Archive for January, 2011

Is the (Biological) local that different from the (Computational) national?

I saw this quote in Georgia Trend magazine (with the subheading “The best job prospects are in healthcare, but logistics and biotech are opening up”), and was surprised.

“Our No. 1 area of enrollment, as well as employment, is in the field of health sciences, and that is what we as a college have dedicated ourselves to doing: providing programs in as many options in the health science field as possible, because there are so many jobs out there, and there are more coming,” says Bartels [President of Gwinnett Technical College].

“Health sciences are about 50 percent of our enrollment and about 50 percent of our budget.” To underscore the demand for studies in the health sciences field, Bartels cites one particular course of study. “Last year we had 2,700 people apply for our RN [registered nurse] program, and we had 40 slots open,” she says. “Last year [2009] we had right at 12,000 students that applied for one of our health sciences programs, and currently we can serve about 700 people in that program. We had 1,800 apply for our radiologic technology program, and we had 35 slots there.”

via Georgia Trend.

I was surprised, because I’d seen this Graph that Eric Roberts has put together, based on current enrollment and 10 year trends from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This suggests that Engineering is just slightly over-subscribed (which Eric says is fine — you don’t want the lowest quartile students building your bridges), physical sciences is okay, and biological sciences are WAY over-subscribed.  There are far more people studying biological sciences than there are expected jobs.  The reverse is true in Computer Science.

Is this Georgia technical school President not looking at the same data?  Maybe it’s different in her local community?  Or maybe she’s looking at the wrong data.  She’s mostly talking about how many students want those classes, and how many classes she has to offer.  That’s not the same as measuring who is getting what jobs.

If she’s wrong, that’s really scary.  But it’s an interesting question: how much variance are there in these numbers, and can the local situation be that different from the national picture?

January 20, 2011 at 9:20 am 11 comments

My Students Know Far Less Than I Ever Expected

Today was my very first lecture using peer instruction in a computer science class, and I’m already blown away.  I had no idea that my students had these misconceptions.

I’m teaching a second semester course on data structures, using our Media Computation approach.  All of my students have completed their first semester of computer science, either in Python (with robotics or with media) or in MATLAB.  This is only the second lecture of the semester (due to the Snowcopalypse), so I’m just introducing the basics of Java.

I showed this slide.

I then posed this question:

Since Java uses zero-based indexing, and MATLAB uses one-based, I expected that the answers would be between A and B, and it would give me a chance to revisit (I’d already presented it) the zero vs. one-based indexing.  I posed the question, let students answer via Ubiquitous Presenter, then asked them to argue with one another about the right answer, then vote again.  Here was the distribution of votes after the second round of votes.

I don’t know about you, but there is NO WAY I would have predicted that the MAJORITY of the class would think that the answer was the sum.  Even if you had never seen Java before, how could you think that getting the total changes the array?

Wow. I’m flabbergasted.  I predict that I will cover FAR less material than I planned to this semester, since I now have a way of seeing what students are understanding on a day-by-day basis.  I’m now a convert.  Given what we know about how little students learn in the first years, one could argue that it’s unethical not to use peer instruction — how else will you know if your students are learning?

January 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm 35 comments

Tell the US Federal Government how to fix K-12 CS Ed

The timeline on this is really short — please pass on this call for comment!

The federal government asks for advice about education fairly regularly. But it isn’t often that it asks specifically what is needed to advance K-12 computer science education. So I was pleasantly surprised when one federal program asked some key questions about K-12 CS education . Members of our community have the opportunity [to speak up] about what they think is needed for a stronger K-12 CS education. (Comments are due by January 31.)

via Let the Feds Know Your Thoughts on K-12 Computer Science Education | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

January 19, 2011 at 10:39 am 2 comments

Call for Participation in Georgia’s C^3

Georgia Tech and Southern Poly have organized a free event called the C3 Conference (Computing Commons Collaboration Conference) for both high school computing teachers and undergraduate computing faculty to meet, present, share ideas, and discuss topics of interest on teaching introductory computer science courses.  You are invited you to register for the first mini-conference of this event on Feb 26, 2011, through https://sites.google.com/site/dccec3/registration.  There is NO COST to attend this conference.  Please notice that the deadline for registration is Feb 15th, 2011.

You can find more information in the call for attendance below. Please also feel free to share this message with anyone who might be interested.

