“I feel like we are dueling with lightsabers” -Spady
Archives for February 2013
I wrote a paper titled “Soka Education and Digital Education Technologies: Massively Open Online Courses,” for the 2013 Soka Education Student Research Project conference. The following section is the conclusion.
Soka education’s philosophical framework for teaching and learning is appropriate for the emerging to the newly emerging educational technology field. This papers goal was to help draw attention to a field that is quickly emerging with good intentions. The growth and social cause makes it attractive to both educators, entrepreneurs, and investors. Having such a great impact on the students, it must be carefully traversed. In references to evidence oriented progress, Makiguchi states:
“We must strictly avoid following ideologies of uncertain origin that cannot be substantiated by actual proof-even if they may be the most time-honored tradition-and thereby sacrificing the precious lives of others and ourselves.”
The education technologies too must be scrutinized to insure they are being implemented for the correct reasons. While MOOCs and other tools may benefit schools in reducing costs and increasing profits, the fundamental question should revolve around how they improve a students learning opportunity.
The digital technologies emerging in the education space are seeking to improve student-centered learning opportunities, but the educational technology space is not new. In the past five years, investors funding emerging private educational technology enterprises has quadrupled. These investments are spurring ventures such as MOOCs, but are still building profit-seeking entities. As a result, the driving forces behind Soka education are invaluable for reflecting on the purpose of education technology companies. Traditionally disruptive technology companies must be extremely careful in their disruption of existing educational markets. While emerging digital technologies can undoubtedly offer value to improving student experiences, many systems are already healthy.
The MOOC field is targeted at student-centeredness in a way that is inline with Soka Education. Just as the MOOCs themselves are not innately good or bad, their application must be continually considered. Companies like Udacity and Coursera are already holding classes that are eligible for actual college credit in American universities. The MOOCs are will help colleges reduce the cost of classes, expand course selection for students, and continue growing the discussion on the application of digital technology to education. The digital tools redefine “student-centeredness” by allow students to personalize their learning experiences in ways less prone to budget and institutional capacity.
Future research should further analyze the following points from the perspective of Soka education: MOOC course rights, digital resource copyright clearance, hybrid teaching pedagogies, the usage of other multimedia tools for student learning, and the efficacy of video based learning materials. These topics could each be the basis for extensive research to further the field of student-centered education using digital technologies.
“The Trial” Kafka
Starting off with the face that I needed some New York in my life. Digging the people, the architecture, the little coffee shops and busy subways.
First two chapters.
Kafka writes The Trial in a slight mysterious plot line that Im not used to reading. Reading the news and twitter streams has made me expect the core of the manner in a short burst. The Trial lays out a plot line by painting a clear picture and scene. The scene is filled with distinct emotional expression and tension, but there are no defined characters or causes. In a buddhist explanation, The Trial describes the world through effects, rather than causes.
The book begins with an abrupt awakening of the main character. Two men disrupt K. from his morning regime of breakfast and preparing for work. Instead, he is observed and kept from leaving his room. He is arrested.
The arrest is not explained to the reader or the main character and unfolds into the dangers of a hierarchical authority system. The figures arresting K. do not know why he is being arrested, but feel quite justified in their restriction of K.’s freedom. The invasion of privacy, disruption of personal space, and disregard for another’s humanity is seen in so many facets of society. The authority figures are not alone in their expression.
K., who hopes to reclaim his dignity, seeks answers. After being detained in his own home, he encounters the figure of higher command who personally interview the detainee. K., who continues seeking the cause for the injustices of the morning, encounters yet another response absent of reason. The invading figures freely roam K.’s home and declare their departure.
Forced to face his day without comprehending the complete background of the morning’s events, K. braves the rest of his day at work. Left only with a notion that he is expected to appear in court, he is forced to make assumptions as to his appearance date. Again, lacking all information to help understand the situation, K. decides to make his way to the courts on the first potential day court gathers.
Finding his way to the courthouse is no simple task. K. wanders the neighborhood and buildings near the courthouse, hoping to glimpse upon the place of his belonging. K. discovers the courthouse only too late and is forced to stand trial the moment of his arrival. Again, no explanation, he is placed in front of, what seems to be a divided courthouse.
Giving his all, K. argues for the injustices he is forced to undergo. Again, little understanding behind the disruption’s cause makes the argument one of unwarranted personal invasion.
Realm of foreign rules
Throughout K.’s series of events, the reader is left to wonder how easily the same events could happen to themselves. K. is a everyday well respected citizen. There is little that he did to provoke these events. More so, he seems to do everything in proper order to understand the dilemma, but is given no regard.
Replace K.’s story with any individual, young or old, and The Trial reflects their own experience in a judicial system. When expected to defend oneself in a realm of foreign rules, it matters little that there is any reason at all. The senselessness of the book’s plot captures closely the “in the moment” activity one is forced to experience in any mode of heavy jurisdiction.
The digestion of events is difficult in foreign systems of operation. More so, in moments of extreme consequence, the notion of clear reflection is nearly impossible.
