“I saw two aeroplanes dropping bombs over our preschool,” Jessie told me. “No planes have dropped bombs over Bergen since grandma was a baby,” I said. “That only happens in wartime, and luckily there haven’t been wars here for a very long time.”
“But E’s little sister is in hospital because a bomb took away her legs,” Jessie continued seriously. E’s mother told me yesterday about E’s imaginary little sister. It took me a while to realize that the imaginary little sister with the amputated legs and the bombs over the preschool represent these five-year-olds’ way of dealing with a very real, though in some ways distant threat: this is how news of the Boston bombings filters into children’s awareness. Doesn’t help that she didn’t hear it at home. I don’t think she heard it at home. Maybe she heard us talking when we weren’t thinking of her listening.
I can keep telling her that wars are all very far away. But bombs and danger aren’t necessarily.
Mostly, I agree with this cartoon that’s been making the rounds on Reddit and Facebook. But sometimes, turning off the television is not enough.
Tonight marks the first meeting of the Lær kidsa koding! (teach kids to code!) initiative, which I’m so thrilled to be a part of. One of the most important recommendations in the report to the government I co-wrote about hindrances to digital innovtation in Norway was introducing programming in schools. In Norway, as in most other countries, children and teenagers have to have support from home and be very self-motivated to teach themselves to program. There is absolutely no support for this at most schools until the second last year of high school, and even then I have met many children who want to learn to program (often so they can make games or animations) who have no support or help and end up giving up. Even teenagers studying media and communication are told they can’t take the programming class because it’s reserved for other students. No wonder we struggle to recruit IT professionals – but at a deeper level, I think this is serious for the whole country: we need everyone to have basic knowledge of how computers and networks work. We don’t all need to be programmers, but this is such a fundamental part of today’s society that we are going to make the wrong decisions as a society, as individuals, as innovators (as police offers, doctors, teachers, parents, lawyers etc etc etc) if we don’t all have more understanding than we do today.
I wrote an op-ed in Aftenposten last week about this that got lots of Facebook likes and Tweets and comments: Hvorfor lærer vi ikke barna våre å kode? Read it if you haven’t already! (The English version Google Translate suggests isn’t too bad, actually).
Torbjørn Skauli, the person who has developed the Norwegian version of the kids’ programming language Scratch, is one of the people working on Lær kidsa koding! and he recently posted a really promising outline of what a curriculum in programming could look like, in four levels. It’s definitely worth spreading, so I took the liberty of copy and pasting it, and translating it to English (below the fold). What do you think? Would you want your kids to have the opportunity to try this curriculum?
Nivå 1: Avmystifisering av IT (for alle)
Hva: Lære at et program er en oppskrift laget av mennesker, som datamaskinen følger, og at veldig mange av tingene vi bruker inneholder en datamaskin. Lære at programmering er en nyttig ferdighet i arbeidslivet, og at man også kan gjøre det på fritiden med sin egen datamaskin. Ha det gøy med å lage enkle programmer.
Hvem: For alle, inklusiv foreldre! Målgruppen er særlig barn i barneskolealder, men “Nivå 1″ er aktuelt for alle som ikke har prøvd programmering før.
Hvor: Overalt hvor vi kan komme til! På SFO, klubber, barnebursdag, utstillinger og arrangementer. I fremtiden burde dette være del av læreplanen for barnehage og barneskole.
Hvordan: Scratch, Legorobot og andre enkle, lett tilgjengelige verktøy.
Nivå 2: IT-allmenndannelse (i obligatoriske læreplaner for ungdomsskole og VGS)
Hva: Lære om konseptet algoritme og om hvordan informasjon kan representeres som digitale data. Lære noen forskjellige algoritmer for behandling av informasjon. Overordnet forståelse av lagring og overføring av data. Digitale medier: lyd, bilde, web. Enkel robotikk.
Hvem: Elever i ungdomsskole og videregående skole.
Hvor: På kort sikt burde det være mulig å få dette inn som valgfag i ungdomsskolen, men dette bør inn i skolens læreplaner, enten som eget fag eller som utvidelse av matematikk, naturfag og kunst&håndverk.
