Posts tagged ‘media’

Leslie Lamport tells Computer Scientists to go create ebooks (and other new media)

Yes! Exactly!  That’s why we’re trying to figure out new media for expressing, learning, and talking about computing.

“If you succeed in attaining a position that allows you to do something great, if you do something that really is great, and if you realize that it’s great, there’s still one more hurdle: You have to convince others that it’s great,” he told the graduates. “This will require writing.”

He exhorted graduates in biological physics; chemistry; computational linguistics; computer science; language and linguistics; mathematics and physics to find new modes of communication.

“There must be wonderful ways in which a writer can interact with the reader that no one has thought of yet, ways that will convey ideas better and will make reading fun,” Lamport said. “I want you to go out and invent them.”

Source: Computer scientist Leslie Lamport to grads: If you can’t write, it won’t compute | BrandeisNOW

August 11, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

CS students need to learn to use Powerpoint effectively

Rich DeMillo has a great story about visiting alumni (with our current Dean, Zvi Galil) and being told that they wished that they had learned how to use Powerpoint better. It’s a story about communications, but in particular, about visual communications and making a point simply.

Zvi ask someone at the end of the table, “What’s the one thing you wish we had taught you?”

The answer came back immediately: “I wish I had learned how to make an effective PowerPoint™ presentation!” If the answer had been “more math” or “better writing skills” I would have filed it away in my mental catalog of ways to tweak our degree programs. It’s a constant struggle in a requirement-laden technical curriculum — even one as flexible as our Threads program — to get enough liberal arts, basic science, and business credits into a four year program, so I was prepared to hear that these young engineers wanted to know more about American history, geology, or accounting. After all, I am a former dean. I had heard it all before.

But PowerPoint? Everything came to a stop. Zvi said, “PowerPoint!” It was an exclamation, not a question. Here’s how the rest of the conversation unfolded” “Look, the first thing I had to do was start making budget presentations. I had no idea how to make a winning argument.” From the across the table: ” Yeah, we learned how to make technical presentations, but nobody warned us that we’d have to make our point to a boss who didn’t care about the technology.” “It’s even worse where I work,” said a young woman. “Everybody in the room has a great technology to push. I needed to know how to say why mine should be the winner.” And so it went. This was not a PowerPoint discussion. We were talking about Big Animal Pictures. If you understand Big Animal Pictures, you understand how to survive when worlds collide.

via Big Animal Pictures « WWC.

July 1, 2011 at 12:41 am 11 comments

Struggling to Create the Mobile Campus

An interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on how well Universities are using mobile technologies.  I read the article as highlighting two particular problems of using the mobile technologies on-campus:

  • First, getting enough wireless to all the students for all the gadgets.  One example they cite: Duke scaled back their mobile technologies program, and has instead focused over the last 3 years in just getting wireless coverage over at least 95% of campus.  The quote below highlights how students love their phones (presumably with 3G access), but the iPad hasn’t taken off because Stanford can’t keep up with the WiFi demands of all those iPads.
  • Second, we’re still trying to figure out how best to use these technologies and how to sustain them.  An interesting story in the article: Stanford built a cool 3-D, interactive map of the brain for the iPad, but then the prof who wanted it stopped teaching that course, and nobody else wants to use the iPad, so nobody is using the cool gadget now.

Stanford University, birthplace of Google, Yahoo, and Cisco, is surely one of the most tech-savvy campuses in the world. A survey last year of 200 iPhone-owning Stanford students portrayed them as digitally obsessed, even addicted. Most slept next to their phones. A quarter said their phones were “dangerously alluring.”

But when Stanford’s School of Medicine lent iPads to all new students last August, a curious thing happened: Many didn’t like using them in class. Officials had hoped to stop printing an annual average of 3,700 pages of course materials per medical student, encouraging them to use digital materials instead. Some students rebelled, and Stanford was forced to resume offering printed notes to those who wanted them. In most classes, half the students had stopped using their iPads only a few weeks into the term.

via The Slow-Motion Mobile Campus – The Digital Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

May 9, 2011 at 10:59 am 3 comments

Not “Gamification” — it’s “Exploitationware”

Ian’s call to re-brand “gamification” as “exploitationware” is getting a lot of attention. It was covered in the Wall Street Journal’s blog yesterday. It’s certainly true that the term “gamification” is getting traction, e.g., I was just on an NSF panel where reviewers praised proposals trying to “gamify” educational software.  Ian points out that the language matters.  Consider the different connotations between “global warming” and “climate change,” where both terms are describing the same phenomena but from different political perspectives.  Most of the comments on Ian’s blog seem to be saying, “Give up! It’s too late.”  But I agree with Ian’s strategy. It is possible to change language, by calling attention to it and offering a significant alternative.

