Education

Interviewing the Interviewer (vulture.com) 93

Terry Gross, NPR's The Fresh Air host, on the art of the Q&A: "People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview," said Terry Gross.
Education

More Colleges Than Ever Have Test-Optional Admissions Policies (theconversation.com) 180

Back in the 1980s, Bates College and Bowdoin College were nearly the only liberal arts colleges not to require applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores. On Jan. 10, FairTest, a Boston-based organization that has been pushing back against America's testing regime since 1985, announced that the number of colleges that are test-optional has now surpassed 1,000. From a report: This milestone means that more than one-third of America's four-year nonprofit colleges now reject the idea that a test score should strongly determine a student's future. The ranks of test-optional institutions include hundreds of prestigious private institutions, such as George Washington, New York University, Wesleyan University and Wake Forest University. The list also includes hundreds of public universities, such as George Mason, San Francisco State and Old Dominion.
Education

Efforts Grow To Help Students Evaluate What They See Online (apnews.com) 166

Alarmed by the proliferation of false content online, state lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction. From a report: Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Several more states are expected to consider such bills in the coming year, including Arizona, New York and Hawaii.

Advocates say the K-12 curriculum has not kept pace with rapid changes in technology. Studies show many children spend hours every day online but struggle to comprehend the content that comes at them. For years, they have pushed schools to incorporate media literacy -- including the ability to evaluate and analyze sources of information -- into lesson plans in civics, language arts, science and other subjects.

IT

Ask Slashdot: Has Technology Created A Monster? (codinghorror.com) 244

Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood posted a worried blog post on New Year's Eve. Remember in 2011 when Marc Andreeseen said that "Software is eating the world?" That used to sound all hip and cool and inspirational, like "Wow! We software developers really are making a difference in the world!" and now for the life of me I can't read it as anything other than an ominous warning that we just weren't smart enough to translate properly at the time... What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us... like we wanted it to be?
Slashdot reader theodp adds: "The year 2018 is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," provocatively notes Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, "in which a scientist neglects to ask about the consequences of his creation. I suspect (and hope) that there will be much debate on the impact of technology on our lives in the numerous lectures and events scheduled this year. It is a long-overdue discussion because scientists sometimes get so excited about their innovations that they forget to ask, 'Am I building a monster?' This anniversary offers a pause to see if society likes where it is headed."
That quote is from a "predictions for 2018" article on the Mach technology site (hosted by NBC News) in which Dr. Moshe Y. Vardi, a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University, also sees a looming debate. He remembers how Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan referred to tech's CEO's as "our country's real overlords" and described them as "moral Martians who operate on some weird new postmodern ethical wavelength."

Keep reading for some even more dire predictions...
Bug

A Glitch Stole Christmas: S.C. Lottery Says Error Caused Winning Tickets (npr.org) 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: The South Carolina lottery game is called Holiday Cash Add-A-Play, and the rules are pretty simple: Get three Christmas tree symbols in any vertical, horizontal or diagonal line, and you win a prize. Monday was Christmas, and some folks in the Palmetto State were feeling jolly. "I don't play the lottery that much," Nicole Coggins of Liberty, S.C., told local NBC affiliate WYFF. "Every once in a while, I'll buy a Powerball ticket, but something told me to buy a lottery ticket." She paid an extra dollar to add a play. The ticket was a winner, and she was excited.

The station says that as word got out about the sudden proliferation of winning tickets, a frenzy ensued. One store manager told WYFF that "it was crazy" as people hurried to buy the tickets. But the Christmas miracle was too good to be true. The South Carolina Education Lottery says a programming error in its computer system vendor is to blame for so many winning tickets. "From 5:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m., the same play symbol was repeated in all nine available play areas on tickets which would result in a top prize of $500," the lottery said in a statement Wednesday. "No more than five identical play symbols should appear for a single play. As soon as the issue was identified, the Add-A-Play game was suspended immediately to conduct a thorough investigation."

Government

People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking (arstechnica.com) 368

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the U.S. If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.

