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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

How to teach quantum mechanics to kids

Photo: Jeffrey Bub
"How to teach quantum mechanics to kids" according to Jeffrey Bub, Distinguished University Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Maryland.

Jeffrey Bub compares the output of the Popescu-Rohrlich correlation box to flipping a coin. 
Image Credit: Coin toss by jeff_golden. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

Does this even make sense? Doesn’t quantum mechanics involve advanced esoteric mathematics? Didn’t Richard Feynman say that nobody understands quantum mechanics, and didn’t Niels Bohr remark that those who aren’t shocked by quantum mechanics can’t possibly have understood it?

Quantum mechanics is our fundamental theory of matter. It has been confirmed to exquisite levels of accuracy and underlies much of modern technology: Transistors, microchips, lasers, atomic clocks, the basic building blocks of computers, televisions, smartphones, CD players, fiber-optic telecommunications, GPS systems, MRI machines, and more. No one could say that physicists who exploit quantum mechanics to design and construct these devices fail to understand the theory.

What Feynman and Bohr meant was that quantum mechanics calls into question our commonsense classical worldview at the most fundamental level. As Einstein put it, we think of an object as having a ‘being-thus,’ a particular catalogue of definite properties. Objects are located in space and time. Our actions causally influence the properties of distant objects only via perturbations that propagate locally from neighboring region to neighboring region. The most astonishing and disturbing feature of quantum mechanics is non-locality as it occurs in the phenomenon of quantum entanglement: Strangely counter-intuitive correlations between separated quantum systems that defy causal explanation. Schrodinger called entanglement ‘the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought.’ The classical worldview is fundamentally at odds with non-local entanglement.

Any educated person should be aware of major advances in science, and so should have a basic understanding of this extraordinary revolution in our conceptual framework. You might think that it’s a tall order to convey the weirdness of quantum correlations to kids, but there’s an insightful way to do this without the mathematical machinery of the theory by considering simulation games. In fact, if you don’t already understand just how quantum mechanics conflicts with our classical worldview, you will by the end of this article.

Consider an imaginary ‘superquantum’ correlation, proposed in 1994 by Sandu Popescu and Popescu Rohrlich – an extreme but possible version of the correlations that do occur in our quantum world. Popescu and Rohrlich imagine a box with two inputs, a left input and a right input, and two corresponding outputs. Inputs and outputs can each be 0 or 1, and the two possible outputs occur with equal probability for either input. The box functions in such a way that whenever both inputs are 1, the outputs are different, but for the other three combinations of inputs – both inputs 0, or left input 0 and right input 1, or left input 1 and right input 0 – the outputs are the same. Finally, Popescu and Rohrlich suppose that the two halves of the box can be separated by any distance without altering the correlation.

The Popescu-Rohrlich correlation contains all the conceptual mysteries of quantum entanglement. There’s no way you could rig a real box with some sort of mechanism to produce this correlation, but it’s quite possible for a pair of coins, say, to produce the correlation just by chance for a long run of tosses, where the inputs correspond to a coin being tossed heads up or tails up, and outputs correspond to a coin landing heads or tails, with heads and tails corresponding to 0 and 1. Of course, the longer the run, the more improbable the correlation would be, but it’s not impossible.

Suppose Alice and Bob play a game with a moderator where the goal is to simulate this correlation. Alice and Bob are allowed to discuss strategy before the start of the simulation game, but once the game begins they are separated (say in two soundproof booths) and can only communicate with the moderator. The moderator gives Alice and Bob each a 0 or a 1 chosen randomly as input at each round of the game, and they each respond with a 0 or a 1 as output. They win the round if inputs and outputs are correlated like the correlations of a Popescu-Rohrlich box.
Read more... 

Additional resources
Jeffrey Bub author of Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates.
Quantum Mechanics for Primates
Amazon writes, "What on earth do bananas have to do with quantum mechanics? From a modern perspective, quantum mechanics is about strangely counterintuitive correlations between separated systems, which can be exploited in feats like quantum teleportation, unbreakable cryptographic schemes, and computers with enormously enhanced computing power." 

Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 15, 2016)

Source: OUPblog (blog)

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?

Follow onTwitter as @OliviaGoldhill
"There’s no doubt that Bill Nye “the Science Guy” is extremely intelligent. But it seems that, when it comes to philosophy, he’s completely in the dark." reports Olivia Goldhill, Weekend writer.
He's an expert on science—but not philosophy.
(Reuters/ Andrew Kelly)

The beloved American science educator and TV personality posted a video last week where he responded to a question from a philosophy undergrad about whether philosophy is a “meaningless topic.”

The video, which made the entire US philosophy community collectively choke on its morning espresso, is hard to watch, because most of Nye’s statements are wrong. Not just kinda wrong, but deeply, ludicrously wrong. He merges together questions of consciousness and reality as though they’re one and the same topic, and completely misconstrues Descartes’ argument “I think, therefore I am”—to mention just two of many examples.

