Take an Active Role in Your Education: Play Games

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

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Publishers take ownership of research papers, instead of authors

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:

TIP #1

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

Elementary School Model Better Than Middle Schools?

Recent research suggests that middle schools are not the ideal model for students.  Students who participate in K-8 elementary schools do much better in math and reading.  Why might that be?


by Scotty Reifsnyder

by Scotty Reifsnyder

An article called Do Middle Schools Make Sense? by Mary Tamer, highlights recent research in Florida middle schools. The article explains that children who go through the transition of middle school lose ground in math and reading. These kids are also a lot more likely to drop out by 10th grade. The study suggests that this might be due to the corresponding social transition that occurs:

“kids tend to say they feel safer [in K-8], so there is less of a Lord of the Flies environment at a critical stage when they are “navigating through social currents. For many kids, it’s distracting.”

K-8 school children also experience a drop when they enter Highschool. However, the drop is quickly recovered and they come back up by 10th grade. Children who go through middle school experience a sharp drop and continue to decline through middle school–some even into Highschool. This implies that its middle school, not just the transition, that is affecting students. The question that remains is, why?

When assistant principle Joseph Bumsted stated,

“The things that make it especially difficult moving from grade five to grade six is the students go from a self-contained, supportive atmosphere where they have one teacher they know … to sixth grade and they are confronted with seven different [teachers’] personalities. They don’t know how to handle it,”

I think he noted a very important distinction between middle school and elementary (K-8) school in a way that he might not have intended. Perhaps, the elementary school model is better from a student perspective because of the reasons he stated: “supportive atmosphere where they have one teacher they know.” This allows a student to have a very individualized education. Teachers only have to handle 30 students per year, instead of more than a hundred. Teachers get to know each of their students rather than just their favorites. With this in mind, teachers in a K-8 school can easily adjust their curriculums and teaching styles to fit each of their students.

Another benefit is that there are no set time constraints per subject as there are in middle school, where every class is held for about 50 minutes. In class with one teacher who teaches all of the subjects, the teacher can adjust how much time is spent on each subject in reference to how much time the teacher’s individual class needs. So if the class understands fractions easily, they can spend less time on it and more time on understanding geology. This also allows the teacher to set time aside for a free period, as needed, where students can work in groups and ask the teacher questions.

However, one major setback to having one teacher is the problem of expertise.  The major benefit to requiring students to switch classes every 50 minutes (in Highschools with block scheduling, about 1.5 hours) is that they get to experience a teacher who is an expert in the field.  One single teacher probably cannot teach physics while teaching other subjects as well as a teacher who only teaches physics.

Is there a way to integrate the specialized teachers from Highschool and the individualized structure of elementary schools?

The Feast: Learning Methods

The world is hosting a dinner party, sponsored by The Feast.  Next Friday, October 5th, the world will sit down, have dinner with friends and talk about important issue the local and global world is facing.  GE and Intel are among the companies that have given the world’s citizens some challenges to focus on.  By the end of the feast, each dinner table will have pinned down the problem they want to solve and design a solution and commit to it.

I will be hosting a dinner party next friday and the topic I want to discuss is learning.  Specifically, different learning methods.  Research screams that we don’t all learn alike–that some are better than others in certain environments.  It might be hard to accomodate every individual’s needs when a classroom can be from 10 to 200 people big.  However, I don’t think that it is necessarily that inconvenient.

For example: If a student does not get much out of the classroom, why waste an hour of that student’s learning time?  Perhaps a student learns better on his own using the book and other resources.  For that student, a teacher could, very easily and not too inconveniently, post online topics that are covered and important points to pay attention to.

However to do this, its important to understand different learning methods and which learning methods are possible for particular topics.  That and how to convey this to our teachers is what I want to discuss.  What other factors do I need to consider? See you on October 5th!