Learning to Summize?

 

Take a picture of a textbook page and instantly get summaries, analyses, videos, flashcards and annotations.

Source: Summize

I’ve been playing with this new app this morning. It’s … interesting and has caused me to stop and think.

And to think… I had months (if not years) of instruction time at elementary, middle, high school, and college levels training me to summarize, analyze, annotate and make flashcards.

Remember SQ3R? I certainly do.

  • Survey
  • Question
  • Read (R1)
  • Recite (R2)
  • Review (R3)

We had entire classes and tests on “study skills.” Barf. If anything, SQ3R etc made me detest reading textbooks at an early age even more than I already did (which is why I rarely if ever used them as a middle school teacher). Granted, reading and processing a college textbook is much different than reading for pleasure (which is probably one of the reasons why I became a Religion major and find escape from textbooks).

Here’s an example of Summize’s “Bias Analysis” from a page I randomly took from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership:

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It doesn’t get all the words right, but come on… that’s pretty interesting when you consider anyone can do that from their iPhone. This is from the “Concept Analysis” feature, which basically gives you the rundown of a page’s main concepts for review:

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There’s also an automatic flashcard builder or you can snap your own essays and do quick grammar checks. You see where I’m going.

We thought desktops would revolutionize the classroom when I was a kid in the 80’s. Then it was CD-ROMs and laptops in the 90’s. Then it was personal digital assistants in the 00’s. Now we realize that the mobile revolution is the real instigator for substantive technological impact in education.

Mobile is just the beginning as we venture into an augmented / virtual reality world where information will, literally, be on our retinas in the blink of an eye (no fingertips needed this time).

It pains me to consider that concepts and skills such as spelling, punctuation, state capitols, multiplication tables, cursive writing (well, not really that one), lines of Shakespeare etc may not be required to be stored in our brains in the near future … if now. Or perhaps even the larger concepts of knowing how to look at a page of a textbook, get out your various colored highlighters, and go to work summarizing and finding the “main ideas” aren’t requirements for “successful” reading and processing.

Sure, they’re good things to know… but so were knowing star charts, how to hunt skin squirrels, and morse code at one time (not that all three aren’t still very valuable in certain circumstances).

Does this make post-millennials (or whatever we are going to call them) any more “lazy” than the Baby Boomers? I don’t think so. I know plenty of Baby Boomers who decry having to carry a mobile phone yet learn to love FaceTiming their family after a few weeks of doing so.

The older I get, the more I realize that conceptions of required understandings, skills, concepts etc are all in constant flux. Perhaps we benefited someway in the 20th century U.S. by having a rather sturdy monoculture that gave us a clear “common core” roadmap of things that every person of good standing should know and know how to do.

But I’ll take this evolving 21st century realization that normative culture isn’t the best path for the education of our children. Perhaps technological tools can help us rise above the barriers that very real socio-economic barriers of schools and home circumstances that previously segmented our society from the outset and didn’t give many kids the opportunity to “be all that they can be.”

By the way, the Founder of Summize is 18.

“Random” prime numbers and human projections

“So just what has got mathematicians spooked? Apart from 2 and 5, all prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7 or 9 – they have to, else they would be divisible by 2 or 5 – and each of the four endings is equally likely. But while searching through the primes, the pair noticed that primes ending in 1 were less likely to be followed by another prime ending in 1. That shouldn’t happen if the primes were truly random –  consecutive primes shouldn’t care about their neighbour’s digits.”

Source: Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in “random” prime numbers | New Scientist

Math, philosophically, is spooky.

Does it “really” exist in the cosmos or is it (like most things we consider to be intrinsic to the universe) a human projection based on our finite nature?

The “Mystery” of Good Schools

“The authors of these two books demonstrate that grand ideas cannot be imposed on people without their assent. Money and power are not sufficient to improve schools. Genuine improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children. But a further lesson matters even more: improving education is not sufficient to “save” all children from lives of poverty and violence. As a society, we should be ashamed that so many children are immersed in poverty and violence every day of their lives.”

