Archive of May 2015

Tools don’t solve the web’s problems, they ARE the problem

Peter-Paul Koch (PPK):

Why all these tools? I see two related reasons: emulating native, and the fact that people with a server-side background coming to JavaScript development take existing tools because they do not have the training to recognise their drawbacks. Thus, the average web site has become way overtooled, which exacts a price when it comes to speed.

That’s the problem. Remove the tools, and we’ll recover speed.

I agree with the fear that Koch describes as growing among the web development community, as well as part of the problem being the shift of back-end developers to working on the client side.

I think the fear part is genuine, and I feel it myself.

I’ll confess to having absolutely no clue as to what is going on anymore with front-end web development, despite it being my first job, and a subject I’ve taught for years. It would be bad enough if the problem was just lack of experience, but what I all-too-often observe is a sneering attitude about perfectly common-sense ideas like “progressive enhancement.” And that includes web development instructors I’ve met.

Lately I’ve been trying to just ignore the whole thing. (Which isn’t really working.)

Memory Machines: Education Technology Without the Memex

Audrey Watters:

Rather than building devices that could enhance human memory and human knowledge for each individual, education technology has focused instead on devices that standardize the delivery of curriculum, that run students through various exercises and assessments, and that provide behavioral reinforcement.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I always think that the first task is to start to win over hearts and minds. And for that purpose, I’m glad Audrey Watters is around.

Audrey quotes at length from Vannevar Bush’s 1945 piece As We May Think and mentions Doug Engelbart’s 1962 report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework—both of which should probably be required reading for anyone looking to contribute meaningfully to the role of computers in our lives. Bush’s piece is the more accessible of the two, by far, but Engelbart’s is worth a skim at least.

The Conference Manifesto

Christy Wampole:

2) I will not read my paper line by line in a monotone without looking at the audience. I needn’t necessarily abide by some entertainment imperative, with jokes, anecdotes or flashy slides, but I will strive to maintain a certain compassion toward my captive audience.

Man, I thought tech conferences were awful. I’m pretty grateful, at the very least, that I haven’t actually felt obligated to attend any. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to attend academic conferences. Sounds dreadful.

America Will Run Out Of Good Questions By 2050

Ben Orlin on questions as a non-renewable resource:

Questions were not just things to answer; they were things to think about. Things to learn from. Giving the answer too quickly cut short the thinking and undermined the learning.

Good questions, in short, are a resource.

Solving a math problem means unfolding a mystery, enjoying the pleasure of discovery. But in every geometry lesson that year, I blundered along and blurted out the secret. With a few sentences, I’d manage to ruin the puzzle, ending the feast before it began, as definitively as if I’d spat in my students’ soup.

Math is a story, and I was giving my kids spoilers.

Definitely not unique to math.