Archive for March 27, 2013

Meet Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Anyone Can Code

It sounds like you can only use Lua for encyclopedia-like functions (e.g., handling citations), but what a wonderful step toward having a tool for building simulations and data processing & visualizations into the encyclopedia.  It’s a nice new motivation for “Computing for Everyone.”

It began as the encyclopedia anyone can edit. And now it’s also the encyclopedia anyone can program.

As of this weekend, anyone on Earth can use Lua — a 20-year-old programming language already championed by the likes of Angry Birds and World of Warcraft — to build material on Wikipedia and its many sister sites, such as Wikiquote and Wiktionary. Wikipedia has long offered simple tools that let tens of thousands of volunteer editors reuse little bits of text across its encyclopedia pages, but this is something different.

“We wanted to provide editors with a real programming language,” says Rob Lanphier, the director of platform engineering at the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit that oversees the online encyclopedia. “This will make things easier for editors, but it will also be significantly faster.”

via Meet Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Anyone Can Code | Wired Enterprise |

March 27, 2013 at 1:33 am 2 comments

MOOCluhan: Using McLuhan to Understand MOOCs

Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” — Marshall McLuhan

When I first heard this famous quote from McLuhan, I was insulted.  Surely, McLuhan must not appreciate high-quality education, that he considers it no better than mass-market education!  Now, I have a better appreciation for what that quote is saying, and I realize that what he’s saying is deep and important, and relates to what MOOCs are missing.

The student population on my campus is mostly low-income, working part-time or full-time, first-generation college students, nearly all from groups underrepresented in the sciences. These are, by definition, disadvantaged students. This isn’t an insult, just a fact – the deck is stacked against them based on their background. They have a competitive disadvantage against those with more resources and against those with a pedigree that creates access to fancier opportunities.

This year, a few undergraduates who have worked with me are heading off to great graduate programs. What all of them have in common is that they started working with faculty at my university in the classroom and in the lab, in person. They’ve all told me and my colleagues that there’s no way they would have been able to do what they’ve done without us as a resource and as an influence. I take them at their word.

via Online learning is the ghetto of higher education | Small Pond Science.

I added the emphasis above.  The author of the above blog post is working with students who are working against odds to succeed in higher education.  I’m sure that the author is right — the face-to-face involvement of teachers who care about the students is exactly what it takes for those students to succeed.  What is it that can be provided 1:1 that MOOCS at 1:10000 are unlikely to provide?  I suggest: Engagement, immersion, transcendence.

The best entertainment has that quality.  You’re watching a play, and you forget that you’re in a theater at all.  You’re somewhere else, totally engaged in the moment of the story.  You can get the same thing from reading a book, and when it’s really good, from a movie or television show.  In any case, high-quality entertainment takes you away from the world where maybe the deck is stacked against you and creates a new reality.

I have had educational experiences like that, and I hope that I have (occasionally) provided them to my students.  I know that I have had to chase students out of class, because they were totally absorbed in the activities and problems and constructions of class.  That’s engagement.

I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts about MOOCs.  So far, I’ve never yet read the line, “The MOOC was so engaging.  I was immersed in it.  I was no longer staring at my laptop screen, I was…”  In a lecture hall with 300 people at Stanford, maybe?  I’ve heard people talk about how much work MOOCs are, how it requires extreme motivation and resilience to complete.  That doesn’t sound like engagement, immersion, or transcendence.

Absolutely, there is entertainment that requires real work.  There is wonderful literature that is “hard fun” to dig into and understand.  That’s exactly where McLuhan comes in.  That wonderful literature is only accessible to a few.  MOOCs only work (right now) for the few.  To get the mass student audience, to educate everyone, we have to think more like mass entertainment and work at engagement and immersion.


March 27, 2013 at 1:08 am 3 comments

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