Female writers from Sappho to today

A couple of weeks ago, after reviewing one of my posts, my editor commented that I was repeating myself because I had already written on the same topic in an earlier post.  I feel that is inevitable in a weekly blog which has an archive of more than three hundred posts – I am just not sufficiently creative to produce something original every week. Besides, maybe that’s not necessary.  Anyhow, today I am returning to a theme that I have written about previously: the Treasury at the Weston Library in Oxford.  It is a small museum with a rotating collection of treasures from the Bodleian Library, which until the end of February 2019 is on the topic of ‘Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared‘.  As you might expect from the title, the oldest treasure in the exhibition are fragments of a copy from the 2nd century AD of one of Sappho’s poems.  Sappho, who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos between 630 and 580 BC, is the first female writer known to Western civilisation.  Her work was almost lost – the fragments of papyrus on display were found on an ancient Eygptian rubbish dump.  Perhaps this is a good representation of men’s attitude to women’s writing because probably since Sappho, female writers have been neglected by publishers and male readers.  As Nilanjana Roy has reported, publishing houses submit more books by male writers for literary prizes and book reviews tend to highlight more books by men than by women.  In books written by women the gender of characters in evenly divided, whereas in those written by men, women only occupy between a quarter and third of the character-space and men tend to read books written by men.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that many men are lacking in understanding and social awareness of half the population.  Encouraged by my wife and daughters, this imbalance in my reading habits is being addressed by reading the books shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction each year during our summer holidays. I can recommend the 2018 winner ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie – it’s very topical, will make you think and pulls you along to its dramatic final page.  However, you should also read ‘When I hit you’ by Meena Kandasamy – it was both enlightening and shocking to me, and I was left wondering about the line between fiction and non-fiction.  I also really enjoyed last year’s winner: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman.

BTW – the thumbnail is a scan of postcard bought in the Weston Library showing a painting by their artist in residence, Dr Weimen He, who captured moments in time during the refurbishment of the library.

Source: Gender and genre: reading the world by Nilanjana Roy in the FT Weekend, Saturday 22 September 2018.

Previous posts featuring the Weston Library Treasury: ‘Pope and Austen‘ on September 9th, 2015, ‘Red Crane‘ on July 26th, 2017 and ‘Ramblings on equality‘ on October 11th, 2017.

Aircraft inspection

A few months I took this series of photographs while waiting to board a trans-Atlantic flight home.  First, a small ladder was placed in front of the engine.  Then a technician arrived, climbed onto the ladder and spread a blanket on the cowling before kneeling on it and spinning the fan blades slowly.  He must have spotted something that concerned him because he climbed in, lay on the blanket and made a closer inspection.  Then he climbed down, rolled up the blanket and left.  A few minutes later he returned with a colleague, laid out the blanket and they both had a careful look inside the engine, after which they climbed down, rolled up the blanket put it back in a special bag and left.  Five or ten minutes later, they were back with a third colleague.  The blanket was laid out again, the engine inspected by two of them at once and a three-way discussion ensued.  The result was that our flight was postponed while the airline produced a new plane for us.

Throughout this process it appeared that the most sophisticated inspection equipment used was the human eye and a mobile phone.  I suspect that the earlier inspections were reported by phone to the supervisor who came to look for himself before making the decision.  One of the goals of our current research is to develop easy-to-use instrumentation that could be used to provide more information about the structural integrity of components in this type of situation.  In the INSTRUCTIVE project we are investigating the use of low-cost infra-red cameras to identify incipient damage in aerospace structures.  Our vision is that the sort of inspection described above could be performed using an infra-red camera that would provide detailed data about the condition of the structure.  This data would update a digital twin that, in turn, would provide a prognosis for the structure.  The motivation is to improve safety and reduce operating costs by accurate identification of critical damage.

 

Student success and self-efficacy

Success is a multiplicative function of ability and motivation [Chan et al, 1998 & Pinder 1984] and in turn motivation requires positive ‘situation expectations’ and good ‘achievement striving’, which is the extent to which individuals take their work seriously [Norris & Wright, 2003].  Hence, we can motivate engineering students by setting engineering science in a professional context and connecting it to something familiar according to Sheppard et al [2009].

