Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blog Post #3

Khan Academy is a site dedicated to helping students learn at their own pace. With the help of experts in different fields, Salman Khan creates videos aimed at teaching students new material while allowing them to stop, rewind, and repeat as many times as necessary to understand the material. Not to expound too much on information already known about Khan Academy, I will discuss some benefits and potentially downfalls of the system as seen by me and others.

Khan Academy is very useful for many students that want to learn new material but just cannot grasp what is being taught in a traditional classroom. It is also useful for individuals wanting to learn more about a subject in which they did not study during their school years. Lastly, I would say that it is useful for those that want to possibly brush up on former skills in subjects like, Math, Physics, and Economics.

Khan Academy has been controlled by Sal Khan since its inception but as the site has grown, he has recruited and received help from several people, like President and COO Shantanu. While I am sure Sal still controls everything that is released on his site, he needed the help and has thus received it in big ways. Not only was Sal brilliant enough to develop such a site based on demand from YouTube viewers (this implied that he had a great understanding of economics), he was smart enough to get expert help and opinions to help develop and make his site even more of a success.

Now, reading above, you would probably believe that I am all for Khan Academy but wait a minute. I am just stating the facts (well, mostly). Khan Academy has many supporters, like billionaire entrepreneur Bill Gates and some teachers in the Los Altos school district. Gates has even gone on to make comments like “It’s just super-impressive that Sal explains stuff so well,” Gates says. “The fact that one guy can do so many subjects is pretty amazing.” (Thompson, 2011) It looks very impressive to be supported by such a successful entrepreneur but is it enough to convince everyone this is the new way of learning? Also, isn’t it in Gates’ best interest to promote Khan Academy if he wants to make such a large investment in a business? While this comment was probably released before the investment was made, it still looks good for all of the Microsoft shareholders, thus reaffirming Gates’ ability to make financially prudent decisions in a struggling, yet rising economy. You also have supporters like Google, but isn’t Google looking for ways to advance their portfolio and take over the digital world? This is definitely not a bad move for them. In fact, it may have been one of the best investments they have ever made. Again, rest-assured I am not being an avid supporter of Khan Academy; I am just writing a critical review of this “educational tool” and providing differing scenarios of why some might support such a rising giant in the information age.

Picture of Khan Academy cube shooting at Star Wars ship that says critical thouhgt

So let’s move on to those that may have a differing opinion of just how useful Khan Academy is. “…the Khan Academy offers video lectures that promote rote learning.” (Miklasz, 2012) is just one example stated in an online article of how Khan Academy is no different than what has been taught in the past. Critics have claimed that Khan Academy like the traditional educational system teaches rote learning and doesn’t give students the opportunity to experience what they are learning. Many education experts also believe this but Gary Stager has gone on to state, “The videos and software modules, he contends, are just a high tech version of that most hoary of teaching techniques—lecturing and drilling. Schools have become “joyless test-prep factories,” he says, and Khan Academy caters to this dismal trend.” (Thompson, 2011) While, to me, this seems like an unjustifiable overstatement of what Khan’s intentions are, it is understandable. Teachers have long been threatened by technology taking over their positions and while this still involves a human (somewhat), it is able to reach millions in seconds and teachers are limited to 20 – 30 students at a time. Of course they should be worried.

What I haven’t found in my research is a lot of parents that have had problems with Khan Academy and this basically falls on the lap of the failing school districts our children have been forced to attend. When you read articles like Thompson’s and see that 10 year olds are learning trigonometry, although likely an exception to the norm, why would parents be disappointed with Khan Academy. Parents want the best for their child and if this means sitting down and watching a video and learning from it, most parents would be all for it. For many parents, these are things that they can’t help their children with and having a tool at your fingertips that can do what you can’t and do it successfully; they would be in love with it.

Picture of cat and dog dressed in USA attire holding a USA snowboard that says CoolMath.com
Knowing that this post could easily get out of hand and run on forever, I will now introduce more of my beliefs about the Academy as one that will be a future educator. I personally don’t have a problem with the system if it is used in the correct manner. Of course a video, or several videos, cannot replace a living, breathing, teacher. What it can do, however, is be used as a resource when the teacher doesn’t have all of the answers. No one knows everything about everything so and no one knows the best way to teach all. If they did, this controversy would not exist today. So, as a teacher (knowing that Khan Academy isn’t going away), it is our responsibility to be on our feet and teaching children the best way we can and offering up, as assistance, the use of tools like Khan Academy and CoolMath. These resources can be threatening but also very useful if used wisely. I, for one, will not be afraid to direct a student to Khan Academy if they are not getting what I am trying to say, but I will also not guarantee that they will understand even if the information is presented on Khan Academy.

