Reflections on Debugging Tips

I’ve had a copy of The Pragmatic Programmer (Hunt and Thomas) on my shelf for years but I’m finally reading through it in anticipation of teaching three programming-heavy courses this Fall. I just got to the section on Debugging and there are many tips in here that are helpful for reflecting on the mindset that novice programmers have as they start writing code and encountering bugs. A few of the tips are classics: “Don’t panic” and “Don’t say it’s impossible” – I think of student queries about whether the compiler might be broken as off-shoots of the later of these … Continue reading Reflections on Debugging Tips

The Other Reasons Small Classes Matter

A couple of weeks ago Inside Higher Ed briefly higlighted a BioScience paper, Do Small Classes in Higher Education Reduce Performance Gaps in STEM? The answer seems to be “perhaps for women”. It’s an interesting result but despite my interest in the topic what it really got me thinking about was how this is one more in a long string of “are small classes better” articles that talk about the question only from the perspective of whether students acquire particular knowledge or skills better. Obviously, this is important. But small class sizes permit a classroom experience where the outcomes for … Continue reading The Other Reasons Small Classes Matter

Readability of rainbow schemes

The core argument in this discussion of color schemes in maps of Hurricane Harvey rainfall makes sense to me – darkness and light have intuitive intensity meanings to us and it is a problem when a visualization violates those meanings and expects a key to do the work of remapping our understanding. But the suggestion to rework the map with an entirely different visualization technique based on a gradient of color (perhaps with a slight hue shift as well) rather than a rainbow scheme seems to miss what I, at least, find to be functional about the rainbow scheme. I’m accustomed enough to how the rainbow … Continue reading Readability of rainbow schemes

Defining a Liberal Arts Major

Over the past few months I’ve been spending more time than usual in discussions about the value and mission of liberal arts education, coming at it from a few different directions. This seems to align with an increased number of articles in various sources (mainstream and higher-ed focused) about the value of the liberal arts. There are a lot of pieces to the challenging problem of explaining liberal arts education. One piece I keep coming back to, though, is my frustration with the phrase “liberal arts majors”, generally intended to mean arts and humanities majors. If it were up to me, we would insist on being clear … Continue reading Defining a Liberal Arts Major

Finding a use for Twitter

As part of the obligatory year-end reflections, I have noticed that despite consistent good intentions, I haven’t been posting here regularly this fall. As always, I hope to remedy that as I don’t imagine ever entirely abandoning Screenshot. However, in my absence from this space, I have been somewhat more active in another corner of the internet. After some false starts and a general sense of apathy about the service, I have found a use for Twitter that seems to be working for me, mostly as a replacement for Delicious which I found became cumbersome at some point a few years ago … Continue reading Finding a use for Twitter

Next, they rise up and kill us all….

My most recent weblog post was on teaching ethics to self-driving cars, flippantly titled At least they’re not using GTA as a data source. Except…. Self-Driving Cars Can Learn a Lot by Playing Grand Theft Auto Let’s console ourselves that “there’s little chance of a computer learning bad behavior by playing violent computer games” and instead admire the clever efficiency of allowing them to get practice navigating the complexities of realistic roads. And, in this case, it does seem that they are just extracting photo-realistic screenshots rather than having to produce authentic training data, which is a cool trick. But the fact that the … Continue reading Next, they rise up and kill us all….

At least they’re not using GTA as a data source

MIT’s Media Lab wants you to help crowd-source solutions to the Trolley Problem as a decision-making data set for self-driving cars. This is exciting news, because asking the internet to solve tricky moral dilemmas using binary decision making will surely reflect our societal values accurately. Putting aside snarky skepticism, I had the following thoughts as I went through a judging session: Having to pick one of these options without any “it depends” or “I don’t want to choose” selection got uncomfortable fast. After a few scenarios I started to question the definiteness of the outcomes. How is there equal certainty that plowing straight ahead through four … Continue reading At least they’re not using GTA as a data source

Exploring for information

There are a series of good quotes in this article about how librarians can get students to start understanding the scholarly frame for exploring information that highlight the general shape of the argument being made: That exploration is important in learning: “When small children observe and imitate, they are testing the physical world around them and coming up with their own understanding of how things work. Explicit instruction short-circuits that process.” That various pressures prevent students from seeing library research as exploration: “They are intensely curious about what the teacher wants, if not about the topic they’re researching, and often focus … Continue reading Exploring for information

Getting to Effective Ed-Tech

This Chronicle article discussing the Jefferson Education incubator at University of Virginia has been rolling around in my head the past couple of days as I’ve been part of a number of conversations about education, computing, and classroom technology. The problem Jefferson Education says they are setting out to solve is that the ed-tech industry is light on efficacy research for the technologies they are selling, and “”universally, everyone thinks it’s not their fault or not their problem” that the research isn’t a bigger part of the purchasing equation.” So their group will study “the political, financial, and structural barriers that keep companies … Continue reading Getting to Effective Ed-Tech

Prioritizing beyond deadlines

A friend shared this article about university students struggling to read entire books on Facebook, and while there are many thought provoking things here, one quote in particular struck me: “I would say that it is simply a case of needing to prioritise,” said Ms Francis, “do you finish a book that you probably won’t write your essay on, or do you complete the seminar work that’s due in for the next day? I know what I’d rather choose.” Reading that sentence, I had the dual reactions of “of course” and “the fact that that’s the decision is the problem”. … Continue reading Prioritizing beyond deadlines