Note how deftly Zicherman makes his readers believe that points, badges, levels, leader boards, and rewards are “key game mechanics.” This is wrong, of course — key game mechanics are the operational parts of games that produce an experience of interest, enlightenment, terror, fascination, hope, or any number of other sensations. Points and levels and the like are mere gestures that provide structure and measure progress within such a system.

But as Frank Luntz has shown time and time again, reality matters far less than perception. When people hear “gamification,” it’s this incredible facility that registers, the simplicity, smoothness, and ease with which the wild, magical beast of games can be tamed and integrated into any other context at low cost and high scale.

Margaret Robertson has critiqued gamification on the basis that it takes the least essential aspects of games and presents them as the most essential. Robertson coins the derogatory term pointsification as a more accurate description of this process.

via Gamasutra – Features – Persuasive Games: Exploitationware.

May 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm 1 comment

Dr. Mats Daniels and the TTT Grook

Mats Daniels defended his thesis at Uppsala University this last week (Hooray!).  I received a copy of his thesis document in the mail yesterday.  Mats has been a longtime contributor to CS Education, and has been working on his doctorate for a long time, a period measured in double-digit numbers of years.

Mats maintains a mailing list to whom he mails a weekly Grook, and his grook for this last week was also the one that he ended his thesis with, reflecting his history with this document:


Put up in a place

where it’s easy to see

the cryptic admonishment


When you feel how depressingly

slow you climb,

it’s well to remember that

Things Take Time.

That admonishment also reflects our struggles with helping people (lay people, K-12 teachers and administrators, legislators and others who set public policy) understand computer science.  As my AERA experiences suggest, even at CS powerhouses like Stanford, people on the same campus don’t understand computer science.  We try to get computer science into the core curriculum, alongside disciplines that are hundreds (in some cases, over a thousand) years older than our own.  We worry about how people outside of our community understand computer science.  These are all well-founded worries, and I strongly support these efforts. I also recognize the wisdom of Mats’ grook.
It takes time to permeate popular culture the way that other disciplines have.  I have heard that there is an effort to create a television show that features a computer scientist as its hero.  Television is incredibly powerful in popular culture, but I wonder if we should also be thinking about slower, more pervasive ways of influencing popular culture.

The need for pop culture, paperback computer science: When I was a student in high school and undergraduate, many of my classes also required us to read some mass culture paperback that connected to the class.  I remember reading Future Shock for a high school class, and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle in an undergraduate Engineering class (to lead into a discussion about unexpected effects of technological advances).  My daughter just read Dragons of Eden for her high school science class.

Many (maybe even most? all?) areas of science have books written for the the educated-but-not-specialist reader about topics in that area.  These books aren’t textbooks, and they are not surveys of the whole field. They are a slice, written in approachable (though not necessarily simple) prose.  They can be useful to assign in a class to get students to think about a perspective on the course that might not come up otherwise, and to feed into discussions.

Where are the popular culture, paperback books on computer science?  There are a few.  Danny Hillis’ The Patterns in the Stone meets the definition. James Gleick’s new book The Information (once it becomes “paperback”) may serve that role.  Almost no books like this actually contain code or describe algorithms. Do any of us CS educators actually assign these books in class and then discuss them?

We need books like these–and maybe not just “books” but also bits of software, simulations, videos, electronic books, and active essays.  We need media that are aimed at the educated-but-not-specialist reader with approachable prose (and other modalities), that are not textbooks, that don’t aim to cover the whole field, that describe a particular slice or perspective on computer science, and that could be assigned in a CS class for breadth and to spur discussion.  We need a lot of media like this, as much as has been written like this about mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines.

