NOVA airs ‘School of the Future’

School of the Future, a NOVA documentary on the science of learning will air tonight on PBS.

The two-hour show looks at “how kids’ brains work, including how stress, sleep, mindset and emotions affect learning, what role technology should play in the classroom, and which techniques are most likely to engage and inspire growing minds.”

Teach yourself — or be poor

Teach yourself to learn or settle for a low-wage, dead-end job, says economist Tyler Cowen, author of Average is Over.  Education Today talked with the professor and Marginal Revolution blogger at a recent OECD Forum in Paris.

To be employable at a decent wage, people need to “learn some skills which complement the computer rather than compete against it,” says Cowen.  “Some of these are technical skills, but a lot of them will be soft skills, like marketing, persuasion and management that computers won’t be able to do any time soon.”

 . . . people who are very good at teaching themselves, regardless of what their formal background is, will be the big winners. People who do start-ups already face this. They’ve learned some things in school, but most of what they do they’ve had to learn along the way; and that, I think, is the future of education. I’m not convinced that our schools will or can keep pace with that; people will do it on their own.

Taking a class to “learn some topic is absurd,” Cowen believes.

A class is to spur your interest, to expose you to a new role model, a new professor, to a new set of students. We should have way more classes which are way shorter. It should be much more about learning, more about variety, give up the myth that you’re teaching people how to master some topic; you’re not! You want to inspire them; it’s much more about persuasion, soft skills.

On his blog, Cowen links to an Atlantic story on competency-based education, which “looks at what students should know when they complete a certain degree, and allows them to acquire that knowledge by independently making their way through lessons.”

College is not a commodity


College is not a commodity, writes Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and a former president of Cornell and the University of Iowa, in the Washington Post.

Unlike a car, college requires the “buyer” to do most of the work to obtain its value.

. . . The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. Yet most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television.

When college students see themselves as consumers, they “feel entitled to classes that do not push them too hard, to high grades and to material that does not challenge their assumptions or make them uncomfortable, writes Rawlings.

So let’s acknowledge that college is not a commodity. It’s a challenging engagement in which both parties have to take an active and risk-taking role if its potential value is to be realized.

. . . Students need to apply themselves to the daunting task of using their minds, a much harder challenge than most people realize, until they actually try to do it.

When I headed off to college in 1970, my father said I’d get as much out of it as I put into it.

Via Instapundit.

Onion: Teacher fired for learning more from students than vice versa

From the Onion: A teacher is fired for “gross incompetence” after declaring, “I just love being around the students—I honestly think I get more out of these classes than the kids do.” She adds, “I learn something new from them each and every day. They teach me so much—far more than I could ever teach them.”

This brings to mind a (real) quote from Michael John Demiashkevich’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (1935):

An old schoolmaster dedicated his book to all his old pupils, at whose expense, he said, he had learned everything he knew about education. This is either a case of exaggerated modesty or it is a belated confession of incompetence. It is necessary to distinguish strictly between broadmindedness and ignorance.

I suspect, though, that the Onion teacher was really fired for her use of fluffy phrases like “so much,” “honestly think,” and “each and every day.” If she had said, simply, “I enjoy learning from the students as well as teaching them,” she might still have her imaginary job, and she could still learn “something,” or even “a lot.”

Computer tutors ‘read’ learners’ emotions

Computer tutors are learning to read students’ emotions, so they can provide better feedback, reports Annie Murphy Paul on the Hechinger Report.

Analyzing students’ posture in a special chair,  how much pressure they exert when they click on a special mouse or the pitch of their voices can reveal “academic emotions” such as “curiosity, delight, flow, engagement, confusion, frustration and boredom.”

Some systems use wireless skin conductance sensors or cameras that analyze facial expressions and track students eyes.

“One computerized tutoring program uses ‘mind-reader software’ to identify 22 facial feature points, 12 facial expressions and six mental states,” writes Paul.

Detecting the learner’s feelings is just the first step.

A computerized tutoring program called Wayang Outpost, developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, features an onscreen avatar that subtly mirrors the emotions the learner is feeling. When the learner smiles, the avatar smiles too, making the learner feel understood and supported. When the learners express negative feelings, the avatar mirrors their facial expression of, say, frustration, and offers verbal reassurance: “Sometimes I get frustrated when solving these math problems.”

Then — in a shift that researchers have found to be essential — the avatar pivots toward the positive. “On the other hand,” the avatar might add, “more important than getting the problem right is putting in the effort and keeping in mind that we can all do math if we try.”

Researchers try to encourage a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability improves with effort.

