I studied philosophy and engineering at university: Here’s my verdict on ‘job relevant’ education

Approximate Reading Time: < 1 minute
This is VERY important.
It’s why, when I teach CS, I focus on the kinds of skills and concepts that *I* still find useful, 30+years /after/ my degree.
THOSE are the core concepts.
I am NOT training people for jobs.
I have NO idea what kinds of jobs they will find.
The specific applications that are in use now will change.
What hasn’t changed much is the

With the job market changing so fast, the skills that have helped me excel as an engineer are not what you might imagine, writes Rosemary Barnes.

Source: I studied philosophy and engineering at university: Here’s my verdict on ‘job relevant’ education

Be the first to like.

Are cheaper eggs just as nutritious as organic or free-run options? Marketplace tested 14 brands to find out | CBC News

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Source: Are cheaper eggs just as nutritious as organic or free-run options? Marketplace tested 14 brands to find out | CBC News

The small-farm organic eggs had an average of 3.25 mg of vitamin E per one large egg, which is about 20 per cent of the daily recommended value. The big-brand organic eggs had an average of 2.16 mg of vitamin E. The level of vitamin D in the small-farm organic eggs was an average of 31.65 IU, which is about five per cent of the daily recommended value. In the big-brand organic eggs, this average was 20.50 IU.

The small-farm organic eggs also had about one gram more of protein per large egg than the eggs sold by the larger brands, and had slightly less cholesterol.

“The small flocks have a greater opportunity to access the outdoors and some of the diversity of foods they might find out there,” said Gerald Poechman, an organic farmer with a flock of 6,000 birds near Hanover, Ont. During the winter months, he also feeds pea sprouts to his hens to supplement some of the nutrients they can’t get from grazing in pastures during the summer.

Eggs are ALWAYS a good source of nutrients.
The flavour and nutrient value of an egg is DIRECTLY related to the hen’s diet.
Eggs from small farms are better because eggs chickens on small farms eat a more varied (better) diet.
Those hens also have a MUCH better life.
That last fact alone should be enough to convince people to buy them instead of big farm eggs.
Yes, they are more expensive. That’s because IT COSTS MORE.

Consider this:
YOU want cheap eggs.
YOU are the one driving the awful treatment of these poor hens.
The only way to make that possible is to force the hens that lay your cheap eggs to live a short and miserable life.

Take a good long look at the hens in the “conventional” cages in the article.
Look at the condition of their feathers. LOOK at how pale their combs are.
Realize that they live in these cages 24/7 from the moment they are ready to lay until the moment they go to be killed.
That’s on YOU.


Be the first to like.

I’m Finally Back to Writing Again…

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Yup, after a year of being unable to write at all, I’m finally getting back to it again.
Here is the first part of my next endeavor. Let me know what you think!

And So it Begins

One learns more from a good scholar in a rage than from a score of lucid and laborious drudges. – Rudyard Kipling

I’m still not sure I like the word ‘gamification’, but it seems to be the label that best sums up what I do now. I like the phrase ‘gameful learning’ better, but like ‘software engineering'[1] and ‘serious games’[2], gamification seems to be the label that’s going to stick, so if I want to be able to communicate with other researchers, developers, and educators, it’s the word I should use. So, I will.

Let’s clear the air right up front.

For the most part, gamification is not new. Many of the concepts embodied by gamification are not actually new. Formally, ‘Gamification’ is the use of game elements in non-game contexts.

For many, the word ‘gamification’ conjures up visions of high scores, badges, competition, leaderboards, and geeky people pretending to be super-heroes while performing otherwise boring jobs. It can be that, but it doesn’t have to be. GOOD gamification – in other words, practical, meaningful, and useful gamification uses those concepts and structures from games that actually make good games good. It’s not just about providing a tastier carrot and a prettier stick. It’s about giving people the opportunity to work at something until they master it. It’s about second, third, forth and more chances to fail, and to ultimately succeed. It’s about allowing people to attend to their lives and to fit their learning around those lives rather than vice-versa. It’s about giving people choices and agency.

