Friday, April 29, 2011

don't depend on LMS providers to understand pedagogy

There's an interesting post on Edutopia by Heather Wolpert-Gawron talking about the need for some synchronous F2F communications in order to have effective online learning. Of course, I don't agree.

One of the things I found interesting in her post was this line:
So, I asked a basic question to all the [LMS] vendors who were pitching their wares to my district: where are the teachers? I was told that we could always record our classes and post them for students to watch at their leisure.
I found it interesting that Heather would not only ask a vendor that question, then accept the response as knowledgeable. My comment about that was to compare her question to asking a school building architect where the teachers were, or if group instruction would be possible.

The LMS is the structure that holds the content -- the instructions, resources, and discussions, etc. There are some features of an LMS that restrict they types of content but what happens inside the LMS is under the control of the teacher/facilitator and course designer, and my experience in dealing with the sales folks is they know how to sell, not how to use the product they're selling.. Asking the LMS sales person about pedagogy is like asking the school building contractor about teaching.

I think I need to put Heather in the same category with most educators, of being bias toward the approach they're most familiar with, and the one they have the most experience with, that of face-to-face instruction. We need to find ways to expose more educators to high quality online learning experiences.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Our need to increase the number of folks doing cybersecurity

Yesterday (April 9) I attended the Third Annual Cybersecurity Caucus in San Antonio. San Antonio is now officially CyberCityUSA, with the website to prove it. The Caucus was very eye-opening for me. Dr Fred Chang from UTSA presented information that was designed to wake people up:
  • There's a programming competion sponsored by ACM and called the "Battle of the Brains" that the US hasn't been on top in this decade.
  • He stated that 73,000 new strains of malware have been identified every day this year, and that these are the bullets in the cyberwar taking place today.
  • The Department of Homeland Security wanted to hire 1000 folks with cybersecurity skills and thus far has only been able to find 300.
Major General Richard Webber Commander, 24th Air Force is in charge of the U.S. Air Force's Cyber Operations. And he provided evidence that the cyber domain is the new battleground.

What I got out of this was the clear need to grow the pipeline for getting students interested in cyber security. There are a number of degree programs available through the academic institutions in San Antonio. There is a national high school competition called Cyber Patriot

CyberPatriot is the National High School Cyber Defense Competition created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to excite, educate, and motivate the next generation of cyber defenders and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates our nation needs.
I learned that while there's a desire to attract high school students to cyber security education and careers, no one had given thought to what could be done to prepare elementary students to become aware of the careers or to develop skills that would help them pursue careers in this field.

When pushed, one college educator thought the emphasis in computational thinking (see previous post) would help, and so might getting elementary students interested in, and participating in computer game design (that will be the topic of a future post).

My request to you is to broaden your thinking about 21st Century learning to include, not only computational thinking, and supercomputing, but computer game design and cyber security. The 21st Century is here, and has been here for a decade. We need to prepare our youth to be productive members of it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Computational Thinking, Computational Science and High Performance Computing in K-12 Education: White Paper on 21st Century Education


Raymond Rose, Rose & Smith Associates, Inc.
Henry Neeman, University of Oklahoma
Bonnie Bracey Sutton, The Power of US Foundation
Vic Sutton, Emaginos

Executive Summary (full paper, posted on etc journal can be found here)

The 2010 National Educational Technology Plan says “…technology is at the core of virtually every aspect of our daily lives and work…. Whether the domain is English language arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, history, art, or music, 21st-century competencies and such expertise as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication should be woven into all content areas.”

The US has, since the late 1990s, been trying to describe what a 21st Century education should look like. Futurists are trying to divine the skills that will be needed for jobs that do not yet exist, employing technologies that have not yet been invented. However, a careful look around can allow us to see many areas that have been virtually unnoticed by those who are focused on 21st Century Skills.

Supercomputing – sometimes called high performance computing – is not a new technology concept, but the supercomputers of 25 years ago were about as powerful as a cell phone is today, and likewise the supercomputers of today will be no better than a laptop of 10 to 15 years from now. As the world of the biggest and fastest computers has evolved and these computers have become increasingly available to industry, government, and academia, they are being used in ways that influence everyday life, from the cars we drive, to the food in our cupboards, to the movies we enjoy.

Supercomputing is not an end in itself, but rather the technological foundation for large scale computational and data-enabled science and engineering, or computational science, for short. It is a collection of techniques for using computing to examine phenomena that are too big, too small, too fast, too slow, too expensive, or too dangerous to experiment on in the real world. While problems with small computing footprints can be examined on a laptop, the grand challenge problems most crucial for us to address have enormous computing footprints and, thus, are best solved via supercomputing.

As a result, in order to be competitive as a nation, we need to produce knowledge workers in far greater numbers who understand both what supercomputers can do and how to use them effectively to improve our understanding of the world around us and our day to day lives.

The thinking about large scale and advanced computing has evolved, too. Today, we realize that, while not everyone will be using big computing in their jobs, they will need to understand the underlying concepts.

These concepts collectively are referred to as “computational thinking,” a means of describing problems and how to solve them so that their solutions can be found via computing (paraphrased from Jeanette Wing, Jan Cuny, and Larry Snyder). Computational thinking includes abstraction, recursion, algorithms, induction, and scale.

Our 21st century citizens, entrepreneurs, leadership, and workforce will be best positioned to solve emerging challenges and to exploit new opportunities if they have a strong understanding of computational thinking, how it applies to computational science, and how it can be implemented via high performance computing. These are true 21st century competencies that will serve our nation well.