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By Dr. Harry Tennant

Edclicking

by Harry Tennant
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Entries from February 2011
Posts 1 - 8 of 8

Monday, February 28, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Harry Tennant

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it? Here are my own thoughts.

Harry Tennant
Education: BS Information Engineering and Computer Science, MS Computer Science, PhD Computer Science
Career: AI research, research management, technology management, Internet consulting, Internet entreprenuer

Three best things about a STEM career

  1. My parents predicted I would be an engineer when I was small because I was always building with Lincoln Logs, blocks, TinkerToys, models and Erector sets (LEGOs didn't exist). In addition, I frequently disassembled gadgets around the house and less frequently reassembled them. My parents were right. I still derive great satisfaction knowing that I can make things, especially that I can make things that others find useful. If you have an interest in making things and knowing how they work, STEM is the right place for you.
  2. My childhood heroes were scientists and inventors who changed the world. At that time I assumed it was always for the good, but later learned that it's more complicated than that. I wanted to be part of the march of history fueled by science and technology. And a big part of that is learning to think like a scientist: What's the evidence? What can be quantified? How can we organize what we know?
  3. At college graduation there were competing chants between the college of liberal arts and sciences on one side of the Assembly Hall and engineers on the other. One side chanted, "L-A-S L-A-S," but soon shifted to "We're not nerds. We're not nerds." To which the engineering side came back with, "We've got jobs. How about you? We've got jobs. How about you?" Jobs tend to be plentiful for new STEM graduates. However, it's a short-lived advantage. Although the engineers tend to find jobs before the liberal arts students, the LAS students typically find jobs pretty soon. So, it's an advantage to engineers that lasts a few months at most. On the other hand, the engineers may be nerds for the rest of their lives.

    You can do no better than spending your career doing what you love to do. While there are practical considerations like finding a way to make some money, you will be more satisfied doing what you love, or at least attempting to do what you love and failing, than selecting a career only for the money. But what if the only things you love to do are watching TV or going to parties? It means you are stuck thinking only of yourself. Spend time thinking what you can do for others that you will love.

Three worst things about a STEM career

  1. New engineers tend to think that technology is the essence of a new tech business. It may be necessary but it's not sufficient. It's at least as important for engineers to understand business, sales and working with people. That is to say, even if you're an engineer, don't be a nerd for the rest of your life.
  2. Technical knowledge is fleeting, quickly overtaken by new technical knowledge. If you love the challenge of learning new technology, this is fun. If not, your knowledge may soon become obsolete.
  3. If you choose a STEM career just because of the out-of-college employment advantage, you're unlikely to be happy in the long term. Technical work is typically mentally challenging. If you thrive on the challenge, you'll love it. If you don't, you'll hate it.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Tech High Schools and PBL

On the EdConnections blog, Dan posted an interesting article about Magnet schools and New Tech High Schools possibly losing some funding to put their student/teacher ratio to the same level as other schools in the district. I am impressed with the New Tech model.

The New Tech schools primarily emphasize two things: project-based learning and 21st Century skills. In addition, the "tech" part of New Tech advocates that each student have a notebook computer and there are other requirements such as school size being limited to 500 students.

Project-Based Learning (PBL)
Orienting all courses around PBL changes the way students learn and the way instruction is organized. Class lectures are out, students collaborating to solve problems are in and the daily role of teachers becomes one of providing mini-lectures when needed to small groups of students within the classroom. Of course, the larger role for teachers is to create the projects, often in collaboration across disciplines, that meet learning standards yet don't specifically teach to them.

It's inspiring to view a functioning PBL classroom. There is a lot of activity, students collaborating with one another in small groups and best of all, the degree of student engagement seems very high.

How well do students learn in PBL environments? One of the most frustrating aspects of this promising movement is that one can find little evidence of its efficacy. When observing a good PBL classroom in action one thinks, this must be great for learning. Yet the evidence isn't there. It's isn't that there is evidence that shows it isn't effective, there just isn't any strong evidence one way or the other! It's very frustrating considering what to outward appearances is a better approach to teaching.

An excellent source for learning more about PBL is Edutopia.

21st Century Skills
The 21st Century Skills movement is an effort to encourage skill development that cuts across traditional courses and learning standards. They are skills like collaboration, problem solving, work ethic, information literacy, critical thinking and so on. These skills have always been important, not just in the 21st century. The point of the program is that since they are important skills, they should be measured. Under the theory that what gets measured gets improved, it should help students improve these important skills.