Gamification isn’t new to me, either. I’ve been playing around with many of the elements that now make up my gamified design for over 20 years, but I only started calling it gamification in 2012. Curiously, when I did that, a bunch of connections became obvious to me that hadn’t been evident before, so maybe it’s not such a bad term after all. Sometimes a combination of things that are not new themselves, when put together, can create something that IS new. My Practical Gamification is that.


Allow me to set the scene:

Over the years, I have experimented with a wide variety of different pedagogical approaches, but 2012 was a game-changer for me. In 2012, I was offered a course to teach at my current institution that I hadn’t taught in a while. The course is a fairly typical 1st year university introduction to computers course. For those who aren’t familiar with this kind of course, it teaches about computers in general, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on. It is a service course designed for people who have no plan to major in computer science or information technology. It is often listed as a required course for some degree programs.

I teach at a smallish (~11,000 students) public undergraduate university that offers university transfer programs and baccalaureate degrees but that has no graduate school. Our classes are small (20-60) and instructors are normally expected to teach their own labs and tutorials, as well as do all their own marking.

I’ve been teaching an ‘Introduction to Computing’ course on and off since I first started teaching in 1982. The previous versions I had taught were very much like the course I was asked to teach this time, so this course wasn’t new to me. It’s important to note that the amount of time between the very first time I taught this course and section I was asked to teach this time is thirty years. Just the same, when I am given a course to teach that I haven’t taught before, I try to look at previous course outlines to see what’s been done before. I hadn’t taught this course at this university before, so that’s what I did. When I looked at the 2012 syllabus for this course, I was surprised to find that it looked very much like the syllabus I had used when I taught this course for the very first time at another institution!

Now, I’m not knocking either my original or my current institution – the course outline is fairly typical of a great many courses of this sort. The grading scheme looked kind of like this:

  1. ONE group assignment, worth about 20% (involving a PowerPoint presentation).
  2. FIVE regular assignments, worth about 5% each (for a total of 25%, including at least one word processor, one spreadsheet, and one database assignment).
  3. ONE midterm exam, worth about 20%.
  4. One final exam, worth about 35%.

The similarity of the course outline to that of my very first course 30 years before hit me like a slap in the face. It even had a textbook by the same author – the 11th edition, but still the same author.

One would have thought that a course on computers might have changed somewhat in 30 years. I certainly thought so. Computers have changed since then. In 1982, there was no Internet and PCs were in their infancy. We have also earned quite a lot about both learning and pedagogy in the last 30 years. I’d never really given it much thought before this, but it seemed like the time had come to try something different.

I asked myself:

If I were to re-design this course for the 21st century, how would I do it?

This seemingly simple question started me on a path that has resulted in some very fundamental shifts in thinking.

This book tells that story.

[1]: Software Engineering: is usually defined to be the application of engineering to the development of software in a systematic method. In fact, it really has a lot more to do with managing software teams than it has to do with engineering.

[2]: Serious Games is the design of digital games for purposes other than, or in addition to entertainment.

Be the first to like.

Reni has been published.

Approximate Reading Time: < 1 minute

My next book has been published.

It is written by my mom, and edited by me.

This is my mother’s story. It is the story of an extraordinary German girl born in Berlin just before World War II. It is written in her own words.

Find it here: Reni



I realized something while writing transcribing my mom’s memoir.
There are places in her story where I remember things differently, and places where I am SURE she is mistaken.
I decided to leave it without comment – for now.

This book was both wonderful and very hard to write.

It had occurred to me though that it might be interesting to provide some annotation at a later date, and so I plan to do just that.
I will write MY recollections of things, both as I recall them personally and as I remember them being told to me.
I will comment on things that I recall differently and provide some of my own side of things. For example, I have a LOT to say about the time surrounding my father’s suicide, as well as about the man who became my step-father.


I don’t know that this has ever been done. If you know of any, let me know!


I ALSO have many of my mother’s personal diaries.

The story she tells there is sometimes also very different.
That will be the third installment.


