Saturday, May 08, 2010

Inspring, Scary, and Typical: three unrelated things

One inspiring thing, one typical thing, and one scary thing.

First, two English profs from Rutgers, Richard Miller and Paul Hammond, gave a talk at the Apple Higher Ed conference. Their English department has its own IT department of five techs! The two profs are better writers than speakers, although the video is worth watching. The good stuff comes during the Q&A beginning at about 32:28 minutes into the video. This is some of the most inspirational stuff I've heard in a long time about using technology to promote deep thinking. A couple of quotes from the report (you'll need to scroll down about 40 percent to page 26 get to their presentation), first about technologists and their relationship to faculty:
Question: What advice would you give us technologists who have to work with the same type of faculty you do? They are not looking at technology as being integrated.
Richard: I appreciate this even more now that I am the acting head of IT. I had to fire the head of IT because he was a Web 1.0 person and he refused to move into the Web 2.0 world. In the old model, IT has the expertise and users are idiots because they don’t have it. We have to move beyond this to a collaborative way of working together. The five IT people I work with now were used to saying two things: “No,” and “That’s a security risk.” “And if the second one doesn’t apply, see the first one.”
What we have to decide is what is the priority here—to keep things bulletproof or to advance the mission of the university?
and about deferred maintenance of the physical plant and "slow reading"
Question: Technology begins with one specific goal in mind, for example, Guttenberg and the Bible. Then it’s driven to scale by something else—pornography. We heard from a panel earlier about students not going to class and so on. And that removes from the university something that has always been so important and that is the social aspect of it.
Richard: Rutgers is a place that is behind in basic maintenance. Through our spaces, we tell students that what you do here is not important. So for us it’s absolutely that we create a pedagogy that is critical to the experience we provide and that’s thinking. Because it’s not available anywhere else. Reacting—expressing a loud opinion—those things are available everywhere. Thinking isn’t. Thinking is hard, it’s frustrating, it can be humiliating, it can be boring. We want to provide that experience to our students in an environment that is not available anywhere else in the world.
We also teach courses in slow reading. I teach a course that meets once week and I don’t allow technology. I assign ten pages per week and there are two rules. 1) You cannot read ahead. 2) The work that comes at the end is to do what the book does, which is to think over a long period of time.
This is how it goes. I ask them, “What did you think of the reading?” They say, “Boring.” I ask, “Well, what research did you do after reading?” They say, “It was only ten pages.” I say, “Who is...” and then I name a person relevant to the reading. And they say, “I don’t know.” And I say, “You had only ten pages to read and you have the best research tool in history and you did nothing?”
It’s the most painful mental experience in their lives. But if we don’t teach people how to think, it’s a lost opportunity not only for education but for humanity.

Second, the scary thing is an American Airlines pilot on the 6 May LAX-JFK flight declared an emergency because he didn't want to land on the runway ATC OK'ed. I've never heard anything from ATC like the mp3 recording, but you don't need to listen to that to get a feel for it, the forum discussion is scary enough. One post says they landed with less than 7000 pounds of fuel, yikes.

Third, Don Norman (author of the Design of Everyday Things, the second week's reading in my graduate HCI class) being typically Don Norman ("I never know what I’m going to do until I’m finished -- but once I’m finished I’m not interested anymore") is interviewed about design and engineers. I've talked before about similar multidisciplinary programs such as Stanford's