Tag Archives: computers

The Future of Education: Part 2 – Nightmares

“A Teacher Gets Depressed” isn’t specifically about technology in the classroom, but does speak to the problems of exclusively using automatic evaluation to judge the quality of schools and teachers. Also it references a nightmare. Click the image to see the whole comic.

When I spoke with my old teacher in my post on positive outlooks for education, he expressed concern at being replaced by technology. I told him that no technology would be invented that could reproduce the growth he spurs in students until long after his retirement, if ever. Teaching is a social vocation, and technologies for performing even the most simple social jobs are still in their infancy. Teaching is not a simple job, and attempting to remove the human factor from education at this point is likely to do more harm than good.

But what is a mad scientist, if not one who releases upon the world a new technology that turns out to cause more harm than good? Our collective body of fiction is rife with people who think they know more than they do and cause immense suffering as a result. The most famous of these mad scientists, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, reversed the course of death itself, but without considering the ramifications of his actions. The fruit of his life’s labor turned out to be a wretched, ugly creature even its creator could not bring himself to love.

While raising the dead may be a bit of an overstatement in terms of the risks of advancements in education, the allegory of the genius who does not consider the consequences of his actions is an appropriate one. In the theoretical future, an aggressive reductionist approach to education based on the theory that a child’s growth can be fully represented by his or her score on then-available automatic testing technology could become an educational Frankenstein’s monster, causing more problems than it solves.

If we were to measure school performance according only to the results provided by these technologies, and allocate funds accordingly, inevitably the skills and qualities unmeasured by the tests, which even in the near future will not be perfect measures of everything, would lose attention in favor of the ones the tests do measure. Perhaps in the near future we will have the ability to measure skills and qualities like  creativity, ability to work well in a group, self-confidence, and civic responsibility, but if we don’t, schools will no longer have incentive to maintain, and will therefore lose, their ability to foster these skills and qualities in our nation’s youth.

I am a strong proponent of technologies in the classroom. I also believe that the more data we can collect on the process and results of education the more we can use to help advance our goal of a well-educated population. The ability to bestow life on a lifeless being is also a scientific advancement that could do wonders for the world, but before we rush ahead, we should consider whether our technologies are ready for the tasks we will be counting on them to perform.

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The Future of Education: Part 1 – Dreams

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I mentioned to an old college teacher a while back that I was working to develop educational technology. “So this is how you thank me? By replacing me?” He said. There’s no point trying to deny that advances in technology render obsolete certain professions, but teaching need not be one of them, at least not until long after my professor’s retirement. Teaching is about the most necessarily social job out there, along with diplomat, counselor, psychologist and many more. Technology is not even close to where it can effectively perform these tasks. If society knows what’s good for it, none of these professions will be replaced for a long, long time. Whether society knows what’s good for it, however, has been an open question since people have had the time to ponder questions of the greater good.

Let me share with you a vision of a possible future where technology aids human teachers in providing an experience to students unparalleled by today’s standards, The Inverted Classroom. I have not invented this general concept, but I’ll describe how it might play out. Imagine you our your child taking lectures at home and doing “homework” at school. The lectures are delivered by subject matter experts who have devoted their life work to making amazing lectures, the “homework, ” which we shall from here on out refer to as “coursework,” is done under the supervision of a teacher, who instead of stressing over how to reinvent the same lectures that other teachers have perfected thousands of times before, can spend his time doing what a human still does better than any computer – giving individual attention to the particular needs of each of his students. We already have the technology to accomplish this, but let’s think further into the future.

The students don’t write their answers on paper with feedback only once every day at best. Instead, they work on tablet computing devices, answering short answer questions and completing virtual labs to learn the content interactively. The digital notebook can do simple analyses of their work and to a limited extent help them to stay engaged and scaffold them towards proper learning. It can even provide a simple digital tutor for each student to help them feel comfortable and encouraged to stay on task. Moreover, the teacher doesn’t have to just look over her students shoulders and check their work because she will have her own portable device with a list of the students in her class. Beside each student is a progress bar and a simple indicator, perhaps color-coded, that can tell the teacher when a student is falling behind or is not learning the material. Freed from the need to constantly be devising and presenting curriculum herself and with the ability to easily see the progress of her students, a teacher will be better prepared than ever before to lead the next generation’s students on the path to becoming the productive citizens of tomorrow.

What do actual teachers think of this? I know I have more than a couple teachers and former teachers who read this blog. Is there anything you’d like to see technology help you with? Does this dream seem like more of a nightmare to you? Next week I’ll discuss some of my nightmares in part 2 of this two-part blog post.

Don’t Click That!

At Thanksgiving I met some friends of my grandfather’s. Over the course of conversation these friendly folks related to me their tales of woe mistakenly installing malicious software on their computers. As a computer scientist and one who has grown up with computers, I take for granted that I know how to avoid such pitfalls, but when I started to give my new friends advice I could not think off the top of my head of a clear set of rules to help anyone to avoid becoming a victim of malicious software, also known as malware for short. In this blog post I will attempt to provide the set of rules that I could not bring to mind then. There are many, many different things that one can do to protect oneself from malware, but I will focus here on how to avoid being fooled online into downloading it. A good proportion of malware is distributed through ads (short for advertisements) that appear on web-pages, so I’ll discuss how to recognize these ads and how to deal with them.

  1. If a window is telling you that its update is urgent, do not install it. Real updates are polite and calm. They will also always use proper punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get freaked out and click an ad before you have the chance to look at it closely. If it doesn’t sound like a corporate professional recommending that you install an update, that update is malware.
  2. If something offers you money or solutions to any problems that you didn’t specifically ask for solutions to, ignore it. Keep an eye out for “one weird trick,” or “a mom discovered…” or ” X hates this man” where X is any privileged group, particularly doctors or bankers. For instance, “Nutritionists hate this Raleigh mom who discovered how to convert your excess fat into clean, renewable energy using this one weird trick !” is an ad. Do not click it.
  3. If a window is blinking, ignore it. If it includes animations that repeat over and over again, ignore it. If it’s annoying, close it using the “X” in the corner. Make sure that the “X” is the outermost X, or it may be a fake X to trick you into clicking the ad.
  4. If you are offered the chance to “win,” it’s an ad. If a game appears for you to play without you asking for a game, it is an ad. If you win the game your prize is malware.
  5. If you forget every one of these other rules, this one alone should prevent nearly all of your ad-based troubles. By far the most effective step to protecting yourself from malware is to prevent the ads that try to fool you into downloading them from showing up at all. Adblock is a free service that will hide ads without disrupting your usual browsing. To download it, click the logo of the Internet browser you’re currently using here. If you don’t know which is yours, look at the icon you click to connect to the internet, and it should match one of these.

    There are a few steps to installation, but once you’ve clicked on the right browser icon, the instructions should be able to lead you the rest of the way towards installation.

I hope that this short list of rules has been helpful to all of you who struggle with misleading ads and malware. Please also remember that while these instructions are useful, they may not protect you from everything. Malware attachments in email, for example, typically will not include animations, games, or flashing lights, but they do fall under rule #1 about professionalism. Generally if you don’t recognize the person who sent you the email you shouldn’t open the attachment. Please feel free to comment on my blog if you have any additional questions or if you need any more explanation about what I have described here.

Happy browsing!