Conference paper on AI in answering student forum post done in collaboration with Chemistry and the College of Information Sciences Published

Zylich, Brian, Adam Viola, Brokk Toggerson, Lara Al-Hariri, and Andrew Lan. “Exploring Automated Question Answering Methods for Teaching Assistance.” In Artificial Intelligence in Education, edited by Ig Ibert Bittencourt, Mutlu Cukurova, Kasia Muldner, Rose Luckin, and Eva Millán, 610–22. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52237-7_49.

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Jake Shechter Reflects on Job Searching

Jake Shechter

Jake Shechter was instrumental in developing the Physics 691G course and will finish his Ph.D. this summer.

As such, he was on the job market this past spring (pre-COVID-19). He was looking for a teaching position, either high school or higher-ed.

Below are his reflections on the job search. Hopefully, this will be helpful to others looking to begin the process in the near future

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Brokk Toggerson Selected as ADVANCE Faculty Fellow

Brokk Toggerson has been selected as a UMass ADVANCE Faculty Fellow for the 2020-2021 Academic Year. ADVANCE Faculty Fellows partner with the ADVANCE-IT Team, providing recommendations and feedback about ADVANCE programming and resources, and promoting ADVANCE program efforts in their departments. There is one faculty member from each department for a twelve-month term.

Through the power of collaboration, UMass ADVANCE transforms the campus by cultivating faculty equity, inclusion and success. ADVANCE provides the resources, recognition and relationship building that are critical to equitable and successful collaboration in the 21st century academy.

UMass ADVANCE is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is advancing women faculty, including women faculty of color, in science and engineering.

For 2020-21, ADVANCE’s focus will be on inclusion, particularly with an emphasis on “Inclusion and Covid-19,” since the pandemic has had a differential effect on faculty members. Brokk will be invited to take part in meetings for ADVANCE Faculty Fellows in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, and will also be a link in desseminating information to the physics department.

Pretending to be a biologist for a day!

This past Saturday, Brokk Toggerson participated in the ASBMB Northeast Catalyst Conversations for 2020 at UMass Amherst as a panelist talking about OER. In particular, about the gradual transition from OpenStax to, a stack of pdfs, to the custom books we have now developed. The biggest hurdle to many faculty is, as it was for us, the online homework systems. Our experience with EdFinity seemed well received.

In addition to being on a panel, it was interesting to see some work from the biology DBER community as well. Some interesting ideas over lunch with Sarah G. Prescott, an Associate Professor from UNH Manchester, resulted in some ideas about how to better implement Twitter in the classroom. This was tried in 132 a few years ago, without much success. The students found the assignments to be “busy work” and there were significant technical challenges getting everyone setup. However, the motivation for the assignments, encouraging students to find applications of physics in their everyday lives or fields of study is still important. Prof Prescott’s main ideas were:

  • Make each assignment relevant or don’t do it (obvious but always good advice!)
  • Make the first few assignments simply about engaging with academic Twitter. This will make the entire activity more relevant to them as they can see how this can benefit them.
  • Have screen captures etc. about how to get setup, including how to make a dummy account.
  • Make students turn-in a screen shot. Again, a video on how to do this may be needed, but these are much easier to grade than us finding students’ posts on Twitter!
  • Grade using a mastery model: they must include everything or no points. This is easy to grade and scales well. A few drops ensures that this does not negatively impact anyone’s grade.
  • Finally make the the technical use of Twitter part of the assignments: threads, hashtags, etc.

Definitely something to think about going forward. Always fun to see how other disciplines do things!