Archive for July 18, 2010

APCS Students can do Media Comp (and Alice) and Succeed

In the five workshops (which feels like a larger number than it sounds) that I ran this summer, I included some of the Exploring Wonderland book that Wanda Dann, Steve Cooper, and Barb Ericson wrote about learning AP CS through Alice and Media Computation.  Over half of the attendees from my workshops this summer were high school computer science teachers.  Overwhelmingly, the response that I got from those teachers was, “This is nice stuff.  Maybe I could use it in my earlier class (like Computing in the Modern World).  But I wouldn’t use it in AP.  That would take too much time away from the important stuff in AP.”

Of course, this infuriated Barb.  They designed the book to motivate students to dig into the AP content!  It just so happened that she got her chance to try out her design this last year. A local high school asked the College of Computing for last-minute help with their AP CS course.  A teacher who didn’t know AP (or CS, or even Java) was tasked with running the course, and he was smart enough to know that he needed help.  The school called the College, and the College asked Barb. Barb came in twice a week, wrote the lessons, and generally oversaw the content of the course.  Since she had just finished Wonderland, that was the easiest thing for her to teach.

She just sent me her scores.

7 get a 5 (4 males and 3 females)
4 get a 4 (3 males and 1 female)
2 get a 3 (1 male and 1 female) (a 3, 4, or 5 is passing)
-----------------------
4 get a 2 (3 males and 1 female)
and 13 get a 1 (9 males and 4 females)

While the gender scores were quite strong (e.g., more girls passed than failed), the under-represented minority minorities weren’t quite as strong.  All of her African-American students got 1’s.  However, one of her Hispanic students took one of those 5’s.

Those are really good scores.  Yes, most kids who took the test didn’t pass — the AP is hard, and that is the way it goes. What it shows is that students can succeed at the AP, even if you “waste” time with all that Alice, and Media, and motivation stuff.  This isn’t a study, much less publishable. It’s only the results from one course.  But it’s an existence proof.

July 18, 2010 at 4:54 pm 6 comments

There is no shortage of STEM students or graduates

Beki Grinter sent me a link to this fascinating article which argues that there is no shortage of quality STEM students or even STEM graduates.  The problem is that our system of graduate students and post-docs has turned the adolescent stage of becoming a permanent researcher in the US into a long, torturous, low-paying ordeal.  I laughed out loud (from the perspective of “So sad and true that it has to be funny or you’d cry”) at the quote: “The main difference between postdocs and migrant agricultural laborers, he jokes, is that the Ph.D.s don’t pick fruit.”  As one of the interviewees says of the declining numbers of US students becoming STEM faculty: “It’s not an education story, it’s a labor market story.”

“There is no scientist shortage,” declares Harvard economics professor Richard Freeman, a pre-eminent authority on the scientific work force. Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a leading demographer who is also a national authority on science training, cites the “profound irony” of crying shortage — as have many business leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates — while scores of thousands of young Ph.D.s labor in the nation’s university labs as low-paid, temporary workers, ostensibly training for permanent faculty positions that will never exist.

via The Real Science Gap | Miller-McCune Online.

The analysis of why there is no problem with our current output of K-12 STEM students was particularly interesting.  They claim that our top students are among the very best in the world, and that that’s where we draw our STEM workers from.  The problem is one of equity, not numbers.

White Americans on average substantially outscored Europeans in math and science and came in second to the Japanese, but American black and Hispanic students on average significantly trailed all other groups. Raising America’s average scores therefore doesn’t require repairing an educational system that performs poorly overall, but boosting the performance of the students at the bottom, overwhelmingly from low-income and minority families.

This piece is relevant for this blog, not just because we’ve talked often here about the state of STEM hiring, and about the mixed messages that we get about whether or not there is a shortage of CS/IT jobs or not.  Read the comments after the article.  A great many of them are from CS graduate students or PhD’s.  While the article focuses predominantly on the life sciences (which sound even worse off than in computing), it’s pretty clear that a lot of people from our side of the STEM town see themselves in this article.

July 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm Leave a comment

Future of Tablet Textbooks

I attended an Apple-offered seminar this last week at Georgia Tech on the future of mobile media and higher education.  Most of it was show-and-tell about cool books and apps available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad platforms.  What I found most interesting (and what I went to hear about) is where Apple sees textbooks on this platform.

Apple really doesn’t know, but they have a direction that they’d like to see.  They think that the first iPad-based textbooks are going to come out as apps available through the App Store.  There are some pretty stunning ones like the Elements book-as-app.

But that’s not Apple’s preferred path.  Apple would prefer to have textbooks come out as EPUB books, read through their iBook reader.  (Having used Kindle reader for over a year now, I find the iBook reader flakey and annoying, but I trust that there will be more stable versions than 1.1.)  Apple is hindered by the fact that EPUB is an international standard that they don’t control, and current EPUB books can’t do everything that one would want a Tablet-based textbook to do.  The current EPUB standard allows for embedding of some HTML links to audio and video (for example), but doesn’t allow for the rich simulations that we’d like to see embedded in future digital textbooks.  Apple is pushing to have the EPUB standard extended.

Now, why would Apple care?  This is the part that gets interesting.  EPUB books can be distributed through Apple’s iTunesU channel in the iTunes store — that’s the established higher education distribution channel for them.  Apps are much more tightly controlled, e.g., they have to be checked for memory leaks and proper behavior (expensive!), and they have to be signed and distributed carefully to make sure that what the customer gets is what the publisher delivered (and what Apple vetted).  Apple doesn’t want to have to vet textbooks — very explicitly.  Vetting textbooks starts to cross the line from technology into content.  Who makes sure the content is right.

I think Apple doesn’t see the problem as I do. When textbooks have the capability of rich textbooks, what makes them different from an App anyway?  Couldn’t they misbehave in the same ways as errant apps?  And don’t you want someone to do some of that content vetting?  Isn’t that what publishers do for you, when the customer-publisher relationship is working well?

It’s interesting how the distribution, cost, standards, and technology issues are overlapping here.  No clear answer, but it was interesting to see some of the possibilities laid out.

July 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm 2 comments


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