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Call for Attendance for the first C3 Conference on Feb 26, 2011

Georgia Tech and Southern Poly (SPSU) have organized an event called the C3 Conference (Computing Commons Collaboration Conference).  It is designed for both high school computing teachers and undergraduate computing faculty to meet, present, share ideas, and discuss topics of interest on teaching introductory computer science courses.  This event includes two mini-conferences in the spring of 2011 – February 26 at SPSU and April 16 at Georgia Tech. You can find more information about this event at https://sites.google.com/site/dccec3.

You are invited to register for the first mini-conference of this event.  There is NO COST to attend this conference.  It will be held at Southern Polytechnic State University on Feb 26, 2011.  This first C3 conference includes talks by invited speakers and selected presentations with discussion sessions on a variety of CS topics.  The conference will run from 1:00 – 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception after the last session. All talks, presentations, discussions, and the reception are designed to allow participants to interact with, and learn from, their computing and teaching colleagues in the Southeast.

1.) You can find the conference program on the program page at (https://sites.google.com/site/dccec3/program).

2.) If you would like to attend this conference, please fill in the registration form through the registration page at https://sites.google.com/site/dccec3/registration. The deadline for registration for the first mini-conference is Feb 15th, 2011.

3.) Directions to Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta GA are available at https://sites.google.com/site/dccec3/directions.

4.) If you have any question about this conference, please contact any of the following members of the conference committee:

 

 

January 19, 2011 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

Especially In Computing: ‘Trust Us’ Won’t Cut It Anymore – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Given that we have a track record of being unable to measure accurately our students’ achievement, I suspect that those of us in Computing are particularly susceptible to this criticism.

“Trust us.”

That’s the only answer colleges ever provide when asked how much their students learn.

Sure, they acknowledge, it’s hard for students to find out what material individual courses will cover. So most students choose their courses based on a paragraph in the catalog and whatever secondhand information they can gather.

No, there’s isn’t an independent evaluation process. No standardized tests, no external audits, no publicly available learning evidence of any kind.

Yes, there’s been grade inflation. A-minus is the new C. Granted, faculty have every incentive to neglect their teaching duties while chasing tenure—if they’re lucky enough to be in the chase at all. Meanwhile the steady adjunctification of the professoriate proceeds.

via ‘Trust Us’ Won’t Cut It Anymore – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

January 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm 8 comments

Can standardization and innovation coexist in education?

Thanks to Greg Wilson for pointing this out.  The technical challenge that this piece is addressing is how to gather and communicate the data for personalization of educational technology.  The larger issue being explored here is how creating technical standards may enable educational innovation.

From my perspective, placing the data in a different place solves a research problem, too.  There’s an advantage of a “digital backpack” (that goes with the student, under the student’s control) versus a “digital locker” (that is somehow stored at the institution) that I didn’t really see discussed in this piece, and that’s FERPA.  We’re really stymied in how much tracking and personalizing we can do because we can’t see the data about a student without the student’s permission.

For example, we’d love to know which CS students have had summer camps or workshops from “Georgia Computes!” in the past — we can’t do this look-up without lots of approvals.  Right now, we have to get permission from each student, and even if all students agree, we then have to go to the Registrar to show we have permission, and now can we get the data we need.  But if it’s a “backpack” that the student can offer access to, the only approval we need is the student’s.

Personalization is the holy grail of education technology, but it can’t be achieved without mechanisms for rich data about each student’s learning. And that data must be persistently stored and appropriately accessible. Matthew neatly turns the traditional metaphor of a “digital locker” on its head by replacing it with the “data backpack” — a container that goes everywhere the student goes.

Matthew’s insights led me to Wireless Generation’s white paper on “An American Examination System.” The paper outlines a platform for using technology to collect and store data on individual student performance. With this rich data following students, teachers will have the data available to know what students need to work on or learn next. The data can become the basis for “adaptive mass personalization.”

via Can standardization and innovation coexist in education? – O’Reilly Radar.

January 18, 2011 at 9:46 am Leave a comment

A Humiliation, er, Teachable Moment

I’ve been taking a piece of advice from Seymour Papert over the last couple weeks (and for the next couple months).  While I was never a student at MIT nor part of any of their Logo programs, I got some time with Seymour when we were both at the all-weekend design meetings for Logo Microworlds, back when I was a graduate student.  (One of my all-time most scary and intellectually challenging dinners was sitting next to Seymour and defending my thesis to him.)  One of his in-passing pieces of advice was that education researchers should regularly learn something new, to continually be reminded of what it’s like to be a learner.

