Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

Engineering Ed in the 21st Century – Myth#1

All the news lately about “STEM” education has me thinking about my own experience coming to work at HP fresh out of college. Myth #1: If you’re great at problem sets, you’ll be a great engineer…

3 Reasons Why Learning by Computer Alone is Not Enough

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While I am convinced that technology combined with excellent instruction can allow the creation of new and powerful learning experiences for students, I am also convinced that "learning by computer" alone will never adequately prepare students for the complex challenges they will face as adults. Here's why...

Reason #1 - Learning is socially situated, and computer-mediated social interactions are a narrow approximation of human interaction

James Greeno (Stanford University) and numerous education researchers agree that learning is socially situated. The behaviorists of the 1920's were only partly right, it turns out. For example, learning to read a book is an important skill (behavior). But while reading a book by yourself engages your mind with the author's mind, it's only a one way street. Reading a book with others, and discussing it, then (in some cases) putting it to practice, brings the learning to new levels.

This is why I'm currently underwhelmed by current attempts to replace textbooks with electronic textbooks. While there is an obvious cost saving potential from eliminating the printing costs (and with open resources, the cost of content itself) and the backpack weight reductions are much appreciated, the exciting breakthrough will be when the electronic book does MORE than a printed book.

At Carnegie Mellon, Professor Ananda Gunawardena has shown what is possible through his "adaptive book" research. This electronic textbook system allows for the annotation of electronic text, but more importantly, the annotations are can be SHARED. Imagine margin notes that can be traded among study partners, and the ability download "expert commentaries" that can be revealed while reading. In essence, the textbook moves from a "solo learning experience" to becoming the foundation for shared conversation - and a new form of assessment.

Even so, sharing annotations is complementary to but not a substitute for live, scholarly discourse and debate.

Reason #2 - Enriching experiences help to develop the brain's capacity for intelligence and creativity

Marian Diamond, in her book, "Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child's Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions from Birth Through Adolescence" (1998), describes in their research how "enriching experiences" positively impact the brain's neurological capacity. At the risk of over-simplifying their work, the net result of enrichment is that the neuron's dendritic structure becomes more complex and capable - even with adults.

One could argue that ICT-mediated learning is, itself, enriching. Clearly this is true in as much as computers can provide experiences that complement many traditional classroom experiences. Having ready access to data collection and analysis tools, for example, allows students to ask deeper, what-if types of questions in real-time during an experiment or out in the field. But notice that in these two cases, the technology use is part of a larger instructional experience (the lab or the field).

Using computers to REPLACE enriching experiences will not accomplish the same purpose - your neurons will know the difference! Designing a 3D model of a house on a computer is one type of experience; using that design to build an actual scale model, then going on to building the full-scale object introduces a rich set of experiences that you cannot have with the computer alone. Going on a virtual field trip is nice when the real trip is impossible, but it can never be as enriching as the actual visit.

Let's give students the FULL set of experiences whenever we can so that their neurons will flourish to the fullest extent.

Reason #3 - Simulations only simulate reality

Simulations are wonderful - they can help us explore the edges of our ideas; they let us test our mathematical representations; they let us play "what if" scenarios quickly. But these are no substitute for the experience of grappling with the vagaries and variability of real-life. A simulated electronic circuit is great - to an extent. But so much more is learned when you then wire up the real components - and discover the variability of a solder joint, or that the component specs have a "range" of performance that can contribute to unexpected results. Error analysis takes on new significance - and problem solving skills rise to a new level.

Heaven help us if civil engineers design a bridge based only on simulations, and stop testing the strength of new materials. We should be similarly uneasy with a surgeon who has only learned from textbooks and simulated cadavers.

The bottom line: It's all about "and"

In the final analysis, students benefit the most from a combination of MANY types of experiences, and the best uses of technology for education is when it allows for the creation of new and powerful learning experiences that complement what great teachers are doing already.

Let's use the full power of technology to connect students to experts and mentors and each other, AND let them grapple with the challenge of real, face-to-face social engagement.

Let's use technology to engage students in complex, creative projects that would be difficult or impractical without the technology, AND let's treat these experiences as only a subset of the wide range of enriching experiences that students engage in.

Let's use the best simulations available to let our students explore, AND let's be sure they confront the variability of real life through hands-on, inquiry based experiences that are messy and unpredictable.

If we view education technology from this perspective, then the technology will help us realize the best possible outcomes for our students...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants



Making a Difference, One Student at a Time - Jorge @ CSULA

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To those of you who might be asking, "Is there anything I can do as an
instructor to REALLY make a difference for my students?", the answer is
emphatic "yes!". Redesigning your course to promote active and interactive learning really
does matter. Here's a short video that will make you want to stand up

Let's face it: Higher education is a lot of work for students - sometimes
frustratingly difficult. But failure is not inevitable, especially with
dedicated faculty who are intent on helping their students succeed, like the
team at California State University Los Angeles who received grant support from
HP. Dr. Jianyu Dong and Dr. Nancy Warter Perez redesigned their lecture-based
courses to be more interactive and provide in-class time to work on problems
and projects. It works - and they are making a difference, one student at a

One of their engineering students is Jorge - and this is his story:



Keep up the dream, Jorge! Thank you for sharing your story...


* CSULA received an HP
Technology for Teaching grant, a Leadership Grant, and a 2009 HP Innovations in
Education grant. You can read about their project, "An Active-Learning Teaching Model for Engineering Instruction Based
on HP Mobile Technology
" and read about their newest project, IMPACT LA, which engages
engineering students with local middle and high school students to encourage
under represented minorities to pursue STEM related studies and careers.


Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Program Manager
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants



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About the Author(s)
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
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