Category Archives: Education

Is education what journalists do?

We had a great discussion this afternoon on Twitter, about the way journalists strenuously deny they have an educational role, while everyone else sees them as essential pieces of the educational ecosystem: sources of information and explanation missing from schools, or for information that is too new for older people to have seen in school when they were young. Also as sources of judgement in disputes over facts.

While journalists strongly deny their educational role, as part of their false objectivity and ‘savvy’, everyone else perceives them as educators – people who should know and then tell, what is true and what is false, who is lying and who is not. People rely, as they cannot be in school all their lives, on the media for continuing education, especially on topics that are new. And people are then disappointed when, as usually happens, journalists fail in that role by indulging in false balance, He-Said-She-Said reporting, passionately avoiding to assign the truth-value to any statement, or self-indulgent enjoyment of their own “skill with words” in place of explaining the facts.

Fortunately for you all, you do not have to wade through all the tweets to see the entire discussion, as Adrian Ebsary has collected it all using Storify – read the whole thing (keep clicking “Load more” on the bottom of the page until you get to the end):

Informer or Educator: Defining the Journalist’s Role

As you can see, while there is some snark and oversimplification here and there due to short format, the discussion was pretty interesting and constructive. This is also a demonstration that useful discussions can be had on Twitter.

Whenever someone says “you cannot say anything in 140 characters” I respond with “who ever said that you only have 140 characters?”. To their quizzical look, I add “You are not limited to one tweet per lifetime – if you need 14,000 characters, you can write 100 tweets”. But, by writing 100 tweets, and making sure that each tweet – not just the collection of 100 – makes sense, has punch to it, and is hard to misunderstand or misquote out of context, one has to write and edit each tweet with great care. Twitter does not allow for sloppy writing!

Picking a theme for a few hours or days, and tweeting a whole lot about it during that period, is usually called ‘mindcasting‘. But it is even better when a bunch of other people join in and mindcast together – everyone learns something from the experience.

Now read the Storify and, if you have time and energy, respond with an essay on your own blog, as a continuation of the mindcasting process.

Update: And the first responses are in:

Whose Job is Public Science Education?

Are Journalists Educators? Does It Even Matter?

Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

Continue reading

Visualizing educational data

A couple of days ago, I had a very pleasant conversation with Brian Bedrick whose Charlotte NC based Interactive Data Partners turns massive amounts of data into visualizations, particularly in education. They take all sorts of metrics, e.g., on educational outcomes, and make them instantly obvious through visualizations. Those kinds of things are important to administrators, but there are other potential uses. For example, instead of giving a student a single grade, the work can be divided into several categories and visualization can immediately show in which areas does a student show strengths and in which there is a need for more work – very useful information for the teacher, but also for the students and parents. Finally, this kind of presentation of the data, if informed by research on what works and what does not in education, can be used to persuade parents, community, school boards and legislatures to pursue effective educational strategies and abandon those that may sound great in campaign sound-bytes but are proven not to work in practice.
What Brian really wants – apart from the obvious: getting more work to do for schools and school systems – is feedback. What kinds of visualizations work? Why? What are the minefields to avoid?
So look at their samples on the website and hit “Contact Us” is you have ideas.

Why can’t they do this on Meet The Press? (video)

Republican candidate for Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction and current State Senator John Huppenthal gets schooled by Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School student journalist Keith Wagner during an interview about the state legislature’s vote to cut career and technical education funding by 99.9%.


Serious Gaming at Sigma Xi

Last week I went to this season’s last American Scientist pizza lunch at Sigma Xi featuring Phaedra Boinodiris (Twitter, blog), Serious Games Product Manager at IBM.
I first saw Phaedra Boinodiris speak as the opening speaker at TEDxRTP (my review) back in March, but this was a different kind of talk, geared more towards scientists and science communicators.
I remember playing Pong when it first came out. I remember spending many hours back in 1980 or so playing The Hobbit on Sinclair ZX Spectrum. And I played many games at arcades (still not knowing which games started out as arcade games adapted to computers and which the other way round). Then I quit playing games for a couple of decades until my kids were ready for them. I loved Zoombinis – an amazing game of logic and a brilliant preparation for taking IQ tests! I loved Richard Scarry’s Busytown – the one and only game I know about infrastructure, where players build stuff and deliver it to others for the good of the town – from baking bread to paving roads – learning along the way how those things are done.
And sure, Phaedra Boinodiris started with a slide depicting Pong (to the chuckle of the audience) but soon got into the real stuff – the serious gaming and the story of how she got involved in developing such games, as well as about studies of gaming and how different kinds of games help develop different real-work skills, from eye-hand coordination to leadership to cooperation. Her first game – INNOV8 – was developed as a prototype, a proof of concept, in only three months and instantly became a huge hit. It is used by businesses and business schools around the world to teach Business Process Management. It is essentially a first person shooter game (without guns) in which the player is brought as an outside consultant into a company where s/he has to figure out the flow, the bottlenecks, etc. (including by interviewing employees, as well as data-sheets) and experiment in making it more efficient. The 2.0 version came soon after, adding such problems as traffic, customer service and supply chains.

