Friday, February 22, 2013

Blog Post #50

Well, this blog has been active now for roughly 3 years and thanks to long stretches of inactivity, this is only my 50th article posted. The stats have been interesting to watch. I've gotten a total of just over 2600 page views. In the past month, the browser breakdown has been Firefox: 55% Chrome: 21% Internet Explorer: 11% Safari: 6% Other: 7%. The user's OS has been: Windows: 42% Macintosh: 35% Linux: 12% Android: 2% iPad: 2% Other: 7% (including one access from Windows NT 6.1, which Google didn't lump in with "Windows").

For all time, by country, my audience is mostly in the US. 1353 pageviews. I wish that was broken down by state, but doesn't slice the data that finely.

United States 1353
Russia 204
Germany 143
India 75
China 71
Slovenia 68
France 50
United Kingdom 45
Netherlands 44
Poland 42

Origin of pageviews by country

And of course the data has a long tail that doesn't show me. I know that from time to time I've had readers from Canada, Australia and Brazil. I think that I've even had occasional clicks from somewhere in Africa, but evidently not enough to be anywhere but in the long tail of the data.

Complaint Department

If I can be allowed some complaints about my experience as a blogger:

  1. What does it take to get people to post comments on the articles? 50 articles and I've only had 12 comments all together. And 6 of those were on one article about Education and Technology. Begging for comments doesn't seem to work. Do I need to write about more incendiary topics to get any kind of reaction? Heck, even feedback like "that's kind of obvious", and "here's another web page that says that better than you did" would be useful feedback to me. Didn't everybody get the memo about Web 2.0 being interactive? It isn't supposed to be read-only.
  2. Somehow dumb humor seems more popular than anything serious that I write. The most popular of my postings has been one that linked to a cartoon about an imaginary dog breed called the Jack Bauer Terrier, not to be confused with the Jack Russell Terrier. That posting had 269 hits - more than 10% of my total. With the demise of the TV series "24", it becomes increasingly obscure with each passing month. A close second place is my "What's on your Dashboard?" article, which was mostly to make fun of how much stuff litters my friend's van. 250 hits on that one to date, and that's nearly another 10%.

    In my opinion, the most underappreciated of my postings was the one looking at JFK's "We'll go to the moon" speech, a speech that got played on TV over and over again on the recent round-number anniversary of the moon shot. He mentions both that we chose to go to the moon and "to do the other things", which led me to dig into what "the other things" were. I thought it was a nice bit of digging into an interesting bit of history, but it has so far only had 9 pageviews in close to 3 years time.

    The least viewed article on my blog is "How not to sell to me", which to date has logged zero page views. (I have things set to not count page views by me).

    The article that I think I have most promoted is the one that started out being about "Literate Programming". It pretty much mutated as I wrote it into a list of things I felt I needed to learn to master the Python Programming language. I've posted links to that article over and over in forum discussions of Python (e.g. in CS101's forum, in's pythonlang page), and for all my publicity efforts, that page has only gotten 93 pageviews, no comments and 4 +1 votes. It's just my opinions, but I sure would like to hear suggestions on how to improve the list.

  3. There's a feature on the blog for people to "subscribe" to a blog as a "follower". To date, I've only persuaded one friend to click on the button to enroll as a follower. I think it just notifies the followers when there's a new posting. Another friend tells me he follows my blog via a Google Reader "subscription". Apparently Google doesn't list Reader subscribers as followers of the blog. Since is owned by Google, that's somewhat disappointing, but I suppose it means comments are the only sure way to hear what people think of my blog.

  4. So what's the trick to get people to share links to a blog article? Seems that I only get hits on my blog when I post links myself. Sharing to appropriate Google+ Communities does seem to draw pageviews. But the life of such announcements is short. A day or 2 later the article gets no further attention. Some articles are intended to have a short life (take the one about the Jack Bauer Terrier, please), but is everything I write too dull to talk about?

I will get around soon to posting articles about the Computers-100 class I've been teaching at the local community center here in the New Cassel section of Westbury, NY. Those I know deserve only a narrow audience, but I plan to keep them short. Mostly just links to the slides I used for each class, and notes about how the session went so I remember to not repeat my mistakes in any future re-runs of that Introductory course.

I haven't run out of things I want to say on the broad topic of "education". I'm still learning what the literature in that field has to say. I keep hoping to hear from actual experienced teachers with advice on how to teach. I'm still mulling over a recent post to the STEM Community on Google+ that explained "Education is not explaining...". I feel that's a lesson I need to better take to heart.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spoken Word Poetry and fun with data

And now for something completely different.... Or is it? It's another TED talk by a teacher, but the topic is not STEM, not software, not design - It's poetry. 18 and a 1/2 minutes that reminded me how few English teachers I have had who were really memorable. But memory is slippery stuff.

I have a clear memory of the time Mrs. McCutcheon had us bring in a poem to read aloud to the class. I have no idea what poem I brought in and read, but remember clearly that Mark R. brought in the lyrics to "Get a Job" and with a straight face, read aloud every syllable of the song. I thought it was marvelous subversion of the assignment, and was surprised, years later, when I ran into Mark at a class reunion that he had no memory of the occasion. To her credit, Mrs. McCutcheon didn't object to Mark having chosen a "poem" that was a bit outside of the expected.

Anyhow, from way outside of my comfort zone, here's Sarah Kay in March 2011 on spoken word poetry.

If I should have a daughter...

Lest I lose my credibility as an engineer, I also offer here the 500th TED talk: Hans Rosling speaking to the state department in June 2009 (22.5 minutes, long as TED talks go).

