mm181: Virtual classroom — real learning?

October 31, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Apparently it’s Education Week here at L-HC! Earlier we looked at the number of engineers we’re training in the U.S.; devoted the last third of a Short Attention Span pastiche to OLPC (One Laptop Per Child); and presented a devastating counter to the engineering story with one high school teacher’s indictment of today’s students (ratified by hundreds of comments).

Featured today is a most interesting look at on-line learning at the college level.

nytimes

October 31, 2007 | On Education

By JOSEPH BERGER | HERSHEY, Pa.

The university classroom of the future is in Janet Duck’s dining room on East Chocolate Avenue here.

There is no blackboard and no lectern, and, most glaringly, no students. Dr. Duck teaches her classes in Pennsylvania State University’s master’s program in business administration by sitting for several hours each day in jeans and shag-lined slippers at her dining table, which in soccer mom fashion is cluttered with crayon sketches by her 6-year-old Elijah and shoulder pads for her 9-year-old Olivia’s Halloween costume.

In this homespun setting, the spirited Dr. Duck pecks at a Toshiba laptop and posts lesson content, readings and questions for her two courses on “managing human resources” that touch on topics like performance evaluations and recruitment. The instructional software allows her 54 students to log on from almost anywhere at any time and post remarkably extended responses, the equivalent of a blog about the course. Recently, the class exchanged hard-earned experiences about how managers deal with lackluster workers.

The virtual college classroom is an increasingly common phenomenon, especially, as the story reveals, since the U.S. Congress eliminated the requirement that colleges deliver at least half of their courses in bricks and mortar campuses in order to qualify for federal aid. As a result, nearly 3½million students attended one or more classes in this manner last fall, and the trend will undoubtedly increase in intensity.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Classroom of the Future Is Virtually Anywhere – New York Times

Constant reader remembers, MUDGE hopes, that his specialty is web conferencing. Collaboration using the web to share visual information, accompanied, in MUDGE‘s employer’s case, by a teleconference. Couldn’t help but notice that the story, while sometimes wringing hands over the impact of technology, shed very little light on exactly what technology is used to deliver all of these on-line classes.

One gets the impression that, due to the worldwide dispersion of the students illustrated, that the teaching/learning activity is asynchronous, rather than real-time collaboration.

There’s room for both, I think, since some of the quarrels that traditional professors expressed in the story, about the lack of enriching discussion and feedback, might be partially answered if real time oral discussion were at least a component of a course.

And a very constant reader might recall that, teaching web conferencing is another specialty of this writer. I am by no means qualified or credentialed to teach in college, but every single one of the 3,600 students I’ve taught (yes, in a corporate environment — no frat parties!) over the past five years has been instructed on line, via teleconference with accompanying web conference.

Definitely viable. Add telepresence (here and here) for those PhD dissertation defenses, and the deal is done. Another paradigm shift rumbling underfoot…

Can’t help but wonder, though.

The U.S. higher education system, wonder of the planet, has also increased its fees so consistently that tuition growth has long outpaced (doubled? tripled? higher?) the domestic rate of inflation, however it’s computed.

One student in five took one or more on-line classes last year. Anyone notice tuition going down as a result of the undoubted smaller operations costs?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm180: American kids, dumber than dirt

October 30, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

A couple of posts ago, we highlighted the apparent success of our education system, despite conventional wis-dumb that says that we’re failing to create enough scientists and engineers.

The column in Business Week showed that, far from an inadequate supply of engineers, for example, rather there is an inadequate supply of U.S. jobs for all of the engineers we’re creating.

Further, the reported astoundingly large numbers of engineers and scientists supposedly coming out of India and China may be a distorted and inflated number; the two countries are producing quantities of degrees, many of which are far less than minimum world-class.

So, MUDGE had a couple of days to feel relief, his faith somewhat restored in our often-maligned U.S. education system.

Not so fast, Pilgrim!

Another precinct has been heard from, bird-dogged, I’m remembering, by Digg actually, and this news, from the education trenches, is not good.

Mark Morford, a San Francisco columnist has the following dire report.

sfgate

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I have this ongoing discussion with a longtime reader who also just so happens to be a longtime Oakland high school teacher, a wonderful guy who’s seen generations of teens come and generations go and who has a delightful poetic sensibility and quirky outlook on his life and his family and his beloved teaching career.

