Monthly Archives: April 2012

Does Creativity Trump Competitiveness in the Marketplace?

Source: NYTimes, Apr 2012

In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard with what is valuable. The intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value.

In fact, Thiel argues, we often shouldn’t seek to be really good competitors. We should seek to be really good monopolists. Instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field, it’s often more valuable to create a new market and totally dominate it. The profit margins are much bigger, and the value to society is often bigger, too.

He’s talking about doing something so creative that you establish a distinct market, niche and identity. You’ve established a creative monopoly and everybody has to come to you if they want that service, at least for a time.

Think about the traits that creative people possess. Creative people don’t follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows.

MIT Students Contribute to the Khan Academy

Source: MIT Press Office, Apr 2012

MIT has launched an initiative encouraging its students to produce short videos teaching basic concepts in science and engineering. The videos — aimed at younger students, in grades from kindergarten through high school — will be accessible througha dedicated MIT website and YouTube channel. A subset of the videos will also be available on Khan Academy, a popular not-for-profit educational site founded by an MIT alumnus.

Under MIT+K12, MIT students produce videos that are five to 10 minutes long on topics of their choosing; they can also develop video concepts requested by teachers, K-12 students and other users. In the three dozen MIT+K12 videos posted so far, students have focused on topics ranging from flying robots to basic chemistry to Earth’s rotation.

MIT+K12 also offers opportunities for K-12 students and teachers to communicate with the MIT students making the videos, and vice versa. “From the outset, MIT students wanted to know their videos would be useful to the students watching them,” Waitz says. “The only way to really figure this out is to put the groups in touch with each other.”

The Learning Paradox

Source: Time, Apr 2012

The learning paradox is at the heart of “productive failure,” a phenomenon identified by Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore.

… it’s better to let the neophytes wrestle with the material on their own for a while, refraining from giving them any assistance at the start.

The apparent struggles of the floundering group have what Kapur calls a “hidden efficacy”: they lead people to understand the deep structure of problems, not simply their correct solutions. When these students encounter a new problem of the same type on a test, they’re able to transfer the knowledge they’ve gathered more effectively than those who were the passive recipients of someone else’s expertise.

… we need to “design for productive failure” by building it into the learning process. Kapur has identified three conditions that promote this kind of beneficial struggle.

  • First, choose problems to work on that “challenge but do not frustrate.”
  • Second, provide learners with opportunities to explain and elaborate on what they’re doing.
  • Third, give learners the chance to compare and contrast good and bad solutions to the problems.

The Best Students are the Those Who Care The Most

Source: NYTimes, Mar 2012

The best students and the ones who get the most out of their educations are the ones who come to school with the most energy to learn. And — here’s an important corollary — those students are not always the most intellectually gifted. They’re not always the best prepared or the most cultured. Sometimes they think slowly. Sometimes they don’t write terribly well, at least at the start. What distinguishes them is that they take their lives seriously and they want to figure out how to live them better.

They’re an amazing pleasure to teach even if their subject-verb agreement isn’t always what it might be and they don’t know what iambic pentameter is. I can teach them those things. What’s way harder to teach — maybe it’s impossible — is the love for learning and the openness to experience that these students bring to the seminar table.

… what the truly hungry students have in common is pretty simple: Their parents loved them a lot and didn’t saddle them with gross expectations, spoken or unspoken. These students aren’t adventurous because they’re insecure and uncertain. It’s very much the opposite. Students willing to risk their beliefs and values in school do so because they have confident beliefs and values to risk.

Stanford President Thinks about Online Learning

Source: The New Yorker, Apr 2012

Hennessy, like Andreessen, believes that online learning can be as revolutionary to education as digital downloads were to the music business. Distance learning threatens one day to disrupt higher education by reducing the cost of college and by offering the convenience of a stay-at-home, do-it-on-your-own-time education. “Part of our challenge is that right now we have more questions than we have answers,” Hennessy says, of online education. “We know this is going to be important and, in the long term, transformative to education. We don’t really understand how yet.”

In mid-February, Hennessy embarked on a sabbatical that will take him away from campus through much of the spring. His plans included travelling and spending time with his family. The respite, Hennessy says, will provide an opportunity to think. Of all the things he plans to think hard about, he says, distance learning tops the list.

Stanford Critiques Itself

Source: The New Yorker, Apr 2012

The long-term value of an education is to be found not merely in the accumulation of knowledge or skills but in the capacity to forge fresh connections between them, to integrate different elements from one’s education and experience and bring them to bear on new challenges and problems. . . .

Yet we were struck by how little attention most departments and programs have given to cultivating this essential capacity. We were also surprised, and somewhat chagrined, to discover how infrequently some of our students exercise it. For all their extraordinary energy and range, many of the students we encountered lead curiously compartmentalized lives, with little integration between the different spheres of their experience.

Robo-grading English Compositions

Source: Inside Higher Ed, Apr 2012

The study, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, compared the software-generated ratings given to more than 22,000 short essays, written by students in junior high schools and high school sophomores, to the ratings given to the same essays by trained human readers.

The differences, across a number of different brands of automated essay scoring software (AES) and essay types, were minute. “The results demonstrated that over all, automated essay scoring was capable of producing scores similar to human scores for extended-response writing items,” the Akron researchers write, “with equal performance for both source-based and traditional writing genre.”