If we want to take our place in the popular culture, we have to make the same contributions of ideas to the broad public and provide accessible media.  It’s the slow path into permeating our culture the way that other disciplines do. T.T.T.

April 13, 2011 at 9:42 am 4 comments

iPads for College Classrooms? Not So Fast, Some Professors Say. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education

I’d like to see the studies that this article is referencing.  I do agree — Window’s style TabletPC’s are much more flexible, and I find Ubiquitous Presenter to be a powerful educational technology.  (Great to see Beth Simon and Bill Griswold quoted in this piece.)  But I wonder if the iPad allows for a different kind of interactivity, one that can also be used for learning, but we’ll have to learn how to leverage that.

Despite the iPad’s popularity—Apple has sold nearly 15 million of them and just came out with the iPad2; and there are dozens of competitors, like the Samsung Galaxy—early studies indicate that these finger-based tablets are passive devices that have limited use in higher education. They are great for viewing media and allow students to share readings. But professors cannot use them to mark up material on the fly and show changes to students in response to their questions, a type of interactivity that has been a major thrust in pedagogy.

Even students have issues. When the University of Notre Dame tested iPads in a management class, students said the finger-based interface on its glassy surface was not good for taking class notes and didn’t allow them to mark up readings. For their online final exam, 39 of the 40 students put away their iPads in favor a laptop, because of concerns that the Apple tablet might not save their material.

“When they’re working on something important, it kind of freaks them out,” says Corey M. Angst, the assistant professor of management who tested the tablets.

via iPads for College Classrooms? Not So Fast, Some Professors Say. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

March 14, 2011 at 8:32 am 2 comments

What counts as code to criticize: Software studies

I’ve heard of “software studies” once before, which is described as “applying humanities methods to problems in software, software culture, and computer science” (by Jeremy Douglas), but haven’t read much on it.  I was just perusing Jeremy’s movie “What counts as code to criticize” (slides are available in PDF) where he contrasts traditional textual programming, natural language programming (which is what he calls Inform 7), and programming patches with Max/MSP.  Honestly, I don’t quite get all that he’s saying, but the idea of using humanities methods to compare and contrast languages like these is intriguing.  Part of what we argue with contextualized computing education is that we are now getting students who think like us.  The students who aren’t in our classes probably don’t think like us.  We need to think about what we do in new ways to figure out strategies to engage those others.

February 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm Leave a comment

Are all textbooks created equal?

An interesting piece in this morning’s NYTimes that I’ve been thinking about all morning (since Alan kindly sent me the link):

Mr. McNealy, the fiery co-founder and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same.

“Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,” Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago.

via Ping – In School Systems, Slow Progress for Open-Source Textbooks –

I’m really glad that school districts are finding ways to incorporate open-source textbooks.  That alternate path should exist, and it’s disappointing that it’s taking school districts so long to work that through their system.

I do have concerns and questions about open-source textbooks.  Some of them are obviously biased by my being a for-profit textbook author.  Others are questions that I have as a computing education researcher.

