kitchen table math, the sequel: Portlander and Anonymous 1 & 2 on Looking it up

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Portlander and Anonymous 1 & 2 on Looking it up

Portlander said...
Sheesh. A cynical person would point out that Google is notorious for putting a thumb on their search results. If one has to rely on Google to get facts every time facts are needed, well that's giving Google an enormous amount of power to bias perceptions.

It's not a whole lot different than the mainstream media running pictures of a 12 y.o. Trayvon Martin in a football uniform instead of a 17 y.o. Trayvon Martin smoking a joint and sticking out his middle fingers on Facebook.

So yes, all the facts you need to know Walter Duranty, er... Walter Cronkite, er... The Googleplex will deliver.
Anonymous said...
Not only that; but a person who has a good knowledge base in a field or topic will get much better information out of Google (or any search engine) than an uninformed person will.
Anonymous said...
So if I can look up the translation of an English word into Spanish, that's as a good as being able to speak Spanish?

I think not.
I'm laughing!

Of course, to be fair, Marissa Mayer does not say that looking things up on Google is the path to success.

But the point still stands: how does one become good at looking things up?

To a very large degree, you become good at looking things up by acquiring knowledge of the field you're looking things up in. I go back to my struggles with the basal ganglia. Today I'm better able to 'look things up' productively because I've developed a sense of the field, of who the major researchers are, and, to a lesser degree, what the differences of opinion are amongst them.

When Marissa Mayer says "It's not what you know, it's what you can find out," she is misformulating reality. You have to know something to find things out.

Beyond that, how often is it actually true that you have to acquire new knowledge/information in order to do your job?

I don't know the answer to that question, but as far as I can tell a great deal of work depends upon doing what you know how to do: applying the knowledge you possess to the situation at hand.


SteveH said...

Mayer was not specifically talking about how education should work when she said:

"It's not what you know, it's what you can find out."

But even so, this is false. The more you know, the better you are at looking things up.

She also says that:

"The Internet empowers better decision-making and a more efficient use of time."

This is true, but a lot of time is wasted if you don't have basic facts and knowledge in your head. If you have to look up too many things, it just won't get done, especially for those who think that you can just look it up on the internet. Can educators ever create things such as a rigorous calculator and internet curriculum? No. They just want hi-tech cover for low expectations.

Calculators came out when I was in college. They made classes more rigorous and allowed the study of more complex mathematical techniques. You weren't stuck with just Simpson's Rule. The internet can also be used to set higher standards. When I was in college, it was very difficult to find some key technical papers. Some technical journals were extraordinarily expensive and you might have to go to another college to track them down. And then you had to find a copier and tediously copy each page. Now, most papers are online and free. It's quite amazing, but this has nothing to do with allowing people to know less stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Beyond that, how often is it actually true that you have to acquire new knowledge/information in order to do your job?"

As an engineering professor, I have to acquire new knowledge all the time in order to my job, either as a teacher or a researcher. If I kept doing the same stuff over and over, I'd be pretty useless as a professor.

Glen said...

how often is it actually true that you have to acquire new knowledge/information in order to do your job?

An interesting question. I think it depends a lot on what you do. If you are a programmer, you are on a technological treadmill. You can get off any time you like and continue to do the things you've been doing for a while, but most economic opportunity is at the leading edge. Opportunities to use your old skills will recede into maintenance tasks and personal projects while the latest world-changing platform will require the use of new tools you've never learned to use. And you don't tend to keep programming jobs. You do what you do for a while, then there's a sea change and you leave or get laid off, then you look for the next thing to do. Each time, the opportunities will depend on how current your skills are. I spend at least an hour a day studying (textbooks, online videos, Coursera, Udacity, etc.)

I think I could teach high school physics or calculus, though, without doing any studying at all after the first year, which would be very careful and methodical review. I'm not saying it would be an easy job; I'm just saying that I don't think it would require a lot of ongoing study. Its challenges would be of a different sort.

SteveH said...

Glen's right. Legacy knowledge and skills == layoff at 45. Think VAX/VMS, and now Unix and Linux, although many still don't believe it.

A lot of new knowledge and skills had to be learned when the world changed from DOS to Windows and from FORTRAN to C to C++ and object-oriented programming. Now you have app programming, of which I know nothing. I couldn't get a job doing that even though I've written over a million lines of code. I could learn, but companies want to hire people who don't have to start from scratch. Skills and knowledge are king.

When companies say that they want people with critical thinking skills, I don't believe them. When they say that they want people who can work together, I don't believe that either, unless you are really weird. Technical jobs are all about skills and knowledge - keywords on your resume. And when they interview you, they try to figure out what level those skills are at. Your skills and work experience tell them your level of critical thinking skills. Personnel might ask the silly "thinking" questions, but the group with the open req will be looking at your skills and knowledge.

Companies generally don't hire people who can be trained. They want people who are ready to go - skill and knowledge-wise. If you are a data base administrator (DBA), it's very difficult to move into another area after a few years, even though you have a computer science degree and are quite good at critical thinking. It's not impossible, but you can't wave some sort of critical thinking flag in the air. You have finagle your way into a position to get the skills and knowledge you need. This is more easily done within a company than if you go to another company.

"...a great deal of work depends upon doing what you know how to do: applying the knowledge you possess to the situation at hand."

Jobs are rarely that general. Specific knowledge and skills are in demand for all fields. Look at job ads. They are filled with keywords and special knowledge, and companies don't want to have to train people. I remember this back when I wrote my first resume. It was filled with all of my accomplishments and experience (in a general sense). I had college degrees. No. Companies wanted to know my level of skills and knowledge in specific areas. Sure, they cared about whether I could think, but resumes are all about keywords and your ability to show how much you know about specific areas.

I can't imagine that someone would pull out their computer in an interview and offer to look that up. "We use the Unified Modeling Language here. What experience do you have in that area?" "Just a sec..." "What's the password for your wifi?"

SteveH said...

"I think I could teach high school physics or calculus, though..."

Hee, hee, hee. You couldn't get the job without the credentials. Imagine. They talk about the glories of critical thinking, but they demand something quite different to get a job.

My son's pediatrician couldn't get a job teaching chemistry at a public high school. She had to go to a private school.

lgm said...

"I think I could teach high school physics or calculus, though..."

You could get the job here if you were working on your credentials and you could teach something else. There simply isn't much demand for Physics or Calculus as neither is req'd for a Diploma and many schools don't offer them on campus. I suspect the Physics numbers will decline further here when the students realize that the course now includes quarterly cumulative exams.

Nationwide, about 37% of public & private high school students take Physics; 16% take Calc. 70% take Chem.

Glen said...

lgm, thanks for the numbers. I was only mentioning high school physics and calc as the opposite end of the spectrum of ongoing study requirements from programming, but those numbers of yours are an interesting topic themselves: How much demand is there for high school teachers by subject taught?

Our local HS, a fairly good Silicon Valley public HS, has no AP Computer Science or AP World History teachers. The classes are offered online. I don't know whether that reflects a high demand that they can't fill or a low demand (as in, the school doesn't care, but they have to toss the parents a bone.) A programmer who was tired of the constant study treadmill could probably teach AP Computer Science, which seems to be a certain amount of theory plus some technology from a decade or so ago frozen in amber.