Who knows, maybe I can even convince other family members to contribute some of their points of view.



Be the first to like.

Well Worth Watching: Losing Lena

Approximate Reading Time: < 1 minute

It’s time for gender equality in tech, let’s start by losing Lena. Add your voice at https://www.losinglena.com #losinglena

“I failed to see this as an image of a person.”
…. just an object being used to build, adapt, or train an algorithm.
My ideas are *STILL* often dismissed.
I have THREE strikes against me:
1. I’m female.
2. My PhD is in Ed Tech (y’know, not //REAL//)
3. I am a sessional. (Be sure to insert the silent “JUST A” before the word ‘sessional’.
Never mind that I have more teaching experience than almost ALL of my colleagues. (I actually taught a fair number of my colleagues when THEY were undergrads.)
Never mind that my publication record is better than almost ALL of my colleagues.
Sometimes it’s hard not to express frustration.

Source: Losing Lena

Be the first to like.

Worth Sharing: We Don’t Trust Course Evaluations, but Are Peer Observations of Teaching Much Better?

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Why colleges and universities that claim to take teaching seriously need a comprehensive and fair system of evaluating it.


But, as always seems to happen, the same teaching technique inspired completely contradictory reactions.

For example, while I don’t show too many PowerPoints in English composition, every time I introduce a new writing strategy I’ll throw up a few slides with definitions and examples. One student praised the slides as the most helpful tool for her learning — another called them useless and recommended I eliminate them from the course.

Contradictory statements about my methods I can handle; I’ve seen them all before. But this round of reviews also included a comment from a student who said I didn’t “connect well” with the class. This was a community-engaged learning course in which we took a field trip together to a homeless shelter, spent lots of time in group activities in class, and shared personal perspectives on our understanding of poverty. I also followed my own advice and made a point to arrive in the classroom a few minutes early and engage in informal conversations with students.

So that student’s comment — although the only one of its kind in this crop of evaluations — is very likely to spend the entire summer sticking in my craw.

I’m also a white male in his late 40s, which means that I am usually spared pointed comments about my wardrobe, my voice, or my persona that routinely pepper the course evaluations of female and nonwhite faculty members, as plenty of research has documented.

Over the years, a number of factors — contradictory criticisms, bias against vulnerable instructors, inconsistent response rates — have all been adduced as evidence for why academe should reduce the outsized role that student ratings and comments play in the evaluation of teaching.

To illustrate that point, she walked us through a thought-provoking exercise that demonstrated in sharp terms why student evaluations and peer observations should be considered within the context of a host of other measures. “I want you to make a list,” Miller said, “of all of the different things that you do each week in support of your teaching. Don’t just think about being in class. Think of all of the other activities you do each week that relate to your teaching.”

Here is what I jotted down:

  • Read for class (for the composition course I just taught, I had to read four assigned books and some additional online essays).
  • Prepare my lesson plan.
  • Arrange a class visit to the homeless shelter.
  • Do background research on the subject we were discussing.
  • Grade writing exercises.
  • Create assignment sheets.
  • Meet with students.
  • Grade papers.
  • Respond to their emails.

As the list slowly grew under my pen, the point of the exercise became abundantly clear: Much of the work of teaching — perhaps most of it — takes place outside of the classroom.

Much of the work that we put into our teaching cannot be evaluated, or even accessed, via the two most common strategies that institutions use to evaluate our teaching effectiveness of their faculty: student evaluations and peer observations.

Part of the process ought to include training people in how to assess teaching fairly, or we risk basing promotion decisions on the classroom preferences or gut instincts of the evaluators.

It takes time to evaluate teaching well — and time usually requires financial investment. Those are significant obstacles, and they won’t be overcome unless academe is willing to set aside its reliance on easy but dubious methods and take the evaluation of good teaching seriously.

Source: We Don’t Trust Course Evaluations, but Are Peer Observations of Teaching Much Better?

Be the first to like.

Worth Sharing: Opinion | Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Excellence is not a zero sum game.

I’ve been saying this for YEARS!

