Teaching in a Post-Truth Era

The higher education system teaches students to reason and consider evidence since these skills are fundamental to constructing a thriving democracy. While I am convinced of the need for this approach, the effectiveness of fake news stories and public skepticism of valid scientific findings such as climate change suggest that ...

more ...

Why Include Technology in the Classroom

Teachers are expected to incorporate technology in their classrooms and teaching but have good reason for skepticism. Many teachers are providing excellent learning environments without using the latest digital tools. The benefits of technology are sometimes presented as self-evident, reinforcing our skepticism. Teachers resistant to using technology are likely to ...

more ...

A Scantron Quiz I Can Live With

This post describes a teaching technique I am revising that illustrates the use of hybrid distributed and automated feedback to focus instructor time on high-value feedback. When I began teaching at Sonoma State University in 2013, I used the techniques I experienced in the classroom: lecture, individual homework, and individual ...

more ...

Student Assessment and Automation

High-quality feedback delivered promptly is an important part of undergraduate learning but providing this feedback is difficult in larger classes. Instructors respond to larger class sizes by either increasing their workload or by reducing the frequency or the quality of their assessment. The strategy of instructors increasing their workload reaches ...

more ...

Quiz Data Structure

In my teaching, I use both paper and online quizzes. Since these formats are very different, I want to minimize the effort and errors that come with moving content between them. The solution I settled on was to create a simple data structure that would capture the essential pieces of a quiz. Once I had this data structure, I'd be able to convert to LaTeX for paper PDF generation or to a format like GIFT which I can use in our Moodle LMS system.

more ...

A Simple Jupyter Applet for Grade Entry

For large classes with many assignments, entering grades can be time-consuming and error-prone. I started prototyping a very simple app that would allow a grader to quickly select the student and assignment in a text box interface and then write the grade to a spreadsheet. One time savings comes from ...

more ...

False Dichotomies in Energy Debates

I'm frequently discouraged by the level of debate on climate from some corners of our democracy. Snowballs on the senate floor come to mind. It is even more disturbing when some of our most thoughtful scientists and policy makers treat some decisions as black and white. I see this ...

more ...

IPython Widgets and Random Teams

In my classes, I often assign students to random teams. I use a simple notebook to do this. From the roster, I prepare a list of strings of student names. I then randomize the list and partition it into groups. I render this in an HTML table to make it easy to read and project it on the screen.

more ...

Using the Python Pint Units Library

This semester I began using the Pint library while writing solutions for the problem sets in my classes. I love using this library. It now feels dangerous to me to perform calculations without the computer keeping track of the units. The ability to define arbitrary units is also useful for calculations that don't have physical quantities.

more ...

Some Thoughts on Productivity

I suspect that most of us assume that there is a linear relationship between the time we spend working and the amount we get done. I propose that this actually breaks down and at some point we damage our productivity by working beyond our optimum. Here is my oversimplified model ...

more ...

The Calculator Problem

Here is a problem that I was unprepared for as I began my teaching career. Students don't always use their calculators correctly, and absent videotaping their keystrokes, they have no way of getting feedback. This means that the reproducibility of their result is in question. I'm moving toward ...

more ...

Static Blogging

The first blog I created was in raw HTML in the late 1990's. After a long hiatus, I started blogging again on Tumblr. After a while, the interface to Tumblr started to feel inefficient and limiting. I discovered static blogging tools and decided to try them out. Since I ...

more ...

Survey data cleaning

Our demand prediction research project in Indonesia uses a 1200-household survey as part of the data collection. The data is collected by UNCEN students using electronic tablet computers and the OpenDataKit platform. The data is stored on the Ona platform for analysis and retrieval.

In any survey, there are entries ...

more ...

An Energy Curriculum

What should an undergraduate energy curriculum focus on? This blog post asks questions about what energy education should look like and outlines my thinking as I consider the curriculum I am teaching at Sonoma State University. The Department of Energy has started to develop an Energy 101 curriculum for a ...

more ...

Computer Applications in EMD Class

I'm looking forward to teaching our department's class Computer Applications in Energy Management and Design. My plan is to teach students the most general concepts that will allow them to learn any software package. This class needs to prepare folks with an interest in modeling buildings, performing renewable ...

more ...

Class sizes and planning

Part of my growth as a new professor is broadening my focus outward from the classes I teach to the degree curriculum and the department curriculum. The trick to this is the many constraints that a professor or a department faces. One of the most important constraints is the financial ...

more ...