What's unusual about grading these skills is that it's advocated that they be graded across all courses. For example, the student's work ethic grade would be calculated from inputs from English class, math class, social studies and so on.

The collaboration skill would be graded differently. It would depend primarily on input from the other students that one works with in teams. This is analogous to what in business are called 360 degree performance reviews: assessments not only by the teacher or manager but by one's colleagues as well.

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Keywords: PBL, 21st Century Skills

 

Friday, February 25, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Robert Jorczak

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Robert Jorczak
Education: BS, MS, PhD

My formal education has been in physical and behavioral science, education, and computer "science".  I have been involved in STEM as a middle/high school science teacher and as a designer of (primarily computer-delivered) training and instruction.  Given my science and technical background, I was often involved in the development of technical training (for various adult audiences, including salesmen).

The worst thing about being technically knowledgeable is that you can be pigeonholed as the "nerd" or "geek" who has difficulty dealing or communicating with people and/or lacks leadership potential.  This stereotype may have some truth in it, like many stereotypes, but it an be frustrating if one is not satisfied with simply doing what other people tell you to do.  Often, those who can actually DO a  technical task (e.g., programming), rather than talk about it, are limited to that task so the unskilled have something to do (i.e., design or manage).

Another issue is that science and especially technology changes rapidly compared to other knowledge, so what you work hard to know often becomes obsolete and you are repeatedly faced with a similar new learning task.  That gets tiresome as one ages.

Technical employment, which used to sort of guarantee a job, is now sent to other countries so that technical jobs are suffering the same fate and manufacturing jobs.

The best thing is that you get to understand some science or technology, which can be awe inspiring and can provide a peek into the nature of the universe.  What is better than that?  You also, sometimes get to see the cutting edge of science or technology if you are lucky.  You may get to play with advanced fun toys.

I strongly believe we cannot promote science and technology enrollment or performance by pretending it is entertainment or fun for general audiences.  I support a dual approach which treats those with STEM ability and/or interest differently than those who have little interest or scientific reasoning ability.  The latter would be trained more about what science has discovered (and about appreciating science) and the latter would be taught how to do science. Finally, we will get both better STEM enrollment and performance if our culture demonstrates a higher esteem for it.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Dan Donahue

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Dan Donahue
Education:  BS Astrophysics, MS Computer Science
Career:  AI researcher, Healthcare web software architect, Game producer, programmer, Consultant, Enterprise SW designer/developer, Video Producer

Three best things about a STEM education/career
  1)    You usually get a pretty good salary
  2)    You get to work in a safe, healthy (if not boring) environment with flexible hours (if you are lucky)
  3)    Your co-workers are often multi-generational, multi-cultural and open-minded

Three worst things
  1)   You'll never get wealthy - that is for the salesmen or business-savvy entrepreneurs
  2)   You're always at risk for losing your job: tech and marketing professionals are always the first to go
  3)    You will never be able to keep up - the new, inexpensive college grads will always know the latest trends and technologies.

Personally, I tell my kids that if you want to make a tangible contribution to the world study science and math or engineering. But don't expect a rewarding career ("STEM" is not generally valued by our society in the way that personality and image are. Anti-intellectualism is rampant and shows no signs of decreasing) - when you have a job it is usually a fair salary, but don't count on having it forever.
If you want to make "big" money or be your own boss, study business and sales.

If I had to do it all over - I'd get a degree in something I enjoyed.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ads on school websites: Forms of ads

With budget stress for schools, many are looking for new sources of revenue. Website advertising is an option. There are lots of ways to advertise on school websites like ours if you choose to do so.

Forms of ads

Do you want to find advertisers yourself or use ads from a broker?

Broker ads: Google AdSense
By far, the easiest way to start advertising on a website is to include ads from a broker like Google. They have lots of advertisers and will match the search terms they have bid for with the content of the page where the ads appear in order to select ads relevant to the readers of that page. As an example, I have created an AdSense account to embed ads on this blog post. It took about two minutes to fill out the form on the Google site. They then do some sort of verification on you and then send the instructions for embedding the block of ads. You paste them into the HTML code for your page and then wait for the ad revenue checks to roll in. Couldn't be easier.