[...] "Despite popular conceptions," the authors point out, "[conspiratorial thinking] is not the sole province of the proverbial nut-job." When mixed in with the sort of motivated reasoning that ideology can, well, motivate, crazed ideas can become relatively mainstream. Witness the number of polls that indicated the majority of Republicans thought Obama wasn't born in the U.S., even after he shared his birth certificate. While something that induces a healthy skepticism of information sources might be expected to help with this, it's certainly not guaranteed, as motivated reasoning has been shown to be capable of overriding education and knowledge on relevant topics.

[...] As a whole, the expected connection held up: "for both conservatives and liberals, more knowledge of the news media system related to decreased endorsement of liberal conspiracies." And, conversely, the people who did agree with conspiracy theories tended to know very little about how the news media operated.

Education

The Last Man on Earth To Speak His Language (axios.com) 177

From a report: An elderly man in Peru named Amadeo Garcia Garcia is the last person on earth to speak his native language, Taushiro, the NY Times' Nicholas Casey reports in a remarkable long-read. A combination of disease and exploitation have led the Taushiro, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, to the verge of extinction. In the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources.
Businesses

Cash Might Be King, but They Don't Care (nytimes.com) 679

In Midtown and some other neighborhoods across New York City, cashless is fast on its way to becoming normal, The New York Times reports, sharing anecdotes where merchants have refused to accept bills from customers (the link may be paywalled). From the report: Cashless businesses were once an isolated phenomenon, but now, similarly jarring experiences can be had across the street at Sweetgreen, or two blocks up at Two Forks, or next door to Two Forks at Dos Toros, or over on 41st Street at Bluestone Lane coffee. In the future, when dollar bills are found only in museum display cases, we will look back on this moment of transition and confusion with the same head-shaking smile with which we regard customs on the Isle of Yap in Micronesia, where giant stone discs are still accepted as payment for particularly big-ticket items. Some people already live in this cashless future. They find nothing strange about paying for a pack of gum with a swipe of a card. If you are one of these people and you are still somehow reading this article, you may be thinking, "What on earth is the big deal?" At Two Forks on 40th Street, where the lunch offerings have cheery names like Squash Goals, Kristin Junco, a 34-year-old auditor for the state Education Department, said she had not used cash for about a week and much prefers a cashless establishment to its opposite. "We travel a lot for work," she said, gesturing to a colleague, "and if they don't take credit cards that makes things difficult." [...] Not surprisingly, the credit card companies, who make a commission on every credit card purchase, applaud the trend. Visa recently offered select merchants a $10,000 reward for depriving customers of their right to pay by the method of their choice. A Visa executive described this practice to CNN as offering shoppers "freedom from carrying cash."
China

China's Shanghai Sets Population at 25 Million To Avoid 'Big City Disease' (theguardian.com) 83

An anonymous reader shares a report: China's financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage "big city disease," authorities have said. The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai's masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved. "By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometres," it said. State media has defined "big city disease" as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care. But some experts doubt the feasibility of the plans, with one researcher at a Chinese government thinktank describing the scheme as "unpractical and against the social development trend."
Education

How Harvard Teaches CS Students How To Code (kqed.org) 138

Harvard computer science professor David J. Malan "is pretty amazing!" says long-time education-watcher theodp. And he's sharing a link to the online version of Malan's famous CS50 class, "if you can't pony up the estimated $63,025-a-year sticker price to take 'the quintessential Harvard (and Yale!) course' on campus."

KQED's education site "MindShift" reports: Malan's class attracts students who have never taken computer science before, as well as kids who have been coding a long time. His goal with this diverse group of learners is to create a community that's equal and collaborative. One way he does this is by asking students to self-identify by comfort level. Those groups become different section levels, and they sometimes get different homework, but harder assignments are not worth more credit. Malan said recently that the "less comfortable" group has dominated his 700-person course. "At the end of the day all students are treated with the same expectations," said Malan, speaking at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston.

Students are graded based on each individual's growth; Malan and his team of teaching assistants don't use absolute measures when assigning grades. Instead, they look at scope, how hard the student tried, correctness, how right the work was, style, how aesthetic the code is, and design, which is the most subjective. When it's time to assign grades, Malan and his teaching fellows have lots of in-depth conversations about how each student has improved relative to where he or she started...

