December 12, 2013

MOOCs and Online Learning: Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class

MOOCs,  "Massive online open courses" and other forms of online courses are being pushed by for profit companies and startups as ways to bring higher education to the masses. Apparently though, the average MOOC manages to have a drop out rate of 90%.
Venture capitalists have invested in companies to deliver MOOCs, such as Coursera. The first MOOCs were delivered in Canada to smaller than 5000 students at a time and their founders used more than just video, quizzes and multiple choice methods. They used the entire internet's resources. What we see now as MOOCs are basically classroom recordings put online, with students doing rather bland multiple choice questions, short summaries of literature reading assignments and students marking each other "blind".

There are lots of opinions from professors and consultants regarding online learning. Not that useful. As a scientist, and an educator, I am more concerned with: what actually works? When it comes to teaching how to do biochemistry in a research laboratory for example, I have already figured out that I can mentor and teach someone to be a real scientist by making them do science research on my team. In my lab. Since every student has a different starting set of knowledge and experience when they hit my lab for their independent research projects, they all get a "different course" from me as their preceptor. That is not the kind of a course that you can just pre-record and put online. It could be done in distance learning with LIVE online video, because the student and I could "talk".

The most important talks I have with my students are just verbal or using a secret chalk board on the back of my lab's main door. Swinging it closed a bit, they know what's coming. A 15 minute session of sip your water or coffee and get a lecture from Dr M. But, it works. They know things now about DNA, genes, photoreceptors, PCR, lab management, what differentiates a fluke result from a reproducible result, and how long it takes to complete real lab-based biomedical research. No matter what the form of teaching and delivery though, there is one MASTER secret about making the teaching work well. Its obvious to me what it is, and all the research and discussion of "pedagogy" (definition: the method and practice of teaching) is mostly hand waving around the real secret of student/teaching interaction that works. It easy to figure out if "learning" is happening, far easier than what most learning consultants would have you believe. What is my secret?

December 2, 2013 Info Navigator for Winter Games: Appstore for Android

December 1 - My holiday gift to everyone, worldwide.
Info Navigator for Winter Games. 

You can get this App in the GooglePlay store, and now you can get it for your Kindle too from Amazon. Use the following link: Info Navigator for Winter Games: Appstore for Android

Kindle App Features

  • Follow Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on your Kindle.
  • Schedules of events and Android powered maps of event locations.
  • Links to quickly find main broadcast Sochi 2014 Olympic websites.
  • @OlympicNav Twitter Feed of sports information 365 days/year.
  • Free, NO-ads, non-profit, a gift from a University Professor to everyone.

This continues the tradition of "Info Navigator for London2012" and lets you be ready to follow the Olympic games in 2014, yet still get your work done during the day.

This App has a small memory footprint by using the browsing and map navigation capabilities of your Kindle's Android system. 

I make it free and Ad-free to support amateur sports and some pro-sports. So please pass this on to your friends, tweet it, facebook it. Give it away for free.


Ken Mitton
your Science Ranter.

November 24, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah! How to do good in the World with $25.

In one of my earlier blog posts, I once wrote about the KIVA organization. You may have heard of them on news programs or from information talks given by well known persons like President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. KIVA is simply a non-profit organization from California with a mix of employees, contractors, and volunteers who provide a website interface to match you and me with micro-lending organizations in developing countries around the world. A lot of detractors responded by saying, "it was a rip off, or a scam, or could not possibly work". So as a scientist its about time for me to do this scientific evaluation and follow up about how my KIVA based loans have gone. So far, after about 12 loans, I am pleased to report that the pay-back rate of clients from 9 countries around the world is 100%. Read on..

November 4, 2013

Good tablets for working people journalists?

Read this article by Paul Grabowicz from UC Berkeley school of journalism if you are thinking about doing real work on a tablet.

The following link will take you to his guide in their multimedia tutorial website.

October 26, 2013

Sunshine and Mirrors.

Read how Norwegian Town's Bright Idea Is A Shining Example Of Ingenuity.

Surrounded by mountains and hills, they found a way to get some extra hours of sunshine into the town center.