Finding your own advertisers
Another approach that is far more difficult but which gives you greater control over what ads appear is to find your own advertisers and serve them yourself. Here's what's entailed:

  • Determine what sort of ad you're selling. Is it a short text ad like those that appear on the Google search results? Is it a banner ad in which you define a rectangular area of fixed dimensions which the advertiser can fill however he chooses?
  • Are you selling time, exposures or click-throughs? If selling time, you agree to display the advertiser's ad for a fixed number of days. If you're selling exposures, you're selling the promise that your ad will continue to appear until the page it is on has been viewed by a predetermined number of website visitors. If you're selling click-throughs, the advertiser is only charged when a website visitor clicks on the ad. Depending on how you're selling your ads, you must keep track of whether you're fulfilling your side of the bargain. Selling time is the easiest to track, followed by selling exposures and selling click-throughs is the most difficult to track. So why go to the trouble of selling click-throughs? It is usually the most attractive to advertisers because they don't have to pay anything unless a person clicks to visit their website.
  • Next, you have to sell ad space to advertisers, possibly help them to create ads and then run the ads.
  • Finally, advertisers are typically going to be interested in the demographics of your audience and statistics about their ad exposures.

Finding your own advertisers and managing ad serving (meaning making the ad appear when and where it should) is obviously a lot of work.

Sponsors
Another approach is, rather than selling ads as such, you might sell the opportunity to sponsor a website or a portion of the website. In this case, instead of an ad you might have a statement in the footer of each page to the effect, "This website is sponsored by Fred's Pizza" with a link to the Fred's Pizza website. This is far easier to manage than selling regular ads but still more difficult than inserting ads from a broker.

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Keywords: ads, cost savings

 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ads on school websites: How to advertise

With budget stress for schools, many are looking for new sources of revenue. Website advertising is an option. There are lots of ways to advertise on school websites like ours if you choose to do so.

How to advertise

Ads can be intrusive and annoying or can be useful and beneficial. For example, popup splash screens, animated banner ads and unsolicited commercial emails (spam) are generally considered instrusive and annoying. They interrupt and distract one's attention. Typically they are thought to add little benefit to a website visitor. And spam email clogs our mail readers, wastes our resources, and is seldom viewed as beneficial.

On the other hand, sometimes we want to see ads. Consider the yellow pages: nothing but ads, but we find them useful because we go to the yellow pages (or did in the old days) when we want to find products and services. People get fashion magazines like Vogue for the ads. The ads communicate what the fashion leaders are doing. When you're looking to buy new tires, tire ads become fascinating. Ads are useful and beneficial when they present information that we want to know when we want to know it.

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Keywords: ads, cost savings

 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ads on school websites: What to advertise

With budget stress for schools, many are looking for new sources of revenue. Website advertising is an option. There are lots of ways to advertise on school websites like ours if you choose to do so.

What to advertise: Think "useful"

Targeted advertising attempts to present only those ads to readers that are likely to be of interest to them. That's how the ads work Google. Two factors determine when and where Google ads will appear. First, advertisers bid on search terms. The bid is for how much the advertiser must pay if a user clicks on the ad link. He pays nothing if no one clicks. So, if an advertiser bids on the search term "football" and someone does a search for "football," his ad may appear along the border or above the search results. But where?

The second factor that determines where an ad will appear is the number of clicks it has attracted. Ads that get lots of clicks are considered to be the most useful to people searching for that search term, so Google places them closer to the top of the list. Those with fewer clicks are placed lower on the list or on later pages of search results. Google doesn't disclose exactly how the two factors, bid and click frequency, are combined to determine placement, but they use both.

The point is, like Google, it's best to think of advertising as a way to offer useful information to your website visitors. The alternative is to think you only serve the advertisers and any kind of disruptive or annoying junk they want to put on your page is fine as long as they pay the price. That attitude is a quick way to lose website visitors.

What might your school website visitors find useful?

  • Educational material such as National Geographic, tutoring services, gymnastics schools, martial arts schools
  • Colleges, summer schools, experience vacations
  • Non-school organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
  • Counseling services
  • Local businesses
  • Vanity ads like the ones that many yearbooks include where parents congratulate their kid's accomplishments
  • Personal ads

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Keywords: ads, cost savings

 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Evidence-Based Education Practices

There's a lot of hype in education about tools and practices that work. Many of them have little or no evidence of their efficacy. That doesn't mean they don't work. What it does mean is that if you spend your time and resources on new tools and techniques, you might as well spend them where your likelihood of success is high.

Doing What Works is a collection of practices for which there is research evidence that they work. If you're looking for new approaches, consider starting here.

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Keywords: evidence-based practices

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