The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance – Revisited

A women of a minority group teaching at a whiteboard
A survey of student evaluations of teaching shows that men rate higher.

Last year I posted an article on The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance concerning anonymous student comments that said that the teacher was “too old“.  An article published on the online site Phys.org [1] found that male teachers were most likely to be evaluated the highest by students and female teachers from a non-English background the lowest. Further, the bias showed up most in student surveys in Science and Business and was largely absent from students surveys from Engineering and other disciplines.

This study was based upon 500,000 student surveys of teaching at the University of NSW, Sydney between 2010 and 2016. It involved more than 3000 teachers over 2000 courses. across 5 Faculties.

In my previous article, I strongly supported teaching surveys as a tool for professional teacher development using tailored questions that are teacher selectable. It was my belief that problems arise because of

… the impersonal nature of the survey, as well as the fact that it is exclusively university, administered, that is the heart of the problem.

Continue reading “The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance – Revisited”

Burke and Wills Expedition — Forensic Analysis of the Death of Charlie Gray

Arrival of Burke, Wills at Cooper's Creek on their return
The arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek. Painted by John Longstaff in 1907. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Charlie Gray (? – 1861 ) is the forgotten man of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860-1. Burke and Wills are credited with the first crossing of Australia from south to north and then south to Cooper’s Creek [1] again. That they were accompanied by John King (1841 – 72) is commonly remembered because he was the only member of the crossing party to survive. Charlie Gray is often only remembered as a footnote: that he crossed the continent with Burke and Wills but died on the return from the Gulf of Carpentaria, the day that the crossing party spent burying his body, was instrumental in the tragedy that was to follow.

The death of Charlie Gray has attracted a good deal of controversy, as I’ll examine in this article.

It is my belief that this article is the first time that the events leading up to his death have been subjected to a detailed forensic scientific examination.

My conclusions show that the likely cause of Gray’s death was from a parasitic disease that compounded his generally poor health and malnutrition. Furthermore, this same parasitic disease affected the other members of the party, hastened their worsening malnutrition, leading indirectly to the deaths of Burke and Wills some months later. John King was also close to death but was fortunate in finding the native Yandruwandha people who showed him kindness and made him part of their tribe until the Victorian Relief Expedition was able to rescue him. Continue reading “Burke and Wills Expedition — Forensic Analysis of the Death of Charlie Gray”

Andy Weir — My Geek Hero

 
Do I just sit back and allow a portrayal of events that, claim to be scientifically factual, to be made to be made into a feature movie, when I know, and can show by basic chemistry and toxicology, that the events portrayed are wrong?

Andy at the JPL
Andy Weir at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 2015.

If you’ve followed The Dossier you may have read the article: “Artemis” by Andy Weir — Blame it on the Moon. At the time I wrote this I was concerned that “Artemis” the movie might be in the pipeline. Andy has impeccable connections in this regard after having his earlier book The Martian made into a movie, directed by one of the most celebrated directors around in Ridley Scott.

For these reasons, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a feature film adaption has been in the works since even before the book itself was published according to Wikipedia.  Since I wrote my article, I had been struggling with the thought: what is my responsibility? Do I just sit back and allow a portrayal of events that, claim to be scientifically factual, to be made into a feature movie, when I know, and can show by basic chemistry and toxicology, that the events portrayed are wrong? Furthermore, the depicted events could mislead the public if made into a feature-length movie. Being a former science academic (who still considers himself to be in the STEM education business) these things matter to me.

Continue reading “Andy Weir — My Geek Hero”

Menindee Lakes Fish Kill

Fish Kill at Lake Menindee 7 Jan 2019.
Fish Kill at Menindee Lakes. 7 January 2019 by Debbie Newell.

The fish kills on the Darling River and at Menindee Lakes in Western NSW have been getting a lot of media attention and feelings are running hot within Australia and overseas. Politicians, both NSW State and Federal, have been running for cover, blaming the severe drought, rather than water mismanagement.

While I’d like to lambast politicians for their failings, in this case, it’s not going to achieve much. The problems with the Darling River are already so serious that political failings are becoming our responsibilities; once the consequences and recovery costs flow through the economy. There’s not the time for a blame game. As things stand, we can’t rely on our leaders to work for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin without bringing public pressure to bear. Lack of action on a leadership level calls out for more grass-roots action. However, being able to exert public pressure requires an educated cross-section of the public with a consensus direction on what needs to be done.

For the above public educational reasons, I’m requesting support for the development of a Fishkill 2 learning module which is based upon Fishkill that ran successfully with 1st-year Natural Resource Science students at the Queensland University of Technology  (QUT) for nearly a decade (2000-8). Fishkill 2 needs to be developed from the now antiquated original Fishkill as a community-based project, using new source material, an accessible online format and an expansion of the learning modules and scenarios to include lessons gained from the Menindee Lakes Fishkill.

Support Fish Kill ver. 2 Citizen Science Project

Help me fundraise to support a community version of the Fish Kill online eLearning Module that is sleek, modern and independently-sourced (suggested: multiples of $25).

$25.00

Continue reading “Menindee Lakes Fish Kill”

The Dossier: Highlights 2018

When I started writing the Dossier at the end of July, I was still dealing with issues around job loss and finding a new direction. I wrote about some of this in the article: Job Loss and Sense of Purpose, getting that off my chest was a positive step forward for me. I’d like to thank Jo Stanley for her kind reply: my post was a response to a newspaper article that she had written about similar events in her own life.

I started to gain some sense of purpose which I wrote about with An Epiphany or Two, of Sorts which is primarily an appeal for online learning systems to be more personalised. The observation was that the area of online learning is dominated by institutionally-centralised learning management systems (LMSs) that suit a formal learning setting but aren’t necessarily well-suited to more personal and decentralised learning. In August requested support to get such a project off the ground This request is reproduced again below.


