Category Archives: Technology

October 23, 2013, 7:25 am

Khan Academy using contractors for accuracy checking — some thoughts

In this news item from the Washington post (h/t to @ValerieStrauss) we learn that Khan Academy is using “contractors” to check the accuracy of some of its videos. The report is prompted by an email exchange between the piece’s author and Sal Khan himself regarding the accuracy of one of the physics videos. In Khan’s response, he says:

We have deleted the video [a physics video that had an error in it]. We are trying our best to keep up with any errors on the site (both through feedback from users and peer-review from educators). I checked into why we didn’t notice this one earlier, either your friend or someone else did point this out in the comments but they did not surface to the top (we currently have contractors with math/science backgrounds reviewing much of the math material and the comments to find other issues like this). We do need to get better at making sure that…

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July 30, 2013, 8:11 am

Can online students become socialized?

3770483632_6b6a8e83e6_mJennifer Morton writes in the Chronicle this morning about the social and behavioral competencies that students in online classes develop – or rather, don’t develop – as compared to their peers in traditional face-to-face courses. She (quite rightly) points out that MOOCs and the like present an opportunity for disadvantaged students to get the proverbial leg up into higher education at a drastically reduced price, and (again, quite rightly) notes that to the extent that traditional education sticks to outmoded lecture-based pedagogy, there’s no reason for disadvantaged students not to turn to MOOCs.  Well, no reason except this:

A college education bestows not just cognitive skills—mathematical, historical, and scientific knowledge—but practical skills—social, emotional, and behavioral competencies. Tenacious, confident, and socially competent employees have an edge over…

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July 18, 2013, 8:00 am

4+1 interview with Diette Ward

Profile-Pic-3Welcome to installment #2 in an ongoing series of 4+1 Interviews with interesting people in math, technology, and education. Our first interview in this series, with Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching Director Derek Bruff, is here. I have several more in process now, and I’ll be posting these about twice a month.

Today’s interview is with Diette Ward. Diette is an Electronic Resources and Instructional Librarian at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I met Diette during my week at the Appalachian College Association’s Teaching and Learning Institute, where I was a plenary speaker and led some workshops on the inverted classroom. Diette was one of a group of “embedded librarians” who partnered with the workshop track leaders to provide support and insight on how libraries can support instruction. I was really impressed by the intelligence and enthusiasm that these …

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July 11, 2013, 8:00 am

4+1 Interview with Derek Bruff

Derek BruffIt’s my pleasure to introduce a new series here at Casting Out Nines called 4+1 Interviews. In each of these interviews, I’ve picked out someone who I believe has something interesting to say about mathematics, education, or technology and given them four questions to ask. And at the end, the interviewee gets to pick his or her own question to answer, hence the +1. One of my favorite things about my job and about blogging and Tweeting is that I come into contact with a lot of really smart people very frequently, and I thought it would be nice to share these folks with you. I’m hoping to post about one of these every 2-4 weeks, and the lineup of upcoming interviews is very exciting.

Our first interview in this series is with Derek Bruff. Derek is the Director for Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and the author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating…

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June 25, 2013, 12:04 pm

What math topic do engineering faculty rate as the most important?

did-an-even-math-problem-by-accident-answer-not-in-back-of-bookI’m at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference right now through Thursday, not presenting this time but keeping the plates spinning as Mathematics Division program chair. This morning’s technical session featured a very interesting talk from Kathy Harper of the Ohio State University. Kathy’s talk, “First Steps in Strengthening the Connections Between Mathematics and Engineering”, was representative of all the talks in this session, but hers focused on a particular set of interesting data: What engineering faculty perceive as the most important mathematics topics for their areas, and the level of competence at which they perceive students to be functioning in those topics.

In Kathy’s study, 77 engineering faculty at OSU responded to a survey that asked them to rate the importance of various mathematical topics on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the…

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May 6, 2013, 8:00 am

Who does screencasting help the most?

5816423791_c3d7250ec0_mLet’s go back to the research paper on screencasting that I first blogged about here. In that post, we saw that students on the study generally watched the screencasts, even without explicit rewards like grades, and the tended to do so strategically. But what about student learning? Did it help?

To answer that question, we have to go back to a previous paper by the authors [PDF]. (That one is in the queue this week to read and blog about.) In that paper, the authors did find a positive correlation between screencast use (which they tracked using stats for the class’ course management system) and overall performance. But – this correlation does not imply causation, and indeed when the data are sliced along various demographic lines, sometimes the students’ performance was better explained by GPA than by screencast use.

I haven’t gotten into that second paper yet, but what …

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April 4, 2013, 4:48 pm

Data on whether and how students watch screencasts

224445431_1602bfff1d_mScreencasting is an integral part of the inverted classroom movement, and you can find screencasting even among courses that aren’t truly flipped. Using cheap, accessible tools for making and sharing video to clear out time for more student-active work during class make screencasting very appealing. But does it work? Do screencasts actually help students learn?

We have lots of anecdotal evidence that suggests it does, but it turns out there are actually data as well that point in this direction. I’ve been reading an article by Katie Green, Tershia Pinder-Grover, and Joanna Mirecki Millunchick (of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan) from the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education in which they studied 262 students enrolled in an engineering survey course that was augmented with screencasts. Here’s the PDF. This paper is full of interesting…

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February 19, 2013, 7:45 am

When MOOCs melt down

Coursera right now is reminding me of this scene from LOST, shortly after the initial plane crash:

Having a bad month, indeed. First it was this MOOC on “Fundamentals of Online Learning” that, ironically, had to be shut down for reasons involving the failure of online learning technology. Now it’s this course on “Microeconomics for Managers” in which the instructor, Richard McKenzie, walked away from the course. According to the CHE report:

Gary Matkin, the dean for distance education at [UC-Irvine, McKenzie’s home institution], said the problem had stemmed from Mr. McKenzie’s reluctance to loosen his grip on students who he thought were not learning well in the course.

“In Professor McKenzie’s view, for instance, uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning,” said Mr….

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February 14, 2013, 7:45 am

Update on the peer-instruction based linear algebra class

One of the projects I was taking on with my teaching this semester was a revamped linear algebra course built around peer instruction and the use of Learning Catalytics, a web-based classroom response platform. I probably owe you a quick update now that it’s nearly mid-semester (what?).

Linear algebra is a strange course in some ways. There are a lot of mechanical skills one has to learn, like multiplying matrices and performing the Row Reduction Algorithm. If you come into linear algebra straight out of calculus with a purely instrumental viewpoint on mathematics, you will almost certainly think that these mechanical skills are the point of linear algebra. But you’d be wrong! It’s the conceptual content of the subject that really matters. Like I tell my students, you can answer almost any question in linear algebra by forming a matrix and getting it to reduced row echelon form….

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February 11, 2013, 7:45 am

Does Khan Academy help learners? A proposal

Last week’s flare-up over Khan Academy was interesting on a number of levels, one of which is that we got a new look at some of the arguments used in KA’s favor. Perhaps one of the most prominent defenses against KA criticism is: Khan Academy is free and really helps a lot of people. You can’t argue with the “free” part. On the other hand, the part about “helping” is potentially a very strong argument in KA’s favor —but there are two big problems with the way in which this is being presented by KA people.

First, the evidence is almost entirely anecdotal. Look through the Pacific Research Institute whitepaper, for example, and the evidence presented in KA’s favor is anecdotes upon anecdotes — possibly compelling, but isolated and therefore no more convincing than the critics. The reason that anecdotes are not convincing is because for every anecdote that…

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