Thursday, December 31, 2009

ACU, iPhones, and Wired

My sister, an ACU alumnus, emailed me a few weeks ago an article on about her alma mater: How the iPhone Could Reboot Education. This is the second time Wired has written about ACU's iPhone/iPod initiative; ACU was the first university to give all incoming freshmen an iPhone or iPod Touch in an experiment to see how useful the devices could be in an academic setting.

ACU is one of the schools that Harding competes with for students, so you could imagine that some of us here at Harding are a little skeptical of the PR ACU's program has generated. Some think it's just a gimmick to attract new students.

One of Harding's admission officers told me recently that we regularly have prospective students ask, "Since ACU is offering me a free iPhone, what is Harding going to give me?" Of course ACU is not giving anything away to students for "free"; the article states that the dorm computer labs were shut down, and other expenses are likely paid for by increases in tuition or technology fees. But many 18 year-olds are unlikely to see the correlation between tuition costs and freebies.

I do, however, think having all your students fitted with the same mobile device presents some interesting opportunities. Some ACU professors quizzed students to see if they understood the lesson, and students could respond using their iPhones anonymously. (Some Harding professors are doing the same thing with specialized handsets.) Another ACU professor has students look up information in class, and they discuss how accurate or trustworthy the information is. I sometimes do something similar with my students who often have a computer that is sitting in front of them.

So far, ACU reports that their Mobile Learning initiative is paying off. A quote from the ACU website:
The majority of students in specific courses where mobile devices have been routinely used rate themselves as having improved their academic performance (grades and organization) and engagement (active learning, contact with professors and teaching assistants, involvement and attention).
This quote is interesting in that the students themselves have said they do better and are more engaged in classes that use iPhones. Whether they are actually learning more is anyone's guess, but any time you can make a student think they are doing better in class is usually a good thing. (Of course, one wonders if students report that they like using their iPhones in class because a negative assessment might be mean their iPhones are yanked away in the future. wink)

As an instructor who has experience teaching students in a computer lab where students are allowed to use their computer in class for taking notes and class activities, the biggest obstacle I've faced is getting students to pay attention to what's happening in the classroom and off of Facebook, Google, games, etc. This is surely the temptation also faced by students when using iPhones in the classroom; the potential for distraction is very real. (See student comment #4.)

You're not likely to see Harding give iPhones to every incoming freshman anytime soon, but some point in the near future I think it's likely that all freshmen will have some smart mobile device with them. Universities will need to be creative in using this personal accessory to their advantage.

P.S. Congratulations to my friend and former colleague Autumn Sutherland who was named a 2009-2010 Mobile Learning Fellow at ACU.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from the McCown's

The McCown's wish you a very Merry Christmas. May God bless your holidays.

Photo by Stacy Schoen

Friday, December 18, 2009

Recovering and

Several days ago, it was brought to my attention that two notable blogs, and were completely lost due to a hard drive failure. Jeff Atwood, the owner of both blogs, tells all about his experience trying to recover the text and images from Internet caches and other locations. (I imagine Jeff's reaction was a little like the picture above when he discovered his blogs were gone.) Lucky for him, a computer science student at the University of Bologna had an almost complete mirror of the Coding Horror website.

Jeff also acknowledges that he's to blame for the loss, and I'm sure Jeff will be re-doubling efforts to backup his sites in the future. However, these types of losses will continue for the foreseeable future... backing up your stuff is often the lowest priority for all of us because many of us believe it won't happen to us. Or we consciously know it will happen to us, but we have so many other things we need to get done today that setting up a backup routine is put off until tomorrow. I'm in the same camp... I didn't create a backup of my class work until over a month into the semester!

Even when you backup your stuff, you sometimes find that your backups weren't working or are inaccessible when you need them. That's what happened to Jeff.

Jeff tried to use Warrick initially, but it was giving him all kinds of problems. Yahoo and Microsoft have done some things that make Warrick break, and I'll be spending next week making fixes. I'll blog more about the fixes next week. For now, it's back to grading final exams.

Monday, December 07, 2009

CS Education Week

At Harding, this week is Dead Week, the week before final exams. But according to the U.S. House of Representatives, this week is also Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek). In an effort to raise awareness of how important CS is to society, the ACM has created a website with all kinds of information about CS.

Here are some facts about computer science that you may not have been aware of:
  • By 2016, current government projections show that more than 800,000 high-end computing jobs will be created in the economy making it one of the fastest growing occupational fields.

  • Five of the top ten fastest growing jobs will be in computing-related fields (i.e., computer software engineer jobs expected to grow 45% over the next five to seven years).

  • Computer science and computer engineering bachelor degrees are in high demand and command two of the top three average salary offers from employers among all majors.

Paper on teaching Web IR

In March I'll be presenting a paper entitled Teaching Web Information Retrieval to Undergraduates at SIGCSE 2010 in Milwaukee, WI. In this paper, I discuss how I built a curriculum for my search engine course and the types of projects I assigned. The first time I taught the course, students built a search engine from scratch. The second time, students modified the open source search engine Nutch. Teaching with Nutch turned out to be quite a challenge. If you want to know more, read my paper.