One Pathway for Future Engineers and Computer Scientists

Amazon is committing $50 million to computer science education in the United States with new programs supporting high school and early undergraduate students. Part of this includes financial aid to help schools bring AP computer science courses to their students. They have recently expanded this initiative into K-8.

The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help students discover the "fun" of computer science. Amazon critics might say this a just a kind of farm system for training new employees. Their efforts may benefit the company, but those students are probably more likely to work for other companies. And yes, I would agree that $50 million dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money when spread across the country's schools.

Students who start computer science early (and this seems to especially be true for females) are more likely to say they like computer science and have confidence in their computer science abilities.

I'm sure many people would write about this as another STEM or STEAM effort, but their materials talk about how positive it is for everyone to understand how computers (and that word means so many things besides the traditional laptop or desktop computer we talked about just 20 years ago) work and how they are programed.

Most students will not end up working as programmers or computer scientists, but that technology will touch the lives in and out of the workplace.

The program promotes how programming will aid not only the understanding of computers, but other technology and also a student's understanding of logic, precision and creativity.

Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a partnership with organizations such as Code.org and Coding with Kids.

The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program aims to support 100,000 high schoolers in taking Advanced Placement courses in computer science. It also is set to award four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-represented populations who participate in those courses.

Amazon is accepting scholarship applications for the 2019 campus and classes.
Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families

https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/

https://code.org/

https://www.codingwithkids.com/amazon/

 

On Internships

Science Fiction, Technology and Maybe Education

2001 tablet
2001 tablet

If you watch the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick, you will see some technology that seemed to predict technology of today, such as the iPad and other tablets. 

I was watching "Design is [Sci-Fi] – How Design in Sci-Fi and the Real World Influence Each Other," which is a talk given at Google by Christopher Noessel, a veteran in the UX world. He is the author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. 

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design is the update to Make It So that addresses the shift to smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and touch interfaces.

communicator
Star Trek Communicator replica (Wikimedia)

Designers sometimes use interfaces first described in in science fiction or shown in films and television shows. Film production designers working in the sci-fi genre are often free of the conventions of current technology. They can develop what are known as "blue-sky" designs. And then, fictional devices and interfaces might give designers inspiration for their real-world designs.

One example often used is the communicator used on Star Trek which seems to predict the early flip-phone mobile devices. On scifiinterfaces.com, you will find examples of how sci-fi and real-world interface design influence each other.

Films like Blade Runner tried to portray the future and give ideas in their predictions to designers in UX and technology. But does sci-fi have an influence on other fields? For example, what have educators learned from science-fiction? How has science-fiction portrayed education?

Generally, science-fiction writers and filmmakers have not really given schools of the future very much attention. Many schools and students portrayed are at the K-12 levels. Higher education is less likely to appear. Are they predicting an end to post-secondary learning in institutions? 

I remember watching the 1960s TV show and young Elroy Jetson having a robot teacher. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, there is a school for the space station's youngsters that is not very different from our current earthbound schools.

Certainly, online learning has made deep inroads into education at all levels, but especially in higher education. We don't have robot teachers yet, but AI, machine learning and predictive analytics have certainly started to make their way into education.

When I was teaching young adult novels, some students read Robert A Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky. This 1955 novel presented things like high school students being teleported for their final exam in a survival class to a distant planet. My students found these schools better than their own classrooms.

I found that my students often wished they could go to these futuristic sci-fi and fantasy schools.

I'll admit that when I read the Harry Potter books, I sometimes wished to be in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or be a teacher there, or just have Harry, Hermoine and a few of their mates as students. 

One of the few higher education depictions I have read is Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy found in the The Magicians books by Lev Grossman and the TV adaptations. 

Are there any things that most of these future schools have in common? You would be quick to note that students have much more choice. Their curriculum seems to be all directly related to what they want to do. Yes, some of Harry Potter's classmate may not like a course on magical plants, but they realize that it is an important part of the magical world.

Obviously, these future students have amazing technology to use. Paper notebooks and books and pens and pencils generally don't exist. Everything is digital. 

But there are also things that seem very much the same. Typically, there are still classrooms, labs, rows of desks and a teacher in the front of the room. I suppose even blue-sky writers and designers haven't come up with any good alternatives to those. 

Isaac Asimov made many predictions, including some about 2019, often they were based on current scientific research. Education was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” He wrote a short story that I used to teach called "The Fun They Had." It is about future students that were completely educated at home via teching machines. When the system breaks down one day, they have to read a book and find out that kids once went to a school building and had classes with other kids their age. The children are in awe of the fun those kids must have had.

I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

Christopher Noessel is a veteran in the UX world: designing products, services, and strategy
for the health, financial, and consumer domains, among many others. In this talk,
he investigates how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces
influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn
through this process, with many examples of good and awful designs.

 

Return to the One-Room School

one-room class
I don't know that anyone wants to literally return to the one-room schools of the past. This one is from 1940 in rural Kentucky, USA. But the concept may have present day applications.

