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Tag Archives: york

Recently, I attended the first, of hopefully many, Girl Geek (York) Dinners held at Grays Court, York. There was a full house of people from a range of backgrounds and, after an excellent supper and lots of time to network, we were treated to two inspiring presentations.

The first was from Helen Harrop of Sero (and a million other enterprises, as anyone who follows her of Twitter will tell you) entitled How I Learnt to Love Numbers. Helen took us through her early influences and experiences with numbers and how she caught the computing bug. Helen expertly weaves her affinity for logic with her passion for art, probably because she instinctively sees the overlap between them. You can find evidence of Helen’s artistry including her doodles (the word just doesn’t do them justice) on Flickr.

The second presentation was from Mary Vincent of Green Star Solution. We were given a whirlwind tour of her many business interests, with a discussion on a host of green ICT issues including thin clients, cloud computing (potentially greener?) and data centre design.

The tag for this meeting was #GirlGeekY so it’s worth looking for other blog posts and Tweets about this event.

This is an annual event organised by the Centre for new and aspiring lecturers from all the physical sciences. Attendees this year had various levels of previous experience and came from a range of HEIs across the UK.

As well as being there to tell attendees more about the Centre and what we could do for them, I gave a very short presentation on web 2.0 tools and some simple examples of how they might be used in higher education, for themselves and for their students.

Having covered the same material last year I was interested to find that this year’s attendees had a significantly greater awareness of social software and could name specific examples of tools that were available; some were using them at least for their own development or collaboration between colleagues.

For those still finding their way around, the Centre offers examples of RSS feeds from the Centre’s website to which visitors can subscribe, the Centre’s Twitter feed and an account on Delicious.

The talk itself (including an image located through the CC search on Flickr) was posted on SlideShare and a list of all the references from the talk were posted to a list on Diigo.

Tom Stafford of the Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield gave a presentation entitled ‘The Learning Brain’ as part of the Cafe Scientifique, York programme.

We started with challenges to the dominant metaphor of the brain as a machine; instead studies have shown it is capable of change and adaptation. Examples of the enlargement of the hypo-campus of London taxi drivers (who have done ‘the knowledge’) and the motor cortex of musicians illustrate it’s dynamic nature.

Although it’s attractive for those who study the brain to want to attribute certain functions to fixed areas of the brain in all subjects, those who sustain brain damage early in life can still become fully functioning because the brain can relocate functions to parts of the brain that are undamaged.

Probably we have also experienced the ‘curse of knowledge’: when you understand something, you can never truly take yourself back to the mental state when when you did not, as learning makes itself invisible.

Although the study of neural networks in the ’80s gave some a false hope that we might be able to build an artificial brain, studies of that technology taught us something important: that learning systems are autonomous. Feeding a cat because he is complaining will result in the cat learning that complaints bring rewards, not what you want to teach the cat but what it learnt nevertheless.

Does coffee taste better from your favourite mug? Well, no and yes. Intrinsically, no it’s the same coffee whatever the mug. However, the mug becomes part of the ritual of taking the drug caffeine. And because caffeine gives the brain a sense of reward without the brain knowing this is only due to the caffeine, the mug become associated with the reward.

So, can you taste the differenece if the milk goes into the cup before the tea or the other way around? Well… find out for yourself at where you can see the results and find out how to carry out your own experiment.

We tend to repeat what we have liked in the past and avoid what we have not liked or the unfamiliar, and this tends to lead systematic bias which can stop us exploring and seeking new experiences. Arguing with someone to convince them that their views are biased is useless, what can work is exposing them to the alternative viewpoint or experience.

The idea of learners as merely receptacles into which knowledge is poured was challenged: what is learned transforms what is doing the learning, and the transformation of the learner is done by the learner, not the teacher.

So gather some of your friends, go to to try some science and enjoy a nice cup of tea (or coffee) into the bargain. Biscuits optional.