And he often writes to me in response to something I might’ve written about the youth of today, anything where I comment on the various nefarious factors shaping their minds and their perspectives and whether or not, say, EMFs and junk food and cell phones are melting their brains and what can be done and just how bad it might all be.

His response: It is not bad at all. It’s absolutely horrifying.

Morford’s correspondent, and his opinion seems to be ratified by many of the over 500 comments appended to the story, is quite pessimistic about the next generation.

We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.

The next graf contains a pithy and disturbing simile, discussing the magnitude of mandated testing taking place in schools.

… the fact that, because of all the insidious mandatory testing teachers are now forced to incorporate into the curriculum, of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, “It’s like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it.”

Ouch. No calf left behind?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

American kids, dumber than dirt / Warning: The next generation might just be the biggest pile of idiots in U.S. history

I have trouble reconciling the upbeat tone of the higher education story from Business Week the other day to this appalling one.

Both are true, I am forced to suppose.

Our successful college students seem to be so despite the public education they receive to supposedly prepare them for that success.

And one needs to remember that Morford’s correspondent hails from a particularly declassé corner of San Francisco Bay, so one imagines that the picture there might just be bleaker than in many other large cities. But, still…

Morford is quite a bit more eloquent than yours truly, so he gets the next-to-last word:

As for the rest, well, the dystopian evidence seems overwhelming indeed, to the point where it might be no stretch at all to say the biggest threat facing America is perhaps not global warming, not perpetual warmongering, not garbage food or low-level radiation or way too much Lindsay Lohan, but a populace far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better.

What, too fatalistic? Don’t worry. Soon enough, no one will know what the word even means.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm179: Short Attention Span Blogging 29-Oct-2007 edition

October 29, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

shortattention

We do this every so often here at L-HC, when the press of that darned pesky real life intrudes on quality blogging time.

Here are three recent stories that grabbed MUDGE‘s interest, and we hope it will pique yours.

First: What Global Warming?

greenland

nytimes

By SARAH LYALL

NARSARSUAQ, Greenland — A strange thing is happening at the edge of Poul Bjerge’s forest, a place so minute and unexpected that it brings to mind the teeny plot of land Woody Allen’s father carries around in the film “Love and Death.”

Its four oldest trees — in fact, the four oldest pine trees in Greenland, named Rosenvinge’s trees after the Dutch botanist who planted them in a mad experiment in 1893 — are waking up. After lapsing into stately, sleepy old age, they are exhibiting new sprinklings of green at their tops, as if someone had glued on fresh needles.

“The old ones, they’re having a second youth,” said Mr. Bjerge, 78, who has watched the forest, called Qanasiassat, come to life, in fits and starts, since planting most of the trees in it 50 years ago. He beamed like a proud grandson. “They’re growing again.”

When using the words “growing” in connection with Greenland in the same sentence, it is important to remember that although Greenland is the size of Europe, it has only nine conifer forests like Mr. Bjerge’s, all of them cultivated. It has only 51 farms. (They are all sheep farms, although one man is trying to raise cattle. He has 22 cows.) Except for potatoes, the only vegetables most Greenlanders ever eat — to the extent that they eat vegetables at all — are imported, mostly from Denmark.

Everybody knows that global warming is a nefarious invention of Al Gore and every other lefty in the world.

I’m sure that this story is totally fabricated.

Everybody knows Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Warming Revives Flora and Fauna in Greenland – New York Times

shortattention

Next: To the moon, China!

nytimes

BEIJING, Oct. 24 — With a regional space race heating up in Asia, China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday as the Communist Party moved a step closer to fulfilling its ambitions of one day reaching the moon.

Andy Wong/Associated Press

An animated image of the launch of China’s lunar orbiter broadcast on a large screen today in Beijing.

The Chang’e-1 satellite, named after a Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, lifted off at 6:05 p.m. Officials and tourists watched the launching at a site in Sichuan Province, while state television provided coverage to the rest of the nation.

