March 29, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The worst thing about education today is that it is a gift. Teachers provide and students receive (usually in a lecture format). Students rarely take an active role in their education and, if they do, it is a small role. By active role, I don’t necessarily mean “initiative.” What I mean is, “action.” Homework, doing a problem in class, or debating in a class discussion are a few examples of what I mean by “active role.”
From my own experience, I have found that I must take a very active role when I am trying to process information. Merely listening to a lecture is usually not enough. If it isn’t stylized as a discussion or if there isn’t a problem to be solved, most of the information escapes me before the end of class. Upon further reflection, it became clear that the best way for me to remember classroom content is to process the information and the best way for me to process information is to have a reason to. For example, in discussion based classes, an argument is constantly being formed. As the teacher talks, I analyze why the teacher’s statements make sense (or don’t) and then prepare an argument for my analysis on the presented topic. By vocalizing out loud, I hear my words and can confirm (and occasionally deny) the sense and completeness of my own sentences. In classes where there are problems to solve, a similar thing happens, I obtain information from the teacher, attempt to apply it on paper and, as the teacher goes through it, I confirm or deny my thoughts and hypothesis about the information I just received. However, sometimes when teachers use practice problems in class, they give step by step instructions and I passively copy it down. (I would like to note, however, that traditional lectures are enough to receive an A in the course, and/or write decent papers on the topic. The problem I am stating is, though I receive information, I am not learning much from it. I cannot apply it, but I think it would definitely be useful for trivia night).
This may be because I am a lazy student and its my fault for not paying strict enough attention to the material coming out of the teacher’s mouth. However, I think it has more to do with the fact that I am trying to listen so hard or taking notes so ferociously that I don’t have any time or brain space to understand the information. In my attempts to gather all of the information presented in class, I accidentally lose it all.
However, by making information processing (which I will define as making sense of ideas through problem solving) a priority and giving information gathering a more passive role, learning will be much more natural.
This problem solving/information processing aspect is what makes games so engagingly addicting compared to school work and lecture. Any good game is intellectually stimulating and challenging, which is one of the main reasons why it is so fun (to those who call video games brainless, read this article). In games, there is always a reason to think. In lecture, the primary goal is to hear and focusing on hearing, which often makes me think more about hearing and how it works, or how incredible it is that humans developed such complex and useful language skills. Even in the most interesting lectures, I occasionally get distracted. In games, the level of focus is extreme.
Although I would say that I am more of a gaming enthusiast than others (for me personally, I am including videogames, card games, boardgames and puzzle games), I don’t think my addiction to them is an odd phenomenon. I think many demonstrate symptoms for this addiction and those that don’t haven’t exposed themselves to the germ enough.
Try this: MinecraftEDU
February 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I am currently in a very enjoyable class. There are no tests and no papers. We are not evaluated in any way for the knowledge that is presented in class. Where do we get our grades from? We are responsible for three presentations in front of the rest of the class: the first is on a chapter in the book, the second is on a research paper related to one of the chapters in the book, and the third is a group project based on a chapter in the book.
Despite having no obligation or responsibility over the material, I have never paid stricter attention than in this class. So, in terms of educational gains, I am learning a lot.
How could this be? Shouldn’t I be relieved and proceed to space out? There are a couple of factors that prevent this:
1. Technology use is forbidden: I can’t play computer games.
2. We have to evaluate our peers’ presentations: there is a minimum amount we need to pay attention to (alternatively, we could just make up our evaluations without penalty, but I don’t and I doubt my classmates do either).
3. There is discussion in the second half of class: there’s a possibility of sounding stupid during this part.
The above factors are not very strong but subtle enough to get the most important factor going:
As it turns out, this class is interesting
Without the obligation of needing to “learn” (or shall I say, “memorize”) terms, when they fit, when they don’t, when its used in a tricky way, or other ways it might be tested, I spend less time taking notes and straining to catch every word and more time relaxing, listening, and making eye contact with the speaker. The amount of effort used to stressfully “learn” is enough to tire anyone to just retreat, chat online instead, and cram later (at least you only have to do it once, instead of multiple times a week).
