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The Future of PIRA
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TOPIC: The Future of PIRA

The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #7

  • sirons
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When PIRA was first formed, the newsletter was the important, if not completely necessary glue that held it together. The web in 1985 was in its infancy (if not still in-utero) and PIRA's members were scattered across the country. During this formative time we published as many as eight issues of the newsletter a year and it was filled with useful articles, tips and tricks, job postings, items for sale and/or trade, election information, etc.
While we remain physically scattered, the incredible increase in communication pathways during the last 20 years has brought us all closer together. Once, our options were the mail, the phone and the newsletter, each carrying a real monetary cost. From email (email addresses made their first appearance in a 1991 newsletter!) and list-serves (all hail TAP-L!) to web, pages, instant messaging and now blogs and youtube, it is now possible to instantaneously post a job opening, share an idea, picture or video, or ask a question, and have that information reach far more people, far more quickly than any newsletter at essentially zero cost!
However, this constant stream of information coming in over the computer has become akin to drinking from a fire hose. Merely to keep up with this deluge is daunting enough, but finding time to add something to it is equally challenging. As an example, one could spend an entire day fruitfully searching Youtube alone for useful video clips. We then happily with the best of intentions add to everyone else's input by posting a link to whatever we've found. What has happened is all these new technologies designed to make us more efficient and give us more free time paradoxically seem to have done the reverse. A single year of ideas described on TAP-L could keep one working for the following ten, so we feel busier than ever. The problem has changed from one of access to information to one of finding the relevant piece amid the ocean of other information that is very likely to also be useful if not merely interesting, or wrong!
All of these changes have I believe, made the newsletter anachronistic in its current form, if not obsolete. Tips and tricks are traded more efficiently and more widely on TAP-L, which supports multi-threaded, multi-participant conversations (that a newsletter cannot). Job openings are now almost exclusively posted and searched for online. News and upcoming events can be kept current more easily in an online format. As far as elections are concerned, we are already beginning to handle them online and participation would increase if we made online voting the standard. Furthermore, since many of our members do not regularly attend the summer meeting, they must vote remotely if the vote at all. It seems clear that an annual, or even semi-annual newsletter cannot compete in this environment.
At the moment, the newsletter is still officially necessary as a venue for publication of demo descriptions prior to their accession to the DCS. However, judging from the number of manuscripts I have received in the last four years (exactly equal to the number published), there is not the burning need there once was. In my four years as editor, I have only received two manuscripts describing a demonstration that might require a new DCS number. Perhaps this is the fault of the editor, but I suspect it is more likely from distraction due to information overload. We need a new way of organizing and controlling the massive amounts of information that is now at our fingertips.
I would like to propose that, in place of our newsletter, we create a multi-faceted forum within the PIRA web site. In this space, members could post pictures, files, videos and other information. There would be an elections area where candidate's statements could be posted and voting could be conducted. I would also propose an area where members can post to thematic, threaded and searchable bulletin boards, such as Demonstrations, Upper/Lower division labs, Professional Development, PIRA News, PIRA related conference information, etc. It remains to be seen whether these venues could compete with the established convenience of TAP-L. However, being email based, TAP-L is difficult to search and archive and sometimes goes off-topic. Furthermore, these fora can serve as incentives to join PIRA. Because we are virtual community we need a virtual PIRA-centered meeting space that complements TAP-L. Perhaps most importantly, all this information can be searchable and easily archived.
To handle the problem of DCS references, I suggest we establish a Wikipedia style demo database that contains (eventually) all the concepts in the PIRA Demonstration Bibliography. This would have a number of advantages. First, it would be a current, dynamic, evolving, and expanding repository of demonstration ideas and information created and maintained collaboratively. Each entry would be edited and updated by all those with a particular interest in that area and variations on a particular demonstration would be viewable on the same page with authorship information also available. I can already imagine Dick Berg's entry on the Bernoulli effect! Pictures (and perhaps movies as well) could be posted along with links back to university demonstration web sites and references to published material(such as TPT, Sutton, Meiners, AJP, etc.) can also be listed.
Second, the creation of new PIRA numbers can be quickly handled by allowing the individual who uploaded the information to propose a number and then have the DCS committee review and subsequently validate it, or determine an alternative.
Third, cross-referencing (already a problem) could be handled naturally with active links to other pages in the Wiki. The DCS committee has rightly rejected independent web links as inadequate referencing for DCS inclusion due to the risk of link rot. By establishing a site under our own control, PIRA can directly ensure every reference is accurate, current, and up to date. It would also be of great utility to our Annual Lecture Demonstration Workshops. This wiki format could be potentially extended to the cataloging of introductory, intermediate and advanced labs.
Not only would this wiki be useful to those of us directly involved with demonstrations, publicly available via the PIRA web site it would serve as a vehicle for the promotion of physics education and further raise PIRA's visibility. Furthermore, we can make membership in PIRA a condition for contributing to the wiki, which would be another real incentive to join. At the moment, joining is essentially an act of altruism.
Creating this expanded web site and wiki will require a lot of commitment and work and will take some time to implement. Aside from the initial work of setting up the framework, the approximately 9000 entries in the PIRA Demonstration Bibliography will take a sustained effort to enter into the database. I believe, however, that since this will be a collaborative effort, it will go faster than we expect. Having been in discussion with Michael Thomason, PIRA�s web master, he has created a prototype demonstration wiki, with a two sample entries. You can view it at:
The newsletter editor could become the administrator for the wiki and fora. With the demise of the newsletter (the funding of which was the primary reason dues were collected), a portion of the dues could now go toward supporting this expanded web site in the form of contracting out some or all of the web design and maintenance. Given the increased importance of the web site, it seems appropriate to elevate the PIRA web master to an executive position.
In closing, I would add that PIRA's visibility has been growing rapidly due to the combination of its dedicated members and the advantages of the internet and the connections it so easily fosters. If we redirect the energy that is expended in creating the newsletter to further expanding our online presence, I think PIRA will grow even more.

