I Don’t *WANT* an App for That

With the explosion of applications for the iPhone and iPad, I wanted to point out that, for many things, I don’t want an app for that! Consider the works of Shakespeare; I really don’t want a separate app for each of his plays and sonnets. Some books and magazines are being published as separate apps, to take advantage of the graphics in OpenGL ES, to control content distribution, etc; I understand their reasoning. But I don’t want one-app-per-book; it’s too messy and disjoint. Similarly, I don’t want one-app-per-magazine or one-app-per-newspaper; I read too many sources each day for that model to work.

What I want is to be able to retrieve, review, annotate, and share content I view with the tools I find most natural and that enable my workflow. I do wish “content providers” could grasp that and start providing some content, instead of trying to lock it away.

Thoughts on Course Grades

Like many educators, I worry about the level of effort that my students commit to their studies (the process) and the quality of their work (the product). We call the process many things: engagement, time on task, passion… But we mean to describe that self-driven, motivated commitment to learning for the sake of learning that we value.

Unfortunately, in many educational environments, the standard proxy for effort is the course grade. Grades are a poor proxy, but are so ingrained in educational practice (in some of the institutions where I teach) and in students’ minds that it may be useful to consider a way to structure grade rewards to encourage the genuine engagement from students that we desire.

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Collapse of Complex Educational Funding Models

Clay Shirky posted yesterday about the Collapse of Complex Business Models. In short, businesses add one complexity after another with each new complexity adding value to the system… to a point. Initially, each addition brings with it significant marginal value. But eventually, the value added of a new complexity diminishes to zero or, worse, goes negative. Businesses, the argument goes, can’t adjust to the new reality and resort to the most radical simplification possible: collapse.

I realized almost immediately that I’ve been having a version of this conversation related to educational funding for weeks… Continue reading Collapse of Complex Educational Funding Models

Making Values and Culture Manifest and Manifold

Over at his blog, Mark Guzdial has raised questions about the ability of (a) curricula and (b) instruction to be value-/culture-neutral. I wonder whether it isn’t more important that they be manifest and manifold in education.

In other words, we need value transparency, to express the values and cultural biases in our designs clearly and publicly. When we choose what learning outcomes to include in a curriculum and when we create instructional plans intended to help learners attain those outcomes, we make value choices based on our own prior experience, and often do so unconsciously. Probability examples that rely on a 52-card deck and programming exercises that remake western-style games are necessarily rooted in our past experience. That implies that some learners– those who don’t share our experiences– will have a higher cognitive load when faced with these tasks, working to attain not only our intended learning outcomes, but also to build knowledge and skills related to the new (to them) problem context.

We need to be sensitive to this and provide the supports necessary to promote success. One way to do this is to represent core ideas in multiple ways, creating banks of culturally diverse, parallel examples of instruction that speak to the same set of intended learning outcomes. For example, do we need probability examples to rely on dice, cards, and coins? How else might one think about probability, assuming that those objects aren’t part of your daily life?

I can imagine a rich collection of activities, presentations, etc. that could be used not only as teaching aids, but also as tools to train teachers about diverse ways to represent ideas. Even within my own cultural context, I find myself often looking for new ways to introduce learners to a topic (nifty assignments, anyone?).

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Sally Fincher

March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day, a commemoration of the contributions of women in science and technology in honor of it’s namesake. Ada Lovelace (nay Augusta Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace) was the daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke, born in 1815. She was a contemporary of Charles Babbage, who is generally credited in the history of computing with designing the first mechanical, general-purpose computer: the Analytical Engine. Although not built during their life times, Babbages’ ideas and Ada’s analytic abilities led her to write notes which are today regarded as the first algorithm written specifically to be performed by a general-purpose machine; in short, the first computer program.

I would like to take the occasion to tip my hat to Sally Fincher, Continue reading Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Sally Fincher

Goodbye, Hello World?

Alfred Thompson questioned on his blog today whether the customary first programming exercise, Hello World, should be replaced with something that’s more flexible and calls on students to engage in a short, non-trivial first act as a programmer. I admit, I’ve used Hello World myself with students, but usually not as a first activity. Instead, I use Hello World to help students who have had some hours or days of programming instruction understand that they now know quite a bit about how programming languages express an intention. I ask students to visit the ACM Hello World web page and compare and contrast that simple program in different languages. How are code blocks started and ended? How is output generated? How is an infinite loop expressed? How are strings represented?

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Learning to Write in English like Learning to Program

Imagine for a moment that you were going to teach writing in standard English in the same way we tend to teach computer programming.

