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Re: [school-discuss] student:computer - studies to reference?

Hello James,

Do you have a specific methodology to your
--- "James P. Kinney III"
<jkinney@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> Hi Matt,
> I should preface my reply with a brief introduction.
> For 9 years I taught physics and/or astronomy at 3
> different Atlanta
> area universities and colleges. They range from
> high-end (Emory
> University), middle of the road (Georgia State
> University) and community
> college/college-prep (Georgia Perimeter College).
> Each school had
> varying degrees of in place technology for teaching.
> The quantity and
> "quality" was a direct function of the funding
> ability of the school.
> At Emory, I was able to implement an entirely
> computer driven physics
> lab sequence. These were not the lab simulations (I
> think those are a
> poor stand-in for doing labs) but were an online lab
> notebook for data
> collection, notes, and data manipulation. As it was
> a huge leap up from
> the previous version (3-5 different applications
> with cut-n-paste...) to
> a single tailored application, the response from the
> few who used both
> versions was quite positive. For the first time
> users, they had no
> opinion as long as it worked reliably.
> At Georgia State, computers were used for for
> writing reports or
> specialized data manipulation and lots of online
> research (gopher,
> veronica, archie - yes, pre-netscape days).
> Georgia Perimeter used computers primarily for
> email, web surfing, and
> in the lab for experiment control with specialized
> lab kits and for
> astronomy simulations (note my dislike for these
> above includes some of
> the ones we did here - yet there were some that were
> quite good and
> mimicked what the pros did).
> The big impacts I saw as an educator in science were
> the following:
> 1. Ready access to information. Sometimes this was
> just another website
> with a different simulation, other times it was
> access to pro-level data
> and analysis. At the places where access was a
> given, it was used. The
> drawback was they got very good at finding the
> information while the
> application of that information was not enhanced or
> practiced. On the
> whole, I think it was more than compensated by
> having huge libraries
> available at the fingertips.
> 2. Removal of the drudgery of certain tasks. I have
> mixed feelings about
> this. While making repeated, tedious calculations
> (that will NEVER be
> replicated anywhere but a particular lab experiment)
> breeze by
> accurately using spreadsheets, the students also
> lost a grasp of the
> important thinking skills used to create a graph by
> hand (scale,
> planning, measurement, estimation) and the computer
> became more like a
> TV. For a long time, the first graph was always
> required to be done by
> hand to instill the knowledge and a sense of
> appreciation. Then I caught
> people plotting it and tracing it...
> 3. We could now do things that only the "big boys"
> could do just a few
> years ago. This level of technology was not in the
> intro classes but was
> quite prevalent in the upper level classes. Using
> computer-assisted
> processes, students in senior research labs could
> recreate some of the
> famous, ground-breaking experiments with tremendous
> precision by using
> computer-controlled hardware. This did require a
> higher degree of
> learning sophistication than just mechanical
> manipulatives from years
> earlier. Some things could now be done safely that
> could not have been
> at all safely a few years ago (most nuclear physics
> until 1995 was done
> with pencil and paper by undergraduates as the
> safety factor was too
> difficult. Now with precision computer systems and
> detector devices,
> ultra-low radiation sources can be used safely).
> Where does this lead for K-12 education?
> Again, drawing from my own personal experiences in
> class, students with
> prior exposure to computer technology were more
> willing to "jump in" at
> the college level. They were not afraid to try
> things on the computer.
> Exploratory learning is a good thing. The hard drive
> can always be
> cleaned off later. 
> Two experiences had a profound impact on my view of
> academia: I was
> asked to fill in for a colleague who was on a
> research run. I had two
> very different groups of student for the same class,
> a very basic, no
> math physics lab. One group was composed entirely of
> art and music
> majors. They were fun! If a device had a knob or
> button or switch, they
> wanted to see what it did. Everything they did was a
> "what if..."
> question. I wound up staying after lab that day with
> most of class for
> another 2 hours while they just played with the lab
> equipment. Once they
> figured out they could use the oscilloscope software
> and pipe external
> sounds from a microphone or internally generated
> sounds and then do
> screen captures and image edits... It was a barrel
> of fun. And they did
> some serious critical thinking as they were looking
> for repeatable
> patterns in the processing they were doing so the
> could design the
> visual using the sound.
> The second group was a graduate-student bunch
> working on their masters
> in education. They were quite the opposite of the
> first group. They
> literally had to have a priori knowledge of the
> outcome of anything they
> to do in lab or they wouldn't do it. There was no
> room for experiment,
> trial and error, test and measure. They would not
> try new things with
> being led by the hand to the outcome. It was very
> different seeing these
> people try and get out of their boxes and learn how
> to think and not
> just what to think. (Note: I don't want to sound
> like I'm coming down
> hard on them. Maybe it's because they were older and
> were all "in the
> field" that they were less inclined to jump in and
> play).
> End result: Technology is not the solution to
> educational problems. It
> is merely another tool for teachers to use in the
> learning process. But
> the teachers won't use it if it doesn't work.
> Putting Linux thin clients
> in the classrooms won't make the slow kids faster.
> It will give the fast
> ones something to do constructive while the slower
> ones get a bit of
> one-on-one. That is the real boost. The teachers
> have the ability to
> split the class up into smaller, more manageable
> chunks and give more
> specific attention to smaller virtual classes while
> providing valuable
> access to research and communication tools with the
> technology. For the
> kids, it gives a way for them to move more at their
> pace rather than the
> average of the room.
> A bit more closing bio: I don't sell hardware. I am
> a consultant who
> works with Linux stuff (live and breath it is more
> accurate). My 2 kids
> use their own Linux systems to do nearly everything
> (we do have one
> windows pc for some games). I was introduced to
> Linux at Georgia State
> in 1992. I introduced Emory to Linux in 1997. I am
> the project architect
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