Massively Open Online Classes
One of the exciting innovations for education is the Massively Open Online Classrooms that colleges around the world have begun to offer. While the idea of online classes or distance learning is not a new phenomena, the process of using well recognized brand name schools to widely distribute lessons is new. Companies such as edX, Coursera, as well as a number of other private companies are striking partnerships with colleges to offer their courses online. The partnership universities, such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, are offering completely free courses to anybody with an internet connection. These courses are a compilation of recorded lectures, quizzes, and assignments. The lectures are sometimes actual recorded in-class lectures, from the hosting university. Other times, courses are recorded solely for the purpose of the MOOC course. The method of distribution raises questions of how beneficial the MOOCs are for student’s learning experience.
The motivation behind universities developing online courses are not always the same as the motivations behind students seeking quality education. While presently, the popularly acclaimed MOOCs are offering completely free courses, there is no question that future profit motives exist. A university’s costs incurred for holding a online class is exponentially smaller than that of a actual classroom. The value created by a teacher is expanded when effectively able to teach tens and thousands of students rather than hundreds. Additionally, the number of students a teacher is able to serve is no longer restricted per the classroom size. Oppositely, this shift in the ability for a teacher to be free of classroom size restrictions may be the balance needed to help improve teacher salaries. The ability for a teacher to teach a larger group of students can allow teachers to be paid respective to the teaching ability. Regardless of the motivation, the practices used by these online courses have historically not been equivalent to in-class lectures or lessons.
The pedagogy behind MOOCs
The MOOC courses are currently based on pedagogically proven methods to engage the student in online learning environments. The online video lecture classes are interspersed with quizzes between topics, evaluating if students understood the core content as they are learning. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the online courses encourage student interaction in the classes. Discussions, peer-grading, as well as in-class group projects are common parts of the classes. Learning platforms, such as Coursera and edX have created discussion threads for every quiz. The discussion threads allow students who do not understand a quiz to ask questions, while more experienced students can help answer the questions.
While the courses themselves are taken alone, they are not completely socially isolated. The opportunity for discussion spurs vibrant conversations based on the lecture content. In an attempt to reduce the isolation of online classes, the courses encourage students to engage with the classmates, rather than passively listening to the lecture. Similarly, nearly all the courses held by Stanford, on the Coursera system, require students to complete group projects for full class credit. The group projects require students to connect with other classmates, based on geographic proximity, and collaborate on a class topic related project. These various modes of quizzing, discussion boards, and in-person class projects are applying a variety of effective pedagogical methods to the online platfor.
Comparing to alternatives
Online learning compared to in-class or one-to-one tutoring raises questions of viability. While the method of one-on-one teacher is definitely of greater value to a student, it is many times an experience reserved for the few. gmailFalling costs of government subsidies for schools and growing number of students seeking to enter higher education are reducing the number of quality learning opportunities available for the majority of students. As a result, the question behind alternative to the one-to-one or small classroom learning experiences are natural. Without claiming that online classrooms are equal, we can confidently state that the value behind online classrooms is a question worth researchig.
Drive to hybrid
Online courses seek to discover and implement the highest quality teaching experiences. In 2010, the United States Department of Education issued a detailed report showing that online learning methods are, on average, at least as effective as face-to-face learning. The online courses seek to overcome the problem where students forget the concepts not learned because they do not review the content. By providing students with immediate feedback, through quizzes, students know whether or not they understood a concept. The method, referred to as Mastery Learning, was one of the methods shown in a seminal paper seeking to provide students in group learning environments a learning experience equal to that of one-to-one tutoring. Grounded in proven methods of pedagogy, the online courses and providers are seeking out teaching methods that are known to be the most effective for students. This could be thought of as a scientifically proven student-centered method.
The state of Hackathon-ing
Last week I attended a Hackathon put on by Google’s Youtube and GTV team. I was introduced to the event through GOOD Magazine’s Coding for Good project. While I was not directly participating with GOOD, I ended up working closely with their team members. This Hackathon was particularly different from the other two I have attended. Mainly, there were a lot more engineers and interest in building a product (rather than a business).
Most Hackathon’s involve a business organizing developers for a prize. The prize is given to the developer(s) who produce a project that is determined to best fit the event’s criteria. The company organizing the events often provides general information about the event, so that developers can learn a bit about the API’s and technologies expected to be used. While the API research can be valuable, the Hackathon’s will often have support from the API maintainers. This means you can get hard questions answered and have your questions directed to the write place.
The beginning of every Hackathon I’ve been to starts with a bit of networking. After the networking there is a short explanation by the organizers about what is expected throughout the event. Finally, there is a period of time for participants to pitch a project idea to an audience. The period for pitching is normally very short, requiring the pitchers to condense their project idea into a easy to understand statement.
Once all the pitches are completed (or the time allotted for pitches is exhausted), participants make their way to learn more about the projects pitched. In most cases, people show up to the even without a project in mind, so they need to join a group. Additionally, not all people who pitch a project will have a group to organize.