Room Occupancy and Carbon Dioxide

We have a Netatmo datalogger installed in our Environmental Technology Center. As a first project, we want to see how accurately we can infer the number of occupants from the observed carbon dioxide levels in the room.

Humans exhale carbon dioxide at a rate of approximately 250 mL per minute. In the classroom space where the sensor is installed, this corresponds to a 0.18 ppm per minute per person increase in the carbon dioxide level. By measuring the slopes of the carbon dioxide signal during class, we can infer the number of students.

more ...

Provost Undergraduate Research Funds Award

The Provost's office at Sonoma State University makes funds available for research equipment purchases. I used this opportunity to propose the purchase of a unit to measuring temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and sound level. Netatmo makes a very convenient to use device that posts the information over the internet ...

more ...

Problem Set Reproducibility

I've been thinking about the link between research reproducibility and the way students perform the work in their problem sets. The emphasis in problem sets and grading is the presentation of the correct answer. Many instructors demand some clarity in the methods used to provide the result but my ...

more ...

SSU RSCAP Minigrant Award

This semester I have funding for two students help with a beyond the grid research project I started this summer. This funding is provided by Sonoma State University through the Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities Program and I'm grateful for the support. The goal is to create an affordable ...

more ...

Spring Semester 2015

This semester, I'm teaching three classes: ENSP 200 Global Environmental Issues, ENSP 202 Quantitative Methods, and ENSP 438 Small-scale Energy Sources. ENSP 200 is new to me, but I taught ENSP 202 and ENSP 438 last year.

ENSP 200

For the Global Environmental Issues class, I'm going to ...

more ...


What is the equivalent APR of an M-KOPA system

Many customers are unable to purchase solar home systems for lighting and phone charging without a financing option. For a customer to compare between the rate available from a microfinance lender and a company that provides in-house finance, they must compare the effective interest rates. M-KOPA advertises their deposit and daily payments online and the effective APR can be calculated from this.

more ...

SciPy 2014 Wrapup

After many years of observing the conference from a distance, I was able to travel to the SciPy conference. This year the conference hosted a track on computation tools and education that inspired many ideas for me.

Teaching

All the keynotes and several of the talks focused on the use ...

more ...

SciPy 2014

I'm attending the SciPy conference this year with two main objectives

  • Look for best practices to integrate into my research on energy access
  • Look for best practices to integrate into my teaching

Energy software

I'm interested in the development of open-source solutions in the small-scale energy analysis space ...

more ...

Markdown and Pandoc for writing

I've been using Markdown, a plain text lightweight markup language in combination with Pandoc, a versatile document converter to do the bulk of my writing.

The benefits

  • I can use the same text editing tools for my computing work as well as my writing work.
  • With a generic makefile ...
more ...

Class Lectures in Markdown

I have a workflow that I'm happy with for creating, rendering, and archiving, slide content for my classes.

I have a single file that contains stubs for the entire semester's lectures. This allows me to quickly capture ideas for future lectures without leaving the file.

At the beginning ...

more ...

Refrigerator Life Cycle Costs

These calculations estimate the optimal thickness of insulation for a simplified refrigerator model. The life-cycle cost considers both the first cost of purchasing insulation and the operational cost of buying electricity to power the refrigerator. We assume that the other costs (exterior, compressor, etc.) are fixed with the insulation thickness and therefore do not affect the optimum thickness.

more ...

Energy and cost of beverage cooling

Here I calculate the energy needed to cool a beverage. I also estimate the cost of this energy.

I start by calculating the sensible heat that must be extracted from a can or bottle.


First post with Pelican

I am trying out pelican as an authoring tool.

Themes

I cloned the octopress pelican theme and added to the pelicanconf file

Plugins

I cloned jakevdp's plugins and checked out the liquid_tags_import branch and linked using pelicanconf. This is to support ipython notebooks in the blog.

dsoto.github.io ...

more ...

Cost of Conserved Energy for Efficient Refrigeration

Typical refrigerators in rural environments with photovoltaic electricity tend to strain the inverters. There are some very energy efficient refrigerator models as well but the cost for these units is much higher.

We compare between two representative refrigerators.

A typical refrigerator is the Haier, which is basically what we in the states might call a "dorm room refrigerator".

more ...

First Week of Teaching

Having just finished my first week teaching at Sonoma State University, I wanted to return to my blog after some time away. This week is a very exciting milestone for me since being able to educate the next generation about energy issues has been a goal of mine for years ...

more ...