I’m “Baron Elberfeld” in our church’s production of “Sound of Music.”  My wife (“Frau Schmidt”) and daughter (“Brigitta”) are also in the production.  All of the rest of my family have been in plays, and my wife and son have been in many.  This is my first play ever.  Not even in high school was I ever even working on the set.  This is totally new for me.

One of my first observations: I don’t know the severity of my mistakes.  I’m the eager-to-please newbie, and I make mistakes.  Are they “okay” mistakes?  Did I just make a serious faux pas? I make some of each, but I can’t tell at the time.  I figure it out 5, 10, 15 minutes later, judged in terms of later response to me.

Yesterday, we were at rehearsal all day long.  Since I only have two lines and am in only one scene (but have to dance two dances, and sing the final “Goodbye” with all the other party guests), I spent much of the time yesterday trying to help out with the set.  One of the people in charge gave me a task to do, which I worked at diligently.  Someone else came along and thanked me for doing it — it needed doing, and he was worried that nobody was doing it.  I went out to get more supplies.

When I came back, somebody else more senior (everybody is more senior to me) was doing my job.  As I walked up and he saw the supplies in my hand (more of what I’d already been using), he told me, “No, those are completely wrong.  You should never be using those.”  He explained why.  Then he pointed out the tools I was using, and told me how his tools were much more appropriate for the task.  He then turned away from me and went back to work, on the job that had been mine.

I felt humiliated.  I felt like I must have screwed things up, working for over an hour with the wrong supplies and wrong tools.  I strongly suspect that he felt that he reached out to me in a “teachable moment” — he explained to me how I was mistaken, and how his approach was much better.  He probably felt that he did me a favor.  I felt like quitting.  I packed up all the stuff I was using and put it away, then went and sat down until it was time for my scene.

Back when OOPLSA was in Atlanta, in 1997, I got to have lunch with Adele Goldberg.  At that time, she was working on a Smalltalk programming environment to be used in the UK Open University‘s introductory course.  She told me that the greatest benefit of distance education was for supporting working professionals in learning something new.  The issue wasn’t finding time in a day.  It was humiliation.  “You work in a field for 10, 20 years, and you get recognized for your expertise.  Now go into a classroom, and raise your hand to admit that you don’t know something.  It’s really hard!”  On the Internet, nobody can see you blush.

Seymour’s right — it is a good thing to be in these situations, to be reminded of what it’s like for our students. I’m sure that our students may also feel that they’re losing face when met with a “teachable moment.”  It’s a real challenge for us to teach it in a way that avoid humiliation, that allows the student to see the lesson but feel encouraged to keep going, to keep engaged.

January 17, 2011 at 9:13 am 7 comments

Using the iPad for something new

This article felt verydifferent to me from the NYTimes piece about replacing textbooks with iPads.  These folks are inventing a new kind of musical instrument with the iPad (taking advantage of its touch interface), then teaching music creation with it.  I do recognize that this is apples-to-oranges in terms of curriculum, e.g., maybe the music education approach being taken is the same one that might have been taken with a violin, recorder, or flute?  From the description, it feels like using technology for a new kind of learning opportunity, which is better than labs-of-iPads.

“Play with your ear, not just your eyes,” he said. “It’s not just about playing, it’s about listening to the song you’re making and playing with everyone else.” Then, to the already advanced music students, he raised his hand in a fist for the universal “cut off” sign that ended the song.

A crowd of Apple customers had already gathered at the spectacle by that point and a few broke into applause.

“It’s not meant to replace instruments, but augment,” Wang said. “We don’t try to just imitate instruments, but explore new music-making experiences.” Wang, 33, has already developed other popular music apps for the iPhone and iPad, including Magic Flute (where the user blows into the microphone and taps on the screen to play notes) and Glee Karaoke that he developed with the cooperation of Fox Digital Media.

via Mountain View students learn how to turn iPad into ‘Magic Fiddle’ – San Jose Mercury News.

January 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Beth Simon on why everyone should take computing

As you might recall, Beth Simon has been teaching one of the new AP CS pilot courses.  She decided to update her course materials for the second offering, and to explicitly make an argument for why students should take this course.  She makes a really interesting case (backed up with quotes from students from the first offering) for why a general introduction to computer science is useful to all majors. I am quoting from her materials, with her permission.