Source: Solving the Mystery of the Schools by Diane Ravitch

The Loss of Solitary Exploration

“This experimental feature helps voters make more informed choices, and levels the playing field for candidates to share ideas and positions on issues they may not have had a chance to address during the debate. By publishing long-form text, photos and videos throughout the debate, campaigns can now give extended responses, answer questions they didn’t get a chance to on stage, and rebut their opponents. As soon as the first debate begins at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, search “Fox News debate” to find campaign responses.”

Source: Official Google Blog: New ways to stay informed about presidential politics

Wait, you mean the debates are scripted?

But seriously, this is interesting… as I’ve been watching the X Files revival this week (also on Fox™), I’ve been thinking more intentionally about the how’s and why’s we consume media in 2016 compared to, say, twenty years ago in 1996 when I was a nerdy teenager madly in love with the show. The X Files were something that I watched, recorded, and watched again most every week in order to parse out a new piece of the show’s ongoing mythology. It was a solitary, but incredibly beneficial, experience. I did the same with Beatles lyrics and Herman Hesse novels around the same time.

However, with this new iteration of the X Files, I’ve noticed that I’m watching my iPad as much as I’m watching the show. The #xfiles stream on Twitter has been an integral part of my viewing of the show. I only realized how much last night as I was watching the stream and realized that I had missed a key plot point that was subtle (I probably would’ve missed it if I had been watching the show intently rather than partitioning my attention, but still…) but was important. A tweet clued me in and I immediately “got it.” Would I have had that experience had I not been following the conversation on Twitter? Maybe. Hopefully in a second or third viewing I would. But I find myself not watching or reading things a second or third time these days because OMG JESSICA JONES is on Netflix and I have to catch up before diving into Making a Murderer before the next season of House of Cards!

Following the X Files last night was the last Democratic Presidential Debate before the Iowa Caucus next week. Again, I spent as much (if not more) time arguing with my friend Thomas Whitley about the merits of Bernie Sanders on Twitter as I did actually watching the debate. I’ve been watching presidential debates since … well, about 1996 when Clinton was at his high point and masterfully debated against a credible threat from Bob Dole. Throughout college and graduate school, I loved watching debates and can remember highlights from ’00 and ’04 as if they were fresh memories. Will I remember the ’16 debates (as remarkable as they are given the current political climate) as fondly or well? I’m not sure. I certainly don’t remember much about the ’12 debates when I was also using Twitter as a side show to further my “engagement with the conversation,” but there are also the variables of age and my diminished attention span to consider.

Perhaps that’s the fulcrum of whatever point I’m trying to make… as we grow older (I’m 37 now), do we intentionally seek out these side reels in order to persuade our minds that things like the X Files or a sporting event or a presidential debate are *really* important? Or do we seek these out as ways to validate our own confirmation bias about a particular football team or candidate (or mythology)?

I’ve noticed that when I read books on my Kindle, I frequently come across highlights that other Kindle users have made. It’s a neat feature for readers, as you get clued into what other readers have considered important or highlight-worthy in the same book you’re reading. It’s a feature that can be turned off, but I haven’t done that yet. I wonder what 17 year old Sam in 1996 would have said or thought of that feature when I was pouring through Siddhartha for the 3rd time? Would I have even made it through that many readings, since I would have had the highlights from other readers?

When I was a middle school teacher (I use that past tense slightly as I’m not sure one can ever divorce oneself from such an absurd calling / profession), I was always an enthusiastic promoter of the “back channel” in the classroom. The back channel, to me, was a space for students to openly raise questions and explore avenues during the course of a class experience. I experimented with various ways to bring about a healthy back channel, but I’m not sure if I ever did (I saw good benefits, but there was no way to quantifiably measure those outside of summative assessments which I also didn’t particularly enjoy). I wonder if I would encourage that back channel presence now, being a little older and with the benefit of hindsight? Did it detract from the class experience in the same way that my watching both the X Files on TV and #xfiles on a screen detracts from my solitary exploration of thoughts and ideas? Or were there tangible benefits in the same way that I realized a plot point I would have probably missed last night?