Source: Opinion | Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?

I’ve been saying this for years! This is a big part of what I address in the essays of my new book, coming out late this year (Death to Deadlines: Gamification and Other Subversive Thoughts on Formal Education)

Source: Opinion | Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s? – The New York Times

For a generation now, school reform has meant top-down mandates for what students must be taught, enforced by high-stakes standardized tests and justified by macho rhetoric — “rigor,” “raising the bar,” “tougher standards.”

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose that next year virtually every student passed the tests. What would the reaction be from politicians, business people, the media? Would these people shake their heads in admiration and say, “Damn, those teachers must be good!”?

Of course not. Such remarkable success would be cited as evidence that the tests were too easy. In the real world, when scores have improved sharply, this has indeed been the reaction. For example, when results on New York’s math exam rose in 2009, the chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents said, “What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating,” but instead “that New York State needs to raise its standards.”

The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.

The standards-and-accountability movement is not about leaving no child behind. To the contrary, it is an elaborate sorting device, intended to separate wheat from chaff. The fact that students of color, students from low-income families and students whose first language isn’t English are disproportionately defined as chaff makes the whole enterprise even more insidious.

But my little thought experiment uncovers a truth that extends well beyond what has been done to our schools in the name of “raising the bar.” We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of any group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut. In America, excellence is regarded as a scarce commodity. Success doesn’t count unless it is attained by only a few.

Be the first to like.

What rescued farm animals taught a photographer about aging and animal rights | CBC Radio

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

A couple of my retired critters.

Dear Sunday Edition, CBC Radio:

As I listened to your segment on old farm animals, I became more and more insulted.

You see, I *AM* a farmer. I raise animals for meat.

The implication that all farmers kill or discard their animals as soon as they stop being “useful” is deeply offensive, not to mention just plain wrong. Further the implication made by your guest that all animals in rescue have been abused somehow reveals a profound lack of understanding of what most family and small farms are.

I suppose your guest should not be faulted for being so uninformed. She appears to have spent her whole life living in a big city. How can she possibly know what farms are like? And as an “animal rights” advocate, she is predisposed to believe the worst about farms and the lives of the animals that live there.

Sammy the duckling being gently protected by Arrow the Pyrenees dog.

Yes, it is true that many of my animals are killed before

they are 6 months old. In nature, 98% of ALL animals are killed or otherwise die before they reach breeding age. I can assure you that the lives of the animals on my farm are safer, more comfortable, AND more fun than their “natural” counterparts. My animals are sheltered from the weather, have room to stretch, jump, fly, and play. They have toys, clean water, and nutritious food. They get treats on a regular basis, and when it comes time to dispatch them, it is done humanely and with respect. None of the carcass is wasted.

The insinuation that farmers are heartless operators only interested in the bottom line is so far from the truth that only someone who has never spent any time on a farm could imagine that. Every single farmer I know has, at any given time, several old, retired animals on their farm. Many get special medical treatment, extra bedding, and individual attention.

Ray the duck having his daily bath.

Pikachu, Psghetti, and Pebbles enjoying their retirement.

I raise rabbits, and a variety of poultry. My oldest duck lived to be 17 (that’s 17 YEARS). For the last few years of his life he was completely blind, and when he could no longer get into his bath on his own, I helped him – every day.

I had a hen who lost a foot to frostbite who got to live on an open platform inside the rabbitry next to a window where she was safe from the other chickens (who would have picked on her) but could still be close to them. She lived like that for 2 years even though she was no longer laying eggs.

I almost always have a number of rabbits who get to live out their entire natural lives in small retirement colonies.

The photos taken by your guest are wonderful photos, but the claims that animals like this exist ONLY in rescues is just flat out wrong. If she had taken the time to actually visit some real life farms, she would know that.

Perhaps a bit of balance is in order here – how about doing a segment on some of the special needs critters that are loved and live on almost every farm?

-Katrin Becker
Cochrane, Alberta

Source: What rescued farm animals taught a photographer about aging and animal rights | CBC Radio

Be the first to like.