Get to know the Kno

From Wire’s Gadget Lab:

Tablet startup Kno has created a single screen slate specifically for students in the hopes of making electronic textbooks a widespread reality on college campuses.

The tablet will have a 14.1-inch screen, making it the biggest slate to become available. It will have a touchscreen and a stylus to take notes on the device.
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“Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry”

If you haven’t heard by now, the title of this post is a direct quote from Steve Jobs to a college journalism student from Long Island.  She was assigned a story by her journalism professor to cover the iPad initiative at Long Island University. Long story short, after trying repeatedly to get some sort of statement from Apple on the use of iPads in academia, Jobs finally told her “Please leave us alone“.

The obvious angle on this story is Jobs’ attitude toward a customer; being rude, condescending, etc. However, there is an allegory here with respect to academia.

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How does that work, exactly?

One of the beauties of science is that, unlike religion, you shouldn’t have to accept things completely on faith. That means there might not be a single answer or that a previous answer can be challenged by new information. And such is the case with the encoding variability hypothesis, which just so happens to be exactly what I’ve been talking about in my previous posts.

Previous posts have dealt with how of learning things in multiple contexts leads to greater comprehension and future application of what has been previously learned. To a certain degree, we have explained why this happens, but one still might wonder HOW this                                                                       actually works in the brain.

The original theory goes something like this:

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Teaching Patient Problem Solving

If you’re not familiar with TED talks, you should be.  Speakers cover a wide range of topics from nearly every field known.

The talk below was given by math teacher Dan Meyer. Here’s the abstract of the talk from the site

Today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. At TEDxNYED, Dan Meyer shows classroom-tested math exercises that prompt students to stop and think.

I believe Meyer’s ideas could, and should, be applied to many subjects being taught from pre-k to the PhD level.

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More on Context and Learning

Previously, I highlighted an article in The New York Times which illustrated the importance of contextual learning and its influence on mental growth. Here’s another fictional example from the classic 1981 episode of the  television show, WKRP in Cincinnati titled “Venus And The Man” [or Venus Flytrap Explains The Atom”].  Don’t focus on the details of the explanation, focus on the technique; how was context used to teach and learn.

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Study Habits

There are many schools of thought on what effective study habits one should instill in a student, but before such habits can be evaluated, both teacher and student should understand what learning is.  My definition of learning comes from Ayn Rand in “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology“.

All learning involves a process of automatizing, i.e., of first acquiring knowledge by fully conscious, focused attention and observation, then of establishing mental connections which make that knowledge automatic (instantly available as a context), thus freeing man’s mind to pursue further, more complex knowledge.

Along that same line of thought is this piece in the New York Times. It cites research both old and new which demonstrates that the acquisition of knowledge across multiple domains [or contexts] allows for a deeper understanding of the material. That deeper understanding not only aids in recall of  said material, but also the appropriate application of it at higher levels of thinking.

Here’s a  simple example:

A doctor has a patient with a tumor that is inoperable with conventional steel scalpel surgery. However, laser surgery can be used to eliminate the tumor. The problem is that the strength of the laser needed to eliminate the tumor is so strong that it will also cause serious damage to all surrounding organs and tissue.

How can the doctor remove the tumor?

At first glance, this seems like a pretty difficult problem to solve. But how would your thought process change if I had told you the following story first?

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