Re: The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #8

  • thomason
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Stephen presents a very creative, detailed vision for the future of PIRA. I agree with all of his ideas. I want to implement all of them; especially the Wiki! In fact, I have already implemented web voting, a forum with message boards, and updated the homepage, www.pira-online.org. The wikis should be online, www.pira-online.org, in about a week.

Stephen is an excellent Newsletter editor and it would be sad to end that era. Message boards and Wikis need moderators; maybe Stephen would enjoy a role as global moderator of the forum and wiki instead. Of course, the fate of the newsletter and possible new board and wiki moderators are issues for PIRA to decide. Multiple moderators can be chosen for each topic, to spread out the work. Web voting should definitely be monitored by a committee (the PIRA officers?) of moderators.

At first, Stephen's ideas reminded me of our theoretical physicist colleagues when they get an idea for a demonstration they want us to provide for them. These are great concepts, but Stephen has no clue the amount of labor, time, and money required to implement all these ideas on the PIRA website.

After a little web research, I realized free, downloadable software plug-ins already exist on the web to implement these ideas on the PIRA website. Now I am excited. I hired a second website programmer to expedite the process of implementing all the new capabilities. By next week or so, Stephen's vision will have been realized, with the provision that now it's the PIRA members turn, to use web voting, all those message boards and wikis, and upload all their photos, videos, drawings, pdfs, computer code, web links, LATEX equations, and text, up to 100MB/pop. (To upload larger files, just ask.) Also, I'm transferring the PIRA website to a new server: dual Xeon 3-GHz dual core processors, 8-GB RAM, 1.5-TB hard disk storage, Win Server 2003, Win SQL Server 2005. (It's actually my new web video streaming server, but it will also suffice for my website and the PIRA website.)

There are several different kinds of data which qualify for separate wikis or message boards: BiblioWiki, DemoWiki, LabWiki, SimulationWiki, HandsOn/TakeHomeWiki, VideoWiki (or AudiovisualsWiki), ExhibitWiki, OutreachWiki, DrawingsWiki, SupplierWiki, WebsiteWiki. Most of these exist now as new, virgin message boards on www.pira-online.org. Look for the wikis soon.

