Practice makes perfect?

I am (after 10 years) a beginner pianist who wants to improve. I practice, but not diligently enough. On average I think I practice 5 days a week, for about 1/2 hour, so that’s less than 3 hours a week. Clearly I could do better. But I am proud of the effort I put in and I definitely have made a lot of progress. But I am at best still an advanced beginner. 

From an article, “If you’re busy, you’re doing something wrong”,

“We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).

The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability. (from:  “If you’re busy, you’re doing something wrong”)

Sage on the e-stage?

There are fascinating shifts going on in higher education today, from MOOCs to the ‘flipped classroom’. A lot of action. I think we are looking at another text-book “Innovator’s Dilemma” scenario playing out:

The established players (traditional universities), aware of a new way of delivering their offer, but seeing that it doesn’t meet the needs of their customer’s as well as the old way. And the upstarts (udemy and others), the disruptors, applying and refining the use of the technology in niche markets, eventually perfecting it to the point that they can blow by the laggards, and leave them in the dust. Textbook!

Check out today’s New York Times:

“Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know.” (from New York Times: The Professor’s Big Stage)

[education] Creative Monopoly

An interesting article by David Brooks in the New York Times commenting on the views of the always controversial Peter Thiel.

[Why is he controversial? Because he has a grant program for students who are so passionate about their startup idea that they are willing to drop out of college to get the grant. Which is ironic because in the article, Brooks is citing what Thiel is teaching in his Stanford COURSE!]

The article is about Thiel’s views on what and how students get taught in college:

“First, students have to jump through ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they’€™re rewarded for becoming professional students, getting great grades across all subjects, regardless of their intrinsic interests.

Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.” (from The Creative Monopoly)

Why would that be bad? Read on:

“… We live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills. And they are necessary: discipline, rigor and reliability. But it’s probably a good idea to try to supplement them with the skills of the creative monopolist: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions.” (from The Creative Monopoly)

Why You Want To Be A Learn-it-All

A provocatively titled article (Why Youth Has an Advantage In Innovation) argues that to innovate you have to be an omnivorous and promiscuous consumer of new stuff. Try this list on for size, does it fit?

  1. When a new device or operating system comes out do you rush out to get it as soon as possible – just because you want to play with the new features? Or do you wait for the dust to settle so that you don’t make a mistaken purchase. Or because you don’t want to waste your time.
  2. Do you use LinkedIn for all of your recruiting, or do you mistakenly think that LinkedIn is only for job seekers? How many connections do you have? Is your profile up to date? (When Yahoo announced Carol Bartz as CEO, I did a quick search on LinkedIn.  She was not a registered user.)
  3. When you heard that Zynga’s Farmville had over 80MM monthly users, did you immediately launch the game to see what it was all about, or do you make comments about how mindless it is to play such a game? Have you ever launched a single Facebook game?
  4. Do you have an Android phone or do you still use a Blackberry because your Chief Security Officer says you have to? I know many “innovators” who carry an iPhone and an Android, simply because they know these are the smartphones that customers use. And they want exposure to both platforms – at a tactile level.
  5. Do you use the internal camera app on your iPhone because it’s easy, or have you downloaded Instgram to find out why 27mm other people use that instead?
  6. Do you leverage Twitter to improve your influence and position in your industry or is it more comfortable for you to declare, “why would I tweet?,” before you even fully understand the product or why people in similar roles are leveraging the medium? Do you follow the industry leaders in your field on Twitter? Do you follow your competitors and customers? Do you track your company’s products and reputation?
  7. How many apps are on your smart phone? Do you have well over 50, or even 100, because you are routinely downloading each and every app from each peer and competitor you can to see how others are exploiting the environment? Do you know how WhatsApp, Voxer, and Path leveraged the iphone contact list for viral distribution?
  8. Do you know what Github is and why most startups rely on it as the key center of their engineering effort?
  9. Have you ever mounted an AWS server at Amazon? Do you know how AWS pricing works?
  10. Does it make sense to you to use HTML5 as your mobile solution so that you don’t have to code for multiple platforms? Does it bother you that none of the leading smartphone app vendors take this approach?
  11. When you are on the road on business, do you let your assistant book the same old car service, or do you tell them, “I want to use Uber just to see how it works?”
  12. When Facebook launched the new timeline feature did you immediately build one to see what the company was up to, or did you dismiss this as something you shouldn’t waste your time on?
  13. Have you been to to see what employees are saying about your company? Or have you rationalized why it’s not important, the way the way the old-school small business owner formerly dismissed his/her Yelp review.

Other than the obnoxious title the article does make some good points. I do believe this:

“f you want to stay “young” and innovative, you have no choice but to immerse yourself in the emerging tools of the current and next generation. You MUST stay current, as it is illusionary to imagine being innovative without being current.” (From Why You Want to Be A Learn-it-All

Teaching: Group Projects

I’ve had occasion as you know to teach a few times at Brandeis University. The courses were in Web Development, Mobile Development and Game Development. A major component was a Product Incubator where students worked in teams to develop a product. The organizational and logistical questions as well as the dynamics around team work were significant and challenging.

In my mind the overall benefit of team student projects are:

  • students must show mastery of the material to do well
  • it is more fun and rewarding for the students
  • team work is a fundamental aspect of whatever they will do in the future
  • the teachers are around to help steer and guide each team as appropriate

So far so good. Now, Students reported that working on the projects in team was definitely rewarding and effective. But certain students also found them frustrating in these ways:

  • how students were divided up into teams
  • variety of levels of knowledge or skill
  • variety in commitment or dedication
  • grading is not perceived as fair because everyone on the team gets the same one

Here’s an article that writes about How to Fix Group Projects, and suggests ways to make experiential courses like this more effective. It suggests an interesting scheme for forming the teams and also making grading more individualized.

He concludes, somewhat depressingly, saying that he’s not going to try this himself because all he would get is complaints from the students and bad student reviews.

What do you think of this approach?

Khan academy to the rescue

If you haven’t heard about Khan Academy, let me be the first one to introduce you to its wonders. There is a huge library of 10-12 minute educational videos on high-school and college level topics from matrix math to trigonometry to how mortgages work. You need to read the background, it’s an unbelievably prolific individual guy, Kahn, who  records each one of these. From what he says, he’s not an expert in all of them, he just ‘bones up’ on the topic and then records the session. The quality of the teaching is really amazing.

Case in point. A few weeks ago I had to recall how and why matrix multiplication works. I knew that stuff cold, 40 years ago. Yesterday I had to bone up on sines and cosines and the simple math there. I didn’t even remember that this stuff is called trigonometry (I was looking under geometry.) In each case I thought, oh I will just google it. I will look in wikipedia. I spent 15 minutes without success and then I went to Khan academy. Another 20-30 minutes later and I was up to date on the basic trigonometry and matrix knowledge that I needed.

Amazing. Check Khan Academy out.