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From the College of Natural Sciences

It's a New World

Dear Students,

Today I was thinking about the start of my senior year in college.  It was 25 years ago and it is remarkable how much has changed.  I was a chemistry major and I was fairly certain I wanted to go to graduate school.  Not only was I set on chemistry graduate school, but I had settled on “p-chem,” physical chemistry.  I had realized that lasers were more my thing than flasks and columns.  (My sad escapades in organic chemistry lab are a tale for another day.)  At the start of the semester I ordered my very own copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, a purchase I thought defined me as a “real physical chemist.”  Most of you have likely never seen this book.  It is better described as a “tome,” as it looks like something you would find in a medieval library.  It is massive.  It contains almost anything you would ever want to know as a physical chemist.  Looking for the density of water at 47.5°C?  There’s a table for that.  Need to know the intensity and wavelength of all of the emission lines in the neon spectrum?  There are page after page of them.  Curious about the melting point of Vanadium?  Check.  Too lazy to remember how to integrate x2sin2(ax)? No problem:  there are entire chapters of integral tables.  This was the real deal.  No more trekking to the library to do my quantum mechanics homework; I had my very own CRC handbook.

I would be shocked if any of you are thinking about such a purchase.  I would be shocked if any of you have ever gone to the library to look something up in the CRC handbook.  Because times have changed.  The only piece of data listed above I was not able to locate in a matter of seconds on the internet was the density of water at a particular temperature.  That one took me two searches and about 15 seconds.  Information is everywhere, though there is often some question as to the validity of the information one might find.  I’m guessing the “Table of Useful Integrals” I located at the University of Wisconsin is more reliable than the Yahoo Answers question I also came across on integration by parts.  But clearly it is no longer necessary for each of you to have a “tome of knowledge” to make your way in science or math.

As this sort of information is now widely accessible, it is important to ask how this is impacting the way that we teach.  This year the college faculty are participating in a “Campus Conversation” about higher education in the information age.  While the impact of “on-line” learning is not the only issue being considered, it is an important one.  In discussing these issues with Dean Hicke, we realized how important it would be to learn more about student opinions surrounding online learning.

So I’m asking each of you to take the time to respond to this short survey.  I can’t offer you bonus points or extra credit, only gratitude.  But your responses will help us shape the way classes are taught in the College and at the University.  The survey can be found at http://survey.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_2lE0JlmrZOJiJIF 

Since my time in college, many things have changed, including the way courses are taught at the University.  But we need to be constantly evaluating the ways in which we are teaching students to provide everyone with the best possible education.  Your feedback can help us to do that.

- Dr. Vanden Bout

P.S. Download CNS Student Newsletter

P.P.S. Schrödinger’s cat walks into a bar and doesn’t

P.P.P.S.  As always, I’m looking for Twitter followers @StudentDeanCNS.  Check it out, as I’m planning on posting pictures of me with my “tome”

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Monday, 15 August 2022

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