The groups that succeed in developing a group are often clear projects that can be completed in a short period of time. More so, the leader of the group must have some clarity on where the project is expected to go, what the group requires to be successful, and how to get a group of strangers to work together.
Once groups have formed and projects are defined, the group begins hashing out the work to do for the weekend. Often a pitch can be vague and undeveloped. Other times the pitch may make assumptions about the capacity of one weekend of hacking. As a result, the refining period is used to redefine the project based on the groups developer talent.
The next phase is the longest. The group gets down and dirty to build the product they discussed. The building process requires research, design, application, testing, and deployment. The rest of the event is intended to get a group as far along as possible in building their product.
The Hackathon is meant to launch good ideas into minimum viable products. This means the product itself doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t even need to fully work. Instead, the project just needs to do the most basic function that your group wants to focus on. As the project is judged based on a short judge-demo, the project can have its smoke and mirrors to create the perception of a working project.
Tips for attendees.
1. You don’t need to know anyone.
Don’t worry. Not knowing anyone at the Hackathon is one of the best parts of the event. Sure you can show up with your fellow developer friends (which not everyone has), but you don’t need to worry about that. By showing up to the event, you are assuring yourself that you will make great connections with fellow group members. So, first point: don’t worry if you don’t know anyone but want to attend. You will meet people and make good friends.
2. Refine your pitch into one sentence
Refining your pitch into one sentence means simplifying it. When you explain the idea to people, you have to convince them to work with you. More so, you have to know what you can do in one weekend. Think through your idea and figure out how to cut out any parts that are unnecessary for its ability to prove its viability. Don’t focus on periphery functions. Make sure the product does what you say its going to do and nothing more. If you want more, worry about that after your team is bug-free.
3. Pick a subject for your project ahead of time
When you are pitching an idea, you will be standing in front of a crowd of people you don’t know. No matter how many times you have done this, you will feel a bit nervous. This is normal. Just do what you can to refine your idea ahead of time and don’t try to ‘wing-it’.
Its best if you can put some time in before the event to refine an idea. Its good to have a few ideas, because the ideas will change anyway. The important point is that you identify the subject of your idea. Once you pick that, you can figure out how to execute the idea later.
People who join your group will not necessarily understand the functionality of your product. Instead, you will be selling the importance of your subject matter and attract people who have also thought about the problem.
4. Give out a simple way to contact you during any broadcast opportunities (pitch, pre-event idea board, etc)
If you get the chance to post your idea in a area that is public to the participants, make sure to provide contact information! Imagine if you are reading a list of ideas and are very interested in one of them, but don’t know how to get ahold of the group leader. Instead, someone who is sitting near you at the event asks you what you do, and then convinces you to join their group. You don’t want this to happen.
Give out your phone number, twitter handle, or what ever you use when pitching your idea. Also make sure to leave with a note about where you are sitting and how to find you. Its too often that participants are listening to a stream of ideas and even if they liked what you said, they forgot about it and don’t know how to find you.
5. Use visual tools when describe your idea in a small group
The more articulate you can be about an idea, the better. There are countless reasons for this, but mainly it will help you refine your ideas. When making a mind map (I love using MindNode Pro), you start to see the functional relations between your idea and their dependencies.
More so, when you visualize your idea, you can be sure your group understands what the project is. Theres nothing worse then having worked on a project for a day and realizing the everyone in the group doesn’t exactly know what is being built. To prevent this, have a sit down period where you visually layout what is expected out of your idea. This will come in handy later, so people can voluntarily pick up sections of the project to complete.
6. Build your project in small but complete parts
Rather then trying to build tons of separate parts that come together at the end, try to build your project in small but functional parts. If you have a process that your project depends on (parsing information, calling an API, displaying the content, getting feedback, etc.), make sure the parts are able to function on their own. Seeing groups work on a project for a weekend, then not being able to get done with the “one part” they needed to get it online is horrible.
If you build a project, try to have each part be presentable in itself. Having those parts come together and function together is your end goal, but worst case you have parts of the project you can show. Remember, you just need to convince the judges that the idea is viable.
7. Pair program if your team can handle it
Having two people work on a part of the application at a time is an efficient way to make sure you are making constant progress. I have seen myself get stuck on a problem for 2-3 hours, when it would have been something easy for another person to resolve. Oppositely, I’ve seen people get stuck on design elements which would have taken me a couple minutes to mock up properly.
By combining forces on development, you can make sure your group makes steady progress. This also means your team members will not get caught up figuring out how to integrate another persons code. While working as individuals may feel productive, as soon as integration issues pop-up, you take away from both people making any progress.
8. Make friends with other participants
Most importantly, the point of a Hackathon (for the participants) is to have fun. Only one group is going to win the big prize, but anyone can network. Personally, I love meeting the participants who enjoy coming out to these events and spend a weekend learning something new.
9. Ask questions!!!
Also, a great way to learn new technologies is by doing. The best way is by teaching. There are certain to be people who are learning new technologies themselves and would love to teach you for the sake of defining their own understandings. Never be afraid to ask other people to teach and help you with your issues. Even if they are in a competing group.