Alright… Let’s learn to write. Before you can write, you need to know about the fundamentals of the language we’re going to use. A language is a collection of words and rules for how you combine those words. Words can be thought of as being of different types that determine the purpose and meaning of the words. For example, two types we’ll work with are nouns and interjections. There are other types, too, but we’ll get to those later.

For now, let’s write your first sentence. A sentence is a valid sequence of words. By valid we mean that the sentence would be recognized by an expert speaker of the language as being acceptable.

So, we need an example of a noun and an interjection to get us started… One frequently used noun is the word WORLD and a common interjection is HELLO.

Continue reading Learning to Write in English like Learning to Program

Media-Propelled introduction to Computational Thinking

Eric Freudenthal of the iMPaCT: a Media-Propelled introduction to Computational Thinking project spoke at SIGCSE 2010 about how to engage students who are math phobic with computation and, thereby, with math. Using Python and computation about dynamic systems, students work to understand how code == math == concepts. One issue raised was how ethical it is to mislead students initially about whether they’re learning “math”. Eric’s argument: if students know they’re learning math, they fallback on unsuccessful rote memorization techniques. If, however, they believe they are working with dynamic systems to understand how the system changes as parameters are adjusted, then students engage and experiment.

Exploit Parallelism

I was reading the old VerizonMath meme recently and began thinking about it in terms of a teaching moment. George Vaccaro was clearly trying very hard to teach the Verizon employees a little something about math, and they just weren’t getting it. Part of the problem is surely, as everyone points out, the lack of math common sense of the Verizon employees involved; a trait all too common in American today.

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Endnote: Create a key binding for linking to a PDF (OS X)

I spend a fair amount of time linking PDF documents to records in Endnote. Unfortunately, Endnote requires you to (a) drag and drop, or (b) navigate into submenus to link to a PDF.

In OS X, you can bind a keystroke to any menu item in a specific application using the System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse settings. Use this to your advantage! Endnote lacks a keystroke for “Link to PDF…”, so I created one: Command-Option-L

Now, when I highlight a record in my library and press the key combination, an “Attach…” file dialog box opens up and I select the PDF of the article, web site, etc.

Continue reading Endnote: Create a key binding for linking to a PDF (OS X)

What Students are Saying About My Teaching (and Their Learning!)

These are comments made by students either on formal evaluations or via informal channels. I’ve tried to leave these unedited, as much as possible, although I’ve removed identifying information and possibly line endings. Otherwise, these are as I received them. I’ll continue to add new comments as they come in.
Continue reading What Students are Saying About My Teaching (and Their Learning!)

Thoughts on Being Contingent

According to a recent AAUP report, 68% of all faculty appointments in American colleges and universities are non-tenure track; over 50% are part-time, so-called contingent faculty. I am one of them and, while I love teaching and, by many accounts, am pretty darned good at it, I’m still a part-time employee, subject to chance, and that causes problems both for me and my students.

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Wordle.net Map of My Delicious.com Bookmarks

This image represents the frequency of tags I’ve used to bookmark resources using Delicious.com, a social bookmarking service that allows you (and others) to access your bookmarks from any web-connected computer. It was created using Wordle.net, an interesting visualization tool that will let you feed it a word list, a URL, or a delicious username in order to generate a tag cloud like this. Larger words represent tags used with greater frequency. Since I started using Delicious.com to share links with my students, the map is weighted in favor of course- and programming-related terms.
Continue reading Wordle.net Map of My Delicious.com Bookmarks

KUIT476: Web Marketing & eCommerce

Location: Kaplan University, Online
Terms: Summer 2009, Spring 2010
Class size: ~ 15 students/term

IT476 is a course designed to encourage students to prepare a business plan for an ecommerce venture. Students also create a website to support the business. Attention is given to the legal, advertising, financial, and operational aspects of the business with an eye toward preparation of a workable business proposal.

Reading Materials

  • CIW (2009). eCommerce Strategies and Practices. Tempe, AZ.

IST673: School Library Media: Technology, Theory, Application & Assessment

Location: University at Albany, State University of New York
Terms: Spring 2010
Class size: ~ 15 students/term

IST673 is a capstone course in which graduate students collaborate with undergraduate students and in-service educators from local K12 school districts to design, develop, deploy, and assess Web sites developed for use in participating schools.

Reading Materials

  • DiGiano, C., Goldman, S. V., & Chorost, M. (2008). Educating Learning Technology Designers: guiding and inspiring creators of innovative educational tools. New York, NY: Routledge.

What will you improve today?