Category Archives: Technology & Culture

Open Sourcing

Fun story.

For my own use and as a programming activity, I wrote a little Python script that I could use as a countdown timer. (Bonus feature: I can run multiple timers at the same time. Apple iOS, I’m looking at you!)

I wanted to have a little bell that would ring at the end, and look at that, GarageBand has a little alarm bell sound! Here it is:

I was going to throw my little project up on GitHub as an example for my students; also, because I’m A Developer. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have a problem packaging Apple’s alarm bell sound with that project. I mean, I’d already had to go to the mat with Google/YouTube about a song I’d made using some of Apple’s sound loops, and I’d done my research. At just under 30-thousand words (at that’s only for the English version) you can polish off GarageBand’s User License Agreement in an easy afternoon, and here’s the good news about GarageBand projects:

H. GarageBand Features and Support.
Except as otherwise provided, you may use the Apple and third party audio loop content (“Audio Content”), contained in or otherwise included with the Apple Software, on a royalty-free basis, to create your own original soundtracks for your video and audio projects. You may broadcast and/or distribute your own soundtracks that were created using the Audio Content…

Cool! Oh… but wait….

…however, individual samples, sound sets or audio loops may not be commercially or otherwise distributed on a standalone basis, nor may they be repackaged in whole or in part as audio samples, sound libraries, sound effects or music beds.

Dammit, Jim. I can’t use that file in my project. Oh, and maybe I just violated the license by embedding that file here.

What should I do for my project? Quick fix: borrow a desk bell from the Theater Department at school, record a single “ding!” and process it using open source Audacity (“Screw you, GarageBand.”), et voila:

My project–including that alarm bell!–has been posted on GitHub: https://github.com/rwhite5279/timer . Mischief managed.

For the record, I totally get why the GarageBand license agreement would restrict redistribution of files. It’s just another in a long list of Apple-related frustrations for me and I needed to vent a little.

Plus, I wanted to play you my bell recording. I’m quite proud of it! ;)

Quitting Facebook

I quit Facebook last month.

It wasn’t a rage-quit, or a “I’ve had it!” kind of thing. For me, the thing has just run its course. FB has little value to me at this point in my own life, and although I used to maintain the account to keep in touch with alumni, a lot of them aren’t using it anymore either.

There were a couple of precipitating events, perhaps, that did nudge me closer to the precipice. There was a tone-deaf Mark Zuckerberg being interviewed by Kara Swisher a few months ago. There was a phone call from an old friend a few weeks ago who let me know that she isn’t on Facebook, reminding me that such a thing was possible.

Knowing a little bit about how these things work, I’ve been bothered for years by the algorithmic manipulation of your News Feed. Facebook doesn’t display items in your feed in chronological order—it displays them in an algorithmically-generated “Top Items” order which (until very recently) you had no control over. If you’ve every wondered why you haven’t seen some friends’ posts on Facebook, it may well be that their comments were buried so far down in the algorithm that Facebook effectively never showed them to you, in favor of sponsored ads for socks from Sweden.

Last month I read this interview with Yuval Noah Harari, and it really resonated with me. Although the focus of the article wasn’t social networking, there was some discussion of technology and how we respond to it emotionally.

An excerpt:

I try to be very careful about how I use technology and really make sure that I’m using it for the purposes that I define instead of allowing it to kind of shape my purposes for me. That sometimes happens when you open the computer: you have a couple of minutes to spare, so you start just randomly browsing through YouTube, and two hours later, you’re still there watching all types of funny cat videos, car accidents, and whatever. You did not say to yourself, “Okay, I want to spend the next two hours watching these videos.” The technology kind of dictated to you that this is what you’re going to do by grabbing your attention in such a forceful way that it can kind of manipulate you.

How has removing those attention-grabbing technologies changed your quality of life?

