Switching to Medium

Hi Blog Followers!

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I tried switching the blog themes to inspire me to like my blog more and spend more time there, but it hasn’t worked!

I have started writing on Medium, and I really like it. I think it is natively prettier than WordPress (at least my blog), the editor is friendlier, the reading experience is better… I like it more.

I will probably be moving posts over from here to there in the next couple months, and leaving this up for a year or so, so that links to here don’t break. After that, I’ll probably take it down!

If you want to follow me on Medium, I’ll have a collection of everything of mine worth reading together next week. I’ll post here about that, and that’ll be the last one!

Thanks for reading!

Rob

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(as Bartley)

For Blog Class, we are concluding the semester with some blog imitation. I have been a fan of Sail, Not Drift, so this is my attempt at a post in the voice of Bartley. I’ll have a semester reflection in my own voice soon, and maybe other posts too, depending on how things go.


 

These are the modern sacrifices

to the gods of Anxiety,

to Exam Week Stress and

the Creeping Thoughts I Push Away About

the Future.

 

I sit alone and mildly

sweaty on my comforter because

no one has turned the AC on

yet.  I should be studying but I know

that if I close this tab I’ll  switch

back to Netflix and I feel

bad enough already about

the way I spend my time.

 

These sacrifices are not violent or

blessedly short. More like letting blood than

an execution, only the leeches are invisible

and internal and there is no doctor

or priest

who can take them off.

 

I should sleep before 3 am and I know I

will toss and turn and feel sick because

I still have three unwritten pages for

tomorrow, but I still cannot get out of bed and

walk to my table and eat some cereal and

type the words.

 

There are no crowds screaming for my

head, only a deadline and I will

stay up all night and

turn in something

less

than I would if I  had started

last week and not sacrificed so much

to these modern gods.

 

 

Good luck with the end of the semester,

MelodramaticBartley

Learning With Games: Lumosity

I promised in my first week of blogging that I’d write about some of the learning tools now available online. I wrote about Duolingo, and I suppose I ought to provide an update before diving into a whole ‘nother topic.

Duolingo Update: Mixed results. After a few weeks, I slowed down in my training. Caught up in school, perhaps, I stopped taking the daily time to practice. I have started again in fits, and hopefully the reminder emails will keep me from losing track again.

The web version is indeed better than the mobile app, and because I don’t like the vocal practice parts, I have turned that function off. The drills are good, although I sometimes get frustrated when I make a small error and it costs me the last life in my lesson. (The game-style exercises have me hooked!)

Potatoes under the faucet

Wir waschen diese Kartoffeln

 

Hopefully, my slow, inconsistent efforts to learn German will be aided by my attempt to use another online learning resource…

Lumosity

What’s a lumosity?

Well, lumosity is a website with a suite of games promised to make your brain work better. From the promotional content on the website:

Challenge your brain with scientifically designed training

Build your Personalized Training Program:

Train memory and attention

Web-based personalized training program

Track your progress

Cool sounding, if it works. So how is it?

I have only been on for a few days, but so far it seems promising. Some of the games seem badly designed, but most of the ones I have played are a good mix of challenge and relaxation that generally make games appealing. I went ahead and paid for the real version, so that I would have access to the full range of tools they provide. What kind of tools, you ask? Read on!

Games

Lumosity is mostly games! The games are broken down into categories: Speed, Memory, Attention, Flexibility, and Problem Solving. As boldly proclaimed on my training dashboard when I log in, many of the games are based on tasks used in neuropsychological studies. So, they redesigned and repackaged some games that researchers use to measure different brain functions. Seems legit.

Video Games. Awesome.

Awesome.

The site links to some research about their program. From my brief glance around the web, a few of the results are contested, but most are generally positive.

My favorite games so far are the flexibility games – they challenge you to switch mental tasks quickly – between, for instance, recognizing letters and numbers, or the direction of arrows and their movement. They require careful attention, but they are very satisfying to do well.

I think I am learning the most from the memory games. Trying to keep track of shapes or symbols is challenging, but I imagine that it is sharpening my brain. Memory is one of my weaker areas, according to the site’s performance indices, so hopefully I have some room to improve.

Daily Workout

Leaping amidst a field of workout balls

Sort of like this! [from health.com]

The point of lumosity is not to waste your time on internet games. Instead, the structure of the site points you towards a daily workout regimen – for your brain. An email prompts you to visit the site to train on five short games – about 10 or 15 minutes total – each day. I set it so that I get my reminder email in the morning, but you can change the email settings to suit your inbox needs.

