College Simulates The Real World

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Current research reveals that students decide to go to college primarily to improve their employment opportunities. They look to colleges to prepare them not only to work in traditional jobs, but to also prepare them for a world that is changing beyond description. They are fully aware that narrowly defined silos of academic disciplines do not help as much as acquiring useful skills and the disposition to put them to effective use.

teens-629046_1920

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

These students are wasting no time in taking matters into their own hands. Degrees in the humanities and social sciences are being eclipsed by technical subjects in popularity. At Stanford, for instance, students are encouraged to take at least an introductory computer class. “Stanford is the intellectual heart of Silicon Valley. Stanford students quickly come to understand that they should take at least one of the introductory computer science courses, which are very much part of the culture,” said Eric Roberts, computer science professor. These undergrads no longer pursue social science with an eye towards grad school and possibly a career in academia- they get into tech as deeply as they can.

With millions of tech-related jobs searching for talent, undergrads have ground-floor opportunities at their fingertips. At the same time, hiring managers are frustrated by how ill-prepared college students are for their needs. Says one, “I need people who can use GIT, write coherently about how to build and run software, debug and patch with impunity, and spin up and optimize virtual servers on a variety of environments. Neither code schools nor computer science programs seem to produce people like this. And there are few resources for teaching these kind of skills.”

Hiring managers report they have to go out of their way to dig into what makes students tick in order to determine if there is a good fit for their needs. They want students who know how to function as part of a team, who can move between roles and adapt their skill set to the needs of the organization.

Futurist Don Tapscott says the age-old model of teaching doesn’t work anymore. The publishing model, of transferring information from the lecturer to the student, just isn’t enough in a world where students can instantly engage minds from all over the world in order to build something. Tapscott warns, “If campuses are seen as places where learning is inferior to other models, or worse, places where learning is restricted and stifled, the role of the campus experience will be undermined as well. The university is too costly to be simply an extended summer camp.”

AC89-0437-20_aTesla founder Elon Musk seems to agree when he says, “Forty years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will soon become indistinguishable from reality.”

Do universities, then, actually function as simulators in which students experience the various possibilities fueled by their sense of who they are, their skills and their ability to work with others? This, after all, has always been at the core of what is provided by a college experience. Farmers learned how their life would be better in factories. Governments and industrial giants then funded scientific research through universities while undergrads learned to make their lives better by buying things. Now, students are grappling with tech and the expanding horizons provided by economic and social activism on a global scale.

At the same time, the internet has broken the peer review system. Research can happen anywhere, increasingly with real-time data flows available globally. Increasingly, science and innovation are being advanced outside the structures of academic hierarchies.

Unburdened by old notions of structure and tradition, enterprising undergrads can be encouraged to start new businesses, they can become leaders in new fields. They can file patents. Many do this without institutional support. Imagine what reorganization and focus can do to unlock the potential of each student! Colleges need to catch up and are ideally positioned to do so.

playing-1179296_1920At the primary and secondary levels, schools are adapting as well. A parent from Germany says about her daughter’s experience in Palo Alto, the very well-heeled community surrounding Stanford. “Malina’s teacher has provided parents with a password for an app that teaches kindergartners the basic principles of Java using a game. She loves this app. She plays it at home in the afternoon. The after-school program offers — for a fee — training in coding, design thinking and 3-D printing. While I don’t think all of this is necessary for elementary school kids, I get that tech savvy belongs here, just as Waldorf schools and clay pottery belong in Germany.”

What if colleges embrace the use of technology to develop the talent of each student? For example, consider video games. Most students love them. They use them to become better athletes. They use them to build operational skills and develop their sense of strategic decision making. They use them to deep dive into characters, plot and drama. We have reached a point now where parents use games regularly too, and even play with their children. What a shift! It is time to embrace the video game as an educational tool. At the college level, the growth of Game Development programs supports the educational advantages of this approach, taking into account the academics, skills and career value inherent in the process of making games.

Something fundamental happens when students are asked to view games from a “make” perspective. Challenged with the task of building one of their own, students must unpack their own experience of a game. They must reduce it to the basic fundamentals. They need to delve into probabilities, evaluate the balance of chance vs skill from a design perspective. They recognize the need for programming physics engines to provide a realistic feel to their game. They consider who is playing the game and what they feel, not just what they do.