I have much more time. I think it makes a much more peaceful… I mean, it’s not such a big secret. The way to grab people’s attention is by exciting their emotions, either through things like fear and hatred and anger, or through things like greed and craving. If somebody [is] very afraid of immigrants and hates immigration, the algorithm will show him one story after the other about terrible things that immigrants are doing. Then somebody else maybe really, really doesn’t like President Trump, so they spend hours watching all kinds of things that make them very, very angry. And it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not—they see this headline of “President Trump Said the World is Flat,” they feel this irresistible urge to click on it.

It grabs your attention because you already have this weakness. But if you kind of sit there and just read infuriating stories for an entire hour you are basically feeding your mind with things that make you more angry and hateful. And this is especially bad if many of these stories are just not true. Sometimes they are true, quite often they’re not. But the net result is that you now just spent an hour feeding your hate and your fury.

It’s the same way with the other side of the coin, with greed. Because if you really want something—the perfect body, the perfect car—and you watch all these videos, you want it more and more. And if you don’t have it, then you feel worse and worse that you don’t have this kind of body, or you don’t have this kind of car. So you just spent one hour feeding your cravings and your greed, and it’s really not good for you.

The better you know yourself, the more protected you are from all these algorithms trying to manipulate you. If we go back to the example of the YouTube videos. If you know “I have this weakness, I tend to hate this group of people,” or “I have a bit obsession to the way my hair looks,” then you can be a little more protected from these kinds of manipulations. Like with alcoholics or smokers, the first step is to just recognize, “Yes, I have this bad habit and I need to be more careful about it.”

So how do you get your news?

I rarely follow the kind of day-to-day news cycle. I tend to read long books about subjects that interest me. So instead of reading 100 short stories about the Chinese economy, I prefer to take one long book about the Chinese economy and read it from cover-to-cover. So I miss a lot of things, but I’m not a politician and I’m not a journalist, so I guess it’s okay I don’t follow every latest story.

So, ummm… yeah. I’m out.

It doesn’t feel as if I’ve really made a big decision or anything because I haven’t spent any significant time on FB in the last year anyway.

Also, to be clear, I haven’t deleted my account or anything. The few things I’ve uploaded in the past are all still there, and I’m sure my timeline is going to tick by just as it has in the past. I just won’t be paying any attention to it.

If you need me, you know where to find me. And it won’t be on FB. :)

Update your Creative Process

In early 2001, in press releases and ads, Apple encouraged its customers to Rip. Mix. Burn. their music on an iMac.

It was an audacious advertising campaign given that the recording industry was in the midst of grappling with the rampaging growth of digitally copied media via Napster, LimeWire, and others. The Mac would soon leverage its position as a media hub with the release of the iPod later that same year. The process of assembling a “mix tape” of songs for a friend would never be the same again… although that process has since disappeared completely. Because everybody just streams now.

This post isn’t about that, though.

If taking prerecorded media and putting it together into a custom mix was the “old creativity,” it didn’t take much in the way of actual… you know, creativity. Assembling and ordering someone else’s music is fine, but… it’s a stretch to call it creative.

Welcome to the new creative. “Rip. Mix. Burn.” has evolved.

Fork. Commit. Push.

That’s right, I’m talking about using GitHub to fork a project, make changes that you commit to your fork, and then push those changes back to the master. If you know about GitHub, this all makes perfect sense, and is absolutely reflective of a creative process happening.

And if you don’t know about GitHub? Well… you need to get on it!

More to come…

Sherlocked!

Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later…

I’ve been Sherlocked.

If you’re not familiar with the term “sherlocked,” it comes to us courtesy of Apple, which back in the day offered a file search capability on its OS called “Sherlock.” The original feature set of that capability was expanded upon by a third-party developer who crated a software tool “Watson” that served as a companion to Sherlock, with the ability to search the Internet, perform calculations, look up references, etc. It was such a useful tool that Apple, in a subsequent release of the OS, incorporated almost all of those same features into their software. The developer was no longer able to make any money off the software he had developed–he had been “Sherlocked.”

