User:Carl Boettiger/Notebook/Teaching/2010/02/11

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Regime Shifts Seminar take two

  • Today I was again up for the regime shifts class to cover the details Alan's Ecology Letters paper. Board lecture style on content I'm comfortable with, so enjoyable for me but hardly much of an experiment in effective teaching. Still, something that can be done well or poorly, so I think today went well.
  • Began with individuals at the board to review the four principle figures from the previous class -- birth rates and death rates, difference in rates, the bifurcation diagram and the potential landscape. Proceeded in traditional board lecture style without prepared notes, which worked better than I expected from my point of view though probably with the same low uptake efficiency of even good or entertaining lectures. One of the key exercises was in demonstrating how the potential landscape emerges from integrating the rate (force) equation using the visual boxes of Riemann sums on the board. I think this helps demystify the landscapes. The worst thing about the landscapes is that the bifurcations are much harder to visualize than in any of the former graphs, as the whole landscape contorts. Going in the reverse from the non-smooth landscape to the discontinuous birth and death rules was also illustrative.
  • It would be interesting to explore if plotting by hand the functions and integrals was significantly more or less effective than plotting them in a computer. It's good to be reminded that the integrals can be qualitatively visualized by hand without rigorous math or a computer. Learning computer tools and getting the more accurate picture has advantages too, and leaves a record of what you did. In either case, having others do this by hand would probably have been more useful.
  • Lastly, learning to wait long enough for questions, go slow enough to keep people following without condescending, asking more questions and knowing when to sit back are some good general goals.