Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Catch-all Catch-up

I've been delinquent for a couple of weeks, but here are a few things that have crossed my path that are worth thinking about.

  • The New York Times reported last Friday that EdX, the MOOC consortium run by Harvard and MIT, has created and plans to release open-source software that professors can use to grade college essays.  John Markoff's thoughtful article points out that, in addition to the obvious cost savings over "regular" TAs, computer-grading would make it possible for professors to assign more writing and for students to resubmit papers multiple times, possibly increasing learning.  He quotes the usual cries of "Pattern recognition is different from grading!" (not according to the Church-Turing Hypothesis, but I digress), but then closes with the following astute observation:  
"Mark D. Shermis, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, supervised the Hewlett Foundation’s contest on automated essay scoring and wrote a paper about the experiment. In his view, the technology — though imperfect — has a place in educational settings.
"With increasingly large classes, it is impossible for most teachers to give students meaningful feedback on writing assignments, he said. Plus, he noted, critics of the technology have tended to come from the nation’s best universities, where the level of pedagogy is much better than at most schools.
" 'Often they come from very prestigious institutions where, in fact, they do a much better job of providing feedback than a machine ever could,' Dr. Shermis said. 'There seems to be a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.' "

  • On first take, Sir Ken Robinson's famous TED Talk about creativity in education can sound like a standard "Infuse more arts into the curriculum."  But reading his book,  Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative gives a different story.  "At the same time, other disciplines, including science and mathematics can be just as creative as music and dance. Creativity is possible whenever we’re using our intelligence."  I'm really enjoying the rest of the book -- it's smooth, a quick read, lots of fun, and very thought provoking.
  • On a related note, John's former colleague Zach Herrmann writes in his blog that it's not just what we teach but whether we teach it in a way that fosters creative, actual thought:  "How often do we as teachers deprive our students of the excitement of learning by the way we ask our students to learn within our classrooms? I believe we can positively impact students’ perceptions of learning by being mindful of the problems we give and the way we ask them to participate, while rethinking our role as a teacher in their learning process."
That's all for this week!