What does this course offer to you?
In this course, you will gain the basic level of understanding of computers and computation that we think ALL college graduates should have – to be prepared to create the future.  Last century, competence was defined by the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.  They are required to pursue a professional career in any discipline.  This is the 21st century, and it’s clear that computing is poised to permeate not only our professional work, but also our society. So think of understanding and skills of computing as a fourth ‘R’, necessary for any discipline.  After this class, you will stand out from other college graduates in your preparation to work with new technologies of the future.

Students who previously took the course described some of the following things they got out of it:

  • Confidence: “It has given me confidence that I’m able to figure things out on a computer that I never would have thought that I could do.”
  • View of Technology: “Now, every time I find myself playing a video game, I actually understand what makes it work.  That these games are not magically produced, that it takes time, skill, and sufficient funds to create these games.  I appreciate these games more than before taking this class.”
  • Analysis Skills: “Programming allows a person to think more logically, thinking in order and debugging allows the user to gain valuable problem solving skills.  Aspiring to go to law school, thinking logically is extremely important and I think this has helped.”
  • Communication Skills: “In today’s technologically-centered world, using a program like Alice gives us valuable exposure to discussing things technically with other people and explaining clearly what we are trying to do.”
  • Organizational Skills: “Through Alice, I learned to stay organized and structured in anything I do, including studying for other classes.  Although at first, thinking with several concepts at a time was very difficult, now I am more confident.”

How, exactly, are you going to accomplish this?
By learning to control the computer through a basic programming language, you will get the opportunity to develop skills that will enable you to deal with general issues on the computer – in any area.  Why do you have to “learn to program”, when you may never program again in your life?  Programming is actually the simplest manner in which to deal with a computer.  Comparably, other applications you use (Photoshop, Word, Facebook, Picasa, etc.) are much more complex.  We want you to start with a simpler model, one more in your control, to gain the basic understanding of how computers work. At the end of the term, you’ll then explore one application – Excel –  to practice applying your new knowledge in a specific context. Then, in the future, no matter what new application you use, you can apply that knowledge to figuring it out and making it work for you.

January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am 13 comments

A Joint Call for Research on Why Computer Science Education is Important for K-12

A joint blog post by Chris Stephenson of CSTA, Alfred Thompson of Microsoft, and Mark Guzdial of Georgia Tech.

As much as we believe and try to make the case that studying computer science is good for all students, there is a profound lack of research to actually support this contention. With the movement to data driven decision making in every area of education, our inability to advocate for more and better computer science education in K-12 is severely curtailed by our inability to support our own observations and claims.

There are some things we do know which may help us make a more effective argument for K-12 computer science education, or at least make us better K-12 computer science educators.

We know that even pre-teen students have serious misconceptions about what computer science is and that this fundamental lack of understanding makes it very difficult to engage and retain students. Research has shown us that many students believe that computer science is simply using applications well. In one study, after six weeks of learning Scratch, Alice, Pico Crickets, and similar tools, and with Mike Hewner (a PhD student in CS education at Georgia Tech) lecturing them on CS topics, students still came away with the belief (for example) that “Someone who does Photoshop really well is a great computer scientist.” They probably think that programmers work in locked window-less rooms and never shower too!

We know that *not* having a CS background can be a serious detriment in a wide variety of professions. In 2005, Mary Shaw, Chris Saffidi, and Brad Myers presented a research paper focusing on the gap between professionals who program as part of their jobs and the number of people actually trained to do this work. These researchers estimated that by 2012 there will be 3 million professional software developers and 13 million people who program as part of their jobs but aren’t software developers. Brian Dorn’s just-completed dissertation shows why this is a significant problem. In his study of graphics designers who are self-taught programmers, Dorn found that in order to understand code fragments, the designers do things like search for a variable name — not knowing that that’s completely arbitrary and not useful. One of Brian’s subjects who was working in JavaScript, for example, stumbled onto a Java web page, and spent 30 minutes poring over language details that were irrelevant for his task.

We still don’t know, however, whether learning computer science helps with anything else in the curriculum. . We have results showing that learning a visual language *does* transfer knowledge to textual programming later. Chris Hundhausen just did a careful HCI study showing that learners could get started more quickly with a visual programming language (like Scratch, Alice, or Kodu), and that parts of that knowledge did transfer to textual programming. That’s a big deal, because it says that Scratch and Alice really are useful for learning CS that will be useful later in life.

