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College reality

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In a few weeks tens of thousands of young Americans will leave home and begin the “college experience”. As they descend on campuses across the country, they will be greeted by impressive buildings, acclaimed alumni, elaborate social functions, and luxury hotel-like accommodations. In addition to getting used to their new “homes”, these newly minted adults will be asked to select majors that prepare them for post college employment.

Interestingly, the university structure and incentives may not always be aligned with what is best for students.

Universities are broken into departments. Each department is responsible for running a profitable business or demonstrating that there is enough demand for its offerings that it would be foolish for the university to close the department. Departments like engineering generally have large research budgets, so they are less concerned about student enrollment than departments like the humanities and social sciences that have fewer research dollars.

As might be expected, the departments with fewest research dollars generally work hardest to convince students to select majors within their purview. Until 15-20 years ago, this model worked well, because it was possible to obtain high quality employment with a wide variety of university degrees.

Technology has improved access to information so much that many jobs related to compiling, organizing, and disseminating information have already been or are being eliminated. Careers that have been hardest hit are law, social sciences, and the humanities.

Since there are fewer job opportunities for people with these degrees, many college graduates find it difficult to procure jobs that pay a premium over what was available to them before they attended college.

This shift creates a dilemma for the parents of a child who did not develop a proclivity for math in high school. Does the parent have the resources to send the child to college so he/she can graduate without debt and go on to a job that he/she most likely could have obtained without attending college? Is it better to consider a high paying trade like plumbing or electricity, rather than expending money on college? Or is it wiser to encourage the child to go to a community college and learn math, so he/she has the skills to obtain a college degree with higher earning potential?

It is a tough decision, but is something that should be discussed before a family blindly spends large sums of money on a college education that does little to improve a child’s long term earning potential.

Is writing education vital to emerging technology?

E-School News – Jeremy Cunningham

“In an age of technological advancement, it’s easy to feel obsolete. I feel confident that education will always be needed; but, occasionally I wonder if writing education has value in a computer-driven world. Students enter my English classrooms and see the course as a requirement for advancement. They look at is as one of many “basics” they need until they can study their actual interest.”(more)

Want to Break Stereotypes in STEM and Computing? Take a Look at Computer History

Ed Surge – Sheena Vaidyanathan

“The history of computers is not just an intriguing account of amazing innovations. More importantly, it is the story of the people who helped us get there. These stories teach us lessons that go far beyond computing—tales of determination, persistence and overcoming the odds. By sharing this history with our students we can help break the stereotypes about gender and race in computing.”(more)

Teaching computing? Try switching off your screens

The Guardian – Helen Caldwell and Neil Smith

“Computing is now a required part of the curriculum from early years to key stage 3 and beyond. But the subject is much more than just using a computer and learning about programming: it’s a way of thinking, of understanding the world so that people can change it. Those thinking skills can also be developed away from the computer; in fact, moving away from the screen can often help students understand the ideas without being distracted by the technology. They are more likely, as well, to be able to transfer them to new contexts.”(more)

Secret Teacher: giving students wifi has made lessons chaotic

The Guardian – Secret Teacher

“Our school recently started providing in-school wifi access to pupils. Teaching staff were not privy to the logic – but when the leadership team announced the news in assembly, they were cheered to the rafters by grateful children. The schools grounds have poor phone signal, so logging on through 4G had not been an option, and the internet had only been available through school computers until this point.”(more)

Understanding science an important gift

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

We are the cusp of modifying, controlling, and creating life. Human to human brain sharing, artificial life forms, and robot swarms are all reality. Even though these technologies are in the early stages of development and are still too expensive and complicated for widespread use, it is not too early to start preparing for the eventual impact these discoveries will have on society.

Unlike earlier scientific advances, these breakthroughs come with a myriad of ethical issues. What kind of security is necessary to protect individuals from having information shared or removed from their brains? What are the safety issues and risks associated with releasing artificial life forms into the environment? Should man be playing God and creating life that does not exist in nature? What happens if robots work together without humans?

Unsettling, certainly. Terrifying, if our children are not able to keep their brains and bodies safe.

There is a delicate balance between the benefits of these new technologies and safety. Used in the right ways, these scientific advances could provide everyone with a much higher quality of life. Used in the wrong ways, these discoveries could lead to the destruction of humankind.

As a result, it is imperative that parents prepare their children to ask good questions and make wise decisions about the use of these new technologies.

First, parents must embrace change. Even though it was not imperative to understand science 30 years ago, it is now. This means science education needs to be a top priority for all children. Science, especially chemistry and physics, requires a strong math background, so kids need high math proficiency as well. Fortunately, there are many free online tools available to supplement what children learn at school including courses and materials available through the Kahn Academy, MIT, and Stanford.

Academic learning alone, however, is not enough. Everyone needs to be aware of the latest technical advances. Many articles about scientific discoveries are now written for a lay people, so it is possible for the general population to stay up to date on the latest innovations.

In addition to encouraging children to read about cutting edge scientific research, it is also important to talk about the potential positives and negatives of these new technologies. As with drugs and alcohol, discussion and awareness helps prepare kids to make wise decisions about how they will allow these technologies to interact with their bodies and lives.