Friday, May 29, 2015

Continuously Changing Learning Objectives

Teaching science is challenging for a lot of reasons one of which is that learning objectives are shifting with changes in our scientific and technologic reality. Take for instance the development of robots. Robots have been in the mind of futurologist, technologist, and industrialists since the beginning of the industrial revolution (maybe before) mainly to replace humans doing unpleasant tasks.

Reading Diane Ackerman's book The Human Age I am exploring the idea of the possibility of self aware robots.

Image form Amazon
This exploration made me think about the problem of teaching a subject like chemistry that is being transformed by the use of "artificial" intelligence. Computer models that can replicate chemical reactions and gather data that is retrofitted to the algorithm so through many fast iterations a final reactant can be identified as the best. For an example of a computational drug design look at this youtube video 

In this video you can see as the molecule is modified to fit in the dock the enthalpy of the hydrogen bond which is a measure of fitness is calculated and displayed.

Of course these experiments can't be done by someone without basic knowledge of bonding, atomic and molecular orbitals, molecular structures, and thermodynamics. But all of these concepts are there in cyberspace and constitute 'knowledge' that is universally shared. The main problem is that now there is no way we can teach everything that is available in any branch of science, like it was the case a century ago. The issue, for me, becomes how to structure a systematic process where students will learn basic concepts that include how to get the necessary information from the internet. The cloud becomes the hub where students transit for the interconnection of ideas and tests. Hypothesis are explored in this new environment where collaboration becomes the norm and communication (including of course the proper language) the most powerful tool.

So, the question becomes: how much time should be invested in learning and developing searching and communicating skills?


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