According to Wikipedia, one-room schools were once commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including Prussia, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain.

In these rural and small town schools (some of which literally used someone's house), all of the students met in a single room. A single teacher taught academic basics to different aged children at different levels of elementary-age boys and girls.

I imagine that younger kids were hearing some of the older kids' lessons and older kids could get some remedial lessons when the younger kids were being taught. I think that could be an interesting model of learning. I also think it would be a challenging teaching assignment. It's a topic I delve into a bit deeper on my other blog.

Any debate about whether to group students by age or ability is hardly a new one. Terms like "performance-based" "ability grouping," "competency-based education" and "age-based instruction" pop up in lots of article, papers and dissertations. Classes and schools have been created around these ideas. And they still are being created - perhaps for different reasons than those that brought the one-room schools of the past into existence.

What is a school without grade levels? I read about a number of contemporary schools, including a district in North Dakota, that felt a drive to teach competencies meant eliminating age-based classrooms.

Back in 2016, I read an article in The Atlantic that asked "What If Schools Abolished Grade Levels?" Their panel concluded that sorting kids by age or ability creates problems.

What are some reasons to consider this approach to education?

In traditional classrooms, the learning is likely to be too fast or too slow for a good percentage of the students.

Rather than using "seat time" (students progressing through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair), base promotion onward on mastery of competencies and skills.”

Allowing students to learn at their own pace, including progressing more quickly through content they truly understand.

Those sound good. Are there any potential problems with this approach?

Grouping by ability rather than age could increase social interruptions. Having taught middle school and high school, I would tell you that there are some big differences between a sixth grader (typically 11 years old) and an eighth grader (at 13). Even more dramatic would be a class with two very good math students that are 12 and 16 years old. I actually saw that happen several times when middle school students were allowed to go to the high school (or even local college) for advanced classes. I know it works on television for Doogie Howser and Young Sheldon, but maybe not so smoothly in real life. Maturity, socialization and self-esteem are all considerations. 

Scheduling and assigning courses for each student becomes more complicated. 

But even if you question the pedagogy of this approach, what about the andragogy? When we train adult employees or our returning adult undergraduates and graduate students, how do we group? Do we put the 45 year-old woman working on her MBA separate from the 26 year old? Of course, we do not. Through some screening or admission processes, we often put learners in groups based on ability. For example, an employee is brand new to the software so she will go in level one training whether she is 22 or 55 years old.

The old one-room schools were primarily for the lower elementary grade levels, and they very much were products of economics, supply and demand, and necessity. Perhaps, new one-room schools would also work better at those levels rather than at the high school level. We already see some of this arrangement informally or just be accident in higher education and we certainly see it in training situations. This might be the time to reexamine the formal use of ability grouping at different ages and in different situations.

Ethical Tech

Reading the latest newsletter from Amber Mac a topic that caught my education eye is ethical tech. Hope educational use of tech is always stressing ethical use, but is this also a topic that is being taught? 

At the end of 2018, The New York Times posted an article titled, "Yes, You Can Be an Ethical Tech Consumer. Here’s How" by Brian Chen, which notes that products that we enjoy continue to create privacy, misinformation and workplace issues. That article makes some recommendations, ranging from Boycott and Shame (not so radical if you consider the 2018 #DeleteFacebook campaign that I don't think was all that successful) to paths that mean we Give Up Convenience for Independence - something that is as easy as fulfilling that resolution to diet and exercise.

Of course, I am on the side of educating the public and our students at all grade levels about the ethical use and applications of technology. Students are largely consumers of the tech, but they will be the creators. Did Mark Zuckerberg ever have an courses or lesson on the ethical use of technology?

I know that at NJIT where I taught, there were a number of courses that touch on ethical issues. In the management area, "Legal and Ethical Issues: Explores the legal and ethical responsibilities of managers. Analyzes extent to which shareholders should be allowed to exercise their legitimate economic, legal, and ethical claims on corporate managers; extent of regulation of a particular industry, individual rights of the employee and various corporate interests, and corporate responsibility to consumers, society, and conservation of natural resources and the environment." Of course, you have to get to the graduate level for that course.

In my own humanities area of Professional and Technical Communication, we started in the foundation courses in addressing ethics in communications - but it is only one topic in a busy curriculum along with usability analysis, visual information; global diversity and communication concerns and communicating with new technologies.

In computer science, "Computers, Society and Ethics" is a 300 level course that examines the historical evolution of computer and information systems and explores their implications in the home, business, government, medicine and education. The course includes discussions of automation and job impact, privacy, and legal and ethical issues. Obviously, ethical use needs to be a part of many courses at a science and technology school, as well as being the subject matter of entire courses.

AmberAmber says in her newsletter, that looking ahead "We will also continue to see social responsibility expand beyond the consumer. For example, let's think about investment dollars into new technologies. In the US alone, according to PitchBook, venture capital investment in US companies hit $100B in 2018. If we dig into these dollars, there are very few memorable headlines about ethical investments, but that is bound to change - especially as executives at large tech companies set new standards.