We run into some problems of course. How can we assess whether a student has learned anything? According to the current syllabus, it is obvious whether or not a student has learned their designated chapters according to their presentations. There is also some evidence that a student has learned according to their participation in the discussion. The second, however, is not guaranteed factual learning like a test might be.
However, what do we want out of a class?
Ask any student and they will tell you that for most tests, they cram hard and almost instantly forget everything they just “learned” once the test is over. Rather than memorizing the facts, perhaps it is more important to learn how to think in context with the subject. How do we solve problems in this field? How can we think about this? What are some strategies to tackle these problems in this subject? In order to answer these questions, facts are naturally needed and learned along the way (and it may encourage individual and extra research from the student). Although, a student may not be able to reproduce every single detail of the class, but is that really important?
Projects are the best way to demonstrate and practice thinking within a subject. Whether it’s an engineering design project, writing a short story, performing a literature review, or conducting a presentation, a student must have a grasp of the knowledge of the class and must know how to use it (which is arguably the important part) in order to produce a good product. Projects that are shared with peers often encourage even better results as their is an added responsibility for students to represent themselves well.
Bonus about projects: it allows a student room to go above and beyond the class’ expectations.
February 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Research, an essential part of a university and its faculty, could be at odds with legality. In a presentation at The Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech (2013), Robert Turner, a Librarian at Radford University, and Scott Turner, an associate professor of Computer Science at UNC Pembroke, brought to light the issue that many professors are probably illegally distributing and using content in their classrooms according to copyright laws on accident.
When a paper is published to a peer-reviewed journal, depending on the agreement that a researcher signed, that paper could be owned, 100%, by the publisher. This means that if a colleague was interested in your work, you might not be legally entitled to email him a copy of the PDF. However, the publisher may be kind enough to offer the author 20 or so copies to share with his peers. When teaching a class, a professor might not be able to even upload his own paper to Blackboard, Scholar, or whatever other online organizational medium his institution uses, which leads to the first tip to avoid trouble:
Use a direct link from the online journal instead of a PDF from your computer.
This works because it gives control of the distribution to the publisher. Of course, this comes with all sorts of inconveniences, such as: your colleague or students do not have access to the journal.
But this seems like a big Catch-22: to legitimize research, the author needs to submit it for peer review and then publish. However, once published, the author can’t even truly access their own paper because they no longer really own it. Credit is given to them, but they can’t distribute it if they wanted to. This is strange when, one of the major reasons to publish research in the first place is to improve upon previous research and suggest where new research should be conducted–essentially, we need to read each others work. So what can you do? Universities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to all of these journals when their employees, the professors and creators of these research papers, are not getting reconciled for their work. (Actually, review board members don’t really get paid either). The only people who get paid are the publishers. As most things are online already (and many people prefer them to be online), there is little to no cost for them “publishing” the work. So, here comes tip number 2:
FORGET THE OTHER TIP, JUST USE THIS ONE: THE TIP
Forget “publishing,” share your work freely with peer-reviewed open source publications, such as PLOS ONE.
Publishing it to a paying journal doesn’t make it any more legitimized and hides research papers making them inaccessible or inconvenient for the people who need it. We might be repeating a lot of work and wasting time. Information, is more powerful and important than the money (which really only goes to the middle-man anyway).
A list of other open source, peer reviewed journals: http://www.firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/index
January 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Parents often hate answering the question “why?” when their children suddenly become obsessed with that word around the age of 4 (when they’ve gained enough vocabulary to understand and to express themselves fairly well). Parents usually find it annoying: children ask that question constantly–to even the littlest things–AND it lasts forever:
“Why is the game over when the Jenga tower is knocked down?”
“Because it’s the object of the game.”
“Because it says so on the box.”
“Because its hard to pull out pieces.”
“because…don’t you have something else to do?
