Archived entries for design

The old new ideas

Addendum, 3.8.14:  Just so you know I’m not the only one disappointed by SXSWedu, check out the edu firebrand Audrey Watters’ thoughts on the matter.


So everyone is frolicking at SXSWedu and I’m snowbound here in the Northeast, keeping tabs on the action via twitter and Facebook.  The information that I’m seeing coming off the wires (or intertubez), however, is making me glad I didn’t have to put up with an airline security check en route to Austin.  OK, some of this may be sour, frozen grapes.  But I’m wondering if SXSWEdu has jumped the shark in terms of disseminating cutting-edge education ideas.

Grumpy Cat is not feeling SXSWEdu, either

Flipped classrooms. Games as learning tools. Adaptive learning. Big data. BYOD. Gamification. Students presenting on panels. Moving beyond the four walls of the classroom.  Engagement. Interactivity. And so on.

Mostly good ideas.  Most unproven on a large scale.  Most ignoring the elephant in the room of inequity, a broken global economy, a disappearing middle class, the unspoken agreement that arts and humanities are a waste of time. Is it education’s responsibility to address these?  Not per se.  But without rigorous educational opportunities for everyone, they cannot and will not go addressed.  And as corporations focused on profits and startups (gold) rushing to capitalize on the promise of digital education, a concerned educator (me) can’t help but feel that we are just monetizing ways to preserve the status quo.

Big change over time is possible.  One word, people: The Renaissance. (OK, that’s two). But not when companies meekly nibble on what they imagine is the safest idea in the marketplace that promises quick returns. I don’t mind the small bytes approach to education, it’s just that too often the big picture gets lost in the shuffle.

There was one tweet I particularly liked from SXSWedu: this existential gem that takes YOLO as a rallying theme.

@dperkinsmsu: #LAUNCHedu Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, ask what they want to do…and now! Move from content to skills #SXSWedu

Is this a move in the right direction, or a cry for help? You be the judge.

Robots, gestures and trust

A New York Times blog post this week shared the results of a study from MIT, Northeastern University and Cornell on the nonverbal cues  of deceitfulness.  The experimental study involves a token sharing exercise with pairs of participants both online and face-to-face that tested whether participants considered their activity partner as trustworthy, and how they came to that conclusion.

It turns out that when you don’t have the time to actually get to know someone, you rely heavily on physical cues for assessment:

“Lack of face-to-face contact didn’t make people more selfish,” said the study’s lead author, David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern. “But a person’s ability to predict what their partner was going to do was greater face to face than online. There is something the mind is picking up that gives you greater accuracy and makes you better able to identify people who are going to be trustworthy.”

The researchers identified four gestures that together were consistently interpreted as signaling untrustworthiness:  leaning away from someone; crossing arms in a blocking fashion; touching, rubbing or grasping hands together; and touching oneself on the face, abdomen or elsewhere.  It is important to note that both online and offline players showed comparable levels of trustiworthiness overall, but the participants who met with their partners face-to-face were much better at assessing levels of trustworthiness as played out in the token game.

To further determine whether participants were reading these cues or something else from their partners, researchers then programmed humanoid robots to either mimic these behaviors or not.  It turns out that even in robots these gestures were seen as untrustworthy:

Students in both groups rated the robot equally likable. But those who had unknowingly witnessed the cues associated with distrust also rated the robot as less trustworthy, compared with students exposed to only the conversational gestures.

These are probably old hat findings for professional poker players and international negotiators, but for the rest of us, it’s broadly applicable in our daily lives.  Buying a used car, interviewing a job candidate, out on blind date?  Watch out for the crossed arms and the hand rubbing.

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