There are, however, no recent, scientifically-valid studies that show that students are able to transfer key concepts that they learn in computer science to other learning or that students who study computer science perform better on high-stakes testing in other subject areas (specifically math and science). The last major review of the research in this space (by David Palumbo in 1990) showed little evidence that programming impacted problem-solving in other domains. Neither are there recent studies (the most recent was Taylor and Mountfield in 1991) that determine whether students who study computer science in high school perform better in any area of post-secondary study including computer science. Sharon Carver’s dissertation work in 1988 showed that one *could* teach Logo so that it improved how elementary students solved problems in other areas (e.g., debugging instructions on maps), but little research has followed up on that result.

This lack of research-supported evidence is particularly troubling in light of the current discussions about the importance of “Computational Thinking”. While there is strong support for CT in many parts of the community including the National Science Foundation, without a strong and agreed-upon definition and effective assessment measures for students at various learning levels, we don’t have hard evidence there that CT is useful let alone necessary for every student.

We do know that we need to do a better job of convincing students that computer science is worth their interest and we might actually be making some progress on this front. For example, many teachers are working hard to help students see the connections between the current technologies that students are interested in (social networking, mobile applications, etc.) and the issues that they care about (the ways that medical agencies use computers to track and control epidemics or how relief agencies depend on computerized logistical systems to get the right sort of aid to the right places at the right time in an emergency). But once again, we have not established scientifically whether these connections motivate students who would not otherwise be interested in computer science.

There are some things we do know and some we can even prove scientifically but the bottom line is that we need more research. We need research that is long-term, broad reaching, and scientifically valid. We need to know what our students are learning and why it matters to them. We need to know how to help them learn better. And we need to know how to do a better job of engaging, inspiring, and retaining them. It is time for computer science education to grow up and prove its value, just as all of the other core disciplines are now having to do.

January 12, 2011 at 9:15 am 20 comments

Keeping Women in Science and in Computing

Last time I got a chance to talk to Lucy Sanders (CEO of NCWIT, and someone you definitely should chat with if you ever get the chance — one of those people that you meet and then wish she’d run for President), she spoke to the same issues as this article, but focused on women in Computing.  She said that we lose a huge percentage of the women from the computing industry after they graduate and get a job.  Then, for a variety of reasons (from starting families, to disillusionment with corporate culture), they leave, and relatively few ever return.  If we care about having more women in Computing (e.g., to keep a diverse range of perspectives in the design of our technology), this is a huge problem — how do we keep women in the computing industry, and if they leave, how do we help them to return?

More women are obtaining Ph.D.’s in science than ever before, but those women — largely because of pressures from having a family — are far more likely than their male counterparts to “leak” out of the research science pipeline before obtaining tenure at a college or university.

That’s the conclusion of a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who warned that the loss of these scientists — together with the increased research capabilities of Asian and European countries — may threaten America’s pre-eminence in science.

The study, “Keeping Women in the Science Pipeline,” found that women who are married with young children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure-track position after receiving a Ph.D. in science than are married men with young children and Ph.D.’s in science. Not only that, the married women with young children are 28 percent less likely than women without children to achieve tenure in the sciences.

Moreover, women Ph.D.’s with young children are 27 percent less likely than men with children to receive tenure after entering a tenure-track job in the sciences. The report notes that single women without young children are roughly as successful as married men with children in attaining tenure-track jobs.

via Trying to Women in Science on a Tenure Track – NYTimes.com.

January 10, 2011 at 10:23 am 2 comments

Visual 6502 in JavaScript

You have to visit Visual 6502 in JavaScript. It’s stunningly cool.  There are lots of things that could be done to improve it (e.g., use a simpler processor, make a little more obvious what the VLSI design means), but the fact that it exists — and in a browser in JavaScript — is amazing.  What does that suggest about our ability to create new kinds of pedagogical tools, that can be delivered just through the Web?  (Thanks to both Ian Bogost and Alan Kay for sending me this.)

January 10, 2011 at 10:22 am 5 comments

MIT OpenCourseware is still Wikipedia

The 2010 statistics on use of MIT OpenCourseware are now out.  When I see that the average number of visits per visitor is less than 2, my sense is that MIT OCW is still more about looking up a single factoid (like Wikipedia), or trying it once then giving up, rather than a place to return frequently for studying.  The blog piece referenced goes on to say that the stats show that people are less frequently downloading whole courses as zip file, and more often looking around.  But a page view count of only 5.63 pages per visit doesn’t sound like a lot of exploration to me.

