Tailoring eTextbook content to different regions

2 10 2013

Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) got some press for its introduction of iPads into their high school classrooms. They have instituted a program to loan iPads to all of their high school students to aid in their studies. Inevitably, the subject of electronic textbooks came up in this discussion.

Electronic textbooks have enormous potential to aid in education. Of course, as is the case with any technology, there are drawbacks.

An electronic text can be updated constantly in the background. As current events unfold, they can be added to textbooks and classroom discussion and thought can be centered around those events. There is no way to do this with paper textbooks without printing a whole new edition and convincing school districts across the entire country to invest in them.

jesusondinoIt is also possible for a school district to get a copy of a textbook from a publisher and tailor it for their schools and students. This could solve much of the turmoil caused be folks like those on the Texas Board of Education. Texas purchases many textbooks and publishers do not want to be burdened with making two versions of a 500-page book. Because of this, there is a possibility that future American biology textbooks will include Creationism, euphemistically called “Intelligent Design.”

This is where we get into dangerous territory. In theory, it would be possible for states with more religious legislators and officials to approve science books with Bible verses in them and the other states to put actual science into their science books. We would risk further bifurcating America by producing two groups of citizens, those who learn about evolution and actual science and those who do not understand science and mistrust it.

My first instinct was to say, “So what? Let those backward states have their pseudoscience. Once they get passed up by the other states, they will see the error of their ways.” Unfortunately, it would not work this way. For things like science, we must have everyone learning the same basic principles and facts. To do otherwise would be risking a dangerous division in our country.

Obviously, this is not a problem that is going to be solved overnight. Maybe it will not be as bad as I think it will be. Hopefully, it will not. That said, this is probably going to come up in one form or another.

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13 04 2012

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Old-school programming not so relevant

28 06 2011

I have been watching session videos from WWDC 2011. For me, they bring up the subject of teaching old programming languages and techniques in an academic environment when the outside world rarely uses them. The stuff that Apple was showing off and people were discussing there was bleeding-edge stuff. However, it will not be bleeding-edge for much longer because developers are going to start adopting all the new developer technologies that they saw there.

I fully realize that it is important to learn the fundamentals of programming before moving on to the more shiny, advanced stuff like what Apple was showing. However, we never moved on. The instructors will probably not move on for some time, still.

An example might be compilers. If you are in the Computer Science program at Purdue, you may end up taking a class where you learn about compilers and actually have to make your own. Last year, Apple announced that they are moving on from the traditional GCC to the brand-new LLVM (Low-Level Virtual Machine). In fact, Xcode 4.2 does not support GCC anymore. It’s gone. History. However, GCC will likely linger for some time in academia because the instructors will not teach anything else. LLVM may be where things are headed, but it is new and unfamiliar. While most new software engineers will not have to understand how LLVM works, it is still a modern programming technology likely to become more and more popular as time marches on.

Maybe we should spend time during the 100- and 200-level computer science courses teaching students the basics of how software works. Things like C, Java, and basic compiler architecture could be covered then. The 300- and 400-level courses could focus more on modern programming techniques and technologies. Many universities have iPhone development courses. This is a step in the right direction. However, there are many other web frameworks out there, like Android, Sproutcore, and Rails that could do with more attention in academia as well. I could be all wrong about this, but this is where I stand on the subject.





Teach doubt in school

18 02 2011

I enjoyed my time in high school. I still value that experience a great deal. It helped me start to figure out who I am and where I want to go. In particular, the science programs had a big impact on me. From the Saturday Science program there that I participated in as a 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grader, to the four years of science that I took there, to the scholarship I won from the North Central Science Department at graduation, it was a great place to learn. Looking back, however, there was something missing, a lesson in reason and skepticism.

I did not really get into skepticism – real skepticism – until my junior year in college. Basically all that happens in high school science classes is learning the specific subject in question, be it physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, or some other subject. The scientific method is only briefly glossed over in the first class each year.