The course includes a tool that rewrites error messages to make them easier to understand, plus a code-checking tool which they're planning to open source. There's also a cloud-based IDE which "allows students to access their code from multiple locations," though students can also submit their code through GitHub. (The original submission complains that Harvard's students are "coddled.") But Malan says the class works partly because there's an intentionally social aspect to it -- including numerous teaching assistants holding office hours in public spaces and "the human structure within the course." Guest lecturers have even included Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Ballmer.

But all these technical details don't really capture the wild flavor of the course and all of its multimedia bells and whistles. Malan's fast-paced lectures often close with relevant clips from movies -- for example, a lecture on cryptography which ended with video from a movie you'd see "if you turn on your TV on December 24th."
Social Networks

The Lower Your Social Class, the 'Wiser' You Are, Suggests New Study (sciencemag.org) 311

Wisdom -- the ability to take the perspectives of others into account and aim for compromise -- comes much more naturally to those who grow up poor or working class, according to a new study by social psychologist Igor Grossman at the University of Waterloo in Canada and his colleagues. Science Magazine reports: To conduct the study, Grossmann and his graduate student Justin Brienza embarked on a two-part experiment. First, they asked 2145 people throughout the United States to take an online survey. Participants were asked to remember a recent conflict they had with someone, such as an argument with a spouse or a fight with a friend. They then answered 20 questions applicable to that or any conflict, including: "Did you ever consider a third-party perspective?" "How much did you try to understand the other person's viewpoint?" and "Did you consider that you might be wrong?" Grossmann and Brienza crunched the data and assigned the participants both a "wise reasoning" score based on the conflict answers and a "social class" score, then plotted the two scores against one another. They found that people with the lowest social class scores -- those with less income, less education, and more worries about money -- scored about twice as high on the wise reasoning scale as those in the highest social class. The income and education levels ranged from working class to upper middle class; neither the very wealthy nor the very poor were well represented in the study.

In the second part of the experiment, the duo recruited 200 people in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take a standard IQ test and read three letters to the Dear Abby advice column. One letter, for example, asked about choosing sides in an argument between mutual friends. Each participant then discussed with an interviewer how they thought the situations outlined in the letters would play out. A panel of judges scored their responses according to various measures of wise reasoning. In the example above, thinking about how an outsider might view the conflict would earn points toward wisdom, whereas relying only on one's own perspective would not. As with the first part of the experiment, those in lower social classes consistently had higher wise-reasoning scores than those in higher social classes, the researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. IQ scores, however, weren't associated one way or another with wise reasoning.

Books

A Book Recommendation for Bill Gates: The Story of PLATO 59

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: This holiday season, many Slashdot readers are likely to find gifts under the tree because of Bill Gates' book picks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it seems that turnabout is fair play -- what book recommendations do you have for Bill?

At the top of my pick list for personalized learning advocate Gates would be Brian Dear's remarkable The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, with its tale of how a group of visionary engineers and designers -- some of them only high school students -- created a shockingly little-known computer system called PLATO in the late 1960s and 1970s that was decades ahead of its time in experimenting with how people could learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected terminals and computers. After all, "we can't move forward," as Audrey Watters argued in The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, "til we reconcile where we've been before."
News

Almost 100 Million People a Year 'Forced To Choose Between Food and Healthcare' (theguardian.com) 415

Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of debts accrued through healthcare expenses. From a report: A report, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank this week, found the poorest and most vulnerable people are routinely forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities for their household, including food and education, subsisting on $1.90 a day. Researchers found that more than 122 million people around the world are forced to live on $3.10 a day, the benchmark for "moderate poverty," due to healthcare expenditure. Since 2000, this number has increased by 1.5% a year. A total of 800 million people spend more than 10% of their household budgets on "out-of-pocket" health expenses, defined as costs not covered by insurance. Almost 180 million people spend a quarter or more, a population increasing at a rate of almost 5% per year, with women among those worst affected.
Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 76

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Education

France To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools (theguardian.com) 191

The French government is planning to ban students from using mobile phones in the country's primary, junior and middle schools. While children will be permitted to bring their phones to school, they will not be allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks. The Guardian reports: Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six -- up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles. "Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons [...] for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled," he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a "public health message to families," adding: "It's good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven." The French headteachers' union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced.
Bug

