“Why does a anchored skater abide stationary?” That’s a catechism that Lou Bloomfield asks his acceptance in the aperture address of “Physics 1050: How Things Work,” which he has accomplished at the University of Virginia for 21 years.
Many physics acceptance anticipate they accept inertia. But they ability not absolutely accept how abstruse apathy is unless we see it in … uh, inaction.
So Lou stands up on one of those huge lab tables that ballast science address halls and places a abate table on top. On that table he places a blood-soaked tablecloth, a plate, a bottle of wine, and a annual vase. Then he whisks the table t out from beneath the items, abrogation them intact. It’s one of his simpler demonstrations, but it frames and illustrates apathy bigger than any diagram or book anytime could. Acceptance never balloon that trick.
Lou is an outstanding assistant in every sense. His analysis has generated added than 100 papers, he has accustomed abounding awards, and he is a adolescent of the American Physical Society.
He is additionally a adroitness leader. Back UVa ashen millions of dollars four years ago on one of the affliction student-registration and advice systems (called SIS) in all of college education, abounding of us protested and asked the advice professionals on campus to fix the arrangement and advance its impossible-to-use interface. Back the arrangement administrators protested that they had no way to change the proprietary system, Lou absitively to accomplish his own fix. In a few hours, he wrote a accumulation of cipher that scrapes the course-scheduling and acceptance abstracts from SIS and presents the abstracts in a simple-to-read table. “Lou’s List” is now the absence antecedent of advance advice for UVa acceptance and faculty. In added means than one, Lou Bloomfield has fabricated UVa user-friendly.
More generally than not, the best advisers are the best teachers. If a academic is passionate, engaged, and curious, all of those affections appear through in the classroom. College acceptance are a assorted lot. But the one affair they all do able-bodied is atom a faker. If we apathetic bottomward our bookish engagement, it shows appropriate abroad in our teaching. And acceptance bound advance the chat that we are no best account their time.
Lou is best accepted on the UVa Grounds for his agitative and avant-garde undergraduate teaching. In the videos that he offers of his lectures, the allowance is overflowing, admitting the actuality that acceptance can get the lectures later, on their computer screens. He uses a case-study adjustment to advise physics, abandonment the added accepted abstruse approach. And admitting his abysmal ability of computer technology and his alertness to arrange acknowledgment systems like clickers, Lou forbids acceptance to use laptops and tablets during his lectures.
I’m cogent you about Lou because his advance will be amid the four pilot, noncredit courses anon to be offered by UVa through Coursera, the bunch of analysis universities hosting assorted massive accessible online courses (MOOC’s).
The university appear on Tuesday morning that it had accomplished an acceding to action these noncredit courses as a way of experimenting with the format. “They will in no way abate the amount of a UVa degree, but rather enhance our cast and acquiesce others to acquaintance the acquirements ambiance of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village,” said Teresa Sullivan, the university’s president. This is not a massive embrace of MOOC’s. No one is agee adroitness accoutrements to advance them. And no one pretends that MOOC’s acting for or attenuate the amount of absolute UVa courses.
You ability bethink from my antecedent posts about UVa that one of the items on the account of the aitionist associates of the Lath of Visitors who manipulated Sullivan into resigning aftermost ages was the angle that UVa was somehow “falling behind” added above analysis universities that had absitively to action MOOC’s through Coursera and added services.
As I’ve already written, if those lath associates had alone asked around, they would accept abstruse all we accept been accomplishing with agenda analysis in the classroom—much of which is destined to be added admired to the practices of teaching and acquirements than gimmicks like MOOC’s are.
So why did UVa abruptness anybody (including me) with its Coursera affiliation this week?
For one thing, Sullivan capital to ensure that she had high-profile adroitness who were accommodating to advance such efforts. The admiral and her deans had been alive with a baddest accumulation of adroitness (I was not buried to these discussions) for abounding months to adapt for this move — which makes the adventurous accommodation of the lath to advance her out in June alike added appalling.
Second, she had to ensure that the interests of the university were actuality served. There are so abounding capacity and issues that accept to be formed out back agreeable in open, online administration of advance material. It’s consistently bigger to do things boring and accurately than recklessly.
I accept already categorical my issues with MOOC’s here. To be clear, I abutment them. What I argue is absurd and fact-free hypere about MOOC’s, college education, and technology. I ambition pundits would stop declaring that MOOC’s are advocate back they are alone absorbing (not that there is annihilation amiss with that). No one is activity to become a physicist via MOOC’s like Lou’s. But addition ability abatement in adulation with physics and alpha the adamantine assignment of acceptable a absolute physicist. So I achievement added UVa courses end up on Coursera (though abundance won’t be amid them anytime soon). And I achievement added above accessible universities accompany such efforts.
This is why I am admiring about my university’s new affiliation with Coursera: There are still too abounding bodies out there who don’t apperceive how abundant fun physics can be. For years bodies accept been affairs Lou’s books, bags of UVa acceptance accept had the advantage of acquirements from him in the address hall, and his address videos accept been accessible to anyone who clicked about attractive for them. But this new befalling can affix Lou’s lectures—and physics in general—to new audiences about the world.
This Coursera belvedere offers anybody a adventitious to see some of the best assignment we do actuality at UVa. And it offers beginning systems of acknowledgment and appraisal for admirers who are not allotment of the academic UVa program. Eventually Lou should be able to admeasurement which lectures assignment able-bodied and which do not. He should be able to see what genitalia of the apple seek out his lectures and which do not.
This agreement is an big-ticket accessible service. It’s a allowance UVa is giving the world. But it has two abeyant returns. The aboriginal is idealistic: It will advice advance ability from a accessible university to the accessible it serves. The additional is cynical—and it’s absolutely what Sullivan declared in her advertisement of the Coursera deal: It will “enhance our brand.”
Now, let’s be frank. The closing acknowledgment is not substantial. In fact, it’s array of calumniating to those of us who assignment here. The University of Virginia needs no “brand enhancement.” Once you accede a university a “brand,” you accept lost. I accept university presidents blooper into such accent to appease the MBA’s on their boards. But the challenges and duties of clandestine firms do not in any way resemble the challenges or duties of universities. So we charge stop application business accent to call universities. It’s not alone bearded and inaccurate, but it additionally sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a affluent and abiding institution, a accumulating of accessible services, a amplitude for anticipation and research, a active museum, a accessible forum, a date for contest competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s absolutely not a “brand.”
UVa aloof has to accumulate accomplishing what it’s done for years, alone with greater accessible abutment and transparency. And that’s area that added abstracted acknowledgment comes in. Offering a scattering of outstanding lectures via Coursera gives us a adventitious to advance the actuality of ability and analysis to a added audience.
We on the commonsense of accessible universities charge always ability out above the lab, the conference, and the classroom to advance our account in bright accent and affix with communities beyond our states and beyond the globe. As continued as we never balloon what we owe the public, the accessible will never booty us for granted. If we all approved to be a bit added like Lou Bloomfield, no one would booty us for accepted again.
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