“Science of Climate Change” lectures: hits and misses.


This week, I get to relax a little for the ASIC course, since Allen will now take the reins and look at some of the social and humanistic perspectives that surround the issue of climate change (this should be really good stuff!).

Still, I’m curious about how my take on the “science of climate change” went. Like any teacher-type who values the art of education, I’m particularly critical of my own efforts – more so here since I don’t happen to be an “expert” in Earth Science, and also because the visual cues from the audience would have suggested that I didn’t deliver on parts of my lecture.

Here’s my own critique (note the lecture notes are currently available in pdf format here).

O.K. I think a serious problem was my pacing. In instances where time became a pressing issue (in my internal clock-o-meter), it led to rushing through certain parts of the lecture, which led to possible confusion, which led to questions, which led to a greater time crunch issue, and etc (ooh, there’s that feedback thing going on again). The pacing also made it tough to do a good job of somehow “bringing it all together,” which would have been key in this type of lesson since there is so much going on, so many concepts.

So the question I’m faced with is how to work around this pacing problem? And keeping in mind that the primary goal is to spend 4 and a half hours talking about as much science as I can as it relates to this issue of climate change.

Anyway, I can think of three things:

One thing is to ditch the kitsch in my lectures – it does takes up considerable time. Although to be honest, I do enjoy that stuff and theoretically it’s a good thing to do something unexpected once in a while (the eponyms, playing pictionary, and referring to strange yet stylish tshirts are an example of this). This might be hard to do away with, especially since 3 hours is a long time to hear anybody talk about anything.

The second thing, of course, is to cover less material. For instance, I know the second time around, I’m not going to devote so much airtime to the derivation of the 1st law of thermodynamics (as it applies to the atmospheric sciences). It didn’t help that I did a poor job of this, which is a shame since the intent was to make math a little less scary to those who do harbor fears about it – ironically, I probably emphasized that fear even more. I’ve also been thinking that maybe I can massage my discussion on the “scientific method” to somehow work in the “global and science” context, which would be covered the week before. Anyway, these two cuts (or shifts) would easily free up about 30 – 40 minutes of time. As for other cuts, that’s a hard call – I wanted to avoid diluting things as much as possible, but I guess there is a Yin and Yang that I need to be sensitive of (i.e. you can only go so deep in so much time). Since a lot of science is conceptually derived from the building of information (that “standing on the shoulders of science” thing), I have to be very careful when a topic is being broached since it can open up so many other angles of queries (the absorption stuff was an example, leading to questions on light duality, etc).

The third thing is just something pragmatic. Make sure the lecture notes are available to students before the lecture (i.e. it’s the reading). I think this would definitely help the process overall.

Anyway, if you (as an ASIC student) have any feedback, then it would be great to hear it. In the meantime, I’ve resolved to begin posting up the lecture notes in blog format, possibly as a rehash of how I would cover material the second time around (I’ll also make sure these posts get linked appropriately in the ASIC page).

So – Allen, bring on the humanity! Because next time around, we’ll be talking genetics, and believe me I am so down with that.

Related Topics


David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and boingboing.net. He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at popperfont.net.