Talk at Microsoft Research on IPRE

July 13, 2009 at 6:49 pm 1 comment

I gave the Final Report talk on the Institute of Personal Robotics in Education effort at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit today.  It went pretty well — slides are available.

One of the questions afterward was really intriguing for me.  I raised the issue during my talk, “All of us in the room grew up with computing learning how to compute Fibonacci numbers and the 100th digit of Pi.  What did that work for us when it measurably fails with today’s students?”  The question was, “Maybe because computing Fibonacci numbers and the 100th digit of Pi was the best of what we could do with computing then.  Computing resources were expensive.”  From this perspective, what many of us are doing now is “catching up” with where hardware and software development has brought us.    As my chair, Aaron Bobick argues, there’s a role for cutting-edge computing researchers  in education, in terms of understanding the implications of the latest computing technology for computing education.

That’s been a kind of a theme for the summit today: making things of yesterday finally work or work again.  This morning, Craig Mundie gave a live demo of a surface and wall computing “Office of the Future” that looked like Sun and Apple demo videos of years past.  As Michael Mateas put it, “what we saw is that it took 20 years to get rid of the Apple Knowledge Navigator’s bow tie.”  Andy van Dam just gave a demo of handwritten math recognition that was similar to things running on the System 360 thirty years ago.  Andy pointed out that it’s depressing that it takes so long to get these great ideas in a production system in many people’s hands.  A fascinating and important question is: what are the great, cutting-edge ideas of today that we’ll be working to make happen in products and classrooms over the next 20 years?

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