CAVE_CrayolandIn the process of making something like a video game, students must shift their perspective and apply their imaginations in powerful new ways. They speculate to think through what can in exist in “makeable” new worlds. They must construct imaginative experiments to test their concepts in order to bring that world into reality. They play freely with the options they have at their disposal, imagining the flow of play unhindered by physical impediments. Then, as they discover the very real resource constraints, they turn on their imaginative skills as they become agents in finding innovative solutions. They form teams. They embark on missions. They assemble the code, art and sound assets that bring their work to life. Together, they bring themselves to the team in order to accomplish a goal. They stand up to the challenges inherent in what they are trying to accomplish and apply their skills for the benefit of the team. They deep dive and mentor each other. They see what they have created and how it affects others. Through new kinds of classes, club and independent activities, students prepare in a way that matches what is needed by the companies that want to hire talent for their organizations.

No More Bloodletting

Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, a professor at Stanford, equates the college lecture with the antiquated medical practice of bloodletting. For centuries, cleansing the body by the withdrawal of blood was thought to be the best way to prevent illness and disease. The British Science museum claims it was the primary practice of surgeons until the 1800s. Wieman says the practice of college lectures is long overdue for an overhaul. The research data he has amassed shows that students retain very little of what is presented to them even in top notch universities. So, he has been teaching in a new way. He has students discuss a problem in small groups. He observes them struggle to make sense of things on their own. In this “active learning” approach, students must figure out what is important and what is not. He says, “The learning is happening as the students are figuring things out. I have data to back it up”. His failure rate has gone down and students grades have gone up.

science-1182712_960_720Research measuring learning in hands-on, team oriented activities shows great promise. Stanford’s Paulo Blikstein has been developing measurement techniques that track student movements while working on projects. Using low-cost Kinect sensors, his team gathers data on postures. Students engaged in tasks lean forward with both of their hands on the table. When they sit upright and manipulate things with just one hand, they are semi-active, toying the possibilities. At times, they become passive and reflective, leaning back and letting their imaginations guide them.

Blikstein evaluated these postures across the worst, average and best students. Not surprisingly, the best students move between these three postures most fluidly, spending almost an equal amount of time focused on task-oriented activity, playing with alternatives and reflecting on what they have observed. His research also measures interaction of team members on group projects. Traditional testing forces students into individual silos in which they confront insecurities and fears that have increasingly led to campus violence, depression and suicides. By working with groups of peers, students learn to unpack complexity in order to find meaning. They decode how they see the world more rapidly through the perspectives of others. Rather than accepting the point of view of a single authority, they are better informed by gathering inputs from several sources and taking it from there.

In the process, students develop an awareness of their own beliefs. They deconstruct them into their essential elements and create their own authenticity from there.

“We had students working in pairs on maker activities. We identified one as the “driver” of the activity—in control of the computer, the keyboard, etc.—and the other as the passenger”, Blikstein told EdSurge. “When we had a pair of two high GPA students, of course they performed well. When we had a pair of low GPA students, they tended not to perform well. But when we paired a high GPA student with a low GPA student, and mixed up the roles driver and passenger, we found something unexpected. The groups that had the low GPA student as the driver performed almost as well as the groups of two high GPA students. The message to teachers is: when you are creating groups in a makerspace, try having the “weaker” student be in control of the computer, Legos, robotic kit, etc. with the help of a “stronger” student.”

Harnessing Imagination Itself

While colleges have done a remarkable job developing the resources needed for scientific research and industry, the challenge of simulating the world through what has been wired in the past decades will require a quantum leap in preparation. A wider appreciation of the research, such as that produced at UCLA by the team led by Shelley E. Taylor in 1998 in their paper “Harnessing the Imagination: Mental Simulation, Self-Regulation and Coping” deserves careful examination. As tools for measuring performance evolve, fitness trackers will be revealing brain and bio mechanical activity as well.

In a phenomenal TED talk in 2008, Christopher DeCharms described potential medical benefits of viewing functional MRI data in real time by patients themselves,

who can then self-regulate, develop new neural pathways and imagine new possibilities. With the rapid advancement of imaging technologies, our children may well grow up with mirrors that show their brain functions. How do we help them prepare themselves to be all they can be?

John Seely Brown and Ann Pendleton-Jullian have constructed a framework that describes a continuum of thought, from the concrete world of perception and reasoning to a more fluid basis for innovation based on imaginative speculation, experimentation and free play. What they point to is supported not only by recent developments but also by comments such as these:

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain.

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein.

Colleges have the unique potential to radically affect the career trajectories of billions of people. With a new approach to higher education, they can alter the goals and perceived benefits of what they offer. Only by doing so, will they also remain in synch with a rapidly changing world.

From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, authors of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe.

Prior segments listed in order below:
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Current research reveals that students decide to go to college primarily to improve their employment opportunities. They look to colleges to prepare them not only to work in traditional jobs, but to also prepare them for a world that is changing beyond description. They are fully aware that narrowly defined silos of academic disciplines do not help as much as acquiring useful skills and the disposition to put them to effective use. By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California These students are wasting no time in taking matters into their own hands. Degrees in...