  • Quality process? Commercial publishers have a long series of checks over the quality of their textbooks, from the prospectus, to external reviewers, to copyeditors.  While there can be arguments about the effectiveness of the process (e.g., are professors-as-reviewers really our best prediction of the quality of the product, as measured in student learning?), there is a process.  I am sure that open-source textbooks can construct a similar process, but without the same teeth.  Commercial publishers hold a contract and royalty checks as the carrot at the end of the process.  If an author doesn’t like the result of an open-source textbook quality check, does he just release the book anyway on his own?  I worry about insuring quality for millions of schoolchildren when the track record of most open-source software projects is that they tend to care about the usability of a handful of expert users, rather than making sure that everyone can use it.  That won’t work with schools.
  • Does quality matter? “Ten plus ten has been 20 for a long time,” says McNealy.  Is that all there is?  Does the quality of the textbook matter at all for the student learning, or are all textbooks essentially the same — as long as the facts are presented and the exercise opportunities are there, the learning difference is insignificant?  As an author, I hope that the effort I put into exposition and interesting examples matters, but as a researcher, I know that often such fluff distracts from learning rather than enhances it.  I know that there are textbooks that stood out for me as a student and do now as a teacher, like Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and How to Design Programs.  Will such notable, standout textbooks arise from an open-source process?  (Why haven’t they so-far?)
  • Can innovation arise from an open-source process? Some of those textbooks that so stand-out for me are because they are innovative, a markedly new approach, regardless of quality.  I’m no expert, but my sense as a computing user and a computer science professor is that open-source software tends to copy others’ innovations rather than be innovative itself.  I got the chance to spend several hours with Andrew Tanenbaum once, the grandfather of Linux.  He told me in some detail about how Linux was derivative, lacking innovation, and lacking good design choices. I note that GIMP is often referred to as “open source Photoshop,” and I rarely hear about features of GIMP that designers wish Adobe would adopt into Photoshop. Will open source textbooks fare better?  Will the next innovations in textbooks (because we certainly need them!) arise from an open-source effort?  I am skeptical that the economics will work.  Innovations arise from people who know their stuff really well (see the ongoing discussion about creativity on an earlier blog post).  People who know their stuff well get paid for that.  Might they also volunteer time in their area of expertise, when they might get paid for that time?  Maybe.
  • Is the innovation in the approach or the textbook? While there is a lot of evidence that Media Computation improves on school’s “traditional” approach (for what that’s worth, since we don’t have a strong measure of what “traditional” means across schools), I can’t say that that’s because Barb and I wrote such great textbooks.  It could be the approach (e.g., the examples, the focus on a motivating context, the libraries and tools), which some schools are adopting (without the textbooks) by grabbing the free materials from  Do we need the innovation in the approach or in the textbook?  Will it work if someone pays for the innovative approach development, while the book might be free?  That’s the approach that Deepak Kumar and colleagues took with the IPRE textbook.  Microsoft paid for the development of the IPRE robotics approach, with NSF sustaining the effort, but the textbook is free.  Does this result in the quality (in terms of student learning and motivation) that we want?  Does it result in enough innovation to improve computing education?
  • Sustainable? Perhaps my biggest concern about the open-source textbook model is sustainability.  Who makes sure that material gets freshened up regularly and new editions come out?  Maybe McNealy is right, and once you show that 10+10=20, you’re done, and the examples don’t need to be updated, the language stays the same, and no mistakes are ever discovered.  Commercial enterprises offer an incentive to sustain effort, to keep making things better, and economics shows that people respond to incentives. Open-source textbooks offer an opportunity to serve and to have impact, which is certainly important.  Is it enough of an incentive to keep the effort going?  It would be great if it was enough, but I’m skeptical.

August 1, 2010 at 11:55 am 20 comments

A Future Role for the US: Teach the Teachers, Worldwide

Interesting piece from the Computing Community Consortium on the role that STEM researchers in the US could provide the international community.  A major role was to help grow the teaching pool.  There’s a separate section in the report on the growing importance of “deeply digital materials” — the connection between the two pieces here reminds me of our discussion with Dave Patterson here in this blog.

A prevailing sentiment was the urgent need for a “focus on capacity building.” Instead of taking technologies to foreign nations, we need to teach these nations to teach themselves, the envoys reported. Further, they commented that, while STEM education is lacking in the U.S., it is even worse in developing nations. The world currently has an estimated shortage of 10 million teachers, and the science education per capita continues to decrease each year.

via Computing Community Consortium.

July 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm 1 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

New vs News: The Medium Is the Medium

David Brooks’ most recent op-ed piece for the NYTimes reminded me of Alan Kay’s comment about what’s truly New vs. what’s News.  Brooks is arguing that books are more powerful than the Internet for real educational gains.  Of course, empirical studies of the Internet today can only measure the Internet as it is today.  The potential (as I’m suggesting in my mini-post today about the iPad) is much greater.

This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Medium Is the Medium –

July 12, 2010 at 11:54 am Leave a comment

The iPad for Academics — and Computer Scientists?

I agree with this blog, that the iPad is a great paper replacement.  I prefer reading on my iPad to paper, book, or newspaper now.  It’s better than my Kindle, too.  The part that I’m wondering about is whether the iPad is just remediation — it is a better medium for what we did with paper.  Or can it go beyond paper, for academics?  I’m really enjoying reading Time on the iPad.  The Time app, with its powerful images, interesting navigation, and embedded videos, is better than the magazine.  Can we create a more powerful educational medium with the iPad, where simulations, interpreters, and social learning situations are embedded in the “Paper”?