A problem that I have with Khan Academy, being a math teacher, is that several times there are different ways to come to the same conclusion. If the answer is right and the method will always work, I say go for it. But Khan Academy teaches one method and another site will teach another method and the teacher will teach another method. But wait, the tutor might teach another method. Many think of math as black and white when it clearly is not. The answers are right or wrong but the avenue to get to the answer varies by person. So, when students have questions, who will they go to for the answers? The videos can only provide so much but a teacher can provide answer after answer after answer and if they don’t have the answer, can direct the student where to go to find the answer.

Also, it gives instantaneous feedback about what you get right or wrong, but it also provides hints which show how to come to an answer. While this should be a good thing, students may click on all of the hints and the last hint basically just shows the answer. While I wish students would pay attention to the hints and learn from them. I believe they may just do this to get the answer and then no learning is taking place. Also, after they click on one hint, they don’t get credit for getting the question right anyway, so one could say it was counterproductive. Students may not know exactly how to do it and just need a push to get started. Should they be penalized for getting one hint? I don’t think so but again, it is not my site.

One key that math teachers have incorporated is the possibility of partial credit if you show your work. This makes students try by pulling from their knowledge bank what they know and using that to answer new questions. Khan Academy doesn’t require this which means it should only be used as a supplement rather than a teaching tool for students.

Picture of 10 year old Matthew Carpenter at his computer on KhanAcademy.org learn trigonometry problems
Finally, I would like to say that I do like the ways that those dedicated students are able to learn as much as they want on Khan Academy. I don’t believe we should hold any student back. Let the students learn. They are at an age when their brain is like a sponge and we shouldn’t hold them back because in our minds they shouldn’t be there yet. As teachers, we should be promoting the advancement of all students and encouraging them to succeed.

How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education, Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine, August 2011
The Khan Academy Controversy, Kevin Miklasz, Iridescent, September 14, 2012

Friday, February 14, 2014

Blog Post #2

Search Engines

Search Engines are tools used to find information on the web. They can be used in various capacities, some serving the same purpose and others uniquely situated to provide results for information based on a criterion you select. I have used many search engines and described below are some search engines that I use or have used quite extensively.

We will begin with WolframAlpha. Now this search engine provides facts for several subjects but I have used it specifically for math. You type in your question and it tells you the answer. It even shows you how to solve some of the problems. What I like about it is that it does provide the answers and show you how to solve some problems. It is a very useful tool. What I have a problem with, which I shouldn’t, is that it shows one way to complete something and that is it. Also, it doesn’t explain to you in words what was done. It basically shows the steps but why you use perform each step can sometimes be a mystery if you don’t know what you are doing. You really need to know what you are doing and just use this search engine as a checker.

5 bedroom 4 bathroom house found on Trulia
Next we will move on to a certain engine that I believe is one of the most useful in the world. This is Trulia, but Zillow, and Realtor.com also do the same thing. This search engine allows for you to find homes to buy or rent. I haven’t searched specifically for this, but I do believe it also allows for people to find buildings for businesses as well. The key is to know what you are looking for. It doesn’t matter where you want to go, it only matters what you want. Let’s say you want a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 2500 sq. foot house. You put in the search criteria and it brings back all of the results based on the geographic location that you selected. You can search by city, zip, and narrow your search with radii settings. Now, what’s weird to me is not every home is listed on every site. I would think that you could find everything because it is a search engine but the results vary, probably based on the search algorithm. Nevertheless, these are good sites for finding a home in a specific area and they even allow you to look at the surrounding areas (I believe they use Google Earth). There are several ways to limit a search and keep from getting everything and this is something I really like. The only downfall I would say is that it can’t list the houses that aren’t listed with a real estate company or one that isn’t online. Otherwise, great site!

Another interesting search engine that I have used quite extensively is CareerBuilder.com but you also have Monster.com which does the same thing. These search engines allow for you to find a job, or career (if you will) based on your qualifications and where you want to be. You can search and apply for jobs or post your resume and have employers or head hunters find you. Again, you set the search criteria and then get to work looking. You will typically have thousands of results. Who knew that many companies were hiring? It is a great tool for the unemployed or those wishing to switch careers. You can even have email subscriptions where they send you the most updated job listings in your area or the area in which you would like to go. The problems I have with this search engine are that it isn’t updated as often as I like. This is partly the companies fault for not removing the posting after the position has been filled. But it can also be the users fault if, as in my case, you have a job now and don’t want to get any more notifications. You have to go to the site and unsubscribe otherwise those notifications will keep on coming. Probably the most frustrating is that, although a good thing, it tries to match your skills with positions in your area even if you are looking to go to a new city or state. And if you allow employers to view your resume, they will email you even if you do not want to stay in the area. I haven’t found a way to turn this feature off yet but as soon as I can I definitely will definitely.

