Online Adaptive Learning Technology

When educators consider the future of online and hybrid education, they frequently stress how digital platforms might personalize the content and activities provided for individual students. With sophisticated algorithms capable of determining what information students need and how they learn using past results, computer-mediated education programs could design assignments and lectures for each member of the classroom without overburdening teachers who already have nearly-unmanageable workloads. This article discusses the Habitable Worlds course from Arizona State University, which has students explore the historical development of biological organisms and the viability of extraterrestrial life using “digital courseware.” This courseware monitors student progress, presents feedback, and adjusts how its students learn and practice the content of the HabWorlds curriculum. Digital courseware may someday increase the pass-rates for general education classes and improve the quality of mainstream courses, but I question whether software, monitored or otherwise, should make automated decisions about student capabilities and classroom objectives. Click the link below for more information:

Digital Learning’s Pioneers Are Cautiously Optimistic

EdSurge Online Education and Adaptive Learning Article

How to Write Successful Resumes

We probably spend more time writing and revising our resumes than any other document, and I have listed ten recommendations for successful audience-centered resumes below. I hope you find this guide useful and will gladly offer advice for other technical and professional documents at your request. Without further ado:

  1. Use 20+ font for your name. Most of us remember John Lee Hancock because of the unrivaled size of his signature on the Declaration of Independence. If you use 20+ font for your name, you increase the chance that recruiters will remember you when they decide who should receive a first-round interview.
  2. Outline your main qualifications with a summary. Do not start your resumes with an objective: recruiters already know you are searching for opportunities with their companies and will expect more details from your cover letter. You should, however, summarize your qualifications and field-specific interests before you present your experience so recruiters can scan your document more efficiently.
  3. Quantify your value-addedWhenever possible, you should explain how you have contributed towards the success of your past and current employers. Compare these two examples: “Managed the quality-control division of the product-development branch.” “Managed a team of ten employees for the quality-control division of the product development branch and reduced the number of defective sprockets by 15%.” Make sure you supplement your general descriptions of your work with your achievements, which might include promotions, management and budget experience, completed projects, awards, revenue estimates, etc. You should consider how you can favorably compare yourself with an “average employee” with the same position. Continue reading

How Should We Conduct Student Evaluations?

After every class students attend during college, they spend the last day of the semester writing evaluations for their instructors and the campus administration. These evaluations serve three main purposes: they let students express their opinions about courses that consume significant amounts of time and money, help academic institutions reward and penalize instructors for the quality of their work, and show teachers how they can improve their curricula for future classes. Without student evaluations, universities must rely heavily upon standardized test scores and classroom observations for the assessment of their teachers. Student evaluations not only counteract the limited sample sizes of classroom observations, which usually happen once or twice per year, but also avoid the biases of standardized test scores, which vary dramatically between classes and devalue any knowledge beyond the scope of the tests themselves. We clearly need student evaluations, but we should ask ourselves what these evaluations should cover and how we should balance their results with other assessment methods for our professors.

Course Evaluation


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Are College Students Customers?

Over the past few decades, the increased cost of higher education and the decreased opportunities for recent graduates have left students uncertain whether their degrees provide acceptable returns for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Public and private colleges have recognized these anxieties and responded with fewer distribution requirements, student evaluations of university programs and resources, grade inflation, pre-professional courses, and other means of attracting and retaining customers who hope their educations will help them transition directly into the workforce. While I agree that universities should hold themselves accountable for the success of their students and applaud the recent shift away from conventional exams and towards applied research projects, we should ask ourselves whether the supplier-client model of modern universities actually fulfills their stated objectives.

I submit that the university has four purposes:

  1. Prepare students for their careers.
  2. Teach students how they can solve complex problems.
  3. Inform students about the world around them.
  4. Help students interact with people from different backgrounds.

The corporate university, where the student becomes the client of the higher education system, addresses only the first of these objectives. If we reduce or remove distribution requirements so students can focus entirely upon their expected careers, for example, they may lose their connections with other disciplines and become detached from their broader social and political responsibilities. Similarly, if colleges use their resources exclusively for professional development, then students may learn the field-specific facts and skills necessary for their work but never hone the analytical and communication skills associated with long-term advancement.

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Why We Undervalue the Humanities

When we start our careers after college, we frequently have limited work experience for our expected professions and enter the workforce based upon the skills from our majors. Computer scientists advertise their expertise with CSS, Python, and HTML, biologists list their applicable lab techniques (gel electrophoresis, chromatography, etc.), and students from the humanities stress their extensive practice with research, written communication, and analysis. Despite the value of these humanities skills for private and public institutions, entry-level job applicants without field-specific knowledge cannot always compete with their more technically-inclined counterparts. Why do executives simultaneously insist higher-level problem-solving drives success and still resist hiring soft-skill specialists from English, History, and Philosophy?

Professionals from the humanities face two related problems: almost everyone within the modern workforce can hypothetically research, write, and analyze problems and solutions, and these skills resist quantification. Technical resumes outline general “tiers” between levels of expertise: the words “proficiency,” “fluency,” “competency,” and “familiarity” all mark different thresholds of mastery. Unless employers require portfolios from their applicants, which causes more problems for recent graduates who must either submit academic projects for potential employers or develop portfolios from scratch, companies cannot straightforwardly evaluate soft skills. Most recruiters do not respond favorably when applicants differentiate themselves with their “expert” written and spoken communication skills without extensive evidence that these skills have and will improve the bottom-lines of their companies. Continue reading

Pokemon Go and Augmented Reality, Continued

I wrote the other day about the overwhelming success of Pokemon Go and the applications of Augmented Reality (AR) technology for education, but after I spoke with some friends about my previous editorial, I realized I did not fully express the value of AR compared with any competent Google search. One of my friends asked how my hypothetical AR system differed from static databases of information, and our discussion helped me realize how much I originally undersold the potential of AR.

Scenario 1: You visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and see the following painting inside one of the galleries:

Guardians of the Secret

If you read the placard, you might learn the title of the work (Guardians of the Secret), the name of its artist (Jackson Pollack), the date (1943), and some additional information about its context and significance. With AR, you might automatically receive verbal commentary about the painting from professional art historians, examples of other Pollack paintings for live, side-by-side comparisons using your device, and a short video of Pollack splatter-painting. Continue reading

Preschool Computer Programming with Wooden Blocks

This article discusses the gradual integration of computer science into K-12 classrooms and considers how preschools might teach students the basics of coding using colored blocks. The author surveys the objections instructors have raised against screen-based instruction and concludes tactile methods of learning code will not only help students prepare for increasingly-digital schools and workplaces but also harness the benefits of kinesthetic activity for long-term skill development. Much like the recent Google Bloks project, this article calls for means of acquiring online and computer-mediated skills without electronics, which could help schools with smaller budgets and less technically-trained instructors better serve their students. Click the link below for more details.

Why Pre-K Computer Programming Should Be More Hands and Less Screen

Preschool Computer Programming Editorial