Very groovy science. Check out the link:

September 7, 2013

Replacement for iDisk and iWeb Services: Alternative Websites and Cloud Services

What Dr Mitton and many many thousdands of other 
humans saw July 1 in place of their websites hosted 
in mobile me :(

[Published originally on July 14, 2012 and Updated on Sept., 7, 2013].

Are you a former iDisk user, Apple's former version of the "cloud" that provided you with a remote place to store and share all kinds of files? Not only your music, pictures, and movies, but also any file you desired? I used the iDisk since it began in 2000/2001. File sharing, backup of laboratory management files and my websites were all served in that iDisk system. Now, like you, I had to find alternatives when Apple suddenly announced they would replace the iDisk with iCloud. The problem with that was that iCloud does not let you store all of your files (i.e. WORD docs), and it cannot provide web-server functions (serving out your htm/html files to web browsers). Here is my recipe for successful replacements for iCloud's short falls: remote file storage, file sharing and web server.

June 15, 2013

Summer Undergraduate Program in Eye Research: paying forward.

S.U.P.E.R. 2013 scholars.

Here is our current crop of SUPER students in the Eye Research Institute. SUPER stands for Summer Undergraduate Program in Eye Research. We have eight newbies this summer, and as you can see they pretty much reflect the nature of our community and the trends in higher education. As we headed into the new century, we already knew that over 50% of science degrees were now being awarded to women. More and more professors in the sciences are also women, more than any time in our past and thus more role models exist to pave the way for our daughters who desire to be scientists and physicians. At this time, it is also not unusual that most graduating medical school students are now women.  It is clear from our records of SUPER applications over the last decade that the women applying are more likely to have higher GPAs and thus do well in our initial selection of applicants for interviews. Our students are also from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting who we are in North America and Michigan.

May 4, 2013


LOOK. No more tubes. This poster I am presenting Monday at the ARVO meeting (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology ) is printed on polyester fabric. Folded into my carry-on bag.

TODAY, Saturday, I am giving a talk on imaging amyloid plaques in the retinas of Alzheimer model mice. A method that is non-invasive and I hope will be added to a doctor's tool kit in the future. I am not even trying to make money from the idea. Imagine that :)

Ken Mitton.

Watch "Confetence science posters on fabric. Just iron!" on YouTube

April 8, 2013

A note on Margaret Thatcher. Prime Minister. Conservative. Scientist.

Margaret Thatcher just passed on. Who is she? Too young are you?

I recommend you check out a good article today in The Economist online HERE. Its a pretty good summary, although I do not agree with the sideline in the article that suggests businesses are over-regulated in general in the West. I don't think all of our investment banks trashed our economy in 2008 because of "over" regulation!

Margaret Thatcher not only did much around 1980 to show that women can run big old world powers (UK) as well as any man, but she was also a conservative politician who understood science. Likely, this is because she actually went to college and obtained a degree in Chemistry from Oxford.

As conservative as she was, she was not a hate monger nor dismissive of science as some liberal plot to harm business. She herself worked in the business of plastics and food products before turning to the study of Law to help her way into her growing passion for politics. While her mentor at Oxford, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, was liberal and Baroness Thatcher's political opposite, they discussed their differences as civilized academics and respected each other. Apparently, Thatcher placed her research mentor's portrait in her office upon becoming Prime Minister and they were always in communication.

This VERY economically conservative Prime Minister also did not run from the science of global warming. She was the first leader from a big economy to raise the issue, in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 1989.

Tough but not uncivilized.

March 21, 2013

Applied Guitar Science #1

Watch "Dr Mitton's Introduction to Electric Slide Guitar like Rocky Mountain Way" on YouTube

You can play more like Joe Walsh if you know some applied logical and scientific rules when playing electric slide guitar. Maybe good rock guitarists are naturally scientific?

PS. Practice with your guitar unplugged first.

January 2, 2013

Dr M's App Kudos for 2013: LOOKOUT

My first recommended app for your new Android device, phone or tablet..including the Kindle Fire is Lookout. Antiviral and anti-malware application. Link to it below. Happy New Year from the science rant.

2013 Mobile Security Resolutions | The Official Lookout Blog