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Math Wars!

by Ed Beat on Jun 12th, 2009

wolfram alpha WolframAlpha, a search engine that launched several weeks ago, runs on the sophisticated computational software Mathematica, to compute answers to questions. Unlike google or other search engines, it accomplishes this by using built-in models of fields of knowledge, complete with data and algorithms, that represent real-world knowledges; massive amounts of data about various physical laws and properties. As Jeffrey R. Young writes in The Chronicle today, “It makes a graphing calculator look like a slide rule.”

What will that mean for the study of mathematics? Will students be allowed to use WolframAlpha inside or outside of the classroom? Professors have shown mixed sentiments of both excitement and caution, and it’s making for an interesting discussion about learning in general.

Roger A. Freedman, a physics lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara summarized: “the greatest challenges that science and math students face are conceptual, not computational, and neither calculators nor WolframAlpha can do much about that.”

Read the Full Article:
Calculating Web Site Could Ignite New Campus ‘Math War’ [Chronicle, 6/12/09]
WolframAlpha

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The Future of Work

by Amanda on May 26th, 2009

In the New York Times magazine last weekend, ‘The Case for Working With Your Hands,’ by Matthew B. Crawford, argued some personal and professional reasons why a job ‘working with your hands’ is be preferable to one in the ’surreal’ world of office or academic life.
workwithhandsThe essay is worth a read and asks important questions for anyone in the education community. What are the jobs of the future? And are schools preparing students for them? Are ‘hands on’ jobs more dependable in an economic downturn? What does a college degree mean anymore? Crawford writes:

The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India.

The Case for Working With Your Hands [NY Times 5/24/09]
Related Program: Discounted Dreams [VIDEO]
Related Program: Starting Over [VIDEO]

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Educated? Unemployed? Welcome to Portland, Oregon

by Ed Beat on May 18th, 2009

This year’s graduates face a tough job market, with unemployment on the rise across the country. So what’s a young, unemployed college graduate to do? If recent history is any indication they may just move to Portland, Oregon.
portland

Portland’s unemployment rate has doubled in the last year and is hovering at 11.8% (the national average is 8.9%) — due in part to an influx of young, educated unemployed new residents.  The fraction of Oregon workers with college degrees increased to 28.3% in 2007 (above the national average of 27.5%) from 19.5% in 1990 (below the national average of 21.3%), and Portland’s mayor is hoping that the college grads will stick around while the economy straightens itself  out.

Certain lifestyle quirks, such as a vibrant music scene, seem to go far in attracting young people to the city despite the lack of jobs. Other fun facts? Other than Seattle, no city with a population over 1 million has more coffee shops per capita and roughly 8% of Portlanders commute regularly by bike, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average.

Youth Magnet Cities Hit Midlife Crisis [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/09]

Touring Portland by Bike [New York Times, 4/3/09]

categories: Ed Beat, higher ed, twitter

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College Communities Are Online Communities

by Ed Beat on May 15th, 2009

Last Wednesday, at Wesleyan University’s bookstore, a junior named Johanna Justin-Jinich was fatally shot by Stephen Morgan, a man she’d met at a summer program at NYU.  Morgan turned himself in to the police the next evening, but while police searched for him, Wesleyan students were told to stay in their dorms.College students online

According to Erich Lach, a Wesleyan alumnus who reported on the shooting for the New Yorker’s NewsDesk blog, the Wesleyan community relied on the Internet to keep its students safe and informed in the hours and days following the tragedy. The administration sent students updates on the status of the investigation via both email and Twitter, and students, holed up in their dorms, used their “Anonymous Confession Board” (usually reserved for gossip) to keep each other informed and safe.  Lach says that it was because of this word-of-mouth online “coverage” that he was able to feel the impact of the tragedy and the ensuing support of the alumni network.

Lach’s post for the New Yorker

The Hartford Advocate’s take

President Michael Roth’s latest message to the Wesleyan Community

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‘Stuff’ is Online and in Classrooms

by Ed Beat on May 14th, 2009

“The Story of Stuff,” written and narrated by former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard, is a short film about human consumption and its implications for the health of the planet. The twenty minute video uses straight-forward language and a friendly animation style to visually depict the cause and effect of acquiring ’stuff.’ story of stuff

While the video has received some criticism for being too ‘political,’ or leaving the viewer with too few solutions, it has gained a huge audience — over six million viewers since it’s 2007 debut — which is still growing as the video continues to go ‘viral’ online.

Teachers in particular have been circulating ‘The Story of Stuff,’ using it as a classroom tool to spark discussion about the environment, and supplementing outdated earth science textbooks.  Teachers using web-based information in the classroom?  It’s surely a sign of things to come for the planet.

The Story of Stuff Website

A Cautionary Video About America’s ‘Stuff’ [NY Times, 5/10/09]

Update on Schoolboard Opposition to Film

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