Over the summer, I visited my cousin’s family where they have a 4-year-old son. There I learned the magical wisdom of
how to avoid it:
“Why is the game over when the Jenga tower is knocked down?”
“Why do you think, Johnny?”
“Because when it is knocked over you can’t play anymore?”
“Yes, Johnny! That’s exactly right!”
The important difference here is to ask the question back. Chances are, the child either already knows the answer (or at least knows something very close to the answer) or can figure it out. In learning, it is important to clarify the answers that the child provides to his own question. This can be done by asking bonus questions:
“Johnny, why do you think the Jenga tower would get knocked down?”
“Because its hard to pull out the pieces without it falling over?”
“Yes, Johnny! Why might it be hard?”
“Because when you pull one from this side, the other side gets tipped over?”
“That’s right! It gets tipped over because the tower is out of balance. See? Its uneven.”
“Why is it uneven?”
“Why do you think?
“There are less on this side than that side?
“That’s absolutely right! Great job, Johnny!”
Bonus questions = bonus points for parenthood: Now the child has some knowledge of basic mechanics.
December 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In class, why do we always grind through our work in the same way we always have? We take notes, speed through homework, pour over the notes before a test, and then forget most of the material soon afterwards. Why is there so little process-innovation? Why don’t the students or teachers experiment with different strategies on an individual (rather than institutional) level?
One big reason: Grades. When failure is punished, innovation is stifled. Their methods work well enough, and trying different methods carries a high risk of failure. This is one of the main reasons that grades should be tossed through the window: they teach students not to experiment which they carry into the rest of their lives.
The grades-as-punishment idea gives a coherent reason why people do not experiment with their methods in school, and a plausible reason why they do not do so elsewhere. Are there other reasons? Perhaps. One other likely candidate is that people simply do not think about the process. It is less obvious than the task, and so much easier to ignore. Can we prompt people out of this routine? How? This is a question in which I am deeply interested. We could simply “spread awareness.” Although I do not generally like the idea, it does appear to apply well in cases where individuals are the only actors.
December 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Whenever I bring up the idea of not going to college, someone always asks me what you could do instead. That question strikes me as odd, as you could do pretty much anything that does not require a Bachelor’s (read: pretty much anything). It seems that the question is based on a mindset that if I cannot give an activity which works for them personally, then they should disregard the idea of alternatives altogether. Nonetheless, I get the question so frequently that I will try to put together a nice list.
- Start a business. This one is obvious, and has formed the basis for some interesting experiments. The idea here is that starting a business will contribute to society, teach you practical skills, reward creativity, etc. Lots of good things.
- Find a job. This one is the second obvious option. Find a job at some random place and work your way up. On average, people here will do worse than people who get a bachelor’s degree, but I think with some creativity and persuasiveness you could instead just get a 4-year jump on your peers.
- Take time off to volunteer/travel. Slightly less common than 1 & 2, but still not uncommon. Taking time off to travel can give a lot of ideas on how the rest of the world functions. Maybe you come back to school afterward (with reaffirmed purpose) and maybe you do something else for a while afterward. Either way, it would likely be an invaluable experience.
- Learn how to excel… at sports, art, math, salesmanship, cooking, anything. Take 6 months and do nothing but practice and research that one activity. Try to innovate. Try to master the toughest aspects. Read every article and book you can find. Learn from and network with experts. Put in the hard focus necessary to figure out how the experts do it well. Meet peers devoted to the same activity. Develop personal strategies that you could apply elsewhere. Challenge your assumptions. Do you think you know how to get really good or assume that school is necessary to do it? You may be wrong.
- Join the military. Learn teamwork, courage, discipline, leadership.
- Join a monastery. Focus. Understand yourself. Learn to gratitude, serenity, and acceptance.
- Drop in. Before you enroll in college, just go there and sit in on classes. Test yourself using online resources. Learn on your terms, tuition free!
Here are the first 7 I could imagine, but this is a work-in-progress. Please do suggest others!