Restoring the Luster of Science

JEFFREY FUNK | October 5, 2021

Jeffrey Lee Funk and Gary Smith

Americans once believed that science was on our side. Radar, microwaves, penicillin, helicopters, magnetrons, and nuclear weapons helped win World War II and fight the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Vaccines for polio, smallpox, tetanus, measles, mumps, and rubella literally wiped out diseases that once killed millions. Televisions, polymers, radial tires, Velcro, vinyl, and freezers made our lives more comfortable. Nuclear power promised us energy too cheap to meter.
We celebrated the space program that sent astronauts walking on the moon and splashing back home again. The annual meetings of the American Association for Advances in Science were regularly covered by the media. New electronic products and medical technologies continued to astonish in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
How things have changed! The last blockbuster technologies were the iPhone and iPad more than ten years ago and they are, at best, indirectly linked to scientific advances. Nanotechnology, superconductors, quantum computers, and fusion still seem far away as do replacements for integrated circuits, silicon solar cells, and lithium-ion batteries.
A week before the 1980 presidential election, President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan held their only debate—and Reagan sealed the deal by asking Americans, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Nowadays, too many Americans don’t feel better off than they were 10 or even 20 years ago and the elite are tempting targets.
Millions of jobs left the country while economists proclaimed that it was all for the best. Now experts predict that robots and AI will eliminate millions of more jobs—not just blue-collar workers, but accountants, journalists, lawyers, architects, doctors, and nurses. The predictions sound like boasts and make the ruling elite look like the enemy.
Bill Gates tells us to stop eating meat while he flies around the world in his private jet. Politicians tell us to wear face masks while they party in McMansions inside gated communities. Universities say they need more government funding while professors are paid more money for doing less work then most taxpayers. Scientists say they need more largesse while they live among the elite and well-connected.
The rapid development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than 11 months was an absolutely stunning achievement, done with real science applied to a promising but unproven type of vaccine called messenger RNA (or mRNA). Instead of nationwide celebrations, there was fear and paranoia. Here are some comments in response to a March 2021, CNBC news story on government guidelines for COVID-19 vaccinations:
I still haven’t gotten one, never will and no one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do vaccinated or not!!
Flu shots are proven to make you 38% more likely to catch another respiratory virus like Covid.
Easy way to target the elderly. Don't be fooled people.
Biggest scam in our lifetime.
I won’t vax I won’t mask I won’t follow mandates or guidelines and I’m armed.
Millions believe that 5G is being used to spread COVID-19 (and they have burned down cell towers to stop it) and that COVID vaccines are a nefarious plot (and they refuse to be vaccinated). A recent survey found that 44 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of independents, and 19 percent of Democrats believe that Bill Gates is developing a COVID-19 vaccine that will implant microchips in us so that our movements can be monitored.
Science was supposed to replace superstition and rumours with logic, reason, and empirical evidence. It still can.
How do we collectively resurrect the reputation of science? A starting point is better science education. Memorizing the names of the parts of a cell and then forgetting them after a test is not scientific understanding. Nor is deciphering the periodic table or memorizing trigonometric formulas. Science is fundamentally about being curious—about how things work and why they sometimes don’t work. Richard Feynman’s journey to Nobel laureate began with a boyhood curiosity about how radios work. He tinkered with them, took them apart, and put them back together. He fixed other people’s radios. He loved it.
He later wrote about his life-long curiosity:
When I was in high school, I’d see water running out of a faucet growing narrower, and wonder if I could figure out what determines that curve. I found it was rather easy to do. I didn’t have to do it; it wasn’t important for the future of science; somebody else had already done it. That didn’t make any difference: I’d invent things and play with things for my own entertainment.
Kids don’t have to become Nobel laureates to appreciate how science can satisfy their curiosity. Kids who appreciate science can grow up to respect science and become scientists.
Another part of the problem is that far too many superbly intelligent, voraciously hard-working scientists devote so much of their time to generating the papers and citations that are now required for promotion and funding. Anirban Maitra, a physician and scientific director at MD Anderson Cancer Centre, wryly observed that, “Everyone recognizes it’s a hamster-in-a-wheel situation, and we are all hamsters.”
The public wants to see technologies that improve our lives, not long CVs filled with papers no one reads. We need scientific advances that are useful and affordable.
We also want stable jobs with decent pay. Semiconductor factories once provided good jobs but these were shipped overseas and new ones haven’t been created from new commercialized science-based technologies. Where are the American factories producing products based on nanotechnology, superconductors, fusion, quantum computers and new forms of semiconductors, displays, and solar cells?
American scientists are the best in the world and real science can produce useful innovation and good jobs, but these need to become our priorities.