This wan’t the first time that such a thing had happened. The first case of this happening that I’m aware of is back in the early Macintosh days (System 7), when Steve Christensen’s SuperClock! utility was written to allow the computer to display the time in the upper corner of the screen. This eminently useful feature was incorporated into System 7.5, along with a number of other features adapted / adopted/ stolen from other software developers. A lot of people view this as simply the cost of doing business with a large, powerful organization, but it seems like a bitter pill for a hard-working developer to have to swallow.

You can learn more about the process of being Sherlocked by Apple at:

What does this have to do with me?

A couple of days ago, I received an email from the College Board announcing some new features that were being added to the College Board website.

That “Question Bank” that supports students with 15,000 on-demand questions? That’s my idea! That’s exactly what the learnapphysics.com website has been doing for the last ten years.

Okay, to be fair, people have been publishing banks of test questions for years, and the SAT “Question of the Day” was a thing that I took as inspiration for my website, so… I can’t complain too loudly here. In fact, I’m not complaining at all. I’m glad that the College Board has caught on to the idea that there are lots of ways that they can support students taking their courses.

But if anybody asks, I’m going to come right out and say it: “Yeah. I got Sherlocked by the College Board.”

The demise of Pretty Good Physics

This is my fifth year teaching AP Computer Science A. More than most high school teachers, CS teachers are sometimes seen as loners: often, they are the sole teacher in their subject area at their school. The College Board has an online discussion community that displays some signs of life, fortunately, and there is a Facebook group that a number of teachers use as a resource as well.

Facebook? I know. I don’t understand that either.

This is my 20th year teaching AP Physics C. The College Board’s discussion community for that subject sees quite a bit more action than the Comp Sci one, but the real resource for that class is the Pretty Good Physics site hosted at Wikispaces. The venerable Gardner Friedlander manages that site, a section of which is password-protected so that only teachers with appropriate credentials have access. It’s a fantastic resource, perhaps unique in the College Board’s collection of communities, and the vast majority of requests for resources on the AP Physics Discussion Board conclude with a reference to Pretty Good Physics.

I’ll have to convert the paragraph above to past tense soon. Pretty Good Physics has a goodbye screen posted on their website now:

This isn’t due to any neglect or mismanagement on the part of Friedlander or anyone else. No, the entire Wikispaces platform is being shut down.

To be fair, Wikispaces is shutting down for perfectly good reasons, and in the best possible way. From the webpage:

Wikispaces was founded in 2005 and has since been used by educators, companies and individuals across the globe.
Unfortunately, the time has come where we have had to make the difficult business decision to end the Wikispaces service.

Why is Wikispaces closing?

Over the last twelve months we have been carrying out a complete technical review of the infrastructure and software we use to serve Wikispaces users. As part of the review, it has become apparent that the required investment to bring the infrastructure and code in line with modern standards is very substantial. We have explored all possible options for keeping Wikispaces running but have had to conclude that it is no longer viable to continue to run the service in the long term. So, it is with no small degree of nostalgia, that we will begin to close down later this year.

When is Wikispaces closing?

To enable us to offer maximum support to customers off-boarding from Wikispaces we will be undertaking a phased shutdown approach. This will help us regulate the system load on the export tool as users depart from Wikispaces

Scheduled Closure dates:

Classroom and Free Wikis end of service, 31st July 2018
Plus and Super Wikis end of service, 30th September 2018
Private Label Wikis end of service, 31st January 2019

There was an initial panic from people in the AP Physics community, but the site has been archived, mirrored, downloaded, and backed up by a large number of people who know very well the value of the site. I’m pretty sure that the site will arise again someday soon. There is a strong support community, and it’s too good a resource to lose.

But the loss of PGP specifically and Wikispaces in general does bring to mind a couple of questions:

  1. Was Wikispaces a poor choice for building the PGP resource? Are there better choices for building and maintaining an online academic community such as this?
  2. Does AP Computer Science have a similar, off-College Board community maintained by someone?

