Pros and Cons of Experiential Learning

Inside Higher Ed published an opinion piece that argued that experiential learning is not beneficial to students and in fact, takes them away from classes where they could gain more knowledge about their chosen fields. I don’t buy the author’s argument. For one thing, he offers absolutely no evidence that experiential learning impacts students negatively. His evidence is “it’s clear to me”.  He puts forth some examples of choices students might have to make when experiential learning options are required: A junior majoring in political science can either: (a) take a nonrequired upper-division course in statistical analysis (taught by a professor of statistics, not a political scientist) or (b) do a service-learning experience with a state legislator. A junior majoring in environmental science can either: (a) take a nonrequired upper-division laboratory course in the biochemistry of water-based environmental toxicity or (b) work with the Fish and Game Department monitoring the […]

The Best Laid Plans

I’m a planner. I have lists upon lists. I keep a tight calendar. If there’s one thing I can say I do fairly well, it’s manage my time and tasks. In graduate school, I would plan to have my papers done a full week before they were due. When planning out both my master’s thesis and my dissertation, I set a goal turn-in date and planned backwards from there. I knew where I needed to be by when. I had a strict writing schedule. But I’m also a roll with the punches kind of person. I plan because I know things can happen that will mess things up. I planned to have my papers done a week in advance because I had a small child at home, who was prone to illnesses (yay, daycare!) and if I needed to be at home with him, I knew no work would get […]

Not just complaining

Many years ago in a previous job, a situation arose that was frustrating to a lot of people. It was a process that occurred at the beginning of every semester, and It slowed things down and generally wreaked havoc on a couple hundred people each semester. That was only about one percent of our total user base, but it wasn’t the same one percent and the one percent certainly talked to the rest of the 99%. We and our system gained a reputation for not working and preventing people from getting their work done effectively. People complained. People in our department complained. But no one seemed to be doing anything about it. Basically, as is typical when a complex system isn’t working, everyone involved pointed fingers at everyone else. It was true that no one person or piece of the puzzle was the sole cause of the problem. Basically, a […]

Reading: Technically Wrong

I didn’t take as much time to read this vacation, but I did finish Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. Everyone should read this book.  It’s a very clear explanation of the ways in which bias creeps into our software, and of the ways that software silently tracks you and the impact that has on all of us, but often affects vulnerable people even more. One of the key points Wachter-Boettcher makes is that people outside of tech think it’s magic and way too complicated for the average person to understand and so we should leave the tech people alone, because they’re geniuses. This is perpetuated by people in tech themselves, but also by a lot of the rest of us, who do a lot of hand waving when they’re working with technology. “Oh, this stuff is too complicated. I’m not smart enough to understand that.” But, Wachter-Boettcher explains, it’s not really […]

It’s Resolution Time Again

Ah, resolutions. I love them and hate them. I love them because every year, I am filled with the joy that new possibility brings. And I hate them because, of course, some of them fail and with failure often comes disappointment. I don’t need the new year to set goals for myself. I periodically think about aspects of my life I’d like to improve, and then set forth a plan to achieve that improvement. It’s satisfying to lay out a goal and make progress towards it, even if I don’t quite make it. I usually learn something from the process and what I learn usually improves something about my life, often in ways I hadn’t expected. Even though I don’t need the new year to set goals, I do enjoy using the moment to step back, see how this past year has gone and think through what I’d like to accomplish […]

Looking forward not back

A friend recently said to me, “I prefer to look forward not back.” This was in the context of talking about attending high school and college reunions and the way in which some of our family and friends look at those years as “the best years of their life” and seem to be constantly trying to recapture the spirit of high school or college. That’s certainly not why I’ve returned to my reunions, and increasingly, they’ve become a way of maintaining relationships with people that I knew and admired at the time and, in some cases, discovering new friends whom I didn’t know well at the time, but with whom I now share many common interests. But I take the point that dwelling in the past and constantly looking back is not always productive. Many people have written about the nostalgia people have for a time when “neighbors knew each […]



For a while this year, I was writing down two or three things I was grateful for every day. I haven’t done that in a few weeks, but of course, now is a time to pause, look around, and recognize the things we have, the circumstances that might have contributed to our good fortune, and the people who support us. Here are just a few things I’m thankful for in this moment. Time off. I’ve been going at a breakneck pace the last few months, which I find energizing and invigorating, but it’s time to come up for air.  I’m grateful that I have a job that allows me a few days to spend time not doing much of anything, to reflect, read random things on the Internet, cook, and spend time with family. I’m keenly aware that not everyone has this luxury, that, in fact, some people will work tomorrow […]

Beyond “Book Learning”

I’ve been a strong advocate of the idea that “book smarts” will only take you so far. Since the beginning of my teaching, I have always built my classes to incorporate skills other than the direct ones I’m teaching. I put students in groups to learn to work together. I set up assignments that have students trying to find their own information and directing their own path. I want students to not just learn writing or programming. I want them to learn empathy, resilience, and how to come up with their own creative solutions. Research has continually backed up this approach. The OECD is continuously assessing the kinds of skills students need to be successful: These days, schools need to become better at preparing students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people from different cultures, and appreciate a range of […]

Women in the Maker/Tech/Computing/Engineering/Gamer Culture

A couple of weeks ago, the Internet blew up about Maker Media CEO Dale Doughtery’s comments about Naomi Wu, a “maker” living in Shenzen, China. I’d never heard of her until this whole thing happened. Basically, Doughtery claimed she couldn’t possibly be actually making the stuff she claims she is because she’s beautiful and Chinese. This is not an uncommon reaction from men when faced with successful women in male-dominated fields, especially if they are also attractive. If you’re a woman in any of these fields, this is not new. In fact, this is not the first very public incident like this in the last few months. There was the James Damore Google memo incident earlier this year. His memo: women weren’t meant to program. There was #gamergate a few years ago, same basic premise. And every day, many women go to work and have their skills undervalued or ignored […]

Rethinking Failure

At our monthly leadership seminar for our seniors led by the head of school, we considered failure and what it means and what success means. Failure, we decided, was how one learned, and that to be a leader, one needed to fail and learn from it.  If you’re not failing, many of the students said, then you’re not taking risks, you’re not really trying. You’re keeping in your comfort zone. I failed my first computer science class. And yet, here I am teaching computer science. I learned from that failure what I did and didn’t like about computer science, and, although I avoided classes for a while, I eventually started learning on my own, then took classes both online and in person. I explored some other areas, which I now connect to my Computer Science work. I may not be an expert programmer, but I’m good at teaching CS, and […]