Jeffrey Funk is a retired Associate Professor, most recently from the National University of Singapore and now an independent technology consultant. He received the NTT DoCoMo Mobile Science Award for lifetime contributions to the social science aspects of mobile communications. His research has been reported in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Gary N. Smith is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College. His research on financial markets, statistical reasoning, and data mining often involves stock market anomalies, statistical fallacies, and the misuse of data. He is the author of The AI Delusion, (Oxford, 2018) and co-author (with Jay Cordes) of The 9 Pitfalls of Data Science (Oxford 2019), which won the Association of American Publishers 2020 Prose Award for Popular Science & Popular Mathematics, and The Phantom Pattern Problem (Oxford 2020).


Murray State University

Murray State University provides opportunities for students through a high-quality education with experiential learning, academic and personal growth and the ability to secure a lifetime of success. Since 1922, the true value of higher education has been found at Murray State University, where our commitment is to afford endless opportunities for developing leaders in the community, the country and the world. The University’s main campus is located in Murray, Ky., and includes five regional campuses.


3 Inclusive Classroom Strategies to Use for Higher Student Enrollment

Article | May 21, 2022

In 2021, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that student enrollments were at an all-time low. Community college enrollment dipped by 11% while post-secondary enrollment saw a dip of 4.2% year-on-year. The impact of the last two years’ events clearly demonstrates the strain faced by all levels of educational institutions. The shift to the virtual classroom setup also saw parents and students recognize the importance of teaching and learning online. The significance of a virtual classroom is emphasized more than ever. It has forced schools to improve their online teaching infrastructure so that they can keep growing. But this has also affected inclusivity. According to UNESCO, school closures during the pandemic affected 1.2 billion children in 186 countries. In this article, we discuss why virtual learning is in dire need of inclusivity and inclusive learning practices. Why Does Inclusive Learning Matter in the Era of Zoom Classes? Edtech is a booming industry. In 2019, edtech investments reached a whopping US $18 billion. Further, the online education market is estimated to cross the $350 billion mark by 2025. There is no doubt that learning institutions are investing heavily in online learning. But inclusivity is still lagging far behind. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that 25% of secondary school-aged students from underprivileged backgrounds lack a computer. The writing on the wall is clear. Virtual learning is bound to widen the divide, and its impact will be felt most by underprivileged students. For educational institutions, delivering a positively inclusive learning experience online is essential to attracting students who do have access to educational technology. “In the higher education space, most schools were, and still are, predominantly focused on that in-person campus visit to do all those same things, but it’s expensive and it means only students and parents who travel to campus can get that real-life feel and experience.” - Matthew Pellish, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CampusReel Bringing Personalization to the Virtual Classroom Although virtual learning has stripped away the human touch that accompanies a classroom setting, there are ways to make it more engaging and meaningful. Engage students even before the class starts. This can be done by setting an agenda for the session beforehand and asking students to send in their queries and expectations from the session. Turning the greeting into a short discussion is a great way to engage everyone right off the bat. Tools like Zoom make it simpler to personalize every class with features like backgrounds and notes. Use the chat feature generously. Teaching and learning online has to be a one-sided flow of information for it to be effective. However, the chat feature empowers teachers to break the monotony. The best way to keep students attentive is through personalization. Attentiveness can be achieved by asking many questions, even if they are simply yes-or-no questions. It enables teachers to keep a check on engagement and pivot when needed. Simulating a Sense of Community A discussion on an inclusive learning environment is incomplete without mentioning student community building. Online teaching and learning is limited in its ability to provide a sense of community. Since students are physically separated from their peers, one-on-one connections are lacking. Despite the distance, there are a few solutions you can use to reduce the distance virtually. Identify the type of community you want to develop. Whether you’re offering synchronous or asynchronous courses, it is crucial to keep the student-peer-instructor link active. Create a loop of feedback between teachers and students to enable community building. Modern tools offer a number of ways to seek feedback that provides insight on teaching style and the general classroom environment. Create a classroom forum online. Forums offer the best of two-way interactions with a platform outside of the online class. This ensures constancy and inclusive learning even after the class is over. For those who weren’t able to attend due to technical difficulties or poor connectivity, they never lose track of what’s going on. Cultivating Two-Way Interaction Two-way interactions are an integral part of engaging learning experiences. Inclusive classroom activities online may not completely replace them, but much can be done to build a more involved form of communication. One way to design such activities is to use the Kanevsky and Keighly framework to engage students with the five Cs: choice, challenge, control, complexity, and care. Use screen sharing and remote access tools. Physical classrooms offer avenues for students to present to their peers. In a virtual classroom setting, this can be achieved with screen sharing. Empower students to retain better by making them present their perspective and understanding of different concepts. This gives other students the impetus to do the same. Initiate group discussions through your course management system. Inviting students to design the resources and collaborate on group projects will jumpstart in-depth discussions. Many course management systems allow students to share their notes with each other. This creates inclusive learning environment. Finally: Why Will the Online University Experience Will Attract More Students Although learning institutions are beginning to open up for the in-person learning experience, the effectiveness of a virtual classroom is undeniable. Like remote working, remote learning is gaining ground, and inclusive online teaching is inevitably important. A Cengage survey revealed that 68% of students prefer hybrid learning: a combination of online and offline course delivery. In addition, the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) found that the number of students who enrolled in online-only programs rose from 3.5 million during the fall to 5.8 million. Fostering meaningful, hands-on learning similar to that in a classroom is difficult. Even though student enrollment in online courses is rising, learning institutions are facing the challenge of delivering a highly engaging learning experience. But with an understanding of the learning outcome and the right tools, institutions can develop robust, inclusive classroom activities that every student will want to benefit from. Frequently Asked Questions Do students and teachers prefer online teaching and learning? According to a recent survey by Cengage, about 73% of students prefer some courses to be delivered fully online. In addition, 57% of teachers said they prefer teaching hybrid courses over online-only courses. Is online teaching and learning a growing trend? Yes. Online learning platform Coursera experienced a huge spike in enrollments. In 2021, enrollment increased by 32% and peaked at 189 million. What are the principles of inclusive education? The principles of inclusive education are: Togetherness Participation Acceptance Equality

