Toggerson Awarded Commonwealth-wide award for work on OER

Brokk Toggerson has been awarded 3rd Place (Bronze) / $500 prize from the first-ever Department of Higher Education Open Educational Resources Olympics for his work on the Physics 131: Forces, Energy, Entropy and Physics 132: What is an Electron? What is Light? open-source textbooks. These awards were established to honor the extensive accomplishments of of public higher educators statewide. Winners were selected by a sub-committee of the OER Advisory Coucil. The first and second place winners were from community colleges meaning that Brokk Toggerson was the only awardee from a research university.

A Review of Mask Types for Sound Quality

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has instituted a mask mandate for the start of the Fall 2021 Semester. The mandate goes into effect today (August 11th) and will be reviewed in mid-September. During this mandate, masks will be required in all public indoor spaces which includes faculty members who are actively teaching. Making sure that you are clear in speech is critical, particularly in large lecture halls. To that end, Heath Hatch and I did some tests on various types of masks. I am posting the results here for folks’ reference.

Overview of the Mask Types

Mask #1: A Simple Cloth Mask

This is a simple cloth mask. I like these for simple around-town use as I find them comfortable and, due to their crush-ability, easy to carry around.

Video overview of the simple cloth mask.


  • Comfortable (at least for me).
  • Easy to breathe.
  • Easy to wash.


  • Falls off your face when talking!
  • Some people find the closeness to the face uncomfortable.
  • Only one layer of fabric.

Mask #2: A More Elaborate Cloth Mask

This mask has two thinner layers and a metal piece for the nose.

An overview of the more sophisticated cloth mask.


  • Stays on face while lecturing.
  • Comfortable.
  • Easy to breathe.
  • Multiple fabric layers.


None really.

Mask #3: A Cone-Style KN95

This is cone-shaped KN95 mask. The particular brand (no brand endorsement implied) is Bio-th which was permitted under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization.

Overview of cone-style KN95.


  • Stays on face while lecturing.
  • Stays away from face while talking, making articulation easier.
  • Easy to breathe.
  • Tight seal.
  • Kn95 by FDA EUA.
  • Folding makes it easy to carry.


  • The tight seal makes it a bit of a jaw workout to talk. Your jaw will be tired by the end of the day at first.

Review of Sound Quality

A large lecture hall that provides the teaching environment for P132

We tested the masks in the empty Hasbrouck 20 lecture hall. The lecture hall has a concrete roof and floor with brick walls and hard-plastic chairs resulting in a lot of echo. Given that the room was empty, we are not sure that the results will be representative when the room is full, but we cannot find that out until the students come back!

The sound checks for the different mask styles.

Summary and Recommendation

My Pick: Mask #3 – A Cone-Style KN95

This particular mask was the overall winner. The mask stayed on while speaking and the cone shape resulted in the clearest voice while using a microphone in the empty Hasbrouck 20.

Mask #1, the simple cloth mask kept slipping off the nose while talking and Mask #2, the more sophisticated cloth mask, had noticeably muffled sound quality.

Future work and mask equity

The opacity of the mask results in students obtaining less information because they cannot see the instructor’s lips. This is particularly true for Deaf and other students with hearing difficulties. I plan to try a mask with a clear window in the future to see if this feature works and its impact on sound quality.

Fishbone Root Cause Analysis Protocol

This document from the Minnesota Department of Education describes this interesting protocol which describes a procedure for really determining the fundamental causes of a problem (such as student struggle) under the assumption that treating the cause (as best as possible) is more effective than treating just the symptoms. The basic idea is to work to you find a “significant cause that can, in fact, be changed.”

I find this to be an interesting perspective to share when we consider the myriad of unique challenges that our students are facing during this time of COVID-19.

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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