Engineers, designers, technical communicators and managers need to be better prepared for the world they are entering professionally. I proposed a course at NJIT on Social Media Ethics and Law that has yet to be approved or offered.

Amber continues that in terms of momentum on this ethical use  in companies, she points to software giant Salesforce as a leader. CNBC reported, the company will have its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer in 2019. And she points to a company that prides itself on being ethical and sustainable, Patagonia, as being "the north star of ethical business practices" and suggests that tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg should take a long look at Patagonia's many years of dedicated corporate responsibility. Patagonia announced they will donate the $10M the company saved via GOP tax cuts to environmental groups. Amber points out that Patagonia has a long history of providing consumers with access to their supply chain footprint and she asks if that might be the kind of thing that Gen Z may demand from the companies from whom they purchase. They might - if they are properly educated on the ethical use of technology.

Setting a Course in Rhizomatic Learning

A literal rhizome appears on plants. It is not a root, but more like a stem that sends out shoots and roots from its nodes. "Nodes" may make readers of this blog think of a network and that is one reason why the word was used to describe a kind of learning. As a gardener, I think of the plants (especially weeds and invasive species) that spread with vast networks of roots and will even shoot up new plants at a distance from the original.

grass rhizome

This method of spreading appealed to two French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in writing their book, A Thousand Plateaus. Rhizomatic learning is actually a variety of pedagogical practices that has more recently been identified as methodology for net-enabled education.

This theory of learning is not like the goal-directed and hierarchical approaches that has been the traditional approaches in classrooms. In the rhizomatic approach, learning is most effective when it allows participants to react to evolving circumstances. That means the task or goal is fluid and continually evolving.

That is a structure where the "community is the curriculum" and it turns teaching, learning and instructional design. Most educators and students are primed for pre-existing objectives. There is comfort in knowing where we are headed and then knowing that we have arrived there.

Dave Cormier's introduction/preface/prologue for an upcoming edited book on rhizomatic learning is online as a long post. Cormier avoids a hard definition as he finds that when we define "particularly in writing, we necessarily exclude some of the nuance of the meaning. We leave out the chance that the definition can get better. We leave out another’s perspective." But people want definitions.

via GIPHY

It is no surprise that that Dave Cormier first came to worldwide educational attention as one of the early users and pioneering formulators of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Those original MOOCs were often rhizomatic in structure in that the learning path, the goals and objectives of learners, and so the course it self, was not written in a stone syllabus.

Cormier found in his teaching that using new technologies his students' work "became more diverse and more individualized, and, at the same time, I had lost some control over the teaching process." That can either feel exciting or frightening to a teacher.

And yet, like most of us, Cormier's research reading indicated that "students were ‘most successful’ when they had a clear expectation of what success could look like." Having clear goals for each learning event did not match up with what he was seeing in his teaching.

Curriculum that is textbook-driven (as far too much of our courses are "designed") support a highly structured, linear approach to learning. Add to that structure assignments that come from the content and answers to those assignments that are clearly stated (perhaps in the Teacher’s Copy) and you have a very un-rhizomatic growth pattern. This is growth restricted by borders, walls, planters and possibly even prevented from moving outside the structure by educational "chemicals" designed to kill off stray rhizomes, roots and shoots.

It seems that what gave rise to the current rhizomatic learning growth spurt was the Internet. Cormier's piece goes back much further.

First, he looks to Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Julius Caesar. Then he jumps to the year 1270 and the University of Toulouse, and then to Switzerland in 1800. On that last stop in his history, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi decides that in order to teach the entire country to read (this is before a public school programs and before teacher education programs) he needs standardization. His method is the textbook. It is a way to make 10000 identical copies of content that all will use.

Pestalozzi was using the new technology of his time - the printing press. It allowed him to scale the learning process to more people. But his efforts and ones to follow not only sought to standardize the content, but also the process and the path to learning.

Cormier argues that following that path may have led us to believe that simply following the path means that learning is occurring. He also believes now that under the technology, rhizomatic learning was always happening. As a simple example, he points at the citations in an academic article that thread back rhizomatically to sources.

The Wikipedia entry of rhizomatic learning notes that educational researcher Terry Anderson has criticized the way in which advocates of rhizomatic learning seem to attack the idea of formal education as a whole. And one of Cormier's fellow MOOC pioneers, George Siemens, has questioned the usefulness of the rhizomatic metaphor: "I don’t see rhizomes as possessing a similar capacity (to networks) to generate insight into learning, innovation, and complexity... Rhizomes then, are effective for describing the structure and form of knowledge and learning...[h]owever, beyond the value of describing the form of curriculum as decentralized, adaptive, and organic, I’m unsure what rhizomes contribute to knowledge and learning."

If this approach to learning is truly rhizomatic, it should be difficult to stop from spreading.