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Remote Working is Shaping the Future of Schooling

Article | May 11, 2022

For so long, we have deeply embedded technology in our everyday lives. Working and learning from home complement each other, creating an ecosystem of solutions. Even as organizations continue to lean towards remote offices and hybrid working, the same may not be possible with learning. Businesses worldwide have blazed the trail for remote working. The past two years have seen both, formal education, and work taking a big virtual leap. While virtual learning has been around for some time, we have thrust it into the mainstream only because of the events following the pandemic. Remote work is no longer a trend or the domain of freelancers and tech workers. While organizations learned to maintain their productivity even as their workforce was scattered, schools and learning centers weren’t far behind. Schools could shift learning online using the principles and technology businesses were using to stay productive. Working and Learning from Home, Together Zoom classrooms are no match for the physical learning environment provided by a school.Although online education existed as a part-time alternative, traditional schooling has always been a holistic, on-premise experience. Virtual schooling cannot be dismissed, as proven by the last two years. It is especially significant in today’s remote work era and as a precursor to it. While there were mixed feelings about accepting the new normal, families enjoyed several benefits including lowered education costs, zero travel time, children’s safety, and a newfound work-life balance. Virtual schooling has become the norm. It worked only because parents could also stay back and help create a learning environment at home while they worked. They have now become integral to their kids’ learning and growth. “In the higher education space, most schools were, and still are, predominantly focused on that in-person campus visit to do all those same things, but it’s expensive and it means only students and parents who travel to campus can get that real-life feel and experience.” - Matthew Pellish, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CampusReel Cultivating the Workforce of the Future Virtual learning will provide children with the bandwidth they need to become competent in a world where remote working is the standard. They will have already conquered the learning curve. Remote learning will equip learners with the technical understanding, attitude, and collaborative spirit needed to excel in a technology-driven world. In addition, it will prepare them not just for hybrid workplaces but for a hybrid life that promotes work-life balance. Just as remote work enables easy access to talent worldwide, remote learning will help students access elusive academic programs and high-quality education in a flexible setting. Final Word The future has been transformed forever, and virtual schooling is gaining traction. It also looks set to follow the footsteps of remote working, a concept that is now solidifying in the form of hybrid workplace policies. Higher education institutes are realizing the advantages of virtual learning. They are incorporating a remote angle into their course delivery to make it faster, efficient, and more accessible. Will hybrid learning be the future of schooling? Looking at the course that online learning is set upon, it will.

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10 European EdTech startups changing the face of education in 2020

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Edtech has changed the face of learning and the whole concept what a school is. A decade ago, a university was an old building in the city where you went to get an education – nowadays there are MOOCs available online, with enrollment numbers skyrocketing. Coding used to be reserved for talented IT professionals – now kids learn to code before they even know the alphabet. Virtual reality was a Star Trek-like feature that we only saw in the movies – today it’s a highly efficient classroom tool.

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Murray State University

Murray State University provides opportunities for students through a high-quality education with experiential learning, academic and personal growth and the ability to secure a lifetime of success. Since 1922, the true value of higher education has been found at Murray State University, where our commitment is to afford endless opportunities for developing leaders in the community, the country and the world. The University’s main campus is located in Murray, Ky., and includes five regional campuses.