Hvordan: Jeg er usikker på hva som vil være de beste verktøyene her, men neste versjon av Scratch er en god kandidat. Legorobot og enkel tekstbasert programmering er også aktuelle, men dette nivået bør unngå å ha fokus på det programmeringstekniske.
Nivå 3: IT-håndverk (valgfrie fag i ungdomsskole og VGS)
Hva: Lære å bruke et fullverdig programmeringsspråk. Lære mer om representasjon av informasjon, datamaskinarkitektur og nettverk. Skrive programmer som oppleves som fullverdige og relevante, f.eks. for web eller nettbrett. Dette nivået kan inneholde andre ferdigheter, f.eks. simulering, animasjon, digital fabrikasjon (3D-printing etc.) og robotikk
Hvem: Elever i ungdomsskole og videregående skole.
Hvor: Valgfag i ungdomsskolen, linjefag i videregående skole.
Hvordan: Python, Java, C++ eller andre fullverdige språk. Fullverdige verktøy for andre ferdigheter som læres på dette nivået, f.eks. 3DS animasjon og 3D-printing.
Nivå 4: FritidsaktivITeter (på ungdommenes fritid)
Hva: Lære å utvikle programmer og systemer på et mer avansert nivå. Skrive større programmer. Lage roboter, apparater og installasjoner. Avansert animasjon. Hjelpe til med instruksjon av yngre barn, og samtidig være rollemodell for dem.
Hvem: Elever i videregående skole, og kanskje på ungdomsskolen. Bare en liten andel av elevene vil være aktuelle, men det er ønskelig at alle blir gjort kjent med mulighetene slik at de som har en latent interesse eller talent får muligheten til å prøve seg.
Hvor: På fritiden, helst i nettverk av folk med sammenfallende interesser, lokalt eller på nett.
Hvordan: Få hjelp av voksne mentorer som kan ha LKK som sitt nettverk. LKK og/eller skolen hjelper med å koble interesserte elever sammen med lokale likesinnede og mentorer.
I missed this when it was published a few days ago, but Curt Rice’s skepticism about Norway’s newly proposed tenure track positions in academia is worth reading. I’ve heard and read enough bad stories about being on the tenure track (the stress, the uncertainty, the rampant opportunities for exploitation and abuse since you’re being evaluated and threatened (with not getting tenure) by your colleagues every year) that I’m not convinced tenure track positions are the best way of helping young scholars into academia. On the other hand, we may be able to build the system differently than they have in the US, and this is certainly the time to make sure that we build it better. There’s also an ongoing debate about tenure track positions in Sweden, where they were recently introduced, Finn Arne Jørgensen wrote on Twitter. There’s certainly lots of careful thinking to do if we’re going to get tenure track positions right!
The second edition of my book Blogging is just about to go into production, and I’ve just finished double checking all the links for the blogs referenced in the book. I’m using a lot of the same blogs as in the first edition, but there are some new ones too, as you can see. Here’s the list:
A Little Pregnant. 2003–present. Julie. http://www.alittlepregnant.com
Apophenia. 1997–present. danah boyd. http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts
Arla weblogs. 2005–present. Maja Møller, Jacob Nørgård, Tove Færch, Inge and Mikael Nørby Lassen. http://arla.dk/weblogs
A few years ago, Kate and Gregor Maxwell, a British academic couple now working at Norwegian universities, started applying for academic jobs in Scandinavia. The openness of the system surprised them, as Kate blogged earlier this week:
It was a great surprise to receive the first acknowledgment [of the job application] some weeks later. It was clearly a standard letter, but its contents caused considerable eyebrow-raising in our small Parisian flat. Not at the appointment of a specialist, independent committee (from multiple institutions) to objectively assess all of the applications, but at the list of names, addresses and dates of birth of all the applicants. All of them.
The same day as the anonymous recent recruit to Norwegian academia blogged this, professors Kristian Gundersen (UiO) and Ingar Kaldal (NTNU) were featured in Dagens Næringsliv criticising the Norwegian academic hiring system for not being open enough. They think too much weight is given to “personal qualities”, teaching skills and administrative experience, and that this means that we wouldn’t hire a genius or a Nobel prize winner in the Norwegian system today. I disagree: I think a lot of weight is in fact given to research quality and that teaching and administration are key in a university environment, and I see Janne Haaland Matlary argues the same thing in a response to Gundersen and Kaldal. But I was intrigued by Professor Kaldal’s claim (only on page 14 of the paper version for 19.02.2013 unfortunately, which you can read through Atekst if you have a library connection) that the external committee report (sakkyndiges rapport) for hiring academics in Norway used to be public, and not exempt from public disclosure as it is today (Is this true? I haven’t found confirmation but don’t really know where to look?) Kaldal argues that we should make the committee reports public again for full openness.
