Tag Archives: creativity

Not much change

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all of my readers!

At this time of year, it is traditional in the media to review the previous year and comment on what lies ahead in the new year.  However, not much has changed in my blog during 2017: I wrote and published 52 posts that attracted about 20,000 views through the WordPress site, which is pretty much the same as 2016.  Although, there was a growth in readers via LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter.  This is not enough traffic to achieve a place in the UK’s Top 50 Blogs according to Vuelio, but then neither the title nor the content of this blog is designed to attract the mass-markets to which most of these high-volume sites appeal.  Instead, I suspect that I am writing for a small bubble of like-minded people [see my post ‘You’re all weird‘ on February 8th, 2017]; nevertheless, it would be nice to feel that the bubble will continue to expand.  Maybe the small face-lift will help though the Latin verse below will likely not help!

It is tempting at this point to ramble on further about the lack of interest in scholarship in modern society; however, to do so would be to follow a tradition that is at least 800 years old.  In the thirteenth century manuscript, Carmina Burana there is a poem called ‘Florebat olim studium’.  Its first lines are

Florebat olim studium

nunc vertitude in tedium,

iam scire diu viguit,

sed ludere prevaluit.

 

These translate as ‘Scholarship once flourished, now it is turned into boredom; for a long time knowledge was esteemed, but now playing is preferred.’  This seems to have been echoed by generations of professors and, as my editor says, is part of the human condition.

I read about the Carmina Burana in a beautiful book: ‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts‘ by Christopher de Hamel who takes the reader on a series of visits to twelve of the most important medieval manuscripts starting with the sixth century Gospels of Saint Augustine in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and finishing with the sixteenth century Spinola Hours in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.  It is part history book tracing the advent of literacy in Western Europe from the sixth century, when only the clergy could read and write, through to start of printing when 30,000 titles were issued in the last fifty years of the fifteen century; and part travelogue as de Hamel describes his visits to the museums and libraries where the twelve manuscripts are preserved.  Book reviews are not a regular feature of this blog but this is a book worth reading that might not otherwise be on your list.

Image: from front cover of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel showing detail from the Morgan Beatus M644, folio 252v © The Morgan Library & Museum/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence.

 

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Getting it wrong

Filming for the MOOC Energy: Thermodynamics in Everyday Life

Last week’s post was stimulated by my realisation that I had made a mistake in a lecture [see ‘Amply sufficiency of solar energy?‘ on October 25th, 2017]. During the lecture, something triggered a doubt about a piece of information that I used in talking about the world as a thermodynamic system. It caused me to do some more research on the topic afterwards which led to the blog post.  The students know this already, because I sent an email to them as the post was published.  It was not an error that impacted on the fundamental understanding of the thermodynamic principles, which is fortunate because we are at a point in the course where students are struggling to understand and apply the principles to problems.  This is a normal process from my perspective but rather challenging and uncomfortable for many students.  They are developing creative problem-solving skills – becoming comfortable with the slow and uncertain process of creating representations and exploring the space of possible solutions [Martin & Schwartz, 2009 & 2014].  This takes extensive practice and most students want a quick fix: usually looking at a worked solution, which might induce the feeling that some thermodynamics has been understood but does nothing for problem-solving skills [see my post on ‘Meta-representational competence‘ on May 13th, 2015].

Engineers don’t like to be wrong [see my post on ‘Engineers are slow, error-prone‘ on April 29th, 2014].  The reliability of our solutions and designs is a critical ingredient in the social trust of engineering [Madhaven, 2016].  So, not getting it wrong is deeply embedded in the psyche of most engineers.  It is difficult to persuade most engineers to appear in front of a camera because we worry, not just about not getting it wrong, but about telling the whole truth.  The whole truth is often inconvenient for those that want to sensationalize issues for their own purposes, such as to sell news or gain votes, and this approach is anathema to many engineers.  The truth is also often complicated and nuanced, which can render an engineer’s explanation cognitively less attractive than a simple myth, or in other words less interesting and boring.  Unfortunately, people mainly pass on information that will cause an emotional response in the recipient, which is perhaps why engineering blogs are not as widely read as many others! [Lewandowsky et al 2012].

 

This week’s lecture was about energy flows, and heat transfer in particular; so, the following posts from the archive might be interest: ‘On the beach‘ on July 24th, 2013, ‘Noise transfer‘ on April 3rd, 2013, and ‘Stimulating students with caffeine‘ on December 17th, 2014

Sources:

Martin L & Schwartz DL, Prospective adaptation in the use of external representations, Cognition and Instruction, 27(4):370-400, 2009.

Martin L & Schwartz DL, A pragmatic perspective on visual representation and creative thinking, Visual Studies, 29(1):80-93, 2014.

Madhaven G, Think like an engineer, London: One World Publications, 2016.

Lewandowsky S, Ecker UKH, Seifert CM, Schwarz N & Cook J, Misinformation and its correction: continued influence and successful debiasing, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3):106-131, 2012.