by Dave Kellam

Educate don’t humiliate

From Dan Edwards in response to overly harsh design critics dickheads, Educate don’t humiliate:

As a general rule we should try better to understand why the designer has made the decisions they’ve made and think about their experience and how we can help, not just humiliate them. Take the time to provide newbies with the resources and answers that they need. That’s education.

Especially pointed given how easy it is to offer a knee-jerk reaction on the internet. Of course, I’ve never done anything like that.

The same notes could be applied to developers too. It’s easy to become dismissive of someone’s work because they did it in an unfashionable language, or a different coding style, or used some sort of kludgy hack. There was likely a reason behind the decision, which may be worth examining before picking up the pitchfork.

Updated: Upon further reflection, they should not be called design critics (we’ll go with Dan’s original intent). Also, forgot to link to actual article.

November 22, 2013 ·

Superficial scholars

Heather Wilson, who has served on Rhodes Scholarship selection committees, examines the lack of broader education from America’s top universities in Our superficial scholars.

I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

Remember the lament for polymaths earlier this month?

January 24, 2011 ·

A gaming class structured like a MMORPG

Gaming the Classroom is a program at Indiana University, created by Lee Sheldon and Jenna Hoffstein, that is structured like a MMORPG.

This class is designed as a multiplayer game. Class time will be divided between fighting monsters (Quizzes, Exams etc.), completing quests (Presentations of Games, Research etc.) and crafting (Personal Game Premises, Game Analysis Papers, Video Game Concept Document etc.).

The class is now finished and you can read a post mortem.

January 15, 2011 ·


From the The Last Days of the Polymath by Edward Carr:

The question is whether their loss has affected the course of human thought. Polymaths possess something that monomaths do not. Time and again, innovations come from a fresh eye or from another discipline. Most scientists devote their careers to solving the everyday problems in their specialism. Everyone knows what they are and it takes ingenuity and perseverance to crack them. But breakthroughs—the sort of idea that opens up whole sets of new problems—often come from other fields.

Perhaps we need a return to the Renaissance ideal.

January 8, 2011 ·

Learn better with ugly fonts

Two studies, by Princeton psychologists, have found that using a hard-to-read font can lead to improved memory performance. They compared the retention of material set in Monotype Corsiva, Comic Sans Italicized and Haettenschweiler versus the same material set in Helvetica and Arial. From the research paper published in Cognition:

This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects (science and humanities classes) and difficulty levels (regular, Honors and Advanced Placement) can be significantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read.

Fluency interventions are extremely cost-effective, and font manipulations could be easily integrated into new printed and electronic educational materials at no additional cost to teachers, school systems, or distributors. Moreover, fluency interventions do not require curriculum reform or interfere with teachers’ classroom management or teaching styles.

I doubt that textbooks are in any danger of being typeset in crappy typefaces, but there’s probably some room for typeface variation that could improve learning. This technique is probably more relevant for handouts and classroom materials provided by teachers.

January 7, 2011 ·

Shadow Scholar

The story of someone who makes his living writing papers for students. He has worked on everything from admissions essays and undergraduate assignments to large graduate theses. In his words, “I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary.”

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

Can’t say that I’m surprised by the article, but it is disheartening — I don’t see how any self-respecting graduate student could have someone else write their papers. It’s frustrating when you know people that work their asses off to produce solid work, while some idiot that they’re up against just dips into the bank. That said, I have to admit being amused by the thought of people paying to have ethics papers written for them.

November 15, 2010 ·

Classroom gaming

Video games in the classroom explores the use of games as a teaching tool.

Salen’s theory goes like this: building a game — even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build — is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.

For a generation growing up immersed in technology, it offers a great opportunity for cross-curricular learning. Implementing a broad program like that could be problematic with the compartmentalized subject structure found in most schools. There would also be issues in an educational system with standardized testing, where you pretty much have to teach to the test. Regardless, it’s an interesting approach that has a lot of potential.

September 30, 2010 ·