I’d love to see these stats combined with stats on OpenStudy.  Is it the case that OCW students grab a bit of information, then discuss it over in OpenStudy?  That would be a viable and interesting learning model.  But with just these stats, it still doesn’t look to me like MIT OCW is where students go to learn something deeply. Rather, it’s where you look something up, and not often.

Some high-level numbers from 2010:

17.5 M visits

9.6 M visitors

1.82 visits per visitor

98.3 M page views (actually a little lower than last year, but a sign our site redesign is helping folks to find content faster)

5.63 page views per visit

via Year-end numbers for MIT OpenCourseWare « OpenFiction [Blog].

January 7, 2011 at 11:23 am 4 comments

What’s a century, really? The size of the achievement gap

One of the most common rebuttals that I hear to the efforts of NCWIT and the NSF BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing) program is, “So what if women and minorities don’t want to go into CS?  That’s just their choice, isn’t it?”  Jane Margolis and colleagues responded well to that critique with their Stuck in the Shallow End book that showed how minorities are prevented (by infrastructure, by school schedules, by choices made for bad reasons) from pursuing computing as a career, and accordingly, prevented from getting to the economic rewards of that end of the salary pool — they are stuck “in the shallow end.”

“So, what?” I often hear in response.  “Maybe there’s a few women and minorities that are prevented from going into computing. Aren’t efforts like BPC and NCWIT working?  Aren’t things getting better?”  Just how big is the gap between the majority and the minority in terms of achievement and participation in STEM fields, where the economic rewards are greatest?  A new report just did the achievement analysis, on a state-by-state level.  At current rates, we should be at par in a mere century in some states.  The actual report is here.

For the first time, this report put a date on how long it would take for various achievement gaps to close if trends continue at their current rates (a scenario the report acknowledges is unlikely, because the pace of progress tends to slow as gaps close).

In a state like Florida, which is making comparatively good headway on closing gaps, it would take 28 years to close the African-American/white achievement gap for fourth-grade reading. In Washington State, closing that gap would take 105 years.

via Persistent achievement gap vexes education reformers: Six takeaways – Progress on achievement gaps sluggish – CSMonitor.com.

January 7, 2011 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

Education is Entertainment, Design, and Orchestration

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the McLuhan quote: “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter.”  I think he’s talking about the need for both to focus on engagement, to grab the reader/viewer/student and get her to think about some issue.  Maybe he’s also talking about the common goal of transporting the reader/viewer/student to another place, where education has the explicit goal of pulling the R/V/S out of the Platonic cave. There’s a Bruner quote that speaks to the same issue: “teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.”

I started thinking about these kind of unusual takes on education (like McLuhan’s connection to entertainment) when I read a piece by Paola Antonelli (senior curator of architecture and design, New York MOMA) in The Economist‘s The World in 2011. She says,

“One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers stand between revolutions and everyday life. When the internet happened, they created interfaces with buttons and hyperlinks that enabled us all to use it. Designers make disruptive innovations manageable and approachable, so that they can be embraced and assimilated into life. And they never forget functionality and elegance. In 25 years, designers will be at the nexus of things. They will not be divvied up according to their reductive speciality (graphic, product, furniture, so 20th century!). On the contrary, like physics, design will be loosely separated between theoretical and applied.”

Antonelli talks about design in a way that I think about education. A teacher helps students find new ideas approachable.  Education has theoretical aspects as well as applied aspects.  Education is getting divvied up according to reductive specialty, which (for me) is so 21st century.

I think that both of these views on education are important, but incomplete.  What a teacher does is engage students (like McLuhan and Bruner is saying) and helps make ideas manageable (as Antonelli is saying). That feels necessary yet not sufficient.  There’s another piece, what we used to call “orchestration” in Georgia Tech’s EduTech Institute.  A teacher guides the students’ actions, sets the “score,” defines the activities that create the learning situations.  It’s what Janet Kolodner’s Learning By Design project did with their rituals.  Christ Quintana built software to do this guidance, and he called it “Symphony.”

These three different perspectives are describing education, but not learning.  What a teacher can do is to engage like in entertainment, to make approachable like good design, and to guide like a conductor.  But the learning can only come from the student, who gets engaged and whose thinking activities are guided and scaffolded.  We can create opportunities for learning through education, but the actual learning is completely out of our hands.  That perspective — that the focus is really the student’s learning, not the teacher’s doing — is a common thread in all three.  The focus of the “temptation,” the user of the design, and the the musician in the orchestra is the student.

January 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm 4 comments

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