In addition to Stephen Iron's forward thinking, I also wish to recognize David Sturm and Chele Kindle. David created the first online forum for PIRA, groups.google.com/group/pira-chat/files. Whereas David�s forum, hosted by Google, has a total storage of 100 MB, the new forum, on PIRA's official website, has an flexible limit for attachments which is currently 100 MB for each attachment, and we can control every detail of the forum's appearance and operation. Chele created our entire original website from nothing and has been our wonderful webmaster for years.

Maybe things are moving too fast. As excited as I am, it is up to PIRA to decide if you want these capabilities on your website. I could just as easily implement the wikis on my own physicslearning website instead. If there are objections from members or officers, just say the word, and the new features will disappear. I plan to make the entire website self-service, as much as possible, by members responsible for specific areas.

Re: The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #9

  • tcolton
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Bravo Stephen and Mike! Moving the newsletter on-line and introducing the new forum site makes sense to me given changes in the way we communicate. I'm starting this summer on moving our advanced lab materials and manuals to a wiki and it had occurred to me that it would be perfect for PIRA. I was holding back on suggesting it because the reply surely would have been "thanks for volunteering to do it!". Thank you Mike for taking this on. This is a big project, but I think once everything is converted, we'll see wider participation by PIRA members in contributing material and faster progress in developing the databases.

Tom Colton

Re: The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #10

Hi guys, I actually sent this to you in an email, but for the sake of discussion, I thought I'd post it here, too.

I was thinking about the DCS and the proposed Wiki entry. What do you all think about putting the information directly on the AAPT website instead? It was indicated that this might be a possibility. The Wiki article (and excellent idea) could be about PIRA, the history and links to WHERE to find the information. We'd most likely be a drop down choice from the "Teaching Resources" main menu. What do you think? If it's a good idea, I suggest emailing Toufac (the executive officer who came to our business meeting). His email can be found at aapt.org/Directory/contactus.cfm. He was very interested in furthering PIRA and making our information much more readily available to teachers and such.
Last Edit: 9 years, 3 months ago by machele.kindle.

Re: The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #11

  • thomason
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I think it is a good idea. I'm not sure it would be any more readily available than if the AAPT provided links to the resources in their current location; however, the resources might be perceived as more legitimate and authoritative if hosted by AAPT. It would also take two big burdens off my shoulders.


Why just the Bibliography and Wiki? Why not transfer the whole PIRA website to AAPT?

By "DCS", I assume you are referring to the Bibliography. Yes?


AAPT could also publish the print version of the Bibliography. The AAPT actually agreed to do this years ago once it completed the Sutton publishing project, but it never happened.

You seem to be thinking of a "wiki article" or "entry" that could be included in some existing wiki, such as the Wikipedia or perhaps an AAPT wiki. That is a good idea, but it doesn't serve the same purposes as BiblioWiki, DemoWiki, LabWiki, SimulationWiki, HandsOn/TakeHomeWiki, VideoWiki (or AudiovisualsWiki), ExhibitWiki, OutreachWiki, DrawingsWiki, SupplierWiki, WebsiteWiki, for which Stephen and I have created templates.

PIRA has invested a lot of its identity, prestige, and intellectual capital (such as it is) in the DCS and Bibliography. Putting them where they might become identified as AAPT resources more than as PIRA resources is a decision the entire membership of PIRA and the DCS committee would have to make. Rather than contacting Toufac myself, I would prefer to let PIRA and the DCS committee take responsibility.

Regardless of any guarantees AAPT might give, PIRA would lose control of the applications and data. AAPT might be less responsive to making changes, upgrades, and edits.

I would love to see more discussion. Chele? All you other Piranistas?

Re: The Future of PIRA 9 years, 3 months ago #12

Dean Hudek actually asked me about AAPT hosting the PIRA site. I have no problems with this, although I don't think it means less work...just a different server. I very highly doubt AAPT will serve as webmaster. Besides, in my experience, its often easier to go and make changes yourself instead of telling a second or third party what changes you want and then waiting. But then, I've been called a control freak.

I definitely agree that having the DCS (yes, the bib) on the AAPT website lends more credibility to us than having it on wiki. But, I still think that an entry on wiki about PIRA would be a good idea, especially with the right keywords. Physics, Physics education, physics teacher, demonstrations, professional organization, labs, etc. etc. Oh, and Physics Instructional Resource Association and PIRA should also be keywords.
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