• Ian Beatty
  • Ian Beatty
  • Physics
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  • Assistant Professor
  • idbeatty@uncg.edu
  • 328 Petty
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  • At UNCG Since: 2009
  • TeMALe Course Redesign 
     
  • Ian Beatty
  • TeMALe Course Redesign 
     
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  • Faculty Groups: TeMALe Course Redesign  
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  • Why Physics?
  • Physics grabbed me early and never really let go. I got lucky twice: In high school and then again at university, I encountered a physics teacher who was an excellent pedagogue, a thoroughly dedicated mentor, and a superlative human being. In addition, physics was the first subject I encountered that was challenging to understand, and yet seemed obvious once I did. I found that "It all fits together so beautifully" feeling to be addictive.
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  • Why Teaching?
  • During graduate school, I gradually discovered that most of the articles published in physics research journals were boring, because they seemed of interest only to a very very few people in the world working in the same specialized area. They were unlikely to really matter to anyone else, much less make the world a better place. Meanwhile, my friends and role models in the Physic Education Research Group were wrestling daily with vital questions of great an immediate impact on the lives of many physics students and the future of education. I shared an office with my mentor, and daily observed how he deftly interacted with students to stimulate their engagement and reshape their approach to learning and life while ostensibly providing physics help. Furthermore, I realized that the human mind is far more complex, fascinating, and difficult to understand than anything physicists traditionally study. By the time I finished my Ph.D., I was a card-carrying Physics Education Researcher.

    During the process, I'd done enough teaching to learn that it is (a) very hard to do well, and (b) very rewarding when done well. Whether or not my research results change the world, I can have a big impact on the students in front of me each day, and that keeps me going.
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  • Why an FTLC Fellowship?
  • Being a teacher, an education researcher, and eventually a mentor of other teachers has really forced me to confront my idealistic pedagogical theories with the cold hard reality of practice, and to brutally self-evaluate my teaching through the lens of those theories. I think it's made me a far better (if perhaps more neurotic) teacher than I otherwise would have been. I also think it gives me perspectives and ideas worth sharing with others driven to become ever more effective teachers.

    The specific catalyst that precipitated my fellowship with the FTLC was the TeMALe project, aimed at helping instructors of high-enrollment, high-DFIW courses at UNCG incorporate technology-enhanced active learning methods into their teaching. Michelle Solér and I wrote a proposal to the UNC General Administration, they funded it, so here I am!
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  • What one thing would you change about UNCG?
  • I'd change the "attention economy" that dominates our students' academic lives. They run from short-term deadline to short-term deadline, allocating their time and attention based on what's due next and what will have the greatest impact on their transcript. This is diametrically opposed to the kind of reflective, self-directed, self-regulated, self-motivated learning that I believe our students desperately need to develop. Research shows that extrinsic motivators such as grade threat erode intrinsic motivation, and yet we continue using points and grades and deadlines to coerce students into doing what we believe is in their best interests--though they often do it shallowly and cynically, because of the coercion rather than the learning goal.
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  • What’s Next?
  • Tenure, I hope!

    More seriously, my recent thinking has focused on what we can learn from the design of good video games that might benefit our face-to-face classes. Many modern video games are in fact highly sophisticated and effective learning systems, motivating players to voluntarily engage in lengthy, difficult, and often frustrating series of challenges in order to develop new skills, learn to navigate a novel and complex environment, and ultimately defeat the game. If nothing else, contrasting game-style learning with school-style learning draws our attention to assumptions and perspectives deeply embedded within our model of "school," which perhaps we should challenge.

    I still need to find a livable balance between teaching, research, and family life--a need made more urgent by the delightful arrival of my daughter in December 2013. I seem pathologically compelled to deeply overhaul every course I teach, every time I teach it, in search of something more effective. This is hardly efficient, yet I remain convinced that somewhere in the space of possibilities is a much better way to teach physics and everything else. So, I'll keep looking.
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