I’d suggest that Wikispaces turned out to be a perfectly reasonable choice for an online community given its 13-year history, a surprisingly long run in technology time. The only thing that would have been more robust would be hosting it on a private site, and that has issues associated with it as well.

And if AP Computer Science has a similar community, I’m unaware of it. Gary and Maria Litvin have built a nice following around the work that they do at Skylight Publishing, and they regularly reply to questions on the College Board Discussion board. The Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/APComputerScienceTeachers/ (login required) is… hosted at Facebook, a decision that I reject for a whole set of Facebook-related reasons.

I’ve seen other non-AP Comp Sci efforts to gather materials and references for people, including Awesome Python in Education, hosted at github—perhaps that Open Source platform is the new, best choice for something like this. For the moment, however, Computer Science in general doesn’t seem to have settled in on a focal point that is clearly identifiable.

Is this due to the nature of our subject? Is it because we tend toward the Lone Wolf end of the spectrum?

While we’re figuring this all out, perhaps the best strategy for providing ongoing access to content is to Own Your Own Domain.

DIY for the win!

References
http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2018/2/26/so-long-wikispaces-youve-been-a-great-tool.html

CS for All?

There was an interview last month with the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, posted at http://freakonomics.com/podcast/modern-democrat-win/. The governor sounds like an eminently reasonable person (to my political sensibilities), and at one point in the conversation, to subject of Computer Science came up.

From the posted transcript:

DUBNER (Interviewer):
In terms of preparing the populace for the labor scenario that’s coming down the road, I know you’ve been pushing to have every student in Rhode Island take computer-programming classes. Is that a thing already?

RAIMONDO: It’s happening now. We set a goal, I think a year or so ago, that by the end of this year we would be teaching computer science in every district and every grade, starting in kindergarten. And we’re going to hit that goal this year.

DUBNER:
So, I hear about this kind of thinking a lot, and I certainly understand the appeal and the resonance. But I do also wonder if there’s a proven upside of having everyone learn computer science or programming. It strikes me a little bit like the equivalent of having every student in America during the boom of the internal combustion engine learn to take apart a carburetor. And then I think, if you look at the history of economics and progress, that one of the main strengths of economic progress is the division of labor and specialization, rather than everybody chasing after the latest trends. So I’m curious what the evidence was that inspired that move of yours.

RAIMONDO:
I think of it as access and exposure, and also just providing people with a basic level of essential skills. So, everyone has to take math. They may become a writer, they may become an actor, but they ought to have a certain basic level of math skills. First of all, because it’s an essential skill to function. And by the way, they might like math. I think digital skills are the same thing. No matter what job you have, you have to have some basic familiarity with computer skills and digital skills. And so it is as essential in this economy as any other skill that we teach. But also, we know — and there’s loads of data on this girls, people of color, and low-income folks are less likely to go into I.T. fields, which tend to be higher-paying. However, if they’re exposed to some computer training, they’re much more likely to go into the field and do well at it.

“Access and exposure.” That about sums it up. Without even weighing in on the question of whether or not students should be required to take computer science, how do we go about providing them with “access and exposure” to this subject?

There’s some degree of irony in all of this given that most of us who are computer scientists now never had anything close to the degree of “access and exposure” students have available to them now. My “first computer” was a teletype with a modem link to a PDP-11 at the local hospital, and we were lucky to have it. (Cue the obligatory reference to Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, at https://youtu.be/26ZDB9h7BLY.) Today, students have access to smartphones, inexpensive laptops, even Raspberry Pis, and more YouTube tutorials that you could hope to watch explaining how to program, how to develop, how to download…

It seems to me that students do have access, but the exposure is what’s missing at this point.

And that’s where CS teachers can be most valuable.

For those of you who teach at the high school level, does your school require a Computer Science class for graduation? What do you think of the idea of requiring Computer Science for graduation–yea or nay?