The next game, recently announced and coming out in October 2010, will be a Sim-City-like serious game CityOne, designed to help city planners, town councils, citizens, and engineers plan better, more efficient infrastructure for their cities. Put in your city’s specs and start building new infrastructure, see how much it will cost, see what problems will arise, see what solutions are available – probably something you could not have thought of yourself and may be surprised.
As I am currently reading ‘On The Grid’ it occured to me that the developers of CityOne should read that book, and that Scott Huler should be given a test-run of the game, perhaps for him to review for Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News&Observer and the local NPR station. And for Science In The Triangle, of course.
Cross-posted from Science In The Triangle

Serious Gaming at Sigma Xi

Last week I went to this season’s last American Scientist pizza lunch at Sigma Xi featuring Phaedra Boinodiris, Serious Games Product Manager at IBM, and I filed my report over on Science In The Triangle blog.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Alex, Staten Island Academy student

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Alex from Miss Baker’s Biology class at Staten Island Academy to answer a few questions. You can read about Alex’s experience at ScienceOnline2010 here.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you from?
Thank you! I’m Alex and I’m a freshman at Staten Island Academy in New York. I’ve lived in New York all my life and dream of living in Paris (though learning French might be necessary for that…). I’m completely invested in literature and music (I’ve played violin all my life), but now I am really embarrassingly involved in the online current events world. I’m beginning to become more reliable than Anderson Cooper.
As a freshman, I am really looking forward to taking Psych as soon as it’s available. I really just find perception, brain functioning, and behavior fascinating. But right now, I’m really enjoying biology where we’re doing a lab about genetics.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
I’ve always been really into writing, but I’ve lately been looking more into journalism over creative writing. Science journalism for the New York Times or Scientific American would be amazing. My main passion has always been and will probably always remain music, art and theater, but I’ve started to spread my horizons after Science Online. I was completely taken by Michael Specter’s speech. He really made science seem more personal, instead of a scary and distant compilation of numbers and statistics.
What particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Being perhaps the world’s biggest YouTube fanatic, I really enjoy the by Hank Green of the VlogBrothers. I’m also of course always on Ms. Baker’s site for updates and notes. has a lot of cool sections for kids who wouldn’t expect to like science (aka me pre-9th grade when science was just math with a different name). They have some sports related articles, but my personal favorite is 3D Makes a Comeback where they look into the engineering of 3D hits like “Avatar”. A site that merges science and breathtaking photography is my newest addiction There are some truly beautiful images on that site.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work and school? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do and want to accomplish?
I really think that online education is the new frontier. There are still a lot of people that need convincing, but I find it hard to believe that with all of the great innovations popping up every day that education would stay restricted to a piece of white chalk and a blackboard. A lot of kids aren’t into Twitter in my class (as some visitors to the Extreme Biology session at Sci Online may remember, 14-16 year-olds don’t see the importance), but I believe it’s mainly because Facebook seems to have all of the factors of Twitter along with a better layout. But I think it is most important to remember that kids like what other kids like. If these sites are introduced to students, it’s only a matter of time before FriendFeed is the new Facebook.
As Miss Baker, when teaching the Biology class, gives you a lot of creative freedom, how does that affect your own interest in the subject? Do you think you learn better this way? What would you suggest to do differently to make it even better? What are some of your own projects you did for the class?
Definitely! As someone who considers myself as a bit of a “free spirit”, I really think the entire class in general is really flourishing with this teaching style. This generation has a lower tolerance for traditional teaching methods. I think giving us freedom within the curriculum is liberating and effective. When the 9th grade went on a trip to London, we took 50 science related photos each and did descriptions and recorded our information. And then, of course, is the infamous blog project. After picking out topic, we wrote blog posts, and now most of them are on the website now. Instead of just writing and handing in an essay, it was so different from anything I’ve ever done in school. We got to comment on each other’s post and get involved in conversations/ debates about the topic at hand.
Do you read science blogs? If so, when and how did you first discover them? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool ones?
I’m guilty of being unimpressed by blogs. There are a lot of truly fascinating blogs, but I can’t find a way to get invested. I can’t help but feeling that answer was a cop out, so I feel I should mention my involvement in the world of podcasts! I’m trying to recruit some people for my own, but until then I love listening! ITunesU has some great podcasts from Universities like Cornell and MIT if you’re interested in those. Those are more recorded lectures, but are still really informative. Science Magazine Podcast is probably one of my favorites, but Science Podcast is also cool. As I mentioned before, Ecogeek is amazing for new green technology and has the best science podcast I’ve found so far. But my all time favorite is SmartMouths podcast. Although mostly political, they do venture into science sometimes. Plus, it’s guaranteed fun and information filled. They do some amazing debates too.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
My favorite part was definitely presenting! The only suggestion I have for next year (besides an irrelevant request to bring back the same burger truck) is maybe to have a few more sample lectures. There were a few where instead of focusing on one general topic, there were about 3 presenters. I preferred this format, but overall it was such an incredible experience! And as I think I mentioned, my scientific enlightenment was Michael Specter’s speech, and the scientific journalism session. I can definitely see scientific journalism as a genre in its own right, and not just a boring collection of facts.
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Alex pic.jpg