Archive | September, 2011

The Half-Marathon Man

27 Sep

In 2004, I’d read an article in the Times of India newspaper on Anil Ambani titled Marathon Man. I was amazed to learn that such a rich and busy person spends two hours every day on the treadmill and participates in many marathons. The title of the article has always stuck with me. I’m not sure but I think this prompted me to think about running marathons.

I know how difficult running a marathon can be. It’s painful, an extreme endurance test. My knees start aching whenever I run, so I gave up the idea of running a marathon a long time ago. But earlier this year, I came across an article in Time Health that said that research studies show that running may not be bad for the knees unless the knees are not already in bad shape. “Good to know”, I said and ran a lot on the treadmill and improved my endurance. Now I can easily run more than five miles – on a treadmill. I’m now planning to run the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in May 2012, but only a half marathon. Plenty of time to prepare, but will it be easy? Would I be able to do it? I don’t know.

Why do people run marathons knowing well how painful it can be? My theory is that the challenge is exhilarating. It develops character – to keep persevering in the face of adversity. It develops personal strength. And yes, it helps get rid of that paunch too.

I’m aiming to be a Half-Marathon Man.

Start With Why (TED Video)

23 Sep

Very inspiring video by Simon Sinek. Start With Why book available on Amazon.

The Changing Rules of Education – Reality or Hype?

16 Sep

In my previous post, Is This The Future of Learning, on The Khan Academy, I’d raised a question – “Are these videos really going to help kids learn science and math? Salman Khan and Bill Gates certainly think so. So do many other people, including academicians. Do you?”

There have been plenty of discussion happening, both for and against using the Khan Academy model of using videos for teaching kids. Supporters say that with the cut in school budgets and laying off of teaches, these videos are a low cost alternatives, and can serve as a very useful tools when integrated with the classroom. Sounds perfect. However, the critics argue that the videos are not going to be effective because there is no interaction and engagement. This sounds true too.

But are the videos changing the rules of education, as some have predicted?

Here are my arguments.

  • Videos are usually engaging when compared to a talking teacher in class; however, a teacher can gain and sustain the kids’ attention for a long time whereas a video will just go on an on regardless of the kids’ state of mind.
  • Little kids have a very short attention span. Even when they are watching the videos, it doesn’t mean that they are paying attention to what is being taught. Cartoons on TV are very animated and hold the kids’ attention, but it has been proved that TV makes the kids’ brain numb.
  • The Khan Academy videos are very engaging; however, it seems difficult to believe that kids are going to sit in front of a computer and keep absorbing information. It doesn’t happen even with a teacher in class. The “sage on the stage” model of teaching has been popular for thousands of years, but it has not been found to be a particularly good model. We don’t learn this way.
  • People learn by doing things, not watching things get done. The videos do not provide the kids an opportunity of apply their knowledge. Without proper avenues to apply and being able to transfer their knowledge to other contexts, they are not going to learn.
  • There is no social context with these videos. What if someone has a question? What if someone is perceiving the instruction in a different way than intended? How do we know if,when, and how much they are learning?
  • The videos can be used to complement a teacher. The teacher teaches in class, then asks the students to watch a few videos for some time, and then do exercises, all under the teacher’s supervision who is always present to answer questions and guide the students.
  • The kids can use the videos anytime, anywhere. That’s a great benefit of these videos. Learning alone can be good, without any distractions, if the student is highly motivated to learn. One the other hand, a highly motivated student can learn from a number of other sources too, not just these videos.
  • There are skills that need offline coaching – such as reading and writing – that are the foundations of further learning.

My first grader son is highly attention deficient, just like most of the kids his age. Can I ask him to watch the Khan Academy videos and learn to read and write, science, and math? One-word answer – Impossible!

But this is not to say that these videos are worthless. I can see their use by older kids and adults who understand how the videos can be valuable to them, are motivated to watch and learn, and would prefer to learn at their own pace and time and place.

Suggested readings:
Wired – How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education
Hack Education – The Wrath Against Khan

iPad Nation!

14 Sep

We are the iPad nation! The iPad was invented in the US, and we are the largest buyers of iPad. Or any new electronic gadget, for that matter. It doesn’t matter if the country is going through a severe recession, the unemployment is constantly around 10%, and a new report says the poverty rate is 15%. But the other 85% population seems to be doing just fine. And buying iPads.

In the last few months, I have come across several articles that report that some colleges are buying iPads for their students, which is great. The students can now play Angry Birds in the classroom! Or spend their time on facebook or surf the Internet while the poor professor desperately (or apathetically or ignorantly happy) tries to help the students learn what she is teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against using the iPad, I’m against using any electronic gadget in the classroom that distracts the students more than helps them learn. A laptop or a smartphone is as distracting, in my opinion.

There are a few schools that have bought or are planning to buy iPads for … Kindergartners! Is it a great idea? I don’t know. What I do know is that the kids first need to learn the basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. If there are iPad apps (and I know there are a few good ones) that help the kids learn, then I’m all for using those apps and iPads. The portability and touchscreen are very useful for kids. They can read books and play educational games on their iPads. But are there really good educational games that can sustain those kids’ attention for a long time? Research has proved that while playing games, the excitement and motivation doesn’t necessarily lead to learning because the kids are more interested in playing the games and less inclined to learn. This is my primary concern. The games are not set in a learning context. A math game taught using a car racing or shooting game will not lead to effective learning.

The iPad has very useful features – GPS chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, touchscreen – and unless we take advantage of these features and create appropriate educational products, I’m afraid the schools are wasting money. It might be counter-productive. But who cares? We have money, we’ll buy iPads for kids. Technology can be the best babysitter.

Related readings
How About Better Parents?
The Two Most Effective “Apps” for Kids
How much tech can children take?
Tap Fish Dealer

Is This The Future Of Learning?

2 Sep

When I was in school, I’d never seen a computer, except may be in books or magazines. I got to work on computers in college, but nobody had one in their homes or dorm rooms. Fast forward to this day, and we have a whole generation of “digital natives” who are growing up with laptops, smartphones, and tablets (mostly iPad). They think of these gadgets as one of their toys, totally comfortable watching YouTube videos as playing Angry Birds on iPhones. They are smart and motivated.
Salman Khan
Last year, I heard of The Khan Academy. It’s founder Salman Khan has created thousands of videos on various subjects that anyone can use for learning. Bill Gates, a huge proponent of online learning as a means of saving money and helping the poor kids learn, has promoted Khan and talked about him. That’s how the world noticed the Khan Academy. He was featured in numerous news articles, blog posts, and videos, and has appeared on the Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. The Khan Academy got some funding and hired more people to scale the not-for-profit business.

I’m impressed. By the number of videos. By the relentless pursuit of one man to serve millions. By his selfless service. Bill Gates is my hero. Spending all his money on charity is something only heroes can do.

The question is – are these videos really going to help kids learn science and math? Salman Khan and Bill Gates certainly think so. So do many other people, including academicians.

Do you?