Archive for November 10, 2011

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 70

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes on November 10, 2011 by telescoper

While at Edinburgh this week I was struck by the similarity between theoretical and computational astrophysicist Dr Ken Rice and cosmologist Sean M. Carroll. I wonder if by any chance they might be related?

Sean Carroll

Ken Rice

To Edinburgh and Back

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , on November 10, 2011 by telescoper

I’m back home now after a trip to and from the fine city of Edinburgh which, in case you weren’t aware, is known to the locals as Auld Reekie. I wonder if there’s a local internet guide called Reekipedia?

The excuse for this trip was an invitation to take part in an exercise called a Teaching Programme Review in the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. The TPR is an exercise that looks at the courses on offer in the department, how they are taught, as well as the technical and administrative arrangements to back it all up. The Panel involved people from other departments inside the University and a couple of external advisers (both physicists), of which I was one. The Panel will be writing a detailed report on our findings which I hope will turn out to be useful, but it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the details here.

What I will say here is that, although it was a very intense and busy few days, including face-to-face meetings with all kinds of academic and support staff, as well as current students, it was extremely interesting. As well as hopefully providing some input and suggestions to the TPR, it was also a chance for me to see the inner workings of another department and pick up a few ideas for the way we teach Physics courses in Cardiff.

One of the striking things about this visit was how similar are many of the problems facing Edinburgh to those we encounter in Cardiff. Another is how easy it is to recognize kindred spirits. It may not always be obvious to the students, but physicists are passionate about their subject, not only in terms of their research but also in terms of nurturing the talents of the students in their care. In the Brave New World of Higher Education we’re all supposed to see universities as businesses, competing ruthlessly in an unforgiving marketplace. In fact, most of us at the real business end of the university system (i.e. teaching and research as opposed to PR and marketing) see our competitors more as colleagues than as rivals. Long may that continue, in my opinion.

During the visit I was taken on a tour of the excellent facilities available at Edinburgh, including some really snazzy and impressive “teaching studios” the like of which I’d never seen before. I’d really love to have a go at teaching in one of those some day, as they offer a different style of education which I’m sure complements the more traditional lecture format. The students seem to like them a lot, which is the most important thing.

However, I have to say that the thing that I was most jealous about was the fact that most of their teaching rooms still have blackboards. Ours have all been replaced with horrible whiteboards that require expensive markers and are far less visible to a big audience. “Chalk and talk” is a tried and tested method and when it’s done well I still think it’s a very effective one. I’m all for innovation in teaching, but some traditional methods are actually pretty good!

Anyway, I’d like to thank everyone from Auld Reekie University for hosting this visit. It was hard work, but thoroughly enjoyable. If anyone from Edinburgh reads this I hope they will pass on my thanks to all the staff and students there for making it such a rewarding occasion! I’m just sorry I didn’t have the chance to see a bit more of the city, but the schedule was just too hectic.

What I did enjoy was staying in a nice hotel for 3 days that offered a truly splendid cooked breakfast in the mornings. I hadn’t started the day with kippers for a very long time! Might need to go on a diet for a few days though….