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Mathematica tech support

The past couple days I’ve had a few requests for help involving Mathematica. It turns out this problem is not just had on earth, but in space as well:

Loaded onto [astronaut] Foale’s now-inaccessible computer was an off-the-shelf technical computing software system called Mathematica, which Foale has used for many years to perform calculations involving higher math. Thinking that Mathematica could shed some light on some of the tasks necessary to set Mir back in order, he asked that a backup of his hard drive be retrieved from his home and sent up to Mir on the next supply rocket. Installation onto the new computer, however, required a new password–and that meant a quick phone call to Wolfram Research, Inc., makers of Mathematica. The NASA ground crew contacted Allison Fry, a Customer Service representative at Wolfram Research, and Mathematica was soon up and running again in orbit.

Wolfram Research

Mathematica helps astronauts, but even astronauts need tech support. Don’t you just want to learn how to use Mathematica now?


Snapchat just changed its name to Snap and came out with a new glasses-type device called Spectacles. *Queue the curmudgeon* Unfortunately, they’ve completely neglected the percentage of the population (more than you’d think) that wears corrective spectacles, which is too bad. It would be neat to have a camera on my glasses that could take photos or videos. Imagine having such a thing constantly record, like Tivo, so that you witnessed an accident, you’d have instant replay. Would could prove you saw bigfoot, or a rainbow, or a UFO.

Kidding aside, it seems that corrective glasses wearers are often an afterthought.

Be inclusive. Design for everyone.

Or at least everyone who can afford your product.

Innovative ideas for mobiles

I just heard about two interesting innovations. The thingCHARGER and Reviveaphone. Both are thoughtful solutions to problems people have. These are not really ground-breaking technologies, but they are creative solutions to somewhat common problems. I personally know people who have had their phones immersed and I’d be willing to bet that 80% of the people on campus have needed a charger for their phone.

This makes me wonder: How do you classify something as innovative? While these are new ideas, they aren’t so radical that someone would say, “I never would have thought of that.” So what is innovation? I think innovation is taking the next step to improve some aspect of life, whether that’s learning something new, completing a task, or some kind of process.

Web page accessibility

Earlier, I posted about OpenDyslexic, a font that makes it easier for a person with dyslexia to read. While I don’t advise anyone to change their course materials to use the font, they should certainly be aware of it.

People who create, post or publish anything online should also be aware of other issues with fonts or typefaces. WebAIM has a great article about typography and making it easier for people to read.

ChemicalSams on open internet testing

Aaron Sams, the Woodland Park educator who has been flipping his instruction for years, discusses the four or five kinds of students he has in his classes, based on how they use the world wide web for taking tests (or don’t).

Basically, there are students who know how to use the tools, students who don’t know how to use web-based tools and students who just don’t care. Sams doesn’t discuss student cheating, but his conclusions and reflections address other problems I think every teacher has.

Two of his points were especially poignant:

2. I really need to change the way I assess my students.  The Purists, The Google Challenged, and The Disinterested have not benefitted from open-internet tests.  I need a better way to assess the understanding of the Google Challenged and the Disinterested, and I need to be able to explore the upper limits of The Purists.
3. My students continue to treat tests as a means to acquire the sufficient number of points to obtain the letter grade that will keep their parents off of their backs.  They do not treat them as the diagnostic tool needed to help me determine what a student knows and can do.

This was my problem in school. Most often, I didn’t really care about what I was learning, I just wanted a grade that would demonstrate my “mastery” of the subject and keep future opportunities open to me. What must be done to truly engage a student like me or one who doesn’t even care enough to try on tests?

Student Research

I recently read about an interaction between employers and a college professor. The professor asked what the employers look for when hiring. In essence, the employers said they look for real world experience.

Not their GPA.
Not their test scores or transcripts.
Their what-have-you-done files…
Providing real experience has become the task of the school, and it’s one that has barely been embraced.

via Do your graduates have a what-they-have-done file? | Dangerously Irrelevant.

That’s not quite true. Here at CC, we want to increase student research and faculty/student collaboration. Part of the glory of the block plan is that students can go into the field and do research to generate a “what-have-you-done” file.

MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds – The Chronicle of Higher Education

This really isn’t news, per se, but it is proof of something our friends in the Writing Center have known for a long time. I suspect that students in any class, whether online or offline, will benefit from getting help outside class…

For online learners who took the first session of “Circuits & Electronics,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s hallmark MOOC, those who worked on course material offline with a classmate or “someone who teaches or has expertise” in the subject did better than those who did not, according to a new paper by researchers at MIT and Harvard University.

The research, published this week by the journal Research & Practice in Assessment

via MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Does the world want our MOOCs?

Oh, burn! What a disappointment to think that “we” don’t have all the answers.

Inside Higher Ed reports that:

Online higher education is increasingly hailed as a chance for educators in the developed world to expand access and quality across the globe.

Yet it may not be quite so easy. Not only does much of the world not have broadband or speak English, but American-made educational material may be unfit for and unwanted in developing countries, according to academics who have worked for years on online distance education and with open educational resources, or OER.
MOOCs may eye the world market, but does the world want them? | Inside Higher Ed.

Students Launch “Button” to Put Denied Access to Research on the Map | Open Access Button

One lament I have as a student and researcher is that my library often does not have full text access to a journal. Being the info geek that I am, I have access to various databases (my public library, the school I attend, and of course the databases here at Colorado College). As a last resort, I could even email my siblings at UC Davis to see if they can access the article. These students have created a button to help visualize the problem with access to academic journal articles.

Today, at an international meeting of student advocates for expanded access to academic research, two undergraduates from Great Britain announced the highly-anticipated launch of The Open Access Button – a browser-based tool to map the epidemic of denied access to academic research articles, and help users find the research they need.

via Students Launch “Button” to Put Denied Access to Research on the Map | Open Access Button.

Injury and Education: Speech Recognition

Stylized microphone icon

Computer-based speech recognition is getting better and can be essential in helping an injured student keep up with assignments.

An injury can make learning difficult, especially on the block plan. A concussion, if untreated, can permanently harm a student’s ability to think and react. Treatment usually involves complete boredom: limiting stimulus and light (no music, no reading, no watching things) for a long time. (Here’s an effective test for concussion) and here’s Kristi Erdahl’s study on concussion testing.
Other students are physically injured – imagine trying to type papers with a broken wrist or arm; imagine trying to participate in a geology field course with a broken leg.

One tool for getting around an inability to type is speech recognition software. Windows (Vista and later) and Android (later versions are better) come with speech recognition built-in and do a pretty good job. There’s also Siri for iOS and a free Nuance Dragon app.

Google Chrome also has voice recognition and there’s an app, Dictanote, which will even recognize multiple languages (Spanish, German, and several others!), which could be especially useful for students in upper-level language classes. Dictanote is available online and offline as a Chrome app. Continue reading: Injury and Education: Speech Recognition