Professor Joe Schwarcz of McGill University is Canada's foremost public spokesperson for science. His columns in the Montreal Gazette and in Canadian Chemical News and his radio program on CJAD in Montreal reach thousands of readers and listeners, and have provided grist for his many popular books about science and especially chemistry.
In an attempt to get at least a little discussion of science policy into the Obama-McCain campaign of 2008, Richard Muller wrote "Physics for Future Presidents" and offered a popular course at UC Berkeley with the same title. While nearly all of the issues he raised were ignored by the campaigns and during the subsequent four years, he has returned with a book focused just on energy science and related issues.
Tammy Erickson states that our current approach to education was designed for a different age. It was modeled on the needs of industrialization, resulting in separate subjects, standardized curricula, conformity, and batch processing. The model worked well for 100 years because it satisfied the needs of employers. However, the needs of employers have change and the gap between the output of our educational system and the job demands of the current century is big.
Traditional schools operate in ways that are foreign to the world in which students live. The students inhabit a technology-based world of multimedia, addictive games, and mobile access. They are living in the most stimulating period in the history of the earth. But then schools require them to put that all away and ask them to focus on one, often-not-that-engaging speaker. It is not surprising that students get distracted and are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.
A change the educational system is desperately needed.
Pamela Hieronymi wrote an interesting commentary about the increased need for teachers in the “tsunami” of technology. She readily admits that technology can enhance education and is here to stay. The plethora of technology options will force teachers to reflect on their role in the classroom and to become more effective. Hieronymi aptly describes teachers as “personal trainers in intellectual fitness”. The personal training and individual guidance becomes more necessary, not less, as the information options increase.
The fact that spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11 are not moving quite as fast as they were predicted to, has led to speculation that there might be something wrong with general relativity. Einstein may be dead, but his concepts still reign.
Bruce Henderson in The Chronicle of Higher Education calls faculty to be more proactive in defining their contributions to educational institutions. In this time of cuts to education, university and secondary school faculty must help the general public understand the nature of their contributions.
MOOCs, massive open online courses, are gaining credibility. Two organizations offering MOOCs are Coursera and Udacity. These organizations have been fielding demographic surveys to better understand the background of the enrolled students and why they chose to take the MOOC courses. An article by Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Education summarizes some of the survey data. One pertinent finding was that the majority of the enrolled MOOC students reside outside of the United States.
I have in my library several chemistry textbooks from before 1860, but "Chemistry No Mystery" is not one of them. Reflecting as they do an approximation of the chemistry known at the time, they provide insight about the history of both science and pedagogy. I learned about this one from my friend Ron Perkins, a skilled chemical demonstrator, and "Chemistry No Mystery" is the most demonstration-oriented of the old textbooks I have seen.
MIT’s Dan Nocera (soon to be Harvard’s) gave a seminar in our department about a year and a half ago, and I heard him speak again in ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri’s ”Presidential Symposium on Catalysis” at the Spring national meeting in San Diego. The chemistry he described is a beautiful example of how fundamental research can potentially impact the lives of billions of people. Dan and his research group have discovered what appears to be an inexpensive, self-healing, air-tolerant catalytic system to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. We have seen before grand announcements about photocatalytic water-splitting systems, but this one appears not to suffer the fatal flaws of the others – requirement of pure water, expensive ingredients, and short duty cycles.