Volunteering: YouTube comments as community service

Volunteering: YouTube comments as community service
===================================================

2017-07-14
———-

by Richard White
—————-

My school has a “Community Service” component to the graduation requirement for students. They must volunteer for a given number of hours in service to the community, and there are a variety of ways they can do this. Some opportunities are described by the school, but it’s certainly possible to develop your own community service opportunity and have that count towards your requirements.

Is it possible that commenting on YouTube might count towards Community Service?

I think of this possibility as I consider my own activity on my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/rwhite5279), where I post videos occasionally, most of them related to computer science and computational thinking. I’ve built up a small following since I began posting 9 years ago: nearly 750,000 total views, and nearly 3000 subscribers as I write this. Increasingly, viewers of some of the computer science tutorials have begun leaving questions in the comments section.

This one, for example, on a tutorial on how to use object-oriented programming in Python to simulate a Magic-8 Ball toy that predicts the future (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6drqLGdXHQA ) :

You can see the question there, followed by a response from me. Here’s another example, a question and response for the same Magic-8 Ball tutorial:

I have a number of friends, teachers or no, who volunteer time in their local community: serving food at the local soup kitchen, visiting people in nursing homes, tutoring students after school. I occasionally get the question “What are you doing on the computer there?” and sometimes find myself answering “I’m responding to a question someone left for me on YouTube.”

Isn’t this a form of Community Service? Isn’t this a form of Volunteering?

Another introduction to object-oriented programming (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYYzteRKU7U ) prompted this selection of comments (and accompanying responses):

I’m well aware of the fact that online comments—”where nobody knows you’re a dog”—can be challenging: to respond to, to clean up (in cases of misuse or spam), to moderate. Some “discussions” become downright toxic, to the extent that some communities with a broad appeal have had to shut down the comments sections on their sites: if the conversation can’t be civil, there’ll be no conversation at all. In those cases, that strategy is probably the only one that makes sense.

In my little corner of the Internet, however, things are just fine, for the moment anyway. There’s not much fun to be had trolling computer science tutorials, and maybe that has helped to keep things a little more in-focus and on-topic.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to answering more questions. There is volunteering to be done, and I’m just the guy to do it. :)

Battle for the Net

Battle for the Net
==================

by Richard White
—————-

2017-07-12
———-

This is the second time in the last few years that I’ve devoted some time and some of my website resources in the interest of maintaining internet neutrality.

If you already know what net neutrality is, you should go to battleforthenet.com and do something about it. Write a letter using their form, donate some money, and call your congressional representatives. These are all things that cost little in the way of time and/or money, and are vitally important to maintaining the way the Internet—and therefore your world—works.

If you’re not sure on the details, or maybe have only heard the term but nothing more, here it is, in a nutshell.

Access to the Internet isn’t (usually) free: most people I know pay an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Charter, Spectrum, Comcast, etc. for home access to the Internet. You probably have a service plan that vaguely promises deliver your internet content and some minimum speed. But once you’re “on the Internet,” anything and everything goes. There are no restrictions on how you can travel the World Wide Web: you can go to Facebook, you can surf websites, you can buy plane tickets, you can watch Netflix, you can register for college classes, you can watch YouTube, you can (if you’re so inclined) visit porn sites.

The fact that your ability to navigate the Internet unencumbered and unregulated, regardless of what you use it for, is called “net neutrality.”

Wikipedia, quoting the New York Times, describes it this way:

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

This view of the Internet is one that considers it as a utility, and therefore subject to some degree of regulation as such. The convention of net neutrality was affirmed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during Obama’s administration.

Here’s a non-Internet example where regulation helps us. You telephone service (landline or cellular) delivers phone calls to your phone, regardless of who they come from. Nobody can pay for “better access” to your phone number. A business can’t pay for increased access to your phone number so that unsolicited phone calls are favored over personal calls. We have “phone neutrality.” There have been cases where phone companies have blocked access to certain types of phone calls, prompting FCC intervention.