As the Maxwells discovered, Norwegian academic job reports already are sent out in full to all the applicants for the jobs. Norwegians may be surprised to realise that this is a remarkable level of openness, internationally, as Kate Maxwell noted in a blog post on The Professor is In, an international academic career advising blog earlier this week. When she and her husband first applied for jobs in Scandinavia, they were particularly impressed by the openness of the hiring process:
As more of these letters arrived, we realised that this was the norm. And then the committee reports began to appear. These included a detailed description of each candidate’s research and education to date, their proposed research, an evaluation of their work samples, and the committee’s judgment on whether or not they were fit for the stipendiat post. Finally, the committee ranked the candidates in order, signalling which they recommended for interview. As the months passed by, these reports gave a great insight for us outsiders – and presumably to all the candidates – as to what committees were looking for. A careful scanning of the merits of the top-ranked candidates (with the help of google translate if the assessment was not presented in English) meant that Gregor was able to become his own careers advisor. Soon he was moving up the ranks, from the middle to towards the top.
In her next post, describing their job hunt after their PhDs, and this time writing about jobs in Norway rather than Sweden where the first jobs were, the “absolute clarity of the system” is again what stands out:
There are several points of interest here, and not just the low applicant numbers (low, that is, by the standards we were used to from the UK, and from what we have heard about North America). First is the absolute clarity of the system: at all points the candidates are fully informed of each other and of the process. Secondly, the process is designed to be as fair as possible. That is the reason for the full disclosure of information. Naturally, the same names appeared on some of the lists – I got to know who else in my field was looking for jobs, and of course, in a small research community, we often came across each other at conferences. Such meetings were always, in my experience, amicable and open.
I’m definitely for increased transparency in academic processes, but perhaps we already have sufficient transparency and openness in the hiring process. If it’s true that committee reports were once completely public, I would be interested in learning more about how that worked and why the system was changed. Perhaps even more openness would be valuable, but certainly absolutely open evaluation reports as in published on the web would potentially be crushing for candidates who were unfavourably reviewed, and had that judgement on their permanent online record.
And one reason I love international colleagues is seeing these reminders both of what is good and what could be improved in our own system and culture.
I had two exciting events today: I’ve been invited to join Bergen Chamber of Commerce’s resource group for ICT, and was at my first meeting this afternoon. The vibrant discussions and let’s do this spirit made me realise how much I’ve missed participating in groups outside of academia, now that last year’s monthly meetings in the Digitutvalg are over. And our discussions from the Digitutvalg and our report on hindrances for innovation in Norwegian IT mean I actually know a lot about things like public procurement processes (offentlige anbud) and the challenges they pose to innovation. If you’d asked me two years ago whether I was interested in that I’d have looked at you in perturbment, but I had great fun discussing it today. I’m the first representative for higher education and the public sector in the group too, and I’m excited to be building more bridges between the local IT industry and academia.
Then earlier today, I visited Nordahl Grieg high school to give a talk and a workshop, and had such fun.
I’ve been hearing about this school for a while: it’s the newest school in town, with fabulous architecture and wonderful ideas about digital and innovative education. And a couple of my friends work there, too, and I’ve heard about UiB’s collaboration with the school, especially in the sciences. The media students ran around taking photos, tweeting and blogging of course, so here I am, documented while talking about power in social media.
I was on a panel with Lars Nyre, who talked about technological determinism, and Knut Olav Åmås, the culture and debate editor at Aftenposten, who spoke about participating in public, online debate. My talk was about power in social media, and of course the students blogged it. Very inspiring.
Afterwards I gave a workshop for 25 or 30 students – we visualised our Facebook networks of course. It was interesting teaching high school students for a change, and I must say I would have liked to get to stick around for longer to get to know them better. Maybe I’ll get the chance to return.