I think that in order for science classes to really teach science, they must teach the philosophy behind it, as well as the actual means. This can take a couple of forms. It could be a dedicated course, within the schools’ science curriculum. This course would  give students a firm grounding in rationality, skepticism, and inquiry. It would teach them how to question and test claims. The alternative to this solution would be to include a more in-depth lesson in the scientific method and scientific inquiry that might last a week (5 class sessions) or so.

I would make the argument that while we improve our education system across the country, we should look at where our science curricula might be lacking. We certainly could do with more rational analysis and thought in this country.





About to do something reckless and stupid

2 02 2011

The smart thing and the right thing are sometimes not the same thing. Should you do something simply because you can? I can do my job. It challenges me. I have learned a great deal from my job over the past seven months. Unfortunately, I do not get much satisfaction out of my work.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I graduated from college about nine months ago and this is my first full-time, salaried job. I work as a web developer. I graduated with a degree in Informatics, which is an IT-related major. Before that, I was an Astronomy/Astrophysics major. Before that, a Geology major. Because my academic performance as an Astronomy major was not great, I decided I just wanted to graduate, so I found the easiest degree program I could, one that mildly interested me. I blasted right through, graduated, and got a job I could do but did not really care about.

This lack of interest or enthusiasm is no one’s fault but my own. I can get through each day, pushing sites out the door, but there is no fun in it for me. I like the people I work with. They are smart, nice, and knowledgable.

I did the smart thing. I got a steady job with good coworkers in a familiar city that is somewhat easy for me to execute. The question is did I do the right thing? I am considering doing something drastic and stupid but it might be the right thing for me to do. Let’s see if it acutally happens.





Astronomy Course Schedule, Mark I

31 01 2011

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have been toying around with the idea of going back to school for my Astronomy Bachelor’s degree. I may even continue on to a Master’s degree. I am not certain if I have it in me to the full PhD/postdoc route. But grad school is a decision to be made a year before graduation.

I talked with an Astronomy/Astrophysics academic advisor at Indiana University back in December. Here is the rough course schedule we came up with.

  • Summer 2011
    • MATH-M211 Calculus I (4 credit hours)
  • Fall 2011
    • MATH-M212 Calculus II (4 credit hours)
    • PHYS-P221 Physics I (5 credit hours)
    • AST-A221 General Astronomy I (4 credit hours)
  • Spring 2012
    • MATH-M311 Calculus III (4 credit hours)
    • PHYS-P222 Physics II (5 credit hours)
    • AST-A221 General Astronomy II (4 credit hours)
  • Summer 2012
    • MATH-M343 Intro to Differential Equations with Applications I (3 credit hours)
    • MATH-M303 Linear Algebra for Undergraduates (3 credit hours)
  • Fall 2012
    • MATH-M312 Calculus IV (4 credit hours)
    • PHYS-P331 Theory of Electricity and Magnetism I (3 credit hours)
    • PHYS-P441 General Astronomy II (4 credit hours)
  • Spring 2013
    • PHYS-P332 Theory of Electricity and Magnetism II (3 credit hours)
    • PHYS-P453 Intro to Quantum Mechanics (3 credit hours)
    • AST-A451 Stellar Astrophysics (3 credit hours)
  • Fall 2013
    • AST-A305 Modern Observational Techniques (4 credit hours)
  • Spring 2014
    • AST-A452 Extragalactic Astrophysics (3 credit hours)

Nearly all of my liberal arts and non-degree credits are done and were taken recently enough that I can count them toward this degree. I will also need to take an intensive writing course at some point in this degree program. Given all that math and physics, it would be a welcome break.

I am making a pretty big assumption with this course schedule. That assumption is that I quit my steady, well-paid, job with health benefits and go back to school full time for another three years. That is a decision I am still wrestling with and I am far from making a decision. This is really just a thought exercise for me to see how long it would take me to complete this degree that I have been eying since  2007.





More than a body of knowledge

28 12 2010

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grand children’s time … when awesome technologi­cal powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representi­ng the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgea­bly question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes­, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguis­h between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstiti­ons and darkness.”

-Carl Sagan