The Internet-as-utility means that telecommunications companies delivering that service must obey anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules. In the first months of his administration, however, President Trump appointed former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC, with a vow to “reverse this overreach” of regulating net neutrality.

What happens if your Internet provider doesn’t have to follow net-neutrality rules? Selected businesses benefit (or suffer) as the provider decides how to charge for access, or how much to favor certain businesses over others.

This is currently the situation with your cable/satellite TV provider which sells you a subscription to their services. Access to their cable or signal is just the start, however. Access to ESPN costs more. Access to HBO costs more. Access to premium services costs… a premium. (This never-ending “up-sell” is in part responsible for the rise in “cable-cutters.”

Along those lines, then, here’s one likely scenario in the Brave New World of a non-neutral Internet, as imagined by an unknown author (image is making the rounds on Twitter):

If we get rid of net neutrality, will your Internet provider really interfere with your service? This isn’t a hypothetical question. In one case, Comcast was slowing access to certain types of content. In another, AT&T blocked users access to Apple’s FaceTime service so that only users with a certain type of plan could access the application. It is because of the protections currently afforded by net neutrality that these corporations have been prosecuted for these actions.

Clearly, the Internet needs the regulatory protection of the FCC.

The wonderful innovations that have been born and flourished on the neutral Internet have been able to do so, in large part, because of lack of restrictions on the Internet. It’s telling that Trump claims to be in favor of “American innovation, job creation and economic growth,” but only insofar as the large media corporations are concerned. Twitter, the president’s primary means of communication, was spawned on a neutral net, the very net he is bent on corrupting.

The battle for net neutrality is “huge.” Please join the fight.

Differentiated Instruction, Part 2

DIFFERENTIATION, part 2

2017-03-11

by Richard White

I was recently asked by our IT director John Yen how I handle differentiated instruction in the classroom: what strategies do I employ to try to ensure that students of widely varying abilities and skill levels are all appropriately challenged in my courses?

It’s a question that public school teachers face all the time, and independent school teachers arguably somewhat less. Technology teachers at both types of institutions have the biggest challenge here, because:

  1. there isn’t (yet?) a standardized curriculum path that has been developed and accepted around computational thinking and computer science, and
  2. there is a large, and perhaps growing, “digital divide” between those students who have nearly unlimited access to technology and training (even informal training via YouTube videos and the internet) and those who don’t.

My reply to John’s question took a little while to narrow down to a response to his questions, but here are my remarks, lightly edited for clarity.

=====Beginning of Email=====

  • That’s one of the million-dollar questions right now: How do I bring students with widely-varying experience into the curriculum?
  • The 2-million dollar question is: What CS curriculum do we want to offer/require? This varies depending on the school population, the goal of the curriculum (CS for managers? Coding for vocation?), the instructors available, the budgeting, salaries…
  • The 3-million dollar question is: Who is going to teach this curriculum? At this point, that is going to have an overwhelming influence on the other questions. CS people don’t do much with game design, and Game Designers don’t know a lot about Linux, and software engineers may or may not know about networking or control systems…

In Computer Science courses, I’ve found that I often have to provide up to five different kinds of differentiation, given at different times according to the idealized schedule given here.

