Category: Teaching (Page 1 of 4)

Open Letter to Sen. Jim Inhofe

I have been using the Resist Bot to write faxes to my congressional representatives every time I’m outraged by something congress or the White House does – so nearly daily for the last 133 days. Today, I wrote a fax to my senator Jim Inhofe, who is one of the most noted climate deniers in congress. His ‘Snowball’ speech was a particular low point in the American political speech craft.

I try to keep the word-count short in these faxes in the hopes that maybe one of Inhofe’s staffers will actually read it and put another tick in the column of angry correspondence. Here’s the text of today’s fax and a sentence-by-sentence set of supporting notes:

I teach history. John Tyndall discovered greenhouse gases in 1859. Charles Keeling published his work on the Keeling curve in 1958. President Nixon recognized the threat of climate change. I had to stop including the ‘Snowball Speech’ last year, because my students said I was straw manning the climate-denier cause by featuring extremist, absurd arguments. This speech and our state are already being included in history books as the rearguard of an already decided debate. Your continued denial of plain fact (just visit any coastline in America) encouraged the Trump administration along a path to global destruction. You clearly feel no shame, but you will be remembered as a laughing stock in your own time and one of the great threats to our world.

“I teach history.” I got my PhD in History of Science from OU in 2013 and have taught history of science courses since I was a graduate student. I’ll be teaching an intro course this fall and will include a unit on climate change.

“John Tyndall discovered greenhouse gases in 1859.” Tyndall started studying the Greenhouse Effect in 1859 and published on it in May of that year. Here’s a short, 3-page paper on his work from the Royal Meteorological Society.

“Charles Keeling published his work on the Keeling curve in 1958.” Charles Keeling began measuring the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 1957 and published his results in 1960 showing the seasonal variations and year over year increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. When he began measuring it, there were 310 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Keeling Curve twitter account now shows there are 410 parts per million. This ted talk by former NASA scientist James Hansen clearly describes why this is so horrific:

“President Nixon recognized the threat of climate change.” Here’s an internal White House memo from the Nixon administration acknowledging the existential threat that climate change posed for the US.

“I had to stop including the ‘Snowball Speech’ last year, because my students said I was straw manning the climate-denier cause by featuring extremist, absurd arguments.” My students recognized that Inhofe’s argument from a snowball is such a logical fallacy that it’s nonsensical. They thought that I was prejudicing the argument by presenting the history of science and the current scientific consensus and juxtaposing it with this nonsense. The problem is, there are no real scientists arguing against the science. You have to turn to politicians and their buffoonery if you want to present any argument against climate change.

“This speech and our state are already being included in history books as the rearguard of an already decided debate.” In a survey level Introduction to Anthropology, the authors Robert Jurmain, Lynn Kilgore, Wenda Trevathan, Russell L. Ciochon, Eric Bartelink call the speech “a cheap shot based on ignorance” (p. 496).

“Your continued denial of plain fact (just visit any coastline in America) encouraged the Trump administration along a path to global destruction.” Here’s an article from one Florida newspaper detailing the problems already occurring due to rising sea levels and what various Florida towns are doing about it. Here’s a similar NY Times article.The Washington Post wrote about Inhofe’s influence on the Trump administration in April. This week Inhofe wrote a letter with 21 GOP senate cosigners urging Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

You clearly feel no shame, but you will be remembered as a laughing stock in your own time and one of the great threats to our world.” My namesake, Jon Stewart, literally made a laughing stock out of Inhofe:

Salon’s scathing op-ed, entitled The twisted morality of climate denial: How religion and American exceptionalism are undermining our future, demonstrated the threat of Inhofe’s views. Wendy Lynne Lee’s recent book Eco-Nihilism: The Philosophical Geopolitics of the Climate Change Apocalypse is a monograph length exposition of the threat posed by Inhofe (mentioned 43 times in the book) and his ilk.

I know my fax will get tossed in a pile or straight into the trash, but I want some record that even here in Oklahoma, we know that what Inhofe and our current government are doing is wrong. If my curation of a couple of articles and videos can help people recognize the long history of our understanding of climate change and the existential threat that climate-deniers like Inhofe pose, all the better.

