Archive for September 2, 2009

Wright and Wilson: But where do we learn literacy?

In Ant Lovers Unite! Will Wright And E.O Wilson On Life And Games : NPR, E.O. Wilson and Will Wright discuss (among other things) the future of education, which Wilson claims will be all about games.

So the first question he asked Wilson was if he saw a role for games in the educational process.

“I’ll go to an even more radical position,” Wilson said. “I think games are the future in education. We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”

Wilson imagines students taking visits through the virtual world to different ecosystems. “That could be a rain forest,” he said, “a tundra — or a Jurassic forest.”

Wilson said that for the most part, we are teaching children the wrong way. According to the biologist, “When children went out in Paleolithic times, they went with adults and they learned everything they needed to learn by participating in the process.”

That’s the way the human mind is programmed to learn, Wilson said.

That’s a romantic vision, and I remain a big fan of apprenticeship approaches to education.  However, Paleolithic children didn’t have to gain literacy — in mathematics, textual language, or computation.  How do we, in an apprenticeship/game-like fashion, develop the ability to take advantage of the symbolic (and now, symbol processing) languages in which so much knowledge of our culture is stored?  Some learning is slow and reflective.

September 2, 2009 at 12:10 pm 3 comments

Computing College Educators on Widening the Education Gap (part 2)

My blog gets picked up in Facebook via RSS feed.  An interesting discussion sprang up about my blog post on College Computing Educators, based on the concerns of two educators and one former student.  They raise issues about our roles as educators, what the reward structure is for faculty, and how do we identify the great-but-not-evident students in our classes.  (That last one is a particular issue for me — we teach no intro classes with less than 150 students/section.  I don’t know all their names, let alone what their potential is.)

With their permission (THANKS, Jim, Ken, and Bettina!), I’m sharing the discussion here:

Jim Huggins
We’re back to the same issue: you get the behavior you reward. If I spend time with the students on the margins in my computing classes, I’ll get a nice “atta-boy” from my boss. But my promotion & tenure committee won’t care; all they want to see are my teaching evaluations (which are filled out by the survivors, not the failures), and more Read Moreimportantly the length of my vita. Saving students isn’t nearly as important as cranking out another journal article.

If higher education wants to get serious about educating more students, then it has to reward those efforts.

(Getting off my soapbox now … as you can tell, this is a particularly sore issue for me …)

Mark Guzdial

I think you raise excellent points, Jim!
Bettina Bair

I also believe in what I can measure. But how do I know if the quiet kid that’s sitting in the back row has untapped potential? What I know is what I can see: kids who ask questions, work on the exercises and interact in class. If there’s a hidden seam of talent running deep within our kids, how do I find it? And finding it, how do I bring it to the surface?
Ken Takei

You guys sound like Professors at Georgia Tech (I’m BSID ’88). In my last two quarters I taught some freshmen classes. It was a lot of fun and I made it point to know each one of my students. If there was potential there, I would have known it. If there wasn’t but the kid was trying and wanted to continue with the class, I would help him as much asRead More I could.

As a former student, we new who the ones that were real teachers and the ones who were writing the papers and waiting for the big T. As Profs, you should know that the kids you are teaching aren’t dumb. If the kid in the back is really into your class, they’ll do great. Put some responsibility on the kid, after all, they are paying for the privilege to sit in your class.
Jim Huggins

Ken: believe me, we know. It’s just hard to do that when the reward structure works against you. I try to do it when I can. Of course, I’ve got tenure, so I’ve got some freedom there. Still, it’s disheartening to see that the real @$$!#s get promoted above you because publishing is “real work”.
Bettina Bair

@Ken — How do you know when there is “potential there”? Do you measure/assess “effort”? Can you train another person to detect it? And when do you determine that effort=untapped potential?

It sounds like you are saying that if we can’t see hidden talent, then we must be a) lazy, b) blind, c) uninterested, and/or d) ignorant. But hidden Read Moretalent, is by definition, hidden. Like my mining analogy (above), you can make some guesses about where it might be good to drill for oil, but that doesn’t tell you anything about its quality or volume.

Ken Takei

@Bettina – Why do you need to know that there is potential. And I don’t mean this in a mean way, but youRead More’re the teacher, they are the students. Is it your objective to not only teach but find who are the best at what you are teaching? How do you know what their background is or isn’t? What if I was going through pledge-ship for a fraternity and making a “B” in Calculus “was good enough” for me. Was it the prof’s job to find me and make sure or rather ask, why I wasn’t living to my full potential? A good teacher teaches all their students as best as possible. Some will learn. Some won’t. The reasons why or why not aren’t the concern of the teacher, unless the student brings it up with them, i.e., “My mom just died of cancer.”
Bettina Bair

@Ken — I was responding to Mark’s question, “So what will convince computing educators that their definition of “best and brightest” is inaccurate or even downright wrong?”

If our definition is wrong, what is the right one? And, having redefined talent, how can we find it?

September 2, 2009 at 10:17 am 1 comment

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