Next thing you know, we’ll be reading that China’s banks are buying into U.S. banks. Oh, wait…

bw_255x65

Bear’s Chinese Pal
It may not be a lifeline, but at least it’s a vote of confidence. On Oct. 23, state-owned Chinese brokerage Citic Securities agreed to invest $1 billion in beleaguered investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC ). Citic will buy 40-year convertible trust preferred securities equal to 6% of Bear’s shares, with the option to boost the stake to 9.9%. In return, Bear will pay $1 billion for six-year convertible debt representing a 2% stake in Citic, with an option to go to 5%. Citic isn’t the only cash-flush foreign institution taking advantage of U.S. bank stocks that have been whacked by the subprime crisis and stagnant earnings. Expect more deals in the months ahead.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

China Sends Its First Probe for the Moon Into Space – New York Times

shortattention

Finally: One Laptop Per Child for India after all?

As noted before, an entire brochure could be developed around our posts on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …

Here’s the latest wrinkle. India, who originally dissed OLPC (intending, apparently, to adopt a home grown product), has taken a new look, now that OLPC is no longer vaporware.

cnncomtechnology

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) — The so-called $100 laptops for children may make it to India after all.

art.100.dollar.laptop.jpg

Children in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

Last year,India rebuffed One Laptop Per Child, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff that created rugged little computers for kids in the developing world.

…. a pilot test began recently in which 22 children in first through fourth grades in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

$100 laptop program still eyes India – CNN.com

This program deserves our support. I’ll repeat my polite request for your attention:

It’s real people. And I’ll repeat my proposal from last time we discussed this initiative:

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond….

As the giving season looms (the pumpkins are almost sold out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm178: More Conventional Wis-dumb

October 28, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It has long been an article of faith in the press that U.S. education is failing to deliver adequate numbers of competent engineers and scientists.

We’ve all seen the reports that show U.S. students in all grade levels far behind many other countries in test results.

So, imagine the surprise that MUDGE felt when encountering this column in Business Week, one of his regular reads (for over 30 years!).

bw_255x65

Forget the conventional wisdom. U.S. schools are turning out more capable science and engineering grads than the job market can support

by Vivek Wadhwa

Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China.

Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. The report disproves many confident pronouncements about the alleged weaknesses and failures of the U.S. education system. This data will certainly be examined by both sides in the debate over highly skilled workers and immigration (BusinessWeek.com, 10/10/07). The argument by Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and others is that there are not enough tech workers in the U.S.

What we believe is not, as it happens, supported by the facts.

We believe, because we’ve been hearing it for years, nay decades, that test scores are declining, and literacy and especially numeracy and interest in science is declining.

Salzman and Lowell found the reverse was true. Their report shows U.S. student performance has steadily improved over time in math, science, and reading. It also found enrollment in math and science courses is actually up.

And we keep hearing that comparisons of our children’s performance versus those of many other countries are dire.

And the new report again went against the grain when it compared the U.S. to other countries. It found that over the past decade the U.S. has ranked a consistent second place in science. It also was far ahead of other nations in reading and literacy and other academic areas. In fact, the report found that the U.S. is one of only a few nations that has consistently shown improvement over time.

So now comes the rub. We’ve been too successful in our aim to direct our students into technical degree programs.

As far as our workforce is concerned, the new report showed that from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce.

Where have we gone right? And, about the shortfall we have been hearing about forever, you know, the one about China and India graduating so many more engineers and scientists than the U.S.? How can we not fall behind?

In previous columns, I have written about research my team at Duke University completed that shattered common myths (BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/06) about India and China graduating 12 times as many engineers as the U.S. We found that the U.S. graduated comparable numbers and was far ahead in quality. Our research also showed there were no engineer shortages (BusinessWeek.com, 11/7/06) in the U.S., and companies weren’t going offshore because of any deficiencies in U.S. workers. So, there isn’t a lack of interest in science and engineering in the U.S., or a deficiency in the supply of engineers.

But there is a deficiency in jobs for all of these engineering graduates! And, if you follow the links to earlier Wadhwa columns, you’ll find that there is a great deal of confusion about what exactly is an engineering curriculum in China, and a shortage of jobs there also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Science Education Myth

MUDGE has been a part of the blogging community (and a ruefully mostly derivative member at that) for a short time, and I’ve taken with a grain of salt the disparagement of what many in the blogosphere call MSM, an acronym for mainstream media.

But, so many of my own rock solid assumptions have been skewered in this month of October, 2007 alone, (for example, here and here) that I have to step back and reconsider.

How many other of our close-held assumptions about how the world works have been created, nurtured and propagated despite their inaccuracies? Adolf Hitler boasted about the effectiveness of the “big lie.”

