Technology can’t replace ‘human connection’

Technology can’t replace “human connections,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, at a NationSwell Council event.

 Microsoft’s technology-rich “School of the Future” in Philadelphia underperforms the city’s public schools, which is “quite a feat,” said Kopp. On a visit last year, she noticed that “every single kid in the room was IMing their friends, or trying to fix the computer, or surfing the Internet, while a teacher talked very loudly in the front.”

“If we try to stick technology in there to solve this problem without those foundations [of human connection in the classroom], we’re going to see things go in the wrong direction,” she said.

Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

Microsoft engineers teach high school

Microsoft engineers are teaching high school computer classes (with the help of regular teachers) to encourage young people to pursue technical careers, reports the New York Times. The company, founded by education philanthropist Bill Gates, has issued a report on educating young people for science, math and technology jobs,  A National Talent Strategy.

There are likely to be 150,000 computing jobs opening up each year through 2020, according to an analysis of federal forecasts by the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional society for computing researchers. But despite the hoopla around start-up celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, fewer than 14,000 American students received undergraduate degrees in computer science last year, the Computing Research Association estimates. And the wider job market remains weak.

“People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel who oversees its philanthropic efforts, said in a recent interview.

Microsoft pays engineers a small stipend to teach at least two high school classes a week for a full school year.

Google funds a programming summer camp for incoming ninth graders as well as computer science workshops for high school teachers, the Times reports.

Fewer high school students are taking computer science, according to the U.S. Education Department.  However, the number of computer science bachelor’s degrees has been rising for four years, after years of decline.

In 2012, a new graduate with a computer science degree started at $58,300, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Microsoft v. Google battle for students

Microsoft and Google are giving technology to schools and colleges in hopes of winning students’ minds, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

With the recession taking a bite out of university endowments and public school budgets alike, the competition between Google and Microsoft to convert the nation’s colleges, universities and schools to the companies’ free e-mail and other IT services that run on the Internet “cloud” — outsourcing that can save a large university hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — has only grown more fierce.

. . . Just a year ago, (Jay) Martino’s sixth-graders would have generated reams of paper as they researched mummies, Cleopatra and King Tut. This fall, the students’ work exists on the “cloud” — bits of data flowing across Google’s network, accessible from any computer with a Web browser and a password.

Microsoft also provides cloud-based educational software, Live@edu, to schools for free.

“The benefit to Microsoft is that students are able to get familiar with Microsoft technology and be more ready for the work force,” said Anna Kinney, director of Live@edu. “Students graduate from college and go into the work force, ready on Day One to work on Microsoft products.”

In light of this post, note that Microsoft has joined the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, while Google has held back.

Update: The Daily Riff is concerned about conflicts between Bill Gates’ education philanthropy, which has made him very influential in policy debates, and his role as chairman of Microsoft.