Disruptive Technology: Can the computer and tech crowd disrupt higher education?

ABCs in ordinary objects in a school

Last summer, I got a desperate email from the guidance counselor at Ian’s high school. The elective that he signed up for was cancelled, so she needed to find another elective for him pronto. The only opening was an Advanced Photography class.

I wasn’t totally pleased. He had never shown an interest in photography and hadn’t taken the Beginning Photography class. But I wanted to be a good sport, so I said okay.

And then I totally forgot about that class. I would ask him about it from time to time and he would say great, but I didn’t hear anything more, and I didn’t ask anymore questions.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we visited the school to see his percussion ensemble and was surprised to see his artwork pasted up on the hallway to the band room. There was one project where he combined three faces into one composite fictional face. And another one where he made a mock-up of a magazine cover. It looked fabulous.

And then on Wednesday, his photography teacher sent us an email saying that Ian was spectacular at Photoshop, the best in the class. He suggested that he take a video effects class next where he would learn to do Game of Thrones types of special effects. Burning castles in the background and dragons in the sky. He wants to write Ian’s college recommendation. Nice, right?

Ian can spend 18 hours a day working on his projects at home. And has endless patience for manipulating pixels and music notes. Some of his electronic songs on YouTube have gotten tens of thousands of hits, but he hasn’t posted anything online in years, because of weirdos on the Internet.

I know nothing about special effects and art technology, so I spent hours googling information over the past few days. What local colleges offer degrees in that program? What skills do employers look for? Are there jobs on the East Coast? Are there places that employ people with poor social skills? (Yes.)

The gossip on places like Reddit is that these skills are so new that colleges haven’t really set up degree programs yet. And the geeks that run these companies don’t trust college classes anyway. They said that portfolios that come from college programs are often group projects, so it’s unclear which students really completed the work. They prefer self-taught workers who have a solid portfolio of projects that they create themselves. They will even hire people who have taught themselves these skills through YouTube videos.

We were talking about alternatives to college a few days ago in the comment section. Has credentialism gone too far? Do people have to get degrees in fields that are totally unnecessary, which end up filtering out people with irrelevant learning disabilities or financial difficulties? Well, it seems that at least in computer/tech fields, at this moment in time, a college degree is unnecessary.

I wonder if that ethos will carry over into other fields. Do accountants really need a full liberal arts education with Introduction to Sociology and Philosophy 101? Don’t they really just need to add up columns of numbers and manipulate formulas on Excel? Does a stock broker need those classes? I mean it’s probably a good thing for all people to take those classes and broaden their horizons, but should it be mandatory?

The computer and tech crowd has tried to disrupt higher education before (hello MOOCs!) and hasn’t gotten anywhere, so some doubt is warranted. But, still, it’s interesting.


The Tech Backlash

Tech stocks are going down the tubes. Sheryl Sandberg is suddenly a bad guy. There are never ending stories about how bad iPhones are for kids, and how the tech CEOs won’t let their own kids have access to the Internet.

Has Tech jumped the shark?

A couple of weekends, Steve, Ian, and I went down to DC for a quick getaway. Schools in New Jersey were closed, but not the workplaces. So, Steve and I were glued to our phones as we were walking through museums and sitting in restaurants. We knew it was evil, but we couldn’t help it. Steve, who now a director at his bank, had to help put out fires in the office, remotely moving files and soothing stressed out traders. I was getting anxious looking at the stories coming out that I should have written.

Ian was probably better behaved with his phone than we were. which is rather sad. He’s addicted to those stupid “daily rewards” on his video games. He has to check into 18 video games every day or else his characters die or something. It’s the worst possible scenario for a kid with mild OCD and anxiety. He has the situation at a manageable level right now — meaning that it does it so quickly that it doesn’t use up a lot of time or interfere with real life — but it’s really insane.

We all know this situation is stupid, but are we stopping? Are we slowing down? Do we have our addictions at manageable levels? What do you think?

How Schools Are Bridging the Coding Gender Gap

Turning girls onto computers and coding requires strong leadership, said Superintendent Dr. Kristine Gilmore of the D.C. Everest School District in Wisconsin.

Computer science classes have long been the domain of boys. While girls and boys are now equally represented in advanced science and math classes, girls still are not flocking to classes like Programming in JAVA or Mobile App Development. With the growing need for computer scientists in the workforce, school leaders are trying to convince girls that these classes aren’t just boys’ clubs.

“Things don’t happen by chance,” said Gilmore. “You have to ask, ‘Do all kids have opportunities?’ As a superintendent, my job is to remove barriers for kids.”