I miss the days of having to watch a well worn VHS tape recording of a Star Trek TNG episode or The Empire Strikes Back or a Presidential Debate in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything, rather than just googling “last night’s X Files” to find the right subreddit to lose a few hours in. That’s unfair nostalgia (I’m getting old, remember). These tools, these social spaces, we’ve created are doing amazing things for our culture and society. I appreciate how Twitter and Reddit enrich my life.

But sometimes, I want to read Siddhartha again because as a pernicious 17 year old I hated the very idea and existence of Cliff Notes. Now, I can’t seem to experience anything without a cliff note version via 140 characters or a Virgil in the form of a polished Redditor.

Lower Salary Potential

I’ll take my Religion major any day…

USC considers charging different tuition for some majors | The State: “‘Look at what it costs to deliver an engineering degree than it does to deliver a philosophy degree,’ USC President Harris Pastides told trustees Tuesday. ‘Yet these two students pay the same amount of tuition.’

After the board meeting, Pastides said he could see lowering the price tag on humanities majors, such as history, which have lowers salary potential.”

Our university system is a broken diploma / tuition factory that is breaking the backs of our young people who think they have to have a degree in order to have a “good job.”

Our democracy will suffer.

“Turn off that phone and do some real work.”

“In our constantly developing world, we have to learn to adapt to change. The fact that we are so dependent on the internet is scary. But the fact that you, as an adult, are struggling to keep up with us and the internet, does not give you the right to say that the way we are learning and growing up and socialising is wrong and we need to go back to how you used to write letters to your friends or call them using the home telephone. Neither way of living and socialising is better, just very different, which I think is the main cause of the older generation not tolerating the use of our phones.”

Source: Dear old people: why should I turn off my phone?

Anecdotally, I’ve always found that it’s the people / teachers / ministers etc who complain the most about “young kids always being on their phones” that leave their phones’ ringers on (at full volume) and have no problem answering a call (after a few rings, of course) and having a very loud conversation despite the context or their situation.

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

Teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.

Source: What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? | Mother Jones

Must read for parents, teachers, students, and most everyone else.

Card Cataloging and What Comes After Google

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I was always in the 900’s as a kid and teenager…

000 – General works, Computer science and Information
100 – Philosophy and psychology
200 – Religion
300 – Social sciences
400 – Language
500 – Pure Science
600 – Technology
700 – Arts & recreation
800 – Literature
900 – History & geography

Then I got to Yale and they used the Library of Congress system and I was all sorts of messed up for a few months.

And now we have Google. Better?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. Cataloging knowledge has been a human pursuit since the beginnings of writing in Sumeria. I wonder if we will keep turning that over to the algorithms or if whatever some kid in a basement is working on now that will eventually replace Google will return us to human curated cataloging of knowledge?

Whither Professors?

As I wait, I sympathize: So many things distract them — the gym, text messages, rush week — and often campus culture treats them as customers, not pupils. Student evaluations and ratemyprofessor.com paint us as service providers.

Source: What’s the Point of a Professor? – NYTimes.com

vs

There’s plenty wrong with higher ed, no one’s doubting that, but don’t miss the target. Don’t distract from the real work that needs to be done by pedantically lecturing at the people actually doing it. Don’t begin with an idealized example and then scorn any deviations from it. Life is messier outside the campus fence; teach the students you have instead of pining for the ones you want. Use your privileged position and voice for what we really need in order for professors to matter: condemn the adjunctification of higher education. Hell, treat your own adjunct faculty with fairness and dignity

Source: I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching – The Tattoed Professor

One of my favorite memories during my oh so short time at the “Kingdom of the Just” (copyright Prof. Ben Dunlap) otherwise known as Wofford College was the interactions I frequently had with amazing professors such as Prof. Mount, Prof. Cobb, Prof. Bullard, Prof. Bayard, Prof. Barrett, Prof. Revels both inside and especially outside of class.

Wofford made me the person I am. Those interactions shaped who I am. Professors matter. Much more than professors will ever know.