Watch the Video - YouTube

And Nye—arguably America’s favorite “edutainer”—is not the only popular scientist saying “meh” to the entire centuries-old discipline. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has claimed philosophy is not “a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world”; while theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking declared that “philosophy is dead.”

It’s shocking that such brilliant scientists could be quite so ignorant, but unfortunately their views on philosophy are not uncommon. Unlike many other academic subjects (mathematics and history, for example), where non-experts have some vague sense of the field’s practices, there seems to be widespread confusion about what philosophy entails.

In Nye’s case, his misconceptions are too large and many to show why each and every one is flawed. But several of his comments in the video speak to broader confusions about philosophy. So let’s clear up some of those:

“It often gets back to this question: What is the nature of consciousness?”

Here is Nye’s full quote, on what he sees as philosophy’s main preoccupations:
“It often gets back to this question: What is the nature of consciousness? Can we know that we know? Are we aware that we’re aware? Are we not aware that we’re aware? Is reality real? Or is reality not real and we’re all living on a ping pong ball that’s part of a giant interplanetary ping pong game that we cannot sense? These are interesting questions.”
Nye’s remarks, which conflate ideas from completely different areas of philosophy, are a caricature based on the common misconception that philosophy is about asking pointlessly “deep” questions, plucking an answer out of thin air, and then drinking some pinot noir and writing a florid essay.

But ping pong inside, these actually are interesting questions—and far from idle musing, the methods of analyzing such topics are incredibly, mind-achingly rigorous. Each of the questions Nye asks is the subject of extensive study, and philosophy, at its core, involves highly critical thinking.

Ned Hall, a professor and philosophy department chair at Harvard University, quoted a colleague who describes philosophy as, “Thinking in slow motion.” It’s thinking that cannot be dismissed with a raised eyebrow, à la Nye.

“The idea that reality is not real, that what you sense and feel is not authentic, is something I’m very skeptical of.”

Nye’s skepticism is an empty response to the question of whether we can trust our senses. “If you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real?” he asks. “Or is it just your imagination?” Then he goes on to suggest that the young philosophy student explore the question by dropping a hammer on his own foot. But such a painful experiment would not actually address the underlying question, and this approach—simply mocking the argument rather than addressing it—is so infamous that, as CUNY philosophy professor Kaikhosrov Irani points out on his blog, it has its own name: argumentum ad lapidem—”appeal to a stone.”

Nye’s confidence that what we sense and feel is “authentic” is particularly strange coming from a scientist, given that several advanced scientific discoveries do in fact contradict information we receive from our senses. Einstein discovered that there’s no such thing as absolute simultaneity, for example, while quantum physics shows that an object can be in two places at the same time. Several philosophers have long argued that our senses are not a reliable means of evaluating reality, and such scientific discoveries support the idea that we should treat sensory information with a little skepticism.

Source: Quartz and Big Think Channel (YouTube)

Infusing Critical Thinking into Your Courses | Magna Publications

Photo: Linda B. Nilson
Take a closer look at this self-paced course led by Linda B. Nilson, PhD.
Theories abound about how critical thinking can be taught, how it can be assessed, which disciplines it is applicable to—even what it is.

"Learn how to formulate critical thinking-related student learning outcomes, design learning activities, and assignments that will help students achieve increasingly advanced outcomes through your course, and assess your students’ critical thinking skills using both objective items and student-created work." writes Magna Publications.
Would it not be helpful if someone could apply critical thinking to the subject itself— weigh the various viewpoints, analyze them, synthesize them, and come up with a nuanced, informed view?
That is exactly what Linda B. Nilson, PhD, has done in the online course Infusing Critical Thinking into Your Courses. In this content-rich program, Dr. Nilson, founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University, carefully examines the critical-thinking landscape, reviews the best scholarship, and helps you apply it to your teaching. She provides:
  • A clear, practical definition of critical thinking
  • A review of discipline-relevant critical-thinking skills
  • A framework for creating meaningful learning outcomes
  • Techniques for introducing critical-thinking concepts to students
  • A process for advancing students through the stages of critical thinking
  • Ways to gauge critical thinking using both objective and stimulus-based assessments
Get the tools and insights you need to mold your students into proficient critical thinkers. 

How is Cuba’s target for getting online coming along?

"Despite numerous recent developments the road to getting ordinary Cubans online is still a rocky one" according to Jonathan Keane, freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology.   

Photo: IDG Connect

Since Cuba ended its diplomatic standoff with the US last year, much has been made of the country’s attempts to catch up with the global internet and get its people online despite the severe lack of services and infrastructure. 