image of an eyeball and all of the different parts
Ever feel sick and didn’t think you were sick enough to go to the doctor but wanted to make sure? Well, WebMD is the answer. This is a search engine that answers the many questions those of us that aren’t feeling well have and it is a lot cheaper than going to the doctor. Doctors supply the answers to the questions so ask away. Now, don’t think you are a doctor and can diagnose yourself, but you can get a good sense of what’s going on in your body by listing the symptoms and doing a quick search. You never know what might pop-up, though we hope it is not serious. With me having kids, my wife and I use this search engine any time our loved ones (children) are not feeling that well and we really don’t know what is wrong with them. We use other resources but this is definitely one that we know we have at our fingertips. The problem I have with this, if you really want to call this a problem is that it seems to always have several options based on symptoms. So, I guess I have some idea of how a doctor feels when trying to diagnose a patient. But, really I believe it is a good site and should be used. It may help you avoid a costly trip.

Get lost often and wish you had directions? Well, you probably should have printed out or downloaded onto your phone directions from MapQuest. As you have probably already guessed, MapQuest is a site dedicated to getting people to where they need to go. It is a map of the anywhere and everywhere and all you have to do is tell the search engine where you want to go. Updated recently with different route options, it is best for getting you somewhere and letting you choose the route that you know (or think) will work best based on past experiences. It also has a new feature which allows you to calculate, based on mileage and average miles per gallon, how much it will cost you in gas. For a person like me that travels back and forth to Michigan, I need to know about how much I will need for gas and this tool works great and is really accurate. It has to know the prices of the gas in each of the locations you will drive through so it can create an algorithm for average cost of gas and route taken to provide such precise information. I have no real problems with MapQuest, it is excellent for me. I love to use MapQuest but Google Maps is competing and may eventually take the lead.

Great looking picture of Baby Back Ribs
One search engine that is fairly new to me is RecipeBridge. My wife cooks most of the time so I don’t really look for recipes and neither does she. When I do try something new I like to experiment so this is a bit of a stretch for me but something I am willing to try. RecipeBridge is a place where you can go and search thousands, I mean millions of different recipes that have been posted on the web from all over the globe. It provides you with all of the information for the recipe and even the source (website it came from). This has so much it is easy to get lost in there and if you are looking for something quick, good luck. There are so many choices, narrowing down one can be difficult. The good news is, if you know almost exactly what you are looking for, you can perform a really narrow search and find precisely what you need rather quickly. It is now owned by Gourmet Ads and is the largest recipe search engine I have ever seen. There are tutorial videos on the site and it also allows you to register, although I am not really sure what you are registering for (I tried it). I guess I will just have to explore some more. If you have a recipe and it is posted somewhere on the web, it is a good chance that RecipeBridge will find it and you may find your recipe using this search engine. Have fun with it and try something new.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Blog Post #1

My Thoughts on Plagiarism

After reading the many articles on plagiarism including Dr. Stranges "Is it Plagiarism Yet" and his survey of former students on "What Students Think About Plagiarism", I found that it may be rather difficult and confusing for an individual to determine if they are plagiarizing. This means that students and others are plagiarizing and are unaware that they are. They are definitely not doing it on purpose because that would generally mean rather undesirable consequences. They are doing it because they don't know how to cite their work correctly. This happens all of the time by individuals in several capacities but no harm is meant by it but that doesn't matter. If you use someone else's work and don't cite it properly, you are guilty of plagiarism and thus, must be held accountable for it. Well, that is the belief of many people, when it should not be. You should be allowed to go back and correct a mistake if indeed it was one and not be punished for it, especially if you weren't taught how to properly give credit where credit is do.

Plagiarism has too many rules. You can't do this. You have to do that. It is just all too much and one little thing you do, unaware, could cost you your career, your educational goals and dreams, or even a lawsuit if one so chooses. But don't you think that this is going a little to far for a minor mishap? Most believe so, but who will be the one to say, I understand you messed up, I forgive you, please go back and fix your mistake. I would. Would you? It's all about a forgiving heart and a willingness to allow for those that erred in judgment to be given the opportunity to correct what was done wrong. That is, at least, what I believe.

Black and White Picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
An unfortunate outcome of plagiarism, probably unintentionally, that I am still saddened about today is that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s doctorate was discredited after his death for alleged plagiarism. Because he was dead, he was not given the opportunity to defend his dissertation or his honor. How do you do that to someone, knowing that they cannot defend themselves? I am sure he was not trying to cheat to get where he was, he was probably only working with the tools that he had available at that time. It was a tough period and we don't know how or where he got his information. But don't accuse someone of plagiarism if you don't know all of the facts and you can't if they are not there to confirm or deny. Thus, I will continue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and not be subject to just calling him Martin Luther King Jr. like many today. 

Plagiarism is a bad thing to accuse someone of doing. If you must do it, be sure that they have plagiarized and allow them to defend themselves and if something is simply done wrong, correct their mistake. It's the least we can do in a society that puts so much stress on individuals to be perfect in everything they do!