Let My Dataset Change Your Mind

where he shows that things change with the passage of time and your mindset might not match the dataset. An impressive demonstration of data visualization.

If you're still unconvinced about the value of hard data, here is a brief, light musical interlude that came to my mind while I was watching this next video:

and finally, here's another data-centric talk (15 and 1/2 minutes) looking at what we know about the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Emily Oster Flips Our Thinking About The AIDS Epidemic in Africa

That talk was in March, 2007, and I confess to more than a little discomfort that in the years since, I haven't seen any signs of people changing their thinking on this topic. Esquire magazine hardly ever has occasion to talk about economists, even attractive female economists, but the TED biography for Emily Otter quotes from Esquire: "At just 26, economist Emily Oster may have the highest controversies-generated-to-years-in-academia ratio of anyone in her field.". Now there's a score that I can envy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

STEM Education Ideas

Frank Noschese is a high school teacher of Physics and Chemistry. This April, 2012 TEDx talk (about 15 minutes):

What's the difference between a scientist and a student?

advocates "Modeling" as the basis for STEM instruction.

I think my favorite part was his demo of the use for science text books in the classroom. I also liked the per-group presentations of results. I'm sure that provokes some great discussions among the groups.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Another Designer with Education Ideas

I have little notion of what distinguishes a TED conference from a TEDx conference, but today's find is a video from a TEDx conference. Lest there be any confusion, please note that I'm Drew Davis and one of the speakers in the video is Drew Davies. He is not me.

The Future Will Not be Multiple Choice. Run time is just under 13 minutes from May, 2012.

Give Miss Frizzle her cue and let's get messy....

If you didn't see it already, I suggest that you also see the talk about Design and Education in Bertie County, North Carolina.

Not everything is covered in nifty videos. You might find some interesting reading material by trying a Google search for:

demise of shop class

Among other interesting things that Google search led me to this 2006 article Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford. That article has since been expanded into a 2009 book by that same author. I confess that I haven't read that book.

As always, I welcome comments from you on my blog. It's your chance to influence where future articles are likely to wander. Thank-you for your time and thoughts. I'm happy to share this modest forum with you, but if, for whatever reason, you want to keep a lower profile than is implied by posting on a public blog, I invite you to e-mail to me, r.drew.davis at gmail nospam com. I trust you can decode that into a conventional email address.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Education and Technology

Today continues my coverage of "education" as a topic.

First, another TED talk: This one is by Salman Khan of Khan Academy, talking in March 2011 about the advantage of putting lessons into videos and how the material can be used to "flip the classroom". The talk is just over 20 minutes long.

Let's Use Video to Re-invent Education

The 2nd talk today is a non-TED lecture from one of Udacity's professors, Jörn Loviscach, talking at a May, 2012, conference in Switzerland about where he thinks education is being driven by the availability of MOOC's and video-on-demand lessons. The talk is about 40 minutes long, and is delivered in an accented English.

MOOC's and Other Faster Horses

I'm curious to see how "teaching until mastery" really works out with real students. It seems to imply a level of self-motivation that doesn't seem to be common-place. Perhaps the problem is that the self-motivation has been trained out of the children by the traditions of education where wrong answers are a bad outcome??

I also note that the dashboard Khan shows is far more slick than the guidance that the infrastructure of Udacity provides for tracking a class. Maybe Udacity needs more time and demand to come through with additional tools to support a role for a "local teacher" in the courses. The existing Udacity software doesn't really offer any overview of who is stuck and who is moving through the material with ease, not even identifying who isn't even putting in the time to try.

If you've had experience with MOOC's and/or "flipping the classroom", I'd sure like to hear about how that went for you. Please contribute some comments, even if you just contribute a link pointing to your own blog where you talk about this stuff.

Back in my time with a major industrial research and development organization, one of my frustrations was that so little attention was paid to failed projects. To this day, I strongly believe that there's lots to be learned by thinking through the reasons a project didn't succeed. Surely, if every project succeeds, that is evidence that you are setting the bar too low and need to try harder. So, failures are to be expected, but why did the project fail? Were the implementation requirements wildly mis-estimated? Was it a technical problem or was it a management problem? Surely there's value in figuring things out to maximize the chances of not repeating exactly the same mistake next time. But I was there long enough to see that rewards did not go to people who learned from mistakes. Pity.

And now with MOOC's there is a high enough drop-out rate that surely there is stuff to be learned from talking with the folks who didn't stick around long enough to cross the finish line, but I've seen little evidence that the MOOC organizations are making an effort to contact for "exit interviews" the folks crowding the exits. Seems downright unscientific.


Monday, February 4, 2013

A Designer's Perspective on Education

Here's another TED talk on Education (from July, 2010). What I like about it is it's a completely different point of view than I bring myself. The speaker is Emily Pilloton, a designer, who has gotten involved in reviving the education program in rural Bertie County, North Carolina. It reminded me of the relatively recent demise of "shop" courses, and manages to whip up a case for Design as a vehicle for motivating and providing education. It's a short talk (<17 minutes) with less comedy than the Robinson talks, but I found the talk to be quite energizing.

Teaching Design for Change

Reminded me of the old Teddy Roosevelt quote "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are".

I wish her the best of luck, and hope to hear some results in coming years. The program is quite new.

The elements in her plan:

  1. Design for Education
  2. Redesigning Education
  3. Design as Education

I think it important to be reminded that not all elements of education need be verbally oriented though I'm a reading/writing sort of person. When I think "design" my reflex is to think about software design. Happily, not everyone in the world is just like me.