Before the games of your daily workout, the site prompts you to rate your mood and the number of hours you slept the night before. This simple rating system, on top of the more complex points and evaluation system for the games, helps you with…

Testing and Tracking

I have long been interested in the quantified self movement and philosophy, but I have never been able to establish a habit of tracking anything about myself. The daily mood and sleep check-in help me catalogue two crucial metrics.  I get to tie all my habits together into a single step; clicking the link in the reminder email takes me to the workout and the tracking.

Stopwatch

A New Record! (I yield to the pun temptation: quantified self = stopwatching me)

I have not spent enough time on the site to have amassed useful data, but I am excited to see quantified improvement over time. Some of it will come from learning the particular tasks required in the games, but hopefully some of the gains will be real.

 

 

All in all, I am excited by the cool new ways of learning that technology makes possible. Tools like lumosity are answering some of those ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ questions, particularly ‘wouldn’t it be cool if learning was more fun?’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I could train my brain to be smarter?’

It is cool! It is cool indeed!

Triple Cross Upside Down Post Part 2

Part 2 of the Triple Post – read more here! This chunk is all me, so it might sound familiar. Don’t forget to check out Jenn and Tish!

 

Learning in College

Rob Cobb – KeeponLearning

Feminist theory, public health, statistics, real estate, cooking, current affairs – I have learned lots of things in my time in college. But, although the university offers classes in each of these domains, all I know about these diverse subjects I learned outside of the lecture hall.

I have blogged before about learning outside the normal systems of education – if I were to sum up the point of the blog, it might be ‘a how-to guide for learning in and out of the classroom’. Today I want to take time to focus on the curricular and extracurricular learning that happens in places of “higher learning.”

I have learned in my classes – mostly the learning takes place as I am doing the reading and homework, but sometimes the lectures are good and I learn there too. Nevertheless, in terms of raw learning, the formation of my identity and development of skills and acquisition of knowledge – I have done more of that outside of my classes than in them.

Granted, I have taken advantage of a great number of opportunities for extracurricular development – I studied abroad, I write for the school paper, I volunteer at a crisis hotline and a youth leadership program, I was in an entrepreneurship living and learning program as well as a multidisciplinary program focused on project-based learning, systems, and quality. I also work at a technology summer camp and bought and rented out my house.

Naturally, I have learned in all of those experiences, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that who I am and what I know comes more from those things than it does from listening to professors talk. Colleges are aware that learning about the world goes on outside the classes we take – faculty and administrators do their darndest to get us to do things – internships, contests, research – that enrich our learning.

Despite all that effort, college remains poorly designed for the curious! It is designed for specialization, but hacks like Gen Ed requirements and extracurriculars do not make higher ed good for those who want to generalize. The fourteen or fifteen week course is not my idea of an introduction to a subject, thank you very much, and there is a limit of ~10 or so classes you can take outside your major. (If you are very clever, you can do what Jenn and I did and make your own major out of the courses you want, but even that limits you to 40 or 50 courses total, which isn’t enough for me, at least!).

I am interested in diverse subjects, and want to learn about them. While I believe that I ought to know some subjects in depth, I do not have the chance to do minor exploration with the plentiful experts that surround me. That stinks! Instead, I have to learn about these cool things from wikipedia and talking with my friends. Not that those aren’t great things to do, but why is college designed so that engineers never speak with public health professors who in turn never see business professors who never interact with art students?

Interacting with just one type of professor and one type of student is boring.

Why not have a week or two a year for each professor to give open lectures on their subject? Why not offer short courses that allow for shallower but broader learning, fostering interaction across disciplines?

If we look for an answer, it’s probably not going to make anyone happy. No one in the administration seriously gives thought to changing the way our semester works, or ‘fostering interaction across disciplines.’ Our bureaucracy is too tightly bound to the 14- or 15-week semester and making things run smoothly the way they always have to experiment with different types of teaching and learning.

At least officially. I know from taking classes in many departments that outside perspectives are valued in the classroom. I know from meeting students and professors of many disciplines that each discipline is, without exception, highly interesting, and filled with exciting and interesting people doing great work. While I can’t yet say that the way courses are arranged and administered makes any sense, colleges are still hubs where the smart and the brilliant congregate.

If you can figure out how to talk to lots of those smart people, you might just become smart yourself! Until then, keep using the internet for getting smart. I’ll leave you with a powerful mental tool that I had to pick up outside the classroom, because there are no classes on useful mental tricks.

Fermi estimation lets you make good guesses and back of the envelope type calculations. It’s most useful if you practice with it, so first link is a more detailed explanation of what and why, and the second is a link for practicing!

 

About Fermi Estimates: http://lesswrong.com/lw/h5e/fermi_estimates/

Practice: http://www.fermiquestions.com/