Where the iPad does shine is as a paper replacement. The iPad is the long, long awaited portable PDF reader that we have hoped for. Finally, we have a device that preserves formatting and displays images, charts, and diagrams. After decades of squinting at minuscule columns of photocopied type we can now zoom in on the articles we are reading and perfectly adjust the text to the width of the screen. You can even highlight and annotate documents and then send the annotations back as notes to your computer.

via Views: The iPad for Academics – Inside Higher Ed.

July 12, 2010 at 10:46 am 11 comments

Feynman lectures from Microsoft: A medium for active essays and computing ed

I got to see the Project Tuva videos at the MSR Faculty Summit during the last session of the day Tuesday.  If you haven’t seen them, I recommend them to you.  (Though, as Ian Bogost found out, you have to have the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight to watch them.)  These are Richard Feynman’s “Messenger Lectures” which he delivered at Cornell and recorded by the BBC.  The Project Tuva site enhances the video with the ability to take notes, read others’ notes (synched to the video), see links (that appear at the appropriate points in the video), including links into simulations and even the Worldwide Telescope.  So, when Feynman talks about how stars are formed, you click and go see telescope imagery of new stars being formed.  When Feynman talks about Tycho Brahe, you go to a simulation of planetary orbits so that you can make your own velocity measurements.

While I’m a Feynman fan (as are most scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists I know), I was more excited about the medium than I was the Project Tuva lectures themselves.  I’m still looking for the right medium (and authoring tools) to express ideas in computation.  Books don’t cut it, and running programs go too far the other way.

Expressing computation to students is as pedagogically complex as expressing quantum mechanics or electrodynamics to physics students.  Most physics educators whom I’ve asked list those subjects as the most challenging to teach since the phenomena are impossible to directly observe and the behavior is non-intuitive.  All of computing is like that!  I can convince you that Biology is really about cells with a microscope, and most of Physics and Chemistry is about explaining the phenomena that you see every day.

While we see computing everyday, the computation behind those applications is difficult to see.  Just how many for loops are necessary to write that email?  Did you see all those linked lists behind your Powerpoint slide deck?  Applications that we use daily are layers upon layers of computation, such that it’s nearly impossible to see the low-level computation that we want to teach in an introductory course.  This is the problem of not having a microscope for computing.

So, we use books with source code in them.  To imagine the execution of a piece of source code is perhaps the most important and most intellectually challenging goal of an introductory course.  If human intelligence is computable, then the Halting Problem comes into effect, and for some level of complexity, we cannot figure out the execution just by looking at the source code.  Books with source code are a reasonable way of talking about computation, once you have some level of ability to imagine execution.  For rank beginners, it’s almost cruel — it’s like saying, “Let’s have you learn Russian by throwing you into Moscow without a coat in January.  Better figure out what Russian means quickly!”

Alan Kay has argued for “active essays,” a kind of dynamic book with simulations built in.  Ted Kaehler, Mitchel Resnick, and Brian Silverman have all built some reall interesting active essays.  An active essay could expose the source code, with explanation, and allow for execution within the same medium.  As a form of scaffolding, perhaps the source code could be tweaked in some meaningful ways, so that students could see the relationship between changes to the source code and impact on dynamic behavior — which is the most important thing to learn in an introductory class!

The enhanced video mode of Project Tuva could offer a way of doing “active essays” where the base medium is video rather than text.  Active essays have simulations embedded within text explanations.  We could, however, have videos explaining concepts, with simulations embedded within the video.  That’s an intriguing notion.  As I’ve blogged previously, there is psychology evidence that lectures are better for explaining computing concepts than just reading a book. (Yes, I discovered that my old Amazon blog posts are still there, if I can find a direct link to individual posts.)  Maybe with the Project Tuva enhanced video mode, we could finally do the Metaobject Protocol book in a compelling way.

Now, speaking of “books not cutting it,” the post-review-process version of the Data Structures manuscript is due next Wednesday, and I’d better get to it before my co-author discovers I’ve been spending my writing time blogging (again).

July 17, 2009 at 10:35 am 1 comment

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