If the learner seems bored, for example, (Notre Dame’s Affective) AutoTutor might respond with the comment, “This stuff can be kind of dull sometimes, so I’m gonna try and help you get through it. Let’s go.” If the AutoTutor senses that the learner is confused, it might advise, “Some of this material can be confusing. Just keep going and I am sure you will get it.”

Deep learning requires struggle, say researchers in affective computing. “Students show the lowest levels of enjoyment during learning under the conditions in which they learn the most, and the feeling of confusion turns out to be the best predictor of learning.”

However, repeated failures turn confusion into “frustration, disengagement and boredom (and ultimately, minimal learning).”

‘To write is to learn’

Every Cleveland Browns player has a tablet computer — and a pad of paper. Coach Mike Pettine believes tells players writing by hand will improve their chances of learning complex plays, reports Kevin Clark in the Wall Street Journal.

As a high-school coach in Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, Pettine learned “how to get students to study — whether for a pivotal third down or a geology quiz,” Clark writes.

“I would talk to teachers all the time and they would say, ‘To write is to learn,'” Pettine said. “When you write stuff down, you have a much higher chance of it getting imprinted on your brain.”

A study titled The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard backs the idea that students learn more when they write in longhand rather than taking notes on a laptop.

The study found that, because the hand can’t possibly keep up with the speaker’s words, the writer must rephrase what was said in his or her own words, which in turn processes the information at a deeper level.

Browns defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, who went to Harvard, believes handwriting is better than typing. “You are actively using your brain more,” Bryant said.

Children aren’t sponges

Small children aren’t “sponges” soaking up information, writes Dan Willingham on Real Clear Education. “Kids don’t learn important information that’s right in front of them, unless an adult is actively teaching them,” a recent study (Butler & Markman, 2014) shows.

Children aged 4-5 were shown a novel object and were told that it was a “spoodle.” Would they figure out the spoodle is magnetic?

In the pedagogical condition, the experimenter said “Look, watch this” and used the spoodle to pick up paperclips. In the intentional condition, the experimenter used the spoodle to pick up paperclips, but did not request the child’s attention or make eye contact. In the accidental condition, the experimenter feigned accidentally dropping the spoodle on the clips. In all of the conditions, the experimenter held the spoodle with the paper clips clinging to it and said “wow!”

Next, the child was presented 16 objects and was asked to determine which were spoodles. Half were identical to the original spoodle, and half were another color. In addition, half of each color were magnetic and half were not.

Children knew the spoodle had to be magnetic only if the adult had drawn attention to the spoodle’s magnetism. Observing the magnetic properties in the “intentional” or “accidental” experiments wasn’t enough. Those kids picked the spoodle by color.

Even in an environment rich in experiences, “little sponges” need to be taught, Willingham concludes. “Small differences in parenting may have important consequences for children’s learning.”

Why ‘just Google it’ doesn’t work

“Knowing things is hopelessly twentieth century,” says Justin Webb, a British TV journalist. “Everything you need to know – things you may previously have memorised from books – is (or soon will be) instantly available on a handheld device in your pocket.”

Google is no substitute for learning things by heart, argues Toby Young, founder of the West London Free School, in a Telegraph blog.

The less we know, the more we have to use working memory to search for information and make sense of it, he writes. Our working memory can run out of space.

The “just Google it” approach also neglects the knowledge a child needs to search accurately, Young writes.

“Searchers need to have an idea what they are looking for,” writes Libby Purves in a Times column.

A great paradox is that the pre-Internet generation may prove to be uniquely privileged, because having learnt facts once makes us diabolically efficient Internet searchers.

Even an accurate search is useless if the searcher doesn’t know enough to understand the information retrieved, Young writes.

For instance, if you Google “space station” the Wikipedia entry you pull up is only comprehensible if you already know a bit about “low Earth orbit”, “propulsion”, “research platforms”, etc. The child could perform further searches to plug these gaps, but the same problem will just recur, with him or her being condemned to carry on Googling for ever.

Knowledge is the power to learn  more.

“Research on the necessity of background knowledge for reading comprehension is decisive and uncontroversial” — and widely ignored, writes Mark Bauerlein.

 

Learn like a baby

Researchers are working on pills that enable learning by returning brain chemistry to “critical periods” of development, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. Young children with rapidly growing brains can learn new skills more quickly than adults.

The goal is to help people with developmental disorders or brain injury in adulthood.

What do students learn in college?

Massachusetts is leading a nine-state effort to measure what students learn in college. The plan is to compare students’ work, including term papers and lab reports, rather than using a standardized test.

A three-year bachelor’s of applied science degree will cost $13,000 to $15,000 for Texas students. The competency-based degree, developed by South Texas College and Texas A&M University at Commerce, mixes online and face-to-face learning.