Our White House fed assumption regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction is an example of a big lie from our immediate past.

On a lesser scale of import than our horribly pointless Iraq misadventure, there are our assumptions about diet and health.

Our assumptions regarding the sad state of our education system compared to the rest of the developed world.

Our assumptions about how many more engineers China and India are graduating every year compared to the U.S.

Let’s assume carefully out there!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm177: Healthy eating — Overrated!

October 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Sandy Szwarc has, at least twice this month, provided health related stories that I’ve seen no where else, in her blog, Junkfood Science.

In a previous post, I highlighted her evaluation of recent under-reported studies showing counterintuitive results: that fat people survive cardiac episodes better than thin ones!.

She even responded politely to the post, even though I thoroughly and consistently misspelled her name! How embarrassing for MUDGE! Sorry, Sandy Szwarc!

She toppled my world again last week. She writes about a gigantic study launched in 1993 to pursue the relationship between what’s been known forever as healthy eating, and good health.

Remember reading about this study? I don’t.

Guess why. Because, once again, the results were startling.

As she writes,

junkfoodscience

Everybody knows what it means to eat healthy. We’ve heard about healthy foods and the importance of eating right our entire lives: “To be healthy and prevent heart disease, cancers and other chronic diseases of aging — and to maintain a slim, “healthy” weight — we should eat a low-fat and high-fiber diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.” This advice comes from respected doctors and health officials and we hear it everywhere, so it is unfathomable that these dietary beliefs have never actually been clinically tested…until recently.

So to rectify the lack of hard evidence a seriously mammoth study was created. Sandy Szwarc reports,

According to the National Institutes of Health, it was “one of the largest studies of its kind ever undertaken in the United States and is considered a model for future studies of women’s health.” It was a major undertaking, costing $415 million and was conducted at 40 medical centers across the country. It was a well-designed and carefully conducted study and researchers were confident this would prove the rightness of eating “right.”

The comparison, among over 48,000 post-menopausal women (the age group most at risk for heart disease and cancer) divided the group by diet:

The women in the healthy eating intervention group cut their total fat intakes down to 24% of their calories and 8% saturated fat the first year — well below the control group eating about 38% total fat and nearly 40% more saturated fats. By the end of the study, the “healthy eaters” were still averaging 29% fat, compared to 37% in the control group. The “healthy” dieters also ate about 25% more fruits and vegetables, grains and fiber than the typical American diet of the control group.

By now, you see where this is going. In the four major areas of concern, the results of years of study showed:

Cardiovascular disease (the biggest cause of death as we age): Healthy eating proved to have no effect on cardiovascular disease….

Breast cancer: Healthy eating proved to have no effect on breast cancer incidences….

Colorectal cancer: Healthy eating proved to have no effect on colon or rectal cancers….

Body Weight: Not only that, but the women following a “healthy” diet for 8 years didn’t end up thinner….

These results only hit the news in “spun” form, because the health establishment refuses to be confused by the facts. Turns out that the conventional wisdom is more properly characterized as unsupported by clinical findings conventional wis-dumb.

Sandy Szwarc says this much more eloquently than I can. Take a look:

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Junkfood Science: Junkfood Science Exclusive: The big one — results of the biggest clinical trial of healthy eating ever

One has to wonder: what have I been doing beating myself up all these years? Hating myself for not eating healthy; despising my inability to keep discipline and lose all that ugly fat once and for all; feeling certain that I’ll die before my time and they’ll have trouble finding a casket that fits.

And all that self-denial leads to… nothing? No substantive difference?

I’ll repeat Sandy Szwarc’s final graf:

Health is not evidence of moral character and pristine diets. Don’t let anyone try to scare you, threaten you, or get you to believe that if you don’t eat “right” (whatever their definition) you’ll get fat, cancer, heart disease, or die sooner. There is simply no good evidence.

Be sure to check out part 2 of her blockbuster report, reporting on analyses of the findings in relationship to cancer.

Junkfood Science is a wonderful blog.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW010: Telepresence Update

October 24, 2007

wcw1_thumb[1]

Web Conferencing Week

MUDGE’S Musings

Telepresence. An attractive concept for the Bentley and brie set, I guess. But, intriguing all the same (how the other .05% lives, an entire publishing industry has grown up around our fascination with how the [inordinately? unworthy?] rich spend their money and time).

