoing "science show" then you can choose between two formats - you as the expert or you as the facilitator of experts. The latter is probably easier to sustain as a long term project.

If you are thinking of attempting something akin to what Chris has achieved  remember it takes time, and money. There are now 5 people involved in the whole "Naked Science" adventure and Chris himself works around 60hrs a week, part of the time being a doctor and part of the time being the one and only "Naked Scientist".

Aug. 19th, 2014

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The Journey of the Fellowship Continues

Week 5 of second semester and today is the first day I have felt I have had enough time to spend a whole day focusing on my Fellowship. Yes, yes, I still dealt with the e-mails when I got in and in the breaks I have sent out info about a Post Graduate conference we are organising but on the whole the day has been focused on the Fellowship. This is a good thing as I have an interim report due by the end of the month and it has to go through the university process first to get the required signatures. So I did a bit on it yesterday and finished it off today, sending it to my evaluator so he can give me feedback. Talk about working from home - his home, at the moment, is on the top of a mountain in Switzerland! Where there is wifi there is life I suppose!

So what have I been up to for the last 7 months? Teaching mostly Principles of Physics, Modern Physics, Advanced Topics in Physics: Theoretical, Open University Physics and all the associated websites, learning and teaching materials and organisation. First Semester is my heavy teaching semester and it is chaos. Second semester by comparison is a normal sort of place. So this semester has been allocated the semester of "creating the community of scholars", a group of hard working academics who can find a bit of time to think about the ins and outs of what we do and how to put the material I have produced to good use. I know, dear reader, the thinking part is easy it is finding the time that is difficult.

Last semester was not completely devoid of Fellowship related activities. I have produced a suite of lecture demonstration videos for first and second year uni physics students, 31 in all. You can find them on my YouTube Channel Physics Vids under the name of Dr. C's First (or Second) Year Physics Demos.

I have given a couple of workshops and attended a couple of conferences, done a bit of education research and kept an eye on my post-grad students who are doing their own research into renewable energy. I have even had some success baking fruit cake and muffins but I am still burning the biscuits because. Still my oven is another story.

Mar. 27th, 2014

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Update to date.

My last post was about 6 weeks ago so what has happened since then?

WIO Website Launch

lecture theatre smallest

Well we had the launch of the website on the 12th February and it all went very well. I had booked the most splendid lecture theatre in the university mainly because it had a nice adjacent area for mixing and mingling after. As you can see from the picture it was not overly full so I used this to my advantage by corralling my guests into the back 3 rows using black and yellow site-under-construction tape. It worked very well and helped provide a contrast between the talking-head-at-the-front lecture theatre learning environment and the on-line-up-close-and-personal video presentation learning environments in the foyer.

foyer smallest

In the foyer there were 5 learning environments, showcasing the videos and the website.A desktop PC student desk, iPads in a tutorial setting, laptop with comfy cushions, projection onto a whiteboard with seating simulating a small seminar and a projection onto a wall with space in-front for people to stand there and discuss what they were looking at.

Laptop smallest

I particularly like this picture of the desktop PC student desk set-up, which shows the textbook discussion between three of my tutors one of which is participating via a laptop. This was a bit of special effects on our part. I recorded the discussion with Rebbeca before she went on holidays then we recorded the rest of the discussion as though she was present on the laptop which had a green-screen on it. Then we added the recording of her onto the laptop in post-production. Nobody even noticed they thought it was for real, yes!

The feedback, provided by postcards posted into a box on the night, was positive and encouraging.

2-min Demos

Last week was a non-teaching week and as chance or design would have it the university has seen its way to employing someone to make videos – possible with an eye to putting more lecture material on-line. As soon as I found out about this development I was in, making a booking. I have around 50 lecture demonstrations I use in lectures which external students cannot see because we only record audio and capture of what is on the screen. So this was my chance! Video dude, empty rooms, flexible time – record 50 videos in 2 days – go! They are still in post-production so I am not sure how many we will end up with but there will be some and hopefully even David and his Tesla Coil! Watch this space!

Feb. 10th, 2014

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Research - The Reflective Practitioner in Physics Teaching: observations, considerations and musings

Goodness it has been quite a while since the last post. There was the holidays of course and then a bit of annual leave so I could "spring clean" the house and help my daughter with some painting and decorating. At work again to tie up loose ends from last semester and start getting ready for the next. Into the mix was thrown a two day L&T conference, a day doing physics with students at summer school and some time working on a paper about Inquiry Orientated Learning (still to do the final polish). I also submitted the OLT Fellowship interim report on time, signed by the VC no less! I had a meeting with my evaluator and a trip to the dentist, neither of which were painful. So what next?

I am going to wrap up this phase of my Fellowship by launching the Work It Out (WIO) website http://www.workitoutts.com later this week. Part of the launch will be devoted to pulling out the threads of research that are woven through everything I have been doing over the past 6m. Being a reflective practitioner means that at some stage you start thinking about what is going on around you, on several different levels. So let me give you some of that thinking...

The work of a university academic has three components, teaching, research and service.

The work of the academic is to create a learning environment for their students that exposes them to most of the aspects of their chosen discipline over the period of their undergraduate degree. Often a great deal of thought goes into the development of each activity and engagement with the students. This background thinking is not often made explicit to the students so they are left wondering why they have to do certain pieces of assessment and things like labs. Academics themselves may not consider their deliberations about pedagogy, content and the physical constraints of the learning environment to be important, as they are focused on the outcome and putting it into practice.  This is however is an interesting area of research. What do academics think about during their deliberations and how do they optimise parameters to produce an effective learning environment for their students and themselves?

The four videos on the WIO website are a start in answering this question. They show a lecturer and their tutors discussing the background thinking behind the use of textbooks, diagrams, formula and lab sessions. The videos are intended for students to view, almost as though they are eavesdropping on the conversation about these hitherto hidden depths of thinking.

Also the videos are intended for academics to watch, as a starting point for discussion about the topic in question (diagrams, formula, labs, textbooks) or they could be used in a wider context to initiate thought about other areas, "If we were to make similar videos of ___________ what is the underlying thinking we are trying to make apparent?" Fill in the blank with the topic you wish to think about.

Research in this area is therefore a conversation about learning and teaching, about making background thinking apparent not only so students can understand why they are doing things, but also so academics and their tutors can examine their own motivations and understandings.

It has taken me a whole 6m of thinking and doing to get here and it has been an interesting journey along the path from novice to Fellow. I am not there yet and I am sure there will be a few more adventures along the way.

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