Support me in Developing a Device-centric Personal Learning System.

Develop and build the components of a personal learning system using Django for the back-end and Electron for multi-platform front-end support. Support is requested, in the first instance, for community-based proof of concept.

$25.00

Continue reading “The Dossier: Highlights 2018”

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a Christmas Song

Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
Leonard Cohen from Hallelujah

 

Leonard Cohen performing in 2013.
Cohen performing at King’s Garden, Odense, Denmark, 2013.

I was with my wife, Linda, at the Coffee Depot Kapsali, Charlotte St, Brisbane CBD [1], yesterday enjoying lunch and drinking coffee. The music playing was pleasantly Christmas themed until Hallelujah by the late Leonard Cohen started playing. Up until then, I’d only been peripherally aware of the background music. However, when Hallelujah started playing I was jolted back to reality, and quite frankly, deeply offended to hear the words quoted above presented as Christmas-themed music.

I must make it clear that I’m not offended by the late Leonard Cohen, his lyrics or music. I respect his memory as a master craftsman and artisan of words in song and literature. I’m not offended per se by the lyrics of Hallelujah [2]. Hallelujah manages to be both haunting and joyous at the same time. Continue reading “Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a Christmas Song”

Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption

The Kingswood! You’re not taking the Kingswood, I’ve just shampooed the dipstick! Ted Bullpit, Kingwood Country (TV series 1980-4)

man-65049_640Most Australians are very cautious about whom they hand their car keys to. In that regard, they’re still a bit like Ted Bullpit (played by the late Ross Higgins) from the iconic Aussie 80s sitcom Kingswood Country (see the quotation above).

So how did encryption key laws pass both houses in the last hours of the last sitting week of parliament (6 December) in the lead up to the summer parliamentary break?

Given the apparently innocuous-sounding name of the “Assistance and Access Bill 2018” [1] it happened so quickly, at a time when most Australians were distracted with their preparations for the holidays. I’m not sure that many people will have much idea that the Australian Government now have presented our law enforcement and surveillance agencies with the right to circumvent internet encryption keys for matters pertaining to criminal and terrorist investigations.

Government Case

The Government’s case has been led by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has consistently stated that laws enforcement agencies need powers to intercept encrypted messages to keep Australians safe from criminal and terrorist threats. He’s argued that the news laws modernise the way that authorities can access information but doesn’t expand on current surveillance powers. A key feature of the Government’s approach has been to stonewall objections to the Bill by the tech industry.

There’s a reason for the amendments to be referred to as  the “Assistance and Access Bill” It’s as if the Government were condescendingly saying: “you tech guys are really smart, we need these surveillance and protection laws, just do your jobs and give us the technical assistance and access required.” Oh, and if you don’t do so voluntarily, we’ll make you do it by imposing heavy fines or imprisonment, on you as an individual, not just your company. Continue reading “Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption”

“Artemis” by Andy Weir — Blame it on the Moon

It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, And makes men mad.
William Shakespeare – Othello

Book cover - Artemis (2017)
Book cover for Artemis (2017) by Andy Weir

This post is about the recent book Artemis (2017) by Andy Weir which is a novel set on the first permanent Moon station. called “Artemis”. I was looking forward to reading Artemis because I had enjoyed reading his book The Martian. I loved his unorthodox writing style in that book, which fitted in so well with the unfolding of the timeline of the story.

I loved the movie The Martian (2015), directed by Ridley Scott, made from that book. Matt Damon was brilliantly cast as the interplanetary castaway Mark Watney. I loved that it was sci-fi for the near-future. It was tantalising because, with the book and movie, I could easily visualise the colonisation of Mars unfolding along similar lines. It was just so scientifically grounded and believable.

When I started reading Artemis the thought that it was an inspired idea that an African country such as Kenya could take advantage of the technology of moon colonisation to boost their economy to the first-world standard. It was such an optimistic and hopeful view of a world that might be. I loved the idea that the protagonist was an anti-heroine, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara from Saudi Arabia. That also seemed, at least at first, to be inspired. But later, when she transforms from a smuggler to a crime-boss, still with her smart, way-too-cool sassiness, the characterisation of Jazz losses its credibility and her role just becomes plain silly. Indeed, the whole story, after being so promising, losses its way and degenerates to silliness as I’ll explain.

Continue reading ““Artemis” by Andy Weir — Blame it on the Moon”

Remembering Henry Moseley (1887-1915)

sunset-field-poppy-sun-priroda

The 11th of November 2018 at 11 am is being remembered solemnly all the over the world as the centenary of the armistice of World War I. In the memory of recent generations, this conflict was the most dreadful that could be imagined. The casus belli was the most senseless. Nevertheless, the sacrifices made by so many, in the name of the political and personal freedoms, that we currently enjoy, were the noblest.

In viewing some of the coverage on TV and in the newspaper, many commentators were remembering notable individuals who lost their lives in that awful conflict. The person that I’d most like to remember this day is the British physicist Henry G. J. Moseley who left his work at Manchester University to volunteer for the Royal Engineers of the British Army.

Continue reading “Remembering Henry Moseley (1887-1915)”

Storms Around Brisbane

There have been several bad storms around Brisbane and the Gold Coast recently but where we’re located north of Brisbane,we had ducked the worst of them. However, today the centre of  rather bad one hit us pretty much head on. In the Rain Radar map below the black and dark red regions represent intense storm cells.

Rain radar map
Rain radar map of storm, the dark red and black areas are intense cells.

Continue reading “Storms Around Brisbane”