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Managing the Deluge of Big Data From Space – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory October 18, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Science.
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Managing the Deluge of Big Data From Space – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This is another one of those stories that reminds me about the importance of fundamental research. You might not think that the search for distant galaxies has anything to do with your daily life, but it does.

Scientists working on NASA projects get 10s of terabytes of data every single day. That’s like getting around 500 movies on blu-ray every day. It’s  not possible for them to actually look at all that data themselves. In fact, many computers can’t handle downloading that much data in a single day.  So the scientists have to develop tools to store, transfer, and process huge data sets in a way that makes it manageable and useful.

Of course, software that makes it possible to accurately predict the weather on Mars or a volcanic eruption on Venus will also work here on Earth. But there are other things too. Health records for example are notoriously huge, and typically require a human to look at it to decide which parts are relevant and which parts aren’t. When you change doctors, it’s not uncommon for your new doctor to only receive the past 10 years worth of records, and that may not include something important, like a childhood disease. Having a tool that would make the records manageable, and that could search for key features without a human would be extremely valuable.

The best part is, this is NASA, so the tools developed become publicly available almost as soon as they’re finished. So those tools that make it possible for an astrophysicist to find a dwarf galaxy in the early universe today might, with minor modification, make it possible for your doctor to spot changes in your health that you haven’t even noticed.

Digital Devices, Distraction, and Student Performance: Does In-Class Cell Phone Use Reduce Learning? October 14, 2013

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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Scitation: Digital Devices, Distraction, and Student Performance: Does In-Class Cell Phone Use Reduce Learning?

Instructors who are considering whether or not to allow or ban laptops and mobile devices in the classroom, or allowing the use of web or cell phone based student response systems, should read this article.

The real take-away of this might be that if you make time spent in-class into time spent engaging in peer learning, it won’t matter if they bring a digital device, because they’ll be too busy to use it.

Technology comes second August 5, 2013

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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I’ve said it before, but apparently it bears saying again. Learning and learners come first, technology second.

I mention this now because I’ve seen several posts lately to “thought provoking articles”  that essentially say the same thing.  However, I haven’t seen anything about HOW to make sure that your focus is on learning, so here are my steps.

  1. What do your students need to learn? Establish your learning objectives.
  2. How will you know if they have learned it? Establish your learning outcomes.
  3. What research has been done on the best methods for teaching and learning this material?
  4. What are the best technologies for implementing these methods?
  5. Who are your students? What technologies are they already familiar with, use commonly, and have easy access to?
  6. Where is the overlap between 4&5?
  7. If there is something that falls under 3 but not 4, is the benefit of using it so great that you need them to learn it?

Before any semester/class/seminar/etc. you should make a list of learning objectives, and the learning outcomes for each objective. Everything you do after that, from picking your technology to designing lesson plans to writing exams should be determined by looking back at the objectives and outcomes. If you feel the need to alter the objectives or outcomes to fit a piece of technology, stop.

One final tip: start with the ideas that are either vital or that you want your students to remember 25 years from now. For example, I don’t care if my students remember that the Sun is about 6000 K or how to determine the temperature by measuring the difference between the star’s flux through a blue filter and a red filter. I care that they remember that astronomers can measure the color of a star and tell you the temperature, and once upon a time, they could do it to. They aren’t going to get that if I send a bunch of data to their cell phones, but they just might get it if they get to watch me attach the filter wheel to the CCD, determine what images need to be taken by talking to their neighbors, then go home and download the appropriate data to whatever device is most convenient.

Big Data Makes Big Inroads into Schools: Scientific American July 31, 2013

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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Big Data Makes Big Inroads into Schools: Scientific American.

Scientific American explores some of the ways technology  is changing the field of education – mostly for the better. New technology means the best teachers can reach disadvantaged students they never could have reached before. But its important not to forget that we still need good teachers.


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