Girls only made up about one-fifth of all AP students in computer science in 2013, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, even though girls are equally likely to take the science and math AP exam. This gender gap continues into college. In 2015, only 18 percent of all computer science college degrees in the country went to women.

Read more here.

Why Online Gradebooks Are Changing Education


Flipped Learning
Students solve problems in Crystal Kirch’s pre-calculus class at Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. A growing number of teachers are implementing what is known as “flipped learning,” in which students learn lessons as homework, mostly through online videos produced by teachers, and use classroom time to practice what they learned. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

How did my son perform on his high-school physics test this morning? Seconds after the teacher posts his score online, I can find out. With just a few more clicks, I can also tell you how the grade affected his overall performance for the quarter, his GPA for the year, how many times he was late for school, and what he ate for lunch this week.

All of this information is readily available to parents at any time through our school district’s virtual gradebook

—an increasingly popular tool that is reshaping parental involvement in schools nationwide and opening up the black box of student assessment. Experts predict that these programs will evolve using the latest technology to measure increasingly varied facets of students’ educational lives. While many parents seem to appreciate the increased connections with their schools, others—myself included—are not interested in the constant surveillance and assessment of their children.

More here

Getting Google

Here on the East coast, we’re not quite plugged into the tech job section. There’s some growth in that area in some areas of Manhattan, but it’s certainly not like the NW. So, I found this whole thread on Quora totally fascinating.

A guy got turned down for a position at Google and asked the people of Quora if that meant that he was a loser. Most commenters said that he wasn’t a loser and then rattled off all the people who were turned down by Google and then made billions elsewhere.  Others had more info about the hiring practices at Google and talked about the interviewers methods for finding talent.

I’ve never worked for a place as large and competitive as Google. From the discussion on Quora, their Human Resources department sounds creepy and pseudo-scientific. And some of the Google employees who piped into the conversation talked about the company like members of a cult.

Routers Woot!

I started cleaning the house back in March. Amazingly, I’m still on a roll. These moods don’t happen very often, so I’m just going with it. I now have new artwork in the living room. We’ve got the beginning stages of a binder-system for all the special education paperwork. The blog and the lesser websites are 90% in order. The boys are up-to-date for doctors’ appointments. I need to deal with some horrible, unspeakable test of the intestinal tract. I’m checking things off the checklist, baby!

Today’s job was dealing with the rickety WiFi system in the house. I knew that our system wasn’t working properly, but things finally crapped out two days ago when an extender died. The only place that the WiFi worked was in the tiny basement office. Ian started racking up huge data overage charges. Without access to his beloved Netflix in bedroom, Jonah was super sad.

I finally set up an appointment with the cable guys to put the router in a sensible place. The router is currently hiding in the farthest corner of the house behind the original cement foundation for the house. Moving it wasn’t going to solve the problem on its own, so I went shopping today. The nerdest salesman in Best Buy gave me Router 101 lessons. He explained that routers need to be replaced every year or so. Our household demands required a much better router (5 cell phones, 2 lap tops, 2 desktops, 3 tablets, streaming TV, gaming). The older N600 models don’ t work anymore.

The router is installed. Sensible passwords are in place. There’s two or three bars everywhere in the house. We’ll see if Wednesday’s cable guy can get up three bars throughout the house. So, another chore that I have completed by 90%. (Yes, this is the biggest first world problem evah.)

Next up — Our jerry-rigged sound system is 15 years old. I need something that will be old school enough to play CDs and connect to the turntable. I also want to connect to Spotify and wireless speakers. I need it to be cute. Still, doing my research on that.

The P.C. Debate

I’m slowly slogging through Jonathan Chait’s “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say.”  (Disclaimer — I’m a member of the Facebook group “Binders Full of Women” that is mentioned in the article.)

I am particularly fond of the P.C. term cis-gender. I had to google it a few months ago.

It’s a long article and there’s been a lot of commentary on it. I’ve largely been ignoring it, because I find PC criticism as tiring as political correctness itself.

I want to pull out one little small bit of the article, because it relates to something else that I’m writing. It’s the role of social media in creating a new political correct movement.

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. “All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps,” Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.

Social media has created a new brand of journalism that specializes in click-bait. Tail wags the dog. This click-bait crap consists mostly of a SEO-friendly headline and an image. After the first sentence, the rest of the article could be in Latin, because nobody reads it. These click-bait articles published by slimy, journalism-ish companies are not only fueling PC nonsense. They are basically a wet dream for conspiracy theorists.