Steps in Assigning/Conducting a Computer Science activity or project

  1. I prepare the assignment, preferably on paper or online so I can check that the idea and the process are fully articulated. NOTE: When looking through some online references a few years ago I stumbled upon an assignment format used by professors at Michigan State University, and I’ve adopted it for many of my CS courses. An example is attached here.
  2. During the preparation of the assignment, I try to prepare 1-3 Extension activities that are more complex or require application of the project to a new context. This is the first differentiation that I’ll use with some of my more advanced students who would otherwise complete the assignment too quickly. On the assignment I also often include a section called “Questions for you to consider (not hand in)” which ask the students to think about other aspects of the subject that may not be directly related to the assignment. These can be a nice jumping-off point for a conversation with more advanced students.
  3. Also for the assignment, I prepare a few “Notes on Getting Started” that are included with the instructions. These notes include suggested work strategies and/or questions that might help clarify the direction their problem-solving process should take. This is the second differentiation.
  4. Deliver the assignment (paper or online) in class, with whatever introductory remarks are appropriate. Students begin working.
  5. After students have been working on the assignment for some length of time, I’ll usually check in with them to see how things are proceeding so far. If there’s a stumbling block in the assignment that I’m aware of, I may bring it up at that time, and ask them what they think about it. I’ll usually write some amount of code on the board here, developing ideas with those students who have become stuck. This is the third differentiation strategy. ( Example: This video (narrated) of me working with students in class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ3z51n1Ndo )

    If I notice that a number of students are having difficulties with a concept or problem, I may prepare a small video for them going over the issue in more detail. I’ll post the video and send the link to them so they can take another crack at it. This is the fourth differentiation strategy. ( Example: This video, covering the topic of website permissions for some students’ websites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEES_N3ZQHk )

  6. Ultimately some students will need more individualized attention, sometimes down to the point of sitting down with them individually and picking through their code line by line. This is the most challenging and time-intensive differentiation strategy, and not something that I’m able to do with every student every time. Fortunately, if I’m doing my job well, I don’t need to do it very often.

=====End of Email=====

What strategies do you have for providing differentiated instruction for your students? What evidence do you have that those strategies are successful (or not?)

Is the Digital Divide something that needs to be addressed by CS teachers? If so, what steps do you take towards ameliorating that problem?

Keep it civil

Keep It Civil
=============

2016-11-22

by Richard White

Anyone who uses any kind of modern, social-media-related technology is aware of the kind of derision and scorn that can occur on the Internet. The awful GamerGate debacle is perhaps one of the worst and most serious examples, although trolling and flamewars can easily erupt from the most innocuous of situations.

As a professional, a teacher, and someone who likes to think of the Internet as being used mostly for good, and less for evil, I try to behave well, and part of that includes having a thick skin and/or erring on the side of forgiveness when it comes to things like comments on my YouTube channel.

Case in point: I recorded a brief video introduction to Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) that I put up on YouTube a few months ago. In that video I discuss the FOSS operating system Linux, and mentioned in particular one particular distribution of Linux called “Ubuntu.”

Amidst the other nice comments people made on the video, there was this one:

Actually Ubuntu is not entirely a “free software”

“Is this guy kidding?” was my immediate response. “I spent a lot of time putting this video together, and he’s got the nerve to nit-pick about this? Ubuntu does bundle some proprietary software together with their distribution, so technically, he’s right. But, geez! That’s the thanks I get for all my work? Snarky comments picking it apart for minor points that practically nobody cares about anyway? Why, I ought to…”

I admit, that thought passed through my mind for a moment. But when I had the chance to think about it for two seconds, I realized that it might be me that was over-reacting. Certainly a more level-headed response was called for, and this is what I ended up replying to him in a follow-up:

That’s true! Although it’s a bit beyond the scope of this introductory video, none of the common Linux distributions comply with the Free Software Foundation’s strict interpretation of FOSS. (If you’re interested in those details, you can read about them at https://www.gnu.org/distros/common-distros.html). For the majority of Linux users, however, we’re happy to support and use those GNU/Linux distributions anyway. :)

I wasn’t expecting a reply back. If this poster’s comments had been intended as trolling, I hadn’t taken the bait, and for a troll, where’s the fun in that? So imagine my surprise when a reply did come back:

Yep. Thanks for making this video :)

An acknowledgment of my point, a “thank you,” and a smiley face? That’s quite a turnaround from the original comment, consisting solely of a criticism.

I’ll never know what the original intention of the commenter was when he left that note for me. I do know that a non-reactionary reply from me—fair, factual, and cordial—evoked a response in kind.

And that’s the Internet world that I like to live in!

keep_it_civil