Now the Cuban government has made perhaps its biggest move in bringing the internet to the people. It is piloting a broadband internet service in two neighbourhoods in the capital Havana. ETECSA, the government-run telecommunications agency that oversees all matters relating to the internet, confirmed that Chinese telecom and mobile giant Huawei will be running the pilot. 

Initially, the scheme will be targeted at homes but businesses will eventually be able to sign-up for the service. However at this early stage, the pilot program has not revealed any details on costs or what kind of speeds will be available. 

At the same time there’s no timeline for when the pilot will be completed or what the next stages will be. This is indicative of Cuba’s internet efforts in general.

High costs and slow speeds
Getting online in Cuba is notoriously difficult and once you have your connection you’re likely to be stymied by slow speeds, often as low as 1Mbps, and censorship.

Up until this point, only government staff and diplomats could gain access to broadband internet or certain approved businesses like doctors’ practices or hotels to meet tourism demands. Everyone else has had to settle for slow yet expensive services from ETECSA while a year ago the government approved its first public Wi-Fi location at the residence of a local artist affiliated with the government. Then in the summer of 2015, officials approved 35 new paid public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country.

Cubans will be hopeful that the Havana broadband trials will lead to a wider roll out of services. The country is still far behind its neighbouring countries and the developed world in this regard.
Accessing the internet through cafes and Wi-Fi zones, as is the case for most people, is still prohibitively expensive. Costs have dropped from $4.50 an hour to $2.00 an hour but that’s still around 10% of the average income.

Government snooping
Freedom House, in its latest 2015 report, lists Cuba as “not free”. The government still has a grip over its citizens’ internet use, as sparse as it may be.

While doctors have access to a slightly better service, they still face the wrath of the government if they overstep their bounds. Last March a number of doctors and dentists had their internet and email services shut down as they had used these connections to post ads on the classifieds site Revolico, a Craigslist-like site that has also been used as black market of sorts and has been blocked by the government from time to time.

There have also been numerous reports over the years of government snooping on emails read through mobile. The local Nauta pre-paid internet access system was extended a couple of years ago to allow the use of email on mobile phones, provided they were .cu email accounts, but these emails aren’t exactly safe from prying eyes.

ETECSA’s authority has a rather open book when it comes to blocking or filtering websites. One government resolution states that the agency can “take the necessary steps to prevent access to sites whose contents are contrary to social interests, ethics and morals, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the state.”
International websites like BBC are available but restrictions have been placed on sites that are critical of the government. Facebook and Twitter have been periodically blocked as well.

These methods haven’t been applied on a large scale by the government yet, as the lack of technology in the first place has proven to be a tool for censorship in itself. Now that this is changing and people are gaining access to more and more information, albeit slowly, this raises concerns over how ETECSA and the government will conducts itself moving forward, particularly when it comes to online dissent.

Since dialogues were opened with the US, Cuba has pledged to bring the internet to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020. Internet penetration is currently as low as 5% to 10% so achieving this goal is no easy task. The Havana broadband pilots are a step in the right direction but infrastructure remains the biggest hurdle to cross right now.

“There just isn’t infrastructure to support mass access to the internet. Much more residential access is needed to increase internet penetration,” says Doug Madory of Dyn Research, which monitors internet connectivity around the world. He hasn’t noted any hugely significant changes to Cuba’s internet activity since its last report.

The other major infrastructural challenge for Cuba is latency, which will continue to hamper internet speeds.

“To begin to provide an internet experience anywhere close to what is experienced in most countries, content providers including CDNs like Akamai and Google need to able place their caching servers inside Cuba. This would greatly alleviate the load on the submarine cable as traffic begins to increase as more Cubans come online,” says Madory.

Source: IDG Connect

The world’s top universities for attracting industry funding

Follow on Twitter as @elliebothwell
"Times Higher Education World University Rankings data reveal the 20 best institutions based on private-sector investment per academic" reports Ellie Bothwell, International and rankings reporter at Times Higher Education and THE World University Rankings.

Photo: Corbis

Germany’s LMU Munich receives more industry funding per academic than any other institution in the world, according to Times Higher Education’s new Funding for Innovation ranking.

The university has topped a list of the world’s best 20 institutions based on their ability to secure research money from the private sector. It secured almost $400,000 (£288,500) per academic from businesses in 2013.

The US’ Duke University takes second place, with a figure of almost $290,000, while the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is third, with $254,700.

Europe dominates the ranking with nine institutions in the top 20, followed by Asia with seven and North America with just two. China is the most-represented nation, with four universities, led by China University of Petroleum (Beijing), which received $227,600 of industry funding per academic, in seventh. Germany, South Korea, Turkey, the Netherlands and the US have two institutions each...

The data for the THE Funding for Innovation ranking were extracted from the THE World University Rankings 2015-16. The indicator was defined as “research income from industry and commerce” and does not include public funding for universities.