Design Thinking in HE #InstCon

In the first session of the day, I attended Robin Bartoletti’s talk, ‘Design Thinking for Learning Design.’

Design Thinking – Start from the learner’s perspective by observing them and discussing their processes. Then frame a set of questions or challenges that the users face. Brainstorm solutions and iteratively design from these.

Here’s an image ( developed by Adam Hill, based on the design framework developed by Stanford’s Design School.

Schematic visualization of Design Thinking

Bartoletti started her talk drawing on the example of Elon Musk’s design thinking for the Tesla S3. Musk and Tesla engineers observed car drivers and identified many common problems including unhappiness with cup holders and difficulty putting car seats in. They then brainstormed solutions to these issues and addressed the issues in the design of the S3.

Image of a Blue Tesla S3

In this case, you develop an empathy map – drawn from observation and conversation with users. You then frame questions or problems that you want to address, and brainstorm as many solutions with as much variety as possible. Prototype some of these solutions and then iteratively design your solutions.

In education, we can define a user group (instructors, students, academic advisors) and study their daily processes. Through observation and conversation, you develop a narrative of their processes and the challenges they face. You then brainstorm solutions (hopefully working with the user group) and then iteratively design and test those solutions.

Bartoletti’s talk was a general overview of Design Thinking and was meant for a broad Higher Education audience that entered the presentation unfamiliar with Design Thinking. For more in depth information, I would suggest checking out the Stanford Design School’s website. Kristen Eshleman of Davidson is also actively working on Design Thinking in Higher Education.

Brexit and Higher Ed

Now that the vote’s in and I can no longer bury my head in disbelief, I’ve been doing a good bit of reading about the British Exit from the EU and particularly its implications for Higher Ed.

British academia seems to have been overwhelmingly in favor of staying a part of the EU. A poll conducted by Times Higher Ed found, “Nearly 90 percent of those working in British higher education will vote to remain in the European Union in the June 23 referendum.” On Monday, the vice-chancellors of 103 British universities published an open letter expressing their concerns over the (then possible) exit from the EU. The closing of the letter expressed expressed the joint sentiment succinctly, “For us it is crystal clear that our outstanding universities – and our students – are stronger in Europe.”

Students and younger people in general also voted to stay in the EU.


Many in the leave camp have relied on economic arguments. Boris Johnson has said repeatedly that England sends £350m to the EU each week, usually failing to note that much of that is returned in rebates and private spending. The Guardian estimated the total to be closer to £136m a week or £7.1bn annually. This is still a considerable amount of money, but is equivalent to only a quarter of 1% of the British GDP.

However many within the Higher Education system have pointed to the economic benefits that they receive from the European Union. Cambridge Professor Ross Anderson estimated that that university would lose £100m a year. The first £60m of that estimate was from EU grants and contracts while another £10m comes from teaching English as a second language. A study by Universities UK estimated that British universities as a whole received £836m in grants and contracts from the EU.

Citing the decreased matriculation of Scottish students sense their reclassification as ‘overseas students,’ Anderson suggested that the £100m was a conservative estimate and could be much worse if EU and foreign matriculation decreased. In the open letter from the vice-chancellors, they noted that EU students contributed £3.7bn annually to the British economy. Britain has the single largest share of grant-funded students from programs like Horizon 2020 of any EU member state. If Britain restricts the free-movement of EU citizens (surely part of the point of Brexit), it would likely lose even the possibility of external membership to such programs.

Faculty and Staff

In their coverage of Brexit, Nature reports that 15% of UK university staff come from the EU. The Times Higher Ed poll mentioned above found that an astounding 40% of respondents would consider leaving Britain in the case of Brexit passing. In an article published today by Times Higher Ed on a possible “Brain Drain,” David Price, vice-provost (research) at UCL, said that the vote was “likely to be a disaster for the long-term future for UK research and HE sector”.

The only positives that I’ve seen for higher education in relation to the Brexit are speculations that maybe some of the money that had been going to the EU will now be spent on Higher Education. While this is of course possible, there’s no actual evidence that it will happen or even policy proposals to encourage hope that anyone in parliament is thinking about it.

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