Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Random tidbits

Posted by Melissa on October 6, 2012

I haven’t mentioned it here, but I’ve taken over as department chair this year. It’s a fine position if you don’t have anything else on your to-do list, but if that’s not the case, it adds a lot more balls to the juggling act. As a result, several items which I’ve wanted to blog about have been sitting open as tabs in my browser for weeks, but without any time to write. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I just don’t have time to blog about any of them, but I’ll mention two of them quickly.

Pipeline guilt

A great blog post that hit a little too close to home. When I was in college, discussing future plans and wavering about whether to go to grad school, a trusted senior someone in my life said, “You will go to grad school, and you will be successful. Otherwise, you are just contributing to the women in science problem.” I think it was said with the best of intentions, but the statement left a permanent scar. Ever since then, with every decision I make, I am always haunted by the specter of whether my personal decisions are hurting other women. Of course, I realize it’s ridiculous. Personal decisions are just that, personal, and it is not my individual responsibility to make life choices where I push harder or choose particular paths just to prove a point about women in physics. And yet, whenever, I make decisions, I always have this niggling concern that I might make a decision that is right for me but contributes negatively to the bigger issues relevant to women in physics. I love what Jessamyn writes in her post: “Not only is it important to make decisions that will make you happy, but it’s also important to recognize that there are many ways to advocate for underrepresented groups, and many ways to lead by example. Many of them are outside the pipeline, and it isn’t a betrayal of all the women who couldn’t make it to the top to choose a different path.”

Who persists in a MOOC?

I was interested to see the demographics of those who completed edX’s Circuits and Electronics course: “80 percent of respondents said they had taken a ‘comparable’ course at a traditional university prior to working their way through Circuits & Electronics. Of that 80 percent, nearly two-thirds said the MOOC version was better than the ‘comparable’ course they claimed to already have taken.” Generally speaking, a course is easier the second time around so I’m not surprised people liked the MOOC version better. However, it’s also interesting that most of those who succeeded already had the benefit of traditional education. At least in this case, it seems like the MOOC isn’t providing a revolutionary education, but rather refreshing what had already been learned through traditional education. One aspect of MOOCs that greatly it interests me the demographics of the participants:  previous educational background, socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ethnicity. I imagine that there are probably significant disparities in the demographics. As someone concerned about diversity in higher education, I think it’s important to pay attention to who might be well served and who might be left behind in the MOOC world.



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