Source: Times Higher Education

Taking higher-ed technology to the next level by Laura Devaney, Director of News, K-12 and Higher Education.

Follow on Twitter as @eSN_Laura
In this week's news, a new virtual reality endeavor; an online learning investigation in Ohio; Ithaca College's solar project; and 4 steps to a CBE program."

Catch up on the most compelling higher-ed news stories you may have missed this week. 
Each Friday, Laura Devaney will be bringing you a recap of some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week. 
I can’t fit all of our news stories here, though, so feel free to visit and read up on other news you may have missed.

Photo: eCampus News

In this week’s news:

University tech lab takes on virtual reality
Carolina Cruz-Neira’s visualization technology lab in the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a playground for the imagination.


Ohio’s troubled online learning project investigated
The Ohio inspector general is investigating a troubled joint project by Ohio State University and the state Board of Higher Education to create a clearinghouse of online learning materials.

Ithaca College embarks on solar project
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Ithaca College announced that construction is underway on a 2.9 megawatt (MW) solar electric project that will provide enough electricity to meet approximately 10 percent of the college’s energy needs.


4 steps to launching a CBE program
A pioneer of competency-based education shares the key steps for developing a successful CBE program.


Source: eCampus News 

White paper: Best Practices for Evaluating Digital Curricula

Thoughtful evaluation and selection of digital curricula is necessary to ensure educational technology meaningfully impacts student learning.

Download this white paper today!

Photo: Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson, PhD, Senior Director of Curriculum Design, DreamBox Learning writes in the white paper, "One of the most important steps to take when implementing a blended learning model is to critically evaluate digital curricular resources. With the requirement for schools to meet rigorous benchmarks such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) while classroom sizes are growing and budgets are shrinking, the quality of digital curricula significantly impacts how well it can empower both educators and learners to meet their goals. With new technologies and programs continually being released, how do educators effectively evaluate and select high-quality digital curricula from the vast array of both open-source and proprietary resources?"

Whether a school is building a blended learning program or simply wants to enhance learning with technology, it is critical to evaluate the quality of digital learning programs.

In this white paper you'll find:
  • Some of the unique considerations involved in selecting digital resources
  • Evidence-based learning principles to support student-centered environments
  • An evaluation checklist
Download this white paper today!

Source: DreamBox Learning

5 Problems Blended Learning Can Help You Solve

Incorporating an effective blended learning program can help rethink the challenges of how classroom instruction is structured, how time is spent, and how limited resources are used.

Download the free quick guide
There are a number of different models of blended learning, but if any of the following challenges sound familiar, blended learning could be the answer to your problems.  

Download “5 Common Problems Blended Learning Can Help You Solve” to see if blended learning is the right solution for you.
Download the free quick guide 

Source: Lexia Learning

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

ECCC’s LeBrun Selected As Finalist For Online Learning Award

Author, Brittany Oliver inform, "Dr. Krista LeBrun, dean of eLearning Education at East Central Community College, was recently listed among 20 finalists for Pearson’s 2016 Online Learning Excellence Awards for outstanding leaders working in the online or blended learning environments." 

Photo: Krista LeBrun

The awards honor educators and administrators who have demonstrated measurable best practices and innovation in online education.

As part of her selection, LeBrun attended Pearson’s online learning conference, Cite 2016, in Amelia Island, Florida. 

Source: WCBI

AUC introduces new blended learning format in educational leadership master's

"Starting Fall 2016, the Master of Arts in educational leadership at The American University in Cairo (AUC) will combine classroom and online instruction, making it the first master’s program at the University to be offered in blended format and giving more flexibility to mid-career professionals who want to pursue a higher education degree." inform Al-Bawaba.

American University of Cairo

“The purpose of blended program delivery is to provide access to a degree program,” said Ted Purinton, associate professor of international and comparative education and dean of the Graduate School of Education. “AUC’s master’s degree programs are designed for traditional graduate students. If you live too far away or work late in the evening, you can’t participate in a master’s program. Students in the blended program will have the option to participate in online courses so that they don’t have to come to campus a few nights per week, each week.”

Blended learning is emerging as a global trend. According to the 2015 New Media Consortium Horizon Report, one in 10 higher education U.S. students were only taking courses online as of 2012, and 13.3 percent were combining online and face-to-face instruction. 

The educational leadership MA degree in the blended format is no different than the degree currently offered for regular sessions on campus. “The program has a different schedule of delivery, but it’s the same exact courses, course material and faculty members,” said Purinton.

The blended program will consist of a cohort of approximately 15 students who will participate in online activities and meet face-to-face on scheduled Saturdays throughout each term. Online activities include participating in asynchronous online discussions, pre-recorded video lectures and even collaborative projects by communicating through Skype or other online platforms.
Read more... 

Source: Al-Bawaba - Press Release