Monthly Archives: January 2009

An empty college quad?

95% of the 18-19 year-olds surveyed in a sweeping EDUCAUSE study said they used Social Networks (SNs). The study looked at about 23,000 college students at more than 90 institutions. They spend anywhere from 5 hours to 9-10 hours in these spaces, blogging, updating their profiles, and on average, 19 hours online on all kinds of activities – schoolwork included. With so many hunched over their laptops (80.5% have laptops) or internet capable cellphones, creating content, blogs, videos whatever (30%), and “connecting” with friends, who is left on the college quad?

You’d think this group would ask for more IT in their classroom, but only 59% felt a “moderate” amount was acceptable. Well, with what is currently available under the name of e-learning, this lukewarm reception is hardly surprising. The study digs deeper. When asked about online courses, negative responses were clustered into four categories, no face to face, potential for cheating, technical problems, and the need to “teach themselves.”

This puzzles me. For a generation that is comfortable hanging out online in SNs – clearly, face to face is still important. And the negative response to the need to “teach themselves”, the increased cognitive demands of self study, tells me that the online learning still has not figured out how to deliver effective scaffolding and adaptive learning environments. They are not complaining about the need to teach themselves when they spend time on World of Warcraft – they teach themselves pretty fast in that environment. So how do we fix this?

CItation: Salaway, Gail and Caruso, Judith B., with Mark R. Nelson. The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008 (Research Study, Vol. 8). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2008, available from

Patriotic I scream, I mean ice cream

I made liquid nitrogen ice cream for a sixth grade science class – in red white and blue.  Never, ever forget to wear your gloves when you do that.  My fingers have not recovered yet, and it has been an agonizingly, painful week. But this is not the science matter I wanted to talk about.  First I noticed, all the boys were clustered in the front.  And all the girls were in the back of the room.  And all the questions came from the boys.  Well, not all.  But noticeably more.  And when I asked the teacher to pick three volunteers to stir the icecream (My hand was pretty useless by then) she picked all boys!

Now I am sensitized to these sorts of things.  Thanks to our own wonderful Pat Marsteller’s mentoring, I have read my way through The Chilly Classroom (The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide to Improve the Education of Women, by Bernice Resnick Sandler, Lisa A. Silverberg, and Roberta M. Hall.) and “They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different: Stalking the Second Tier (Occasional Paper on Neglected Problems in Science Education)” by Sheila Tobias and know all about the differential treatment girls and female undergrads get in science classrooms, but I did not expect to see it.  Each one of you should visit your middle schooler’s classroom and watch the dynamics.  Who gets called on to answer in the science classes?  Are the girls still getting the mixed signals at this particularly sensitive time?

The good news is that as I was leaving, a couple of girls helped me carry stuff back – and inundated me with questions.  What is absolute zero? How cold is that? How do you make it that cold?  What if we were on Pluto  and we took this can of nitrogen there?  Don’t you love thought experiments?  The Tibetan monks are really good at these.  After today’s close encounter with liquid nitrogen, I am all for less hands on and more thought experiments!
(Link to the book on Amazon)

Collaboration Spaces

FirstClass is extremely popular at Emory.  Even before Facebook came on campus, Emory students were obsessively checking for new messages on Learnlink (our FirstClass client) and the coolest professors (my dear colleague, Matthew Weinschenk for example) on campus would chat with their students during student friendly hours (like after 11 pm!)  But it never really got the online collaboration piece right.

Online collaboration is  a critical component of the learning experience for this generation.  My three kids, 9, 12 and 17 hit the computer even before they throw their backpacks on the floor.  Their homework is online, their teachers’ powerpoints are on line and yes, their friends are on gtalk and AIM.

At my start-up, Inquus, we are trying to work out all the different dimensions of online collaboration.

These are exciting times because successful online collaboration for today’s digital youth has to yet to be implemented.  Visionaries (Terry Anderson, George Siemens and others) have defined the ideals and the shortcomings of today’s solutions.  We know in theory what scaffolding to provide, what affordances we ought to provide and the outcomes we desire.  But what will this look like?

So we pulled out the lego blocks and we are having fun imagineering the learning space. What will promote stickiness for this demographics?  What environment will be easy enough for them to use so it is truly useful?  What will get them motivated so that they spend more time in this collaborative learning space, and less on Club Penguin?  If we build it, will they stay here?

Of course, our best consultants are the 10-17 year olds who crowd our home computers, playing games.

Science Matters to Tibetan Monks

Yes, it does matter to Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. This May, with about 15 faculty and students from Emory and Georgia Tech, I will travel to Dharamsala, India to run the second Emory Summer Science Institute for Tibetan monastics and nuns.  Yes, that is right.  Monks want to learn science with a passion.  Sessions include physics, biology and neurosciences, some math and some chemistry.  And philosophy of western science.  We learned so much from the monastics while were there. About ourselves, about teaching and learning in science.  About other ways of problem solving and other knowledge systems.

Last year a smaller group offered the first summer institute and it was a mind blowing experience.  If you are a science educator, when was the last time you had 40 keen minds just concentrating on your every word, with passionate interest and deadly focus?  And the questions were some of the most clever, thought provoking, original questions I have ever heard.  And yes, we did not always have an answer.  I’ll post some of them in future posts.

Scientific Method and Lean

It is appropriate that I start with the Scientific Method. Didn’t your chemistry course start with a long description of the scientific method? Well, I was reading this article, “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System”, by  Spear and Bowen, HBR 1999 and a real world application of the scientific method just blew me away.  What a great example to share with your intro chemistry freshmen who are all thinking, “Why do I care about the Scientific method? I am not a scientist, duh!”

I encourage you to read this article, but in a nutshell, it talks about how TPS nurtures a scientific community  in its plants, where everyone, right down to the gal who tightens the bolts, is encouraged to think scientifically, use the scientific method to problem solve, conduct experiments and prove or disprove hypotheses. It is fabulous.