Google Glitch Took Thousands of Chromebooks Offline (geekwire.com) 77

Slashdot reader Bismillah was the first to notice stories about Chromebooks going offline. GeekWire reports: Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected.
Google eventually issued a new network policy without the glitch -- but not everyone was satisfied. The Director of Technology at one school district complains Google waited three and a half hours before publicly acknowledging the problem -- adding that "manually joining a WiFi network on 10,000+ Chromebooks is a nightmare."
AI

Tencent Says There Are Only 300,000 AI Engineers Worldwide, But Millions Are Needed (theverge.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: It's well-established that talent is in short supply in the AI industry, but a new report from Chinese tech giant Tencent underscores how great the need might be. According to the study, compiled by the Tencent Research Institute, there are just 300,000 "AI researchers and practitioners" worldwide, but the "market demand" is for millions of roles. These are unavoidably speculative figures, and the study does not offer much detail on how they were reached, but as a general trend they fit with other, more anecdotal reports. Around the world, tech giants regularly complain about the difficulty hiring AI engineers, and the demand has pushed salaries to absurd heights. Individuals with just a few year's experience can expect base pay of between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, says The New York Times, while the very best will collect millions. One independent AI lab told the publication that there were only 10,000 individuals worldwide with the right skills to spearhead serious new AI projects.

Tencent's new "2017 Global AI Talent White Paper" suggests the bottleneck here is education. It estimates that 200,000 of the 300,000 active researchers are already employed in various industries (not just tech), while the remaining 100,000 are still studying. Attendance in machine learning and AI courses has skyrocketed in recent years, as has enrollment in online courses, but there is obviously a lag as individuals complete their education.

Education

To Solve the Diversity Drought in Software Engineering, Look to Community Colleges (vice.com) 336

An anonymous reader shares a report: Community college is not flashy and does not make promises about your future employability. You will also likely not learn current way-cool web development technologies like React and GraphQL. In terms of projects, you're more likely to build software for organizing a professor's DVD or textbook collection than you are responsive web apps. I would tell you that all of this is OK because in community college computer science classes you're learning fundamentals, broad concepts like data structures, algorithmic complexity, and object-oriented programming. You won't learn any of those things as deeply as you would in a full-on university computer science program, but you'll get pretty far. And community college is cheap, though that varies depending on where you are. Here in Portland, OR, the local community college network charges $104 per credit. Which means it's possible to get a solid few semesters of computer science coursework down for a couple of grand. Which is actually amazing. In a new piece published in the Communications of the ACM, Silicon Valley researchers Louise Ann Lyon and Jill Denner make the argument that community colleges have the potential to play a key role in increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education. If you haven't heard, software engineering has a diversity problem. Access to education is a huge contributor to that, and Denner and Lyon see community college as something of a solution in plain sight.
Earth

Silicon Valley Billionaires Award $22 Million in 'Breakthrough Prizes' (theguardian.com) 23

An anonymous reader quote The Guardian: The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22 million in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley. The winners this year include five researchers who won $3 million each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Google's Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness. The annual ceremony at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the world's leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough...

Life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation. Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. "If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions," she said.

The Mercury News published a list of all the winners, pointing out they were chosen from more than 11,000 entries (from 178 countries). And Wired notes that the top prize winners get $2 million more than Nobel prize winners.
Education

Should Teachers Get $100 For Steering Kids To Google's 'Hour of Code' Lesson? 89

Tomorrow's "Hour of Code" kick-off event features Melinda Gates, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and "multiple state governors," reports theodp -- who has some concerns. With Microsoft boasting that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched, and tech companies pushing coding and their products into classrooms, it's probably no surprise that the 2017 Hour of Code -- organized by tech-bankrolled Code.org -- seems to have presented a too-hard-to-resist branding opportunity for Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.

And, in what might evoke memories of Dollars for Doctors, some teachers will even be rewarded for steering their kids to Google's Hour of Code lesson. "Thanks to our friends at Google," explains crowdfunding website DonorsChoose.org, "4th-8th grade public school teachers who engage their students in a 'Create your own Google logo' Hour of Code activity can earn a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift code -- and have the opportunity to receive one of five other grand prizes (including $5,000 in DonorsChoose.org credits for your school!)."

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