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Current research reveals that students decide to go to college primarily to improve their employment opportunities. They look to colleges to prepare them not only to work in traditional jobs, but to also prepare them for a world that is changing beyond description. They are fully aware that narrowly defined silos of academic disciplines do not help as much as acquiring useful skills and the disposition to put them to effective use.

teens-629046_1920

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

These students are wasting no time in taking matters into their own hands. Degrees in the humanities and social sciences are being eclipsed by technical subjects in popularity. At Stanford, for instance, students are encouraged to take at least an introductory computer class. “Stanford is the intellectual heart of Silicon Valley. Stanford students quickly come to understand that they should take at least one of the introductory computer science courses, which are very much part of the culture,” said Eric Roberts, computer science professor. These undergrads no longer pursue social science with an eye towards grad school and possibly a career in academia- they get into tech as deeply as they can.

With millions of tech-related jobs searching for talent, undergrads have ground-floor opportunities at their fingertips. At the same time, hiring managers are frustrated by how ill-prepared college students are for their needs. Says one, “I need people who can use GIT, write coherently about how to build and run software, debug and patch with impunity, and spin up and optimize virtual servers on a variety of environments. Neither code schools nor computer science programs seem to produce people like this. And there are few resources for teaching these kind of skills.”

Hiring managers report they have to go out of their way to dig into what makes students tick in order to determine if there is a good fit for their needs. They want students who know how to function as part of a team, who can move between roles and adapt their skill set to the needs of the organization.

Futurist Don Tapscott says the age-old model of teaching doesn’t work anymore. The publishing model, of transferring information from the lecturer to the student, just isn’t enough in a world where students can instantly engage minds from all over the world in order to build something. Tapscott warns, “If campuses are seen as places where learning is inferior to other models, or worse, places where learning is restricted and stifled, the role of the campus experience will be undermined as well. The university is too costly to be simply an extended summer camp.”

AC89-0437-20_aTesla founder Elon Musk seems to agree when he says, “Forty years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will soon become indistinguishable from reality.”

Do universities, then, actually function as simulators in which students experience the various possibilities fueled by their sense of who they are, their skills and their ability to work with others? This, after all, has always been at the core of what is provided by a college experience. Farmers learned how their life would be better in factories. Governments and industrial giants then funded scientific research through universities while undergrads learned to make their lives better by buying things. Now, students are grappling with tech and the expanding horizons provided by economic and social activism on a global scale.

At the same time, the internet has broken the peer review system. Research can happen anywhere, increasingly with real-time data flows available globally. Increasingly, science and innovation are being advanced outside the structures of academic hierarchies.

Unburdened by old notions of structure and tradition, enterprising undergrads can be encouraged to start new businesses, they can become leaders in new fields. They can file patents. Many do this without institutional support. Imagine what reorganization and focus can do to unlock the potential of each student! Colleges need to catch up and are ideally positioned to do so.

playing-1179296_1920At the primary and secondary levels, schools are adapting as well. A parent from Germany says about her daughter’s experience in Palo Alto, the very well-heeled community surrounding Stanford. “Malina’s teacher has provided parents with a password for an app that teaches kindergartners the basic principles of Java using a game. She loves this app. She plays it at home in the afternoon. The after-school program offers — for a fee — training in coding, design thinking and 3-D printing. While I don’t think all of this is necessary for elementary school kids, I get that tech savvy belongs here, just as Waldorf schools and clay pottery belong in Germany.”

What if colleges embrace the use of technology to develop the talent of each student? For example, consider video games. Most students love them. They use them to become better athletes. They use them to build operational skills and develop their sense of strategic decision making. They use them to deep dive into characters, plot and drama. We have reached a point now where parents use games regularly too, and even play with their children. What a shift! It is time to embrace the video game as an educational tool. At the college level, the growth of Game Development programs supports the educational advantages of this approach, taking into account the academics, skills and career value inherent in the process of making games.

Something fundamental happens when students are asked to view games from a “make” perspective. Challenged with the task of building one of their own, students must unpack their own experience of a game. They must reduce it to the basic fundamentals. They need to delve into probabilities, evaluate the balance of chance vs skill from a design perspective. They recognize the need for programming physics engines to provide a realistic feel to their game. They consider who is playing the game and what they feel, not just what they do.