Self-efficacy is a ‘belief in one’s capabilities’ and is closely related to student success [Marra et al, 2009].  There are four sources of self-efficacy that contribute to success: mastery experiences; social persuasion; psychological state; and vicarious experiences [Bandera, 1997].

Mastery experiences include, for example, the positive experience of completing a course or a project.  Vicarious experiences are those gained via observation of someone else’s engagement and their effect on self-efficacy is dependent on similarity of the observer and observed.

The bottom-line is that self-efficacy is powerful motivational construct relating to choices to engage in class activities and to persist in engineering [Hackett et al, 1992].  So, to create a learning environment that motivates all students to acquire knowledge, it is necessary provide opportunities for all sources of self-efficacy to contribute to student success.  This implies providing opportunities for mastery and vicarious experiences in a supportive environment that avoids any negative stereotyping.

Using a variety of everyday engineering examples provides a level of familiarity that lowers anxiety levels and improves the psychological state of students.  Demonstrating everyday examples in class, as part of the Engage step in the 5Es [see ‘Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate’ on August 1st, 2018], allows students to have a vicarious experience as does Elaborating examples for them.  While allowing students to Evaluate their own learning provides the opportunity for mastery experiences.  These factors are probably one reason why using Everyday Engineering Examples embedded in 5E lesson plans leads to a higher level of student engagement and learning.

References:

Bandura A, Self-efficacy: the exercise of control, Freeman & Co, New York, 1997.

Chan D, Schmitt N, Sacco JM; DeShon RP. Understanding pretest and posttest reactions to cognitive ability and personality tests, J. Applied Psychology, 83(3): 471-485, 1998

Hackett G, Betz NE, Casas JM, Rocha-Singa IA, Gender ethinicity and social cognitive factors predicting the academic achievement of students in engineering, J. Counselling Psychology, 39(4):527-538, 1992.

Marra RM, Rodgers KA, Shen D, and Bogue B, Women engineering students and self-efficacy: a multi-year, multi-institution study of women engineering student self-efficacy, J. Engineering Education, 99(1):27-38, 2009.

Norris SA, Wright D. Moderating effects of achievement striving and situational optimism on the relationship between ability and performance outcomes of college students, Research in Higher Education, 44(3):327-346, 2003.

Pinder CC, Work motivation, Scott, Foresman Publishing, Glenview, IL, 1984.

Sheppard S, Macatangay K, Colby A, Sullivan WM, Educating engineers: designing for the future of the field, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2009.

 

CALE #8 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]

Making things happen

Engineers make things happen and no one notices them when everything works reliably and smoothly.  You could replace engineers in that sentence by managers.  Managers are responsible for people and organisations while engineers are responsible for the systems that underpin modern life.  You can pair scientists and leaders in the same way.  Scientists discover new knowledge which sets a direction for the future of technology while leaders create a vision for their organisation which also sets the direction for the future.  Then engineers and managers turn the imagined futures into reality. Of course the divisions are fuzzy.  Some of us would be considered engineering scientists because we work at the interface between science and engineering.  And many engineers spend more time managing people and organisations than practising engineering.  However, the bottom-line is that engineers and managers are responsible for the functioning of modern society and deserve greater recognition for their successes; if only to ensure a continuous and diverse flow of talented young people into the professions.  So, here are two Liverpool engineers that have made the news recently for their contributions to engineering: Chris Sutcliffe who was awarded  a prestigious Silver Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering for his role in driving the development of metal 3D printed implants for use in human and veterinary surgery; and Kate Black who was named as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering for her work on the development of novel functional materials, using inkjet printing, for the manufacture of electronic and optoelectronic devices.

See ‘Happenstance, not engineering?‘ on November 9th, 2016 for an explanation of why people are quick to assign blame when things go wrong and slow to praise when things go well – it’s all about the relative number of sites in the brain capable of blame and praise.