Wright and Wilson: But where do we learn literacy? NYTimes: U.S. Colleges Are Failing in Getting Students to Graduate

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lindsey Kuper  |  September 7, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Mark, as a Grinnell CS alumna and a former student of Sam, I’m happy to see Janet and Sam’s project being recognized here. I’d like to hear more about your view of Scheme in CS education. You’ve written in the past that you’re a big fan of Scheme, but on the other hand, it sounds like you’re opposed to it as a first programming language. Of course, it’s possible that your position is more nuanced than I realize.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  September 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

      Hi Lindsey! I do like Scheme, and I do believe that you can teach a great Scheme first course. I’ve found that it’s hard to sell here at Georgia Tech, and I imagine that the issues are the same at some other institutions. Our students were not engaged by Scheme. They talked about it as a “toy” and “useless” language. When we taught Scheme, our failure rate for Liberal Arts and Management majors was over 50%, even with really good teachers who bought into Scheme. With Media Computation in Python, we dropped to ~15% failure rate. Would Media Computation in Scheme (especially in connection with a real tool like Gimp) fare better? I don’t know, and I’ll be eager to watch. An interesting research question is what leads to success with Scheme and what doesn’t. My guess is that student trust of the teacher is an important factor — whether the students believe that what they’re learning is worthwhile, even if the language itself isn’t something that they’ll necessarily use later.

  • 3. Katherine Mancuso  |  September 8, 2009 at 8:49 am

    I had someone at work ask me a question like this, that I eventually had to answer with a pages long blog post and still am not done with. The question was “Can disability really be a community?” And, as heavily invested as my life is in disability community-building, I really couldn’t answer to his satisfaction on the spot, and it felt a frustrating experience.

    But what was hiding behind that question that I read was a mass of years experience he had with warring disability organizations, factionalism, people who are so entirely focused on getting by because their situation is so dire they have no political consciousness at all . . .

    Why do we believe then that we can be a community? Or that we even should try? Because the previous generation joined together and laid down in front of buses, and spoke at hearings, and that is how the ADA got passed. Because community matters to the rights we enjoy. Because it’s not about getting every disabled person to believe we’re right; it’s about having a space for the ones who are ready to join together. It’s about people taking that space and doing what they want with it. That’s why we build community, kind of like why you do education research.

    And from a researcher’s point of view, to bring it back to your original question rather than his, or an action research point of view because I won’t ever pretend to be neutral, it’s about creating new knowledge about that community that’s always going to be evolving. And they’re going to shape the knowledge in new ways. That’s the beauty of research about people who are also learning – you’re always engaged in a dialectic with them – like you said, it’s about moving the needle.

  • 4. Alan Kay  |  September 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Still thinking about this, but the “#$%& blog software won’t let me be notified about other comments via email without leaving some kind of comment.

    (And I can’t easily pop the hood on the blog software to make an exception for me that others might want also. This problem is directly to the point of Mark’s whole raison d’etre for this blog. Do we really want to teach to such poor standards?



    • 5. Erik Engbrecht  |  September 8, 2009 at 2:13 pm

      You’re lucky. Even when I reply and select “Notify me…” I never receive notifications. But the RSS feed for comments works.

    • 6. Ajai Karthikeyan  |  September 8, 2009 at 3:08 pm

      Yup. I suggest you subscribe to the RSS feed for comments.

  • 7. Steve Dillon  |  September 8, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I am fortunate enough to work on a music technology project greatly inspired by both Papert’s work and Gardner’s Arts propel (http://www.jam2jam.com/). I too have experienced the disappointment of educating teachers and finding that roughly 10% maintain the Constructionist approach to learning and teaching. I also did some comparative research looking at that 10% in 4 countries to see what their qualities of practice were. To my horror the 3 teachers I researched in my own country stopped teaching.

    One of the aspects of the Network Jamming project which is based upon Andrew Sorensen’s Impromptu is now looking at is What are the impediments to uptake? What are the issues of sustainability? and how can we build into the design of the software or the experience design ways of supporting best practice? I guess we have looked at the students experience of learning and curriculum reform for a long time but really NOT at the teachers experience and the aspects of the system that stop even good teachers from living their philosophy. A unified attempt to examine the teachers experience of learning and teaching may provide an opportunity to whinge but I think we need to do it if we continue to believe that these philosophies are worth supporting.


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