CAVE_CrayolandIn the process of making something like a video game, students must shift their perspective and apply their imaginations in powerful new ways. They speculate to think through what can in exist in “makeable” new worlds. They must construct imaginative experiments to test their concepts in order to bring that world into reality. They play freely with the options they have at their disposal, imagining the flow of play unhindered by physical impediments. Then, as they discover the very real resource constraints, they turn on their imaginative skills as they become agents in finding innovative solutions. They form teams. They embark on missions. They assemble the code, art and sound assets that bring their work to life. Together, they bring themselves to the team in order to accomplish a goal. They stand up to the challenges inherent in what they are trying to accomplish and apply their skills for the benefit of the team. They deep dive and mentor each other. They see what they have created and how it affects others. Through new kinds of classes, club and independent activities, students prepare in a way that matches what is needed by the companies that want to hire talent for their organizations.

No More Bloodletting

Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, a professor at Stanford, equates the college lecture with the antiquated medical practice of bloodletting. For centuries, cleansing the body by the withdrawal of blood was thought to be the best way to prevent illness and disease. The British Science museum claims it was the primary practice of surgeons until the 1800s. Wieman says the practice of college lectures is long overdue for an overhaul. The research data he has amassed shows that students retain very little of what is presented to them even in top notch universities. So, he has been teaching in a new way. He has students discuss a problem in small groups. He observes them struggle to make sense of things on their own. In this “active learning” approach, students must figure out what is important and what is not. He says, “The learning is happening as the students are figuring things out. I have data to back it up”. His failure rate has gone down and students grades have gone up.

science-1182712_960_720Research measuring learning in hands-on, team oriented activities shows great promise. Stanford’s Paulo Blikstein has been developing measurement techniques that track student movements while working on projects. Using low-cost Kinect sensors, his team gathers data on postures. Students engaged in tasks lean forward with both of their hands on the table. When they sit upright and manipulate things with just one hand, they are semi-active, toying the possibilities. At times, they become passive and reflective, leaning back and letting their imaginations guide them.

Blikstein evaluated these postures across the worst, average and best students. Not surprisingly, the best students move between these three postures most fluidly, spending almost an equal amount of time focused on task-oriented activity, playing with alternatives and reflecting on what they have observed. His research also measures interaction of team members on group projects. Traditional testing forces students into individual silos in which they confront insecurities and fears that have increasingly led to campus violence, depression and suicides. By working with groups of peers, students learn to unpack complexity in order to find meaning. They decode how they see the world more rapidly through the perspectives of others. Rather than accepting the point of view of a single authority, they are better informed by gathering inputs from several sources and taking it from there.

In the process, students develop an awareness of their own beliefs. They deconstruct them into their essential elements and create their own authenticity from there.

“We had students working in pairs on maker activities. We identified one as the “driver” of the activity—in control of the computer, the keyboard, etc.—and the other as the passenger”, Blikstein told EdSurge. “When we had a pair of two high GPA students, of course they performed well. When we had a pair of low GPA students, they tended not to perform well. But when we paired a high GPA student with a low GPA student, and mixed up the roles driver and passenger, we found something unexpected. The groups that had the low GPA student as the driver performed almost as well as the groups of two high GPA students. The message to teachers is: when you are creating groups in a makerspace, try having the “weaker” student be in control of the computer, Legos, robotic kit, etc. with the help of a “stronger” student.”

Harnessing Imagination Itself

While colleges have done a remarkable job developing the resources needed for scientific research and industry, the challenge of simulating the world through what has been wired in the past decades will require a quantum leap in preparation. A wider appreciation of the research, such as that produced at UCLA by the team led by Shelley E. Taylor in 1998 in their paper “Harnessing the Imagination: Mental Simulation, Self-Regulation and Coping” deserves careful examination. As tools for measuring performance evolve, fitness trackers will be revealing brain and bio mechanical activity as well.

In a phenomenal TED talk in 2008, Christopher DeCharms described potential medical benefits of viewing functional MRI data in real time by patients themselves,

who can then self-regulate, develop new neural pathways and imagine new possibilities. With the rapid advancement of imaging technologies, our children may well grow up with mirrors that show their brain functions. How do we help them prepare themselves to be all they can be?

John Seely Brown and Ann Pendleton-Jullian have constructed a framework that describes a continuum of thought, from the concrete world of perception and reasoning to a more fluid basis for innovation based on imaginative speculation, experimentation and free play. What they point to is supported not only by recent developments but also by comments such as these:

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain.

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein.

Colleges have the unique potential to radically affect the career trajectories of billions of people. With a new approach to higher education, they can alter the goals and perceived benefits of what they offer. Only by doing so, will they also remain in synch with a rapidly changing world.

From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, authors of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe.

Prior segments listed in order below:
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