From a trade publication titled Collaboration Loop: Collaborative Technologies in the Enterprise, comes a useful update to this topic covered in WcW004 some time ago.

collaborationloop

October 12, 2007
By Melanie Turek

ImageI recently got an update on Cisco’s telepresence initiative, and some of the facts are interesting. Clearly, there’s plenty of value in telepresence. At Frost & Sullivan, we expect the market to grow from $27.6 million to $610.5 million between 2006-2011, with a compound annual growth rate (GAGR) of 55.6%.

Not surprisingly, then, Cisco says telepresence is one of the fastest-selling products in the company’s history—Cisco has 50 new customers since introducing its telepresence systems 11months ago, and “huge” quarter-over-quarter growth, according to David Hsieh, Cisco’s CMO for Emerging Technologies. The company won’t report the number of sites per customer, but Hsieh says that most customers deploy two to five units initially, and that at least five customers initially deployed 10 units or more. Large customers are not hesitating to buy the product, he says, but the cost of bandwidth does determine deployments (and may explain why the majority of customers are US-based). “Seed, adopt, expand” is the typical deployment model.

I just must reprint (from Cisco by way of Computerworld, as printed in the original post) one of the illustrations, sadly lacking in this story, because of the all too true cliché that a picture is worth 22,473 (of MUDGE‘s) words.

telepresence

Who wouldn’t want to participate in such a conference? No travel time. No jet lag!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Collaboration Loop – Telepresence Case Studies: Real-World Applications (And, Is It Right for You?)

Wildly costly, now, but immensely, seductively attractive, if one can make those numbers work.

For the largest of companies, as the Wachovia example quoted, the numbers are not daunting.

Finally, look at the quoted anecdotal example of travel reduction:

On a personal note, UC VP and GM Rick McConnell says he’s cut his own travel by almost 40% thanks to the company’s telepresence solutions—going from 200,000 miles in 2006 to around 120,000 this year. He hopes to get that down “way below 100K” in 2008. (Which begs the question, is Cisco now competing with United Airlines et. al.? Hmmm…)

So, let me get this straight. I have two options. I can take the limo to the airport, fight through security even with my premium status, wait in the airline’s private lounge while my flight is delayed for the fourth time this month, etc. etc. etc.

Or, I can walk down the hall, engage my customer or colleagues two or twelve time zones away from the comfort of the new telepresence conference room, and be home to catch my daughter’s soccer championship that evening.

A paradigm changing technology, indeed!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm176.5: Sleep: The Threequel

October 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Turns out that yesterday’s NYTimes didn’t stop at the two sleep stories we picked up yesterday. The obvious topic: pharmaceutical aids to sleep.

nytimes

By STEPHANIE SAUL

Your dreams miss you.

Or so says a television commercial for Rozerem, the sleeping pill. In the commercial, the dreams involve Abraham Lincoln, a beaver and a deep-sea diver.

Not the stuff most dreams are made of. But if the unusual pitch makes you want to try Rozerem, consider that it costs about $3.50 a pill; gets you to sleep 7 to 16 minutes faster than a placebo, or fake pill; and increases total sleep time 11 to 19 minutes, according to an analysis last year.

If those numbers send you out to buy another brand, consider this, as well: Sleeping pills in general do not greatly improve sleep for the average person.

Seen the Rozerem commercials. Kind of silly.

As a person with occasional sleep problems (staying asleep, rather than falling in the first place), I’ve consulted my physician and received over-the-counter advice, but no prescriptions.

Based on this story, that’s probably just as well.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular – New York Times

At one time I worked with people who swore by a specific, popular sleep drug to beat jet lag. This was an international marketing research group, and its members were always on the go, with multiple-week business in Europe, mainly. Somehow, MUDGE never got invited. Oh, well.

Based on the incidence of reported odd side effects, like sleep-driving, I am happy enough not to need to indulge, for jet lag relief, or any other purpose.

I guess I’ll wait until they perfect them:

Still, researchers and drug companies have yet to find a holy grail. “The problem is, there is no ideal hypnotic,” said Dr. Manisha Witmans, a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Alberta’s Evidence-Based Practice Center. “The magic pill for sleep has not been invented yet.”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE