Category Archives: Educational technology

March 21, 2012, 6:38 am

Udacity Update

It’s been a couple of weeks since my first post about the Udacity CS101 course, so here’s an update. Before that, let me mention this nice article in Wired about Udacity and its origins. That article sheds a little light on the questions I had earlier about Udacity’s business model.

So, Units 3 and 4 are now done with the CS101 course. The focus of Unit 3 was mostly on the concept of the list in Python, along with FOR loops and an emphasis on computer memory. Unit 4 was a bit of a left turn into a discussion of computer networks, with an emphasis on the basics of the Internet and the concepts of latency and bandwidth. So, just from this description, you can see one of the things I particularly like about CS101: It’s not just about Python. This is a class that is actually about computer science in general with Python as a tool for understanding it. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I…

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March 8, 2012, 8:30 am

A Lesson From the Past on Active Learning

 

I found this quote the other day from a book about electricity. Read it and see if you can guess the source and the year in which it was made:

It would be a dry, dull and uninteresting thing to tell a [child] that electricity can be generated by riveting together two pieces of dissimilar metals, and applying heat to the juncture. But put into his hands the metals, and set him to perform the actual work of riveting the metals together, then wiring up the ends of the metals, heating them, and, with a galvanometer, watching for results, it will at once make him see something in the experiment which never occurred when the abstract theory was propounded.

He will inquire first what metals should be used to get the best results, and finally, he will speculate as to the reasons for the phenomena. When he learns that all metals are positive-negative or negative-positive to each…

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February 23, 2012, 6:48 am

What Happens if We Just Ask Questions?

Someone asked me recently what was the one thing that’s changed the most about my teaching over the last 10 years. My response was that I’m a lot more likely now than I was in 2002 to organize my classes around asking and answering questions rather than covering material. Here’s one reason why.

The weekly Mathematica labs that we have in my Calculus 3 class are set up so that some background material (usually a combination of math concepts and new Mathematica commands) is presented in the lab handout followed by some situations centered around questions, the answers to which are likely to involve Calculus 3 and Mathematica. I said likely, not inevitably. There is no rule that says students must use Calculus 3 to answer the question. The only rules are: (1) the entire solution has to be done in a Mathematica notebook, and (2) the solutions have to be clear, convincing, and…

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January 14, 2012, 2:22 pm

Programming for all?

Audrey Watters writes in Hack [Higher] Education that maybe it’s time for programming to join critical thinking and effective writing as part of the body of required knowledge for all university students:

But I will posit that all students should learn programming, whether they plan to become programmers or not. Many universities already require students take composition in order to graduate. Perhaps it’s time for programming — “the new literacy” — to become a requirement too?

I don’t mean that every student needs to learn C++ or Python or Perl or Java or Ruby. But I do think everyone needs to know how the Web works — how search engines operate, for example, and what’s “server side” and what’s “client side” and why the difference matters. Everyone needs to know some HTML (a mark-up, not a programming, language I realize). And with the move towards the fifth revision of the HTML…

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January 9, 2012, 12:53 pm

My three weeks with an iPad

Over the break, I had the opportunity to experiment with an iPad 2 that my department has purchased. The department is loaning the iPad out to faculty for two weeks at a time to see if there is a compelling educational use for the device with our students — in which case, I’m assuming we will try to buy more. As tech-obsessed as I am, this is the first time I’ve had to spend time with an iPad, and here are my impressions.

As a piece of high technology, the iPad is pretty marvelous. I’ve been an iPhone 4 user for some time now, so the beauty of the iOS user interface ought to be commonplace for me, but it isn’t. I can see why Apple marketed it as a “magical” device when it first came out. It certainly has the look and feel of magic. I enjoyed using it (and so did my kids, even though they were not technically supposed to be handling it).

But I always approach technology, especially…

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January 5, 2012, 8:00 am

A rundown of Wednesday at the Joint Meetings

By the time you read this, I’ll be heading back home to Michigan from the AMS/MAA Joint Meetings. Yesterday was the first day of the actual conference, and since it was the only day of the conference I was in attendance, I tried to pack in as much as I could. Here’s a rundown of what I saw.

I attended a talk on “The Separability Problem in Referendum Elections” by my GVSU colleague Jonathan Hodge in the AMS Special Session on the Mathematics of Decisions, Elections, and Games. I knew Jon worked in game theory but I had never seen a sustained scholarly presentation of his work before. It was impressive. What I appreciate the most about Jon’s research is its blend of real-world accessibility with mathematical depth. Also impressive was the amount of collaboration with undergraduates Jon did as a part of the research; three of those undergrads were in the audience.

Next was a talk on…

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January 4, 2012, 8:00 am

Some interesting findings and unanswered questions about clicker implementations

I have been using clickers in my classes for three years now, and for me, there’s no going back. The “agile teaching” model that clickers enable suits my teaching style very well and helps my students learn. But I have to say that until reading this Educause article on the flight out to Boston on Sunday, I hadn’t given much thought to how the clicker implementation model chosen by the institution might affect how my students learn.

Different institutions implement clickers differently, of course. The article studies three different implementation models: the students-pay-without-incentive (SPWOI) approach, where students buy the clickers for class but the class has no graded component for clicker use; the the students-pay-with-incentive (SPWI) approach, where students purchase clickers and there’s some grade incentive in class for using them (usually participation credit, but this can…

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December 20, 2011, 7:53 am

Will MITx Disrupt Higher Education?

MIT has been doing online access to education a lot longer than most people, largely due to their invaluable OpenCourseWare project. (Here’s an interview MIT did with me last year on how OCW strongly influenced my inverted-classroom MATLAB course.) Now they are poised to go to the next level by launching an online system called MITx in Spring 2012 that provides credentialing as well as content:

Mr. Reif and Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said M.I.T.x would start this spring — perhaps with just one course — but would expand to include many more courses, as OpenCourseWare has done. [...]

The M.I.T.x classes, he said, will have online discussions and forums where students can ask questions and, often, have them answered by others in the class.

While access to the software will be free, there will most likely be an “affordable…

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December 1, 2011, 8:51 am

Experiments in digital grading

This semester, I made the decision to phase out paper from my professional life. Little by little, and over the course of perhaps a couple of academic years, I hope to shift as much as I can over to digital versions of everything I use in teaching, scholarship, service, and mentoring. There are several reasons I want to do this, but the main thing that convinced me to make the choice to go “as paperless as possible” were my grading practices. At some point during this semester, I became convinced that I simply must move away from paper when dealing with student work. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. Paper-based student work is cumbersome. More than once this semester, student work has gotten lost or misplaced because it was put into the wrong stack, stapled to the wrong thing, or in one case the staple for one student’s submission got hung on the staple for another student’s submission…

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November 15, 2011, 8:59 pm

Technology enabling relationships

Blogging’s been light this week due to a stupid instructional decision to give exams in all three classes on the same day a couple weeks ago and then dealing with the grading fallout, plus having to get an actual print article finished by deadline. Let me ease back into it by sharing this quote by Seymour Papert that I just found, which really sums up my thoughts about teaching and technology:

The best teacher is someone who brings personal knowledge, warmth and empathy to a relationship with a learner. The effect of the new technologies is to provide better conditions for such teachers to work directly with their students. Of course tele-teaching has a role, but I hope it will never be the primary form.

That was from 1997, but it rings true today as well. It’s easy to forget these days that education is a fundamentally human thing, and at bottom it’s about relationships (and trust). …

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