Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

November, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Math Add-in for Microsoft Word


    Here is a little goody for all of you out there (especially you math teachers) who are always struggling to add mathematical things (formulas, graphs, etc) into Word documents.

    The Microsoft Math Add-in adds computational and graphing capabilities to the Equation Tools Ribbon of Word 2007.
    With the Microsoft Math Add-in for Word 2007, you can:

    • Plot a function, equation, or inequality in 2-D or 3-D
    • Solve an equation or inequality
    • Calculate a numerical result
    • Simplify an algebraic expression

    I tried this out and it is very easy to use with lots of helpful explanations and "how to" instructions. You have to have Word 2007 of course but the add-in itself is a free download. More information and the download are here.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Is Computer Science Dying


    Well that is a pretty dramatic title. I didn't think it up myself though. I'm not so pessimistic. It is the title of a post I read recently though. There does seem to be a lot of bad news in the field of Computer Science these days. I also read recently that Cambridge University in England is having trouble attracting as many computer science students as they would like.  One quote from the article is interesting.

    Cambridge professors blame the dwindling enrollment figures on their field’s ongoing image problem

    Image problem? Well yes. Would you want to be many of the computer geeks you see on TV and the movies? And worse still there is the image of all the jobs going away. Scary stuff. And in fact there is a lot of evidence that the actual need for computer scientists is going up. Bill Gates who regularly laments on a looming shortage recently also brought up a desire to see more African-Americans and other minorities in the field. Now even if you see that as some sort of politically correct purely social goal or see real value in a diverse workforce I think most would agree that computer science offers a good career path for many people. It should be open to all regardless of race, gender or other attribute.

    But if I can come back to the article that started me off on this thread - the one called "Is Computer Science Dying" - one of the things I really like about it is that it addresses the famous quote by Edsger Dijkstra who claimed, "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." It's worth the read just for that discussion.

    My answer to the title question is that computer science is not dying. It is changing and the perceptions of it are changing. I think it is also rapidly becoming ingrained in more and more disciplines. It is like math in that even people who don't major in it are increasingly finding themselves in a position where they have to study it more than perhaps they originally thought. Rather than moving more into the hard sciences as an engineering it is becoming more and more a true "liberal art."

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Will the Kindle Change the World of Textbooks


    There is a lot of talk on the Internet today about Amazon's new electronic book called the Kindle. The talk among bloggers is largely about subscribing to blogs. Others are talking about books for, mostly, pleasure reading. I am wondering though if this technological innovation might be the thing that revolutionizes the textbook market.

    Now I know that there have been electronic books for a while. But something just feels different about this one. Is it the wireless downloads and super simple means of getting the books on the device? Perhaps. There are 88,000 books available for it already. IS that enough to make it a tipping point? Maybe.  Is it that it has been designed by a company, Amazon, that seems to understand books as well as they understand technology? Perhaps that is part of it as well. Or perhaps something in the air says this is an idea whose time has come.

    I could be wrong but here is the opportunity I see. Textbooks direct to Kindle. I can see a direct connection between authors and schools without the middleman. Or perhaps a reduced role for the middleman and a larger slice of the income for the author. I should interject with a disclaimer here - I've written several textbooks that have been published in hard copy by traditional publishers. I don't see a big percentage of the revenue from those books though. Would I like a larger net from a smaller selling price for my work? You bet!

    This is what I see as a possible scenario. At the college level students get their Kindle their freshmen year. Perhaps bundled into tuition or perhaps as a "textbook fee." All their textbooks are ordered though a school branded portal at Amazon. At $10-15 a book the Kindle pays for itself the first semester. Easily! If the price of the book is spread among Amazon, publisher (maybe they supply editing and design expertise as well as some marketing) and the author everyone makes money. The author may even make more money than a conventional book. Very likely more students will buy the full slate of books for a course because they don't have to choose between buying books and eating so even the professor benefits because more students will have the books.

    There are additional benefits for the students as well. They can take all their books with them all the time. Run into a classmate from Bio 203 and want to ask them about the diagram on page 234 just whip out the Kindle and open up. Need to look up a word use the built-in dictionary or perhaps look something up on Wikipedia. Ok some faculty might not appreciate wikipedia as a reference in a paper but for looking up something quickly it often does the job. How about deciding which textbooks to take home over a school break? Take them all - decision made.

    I can see this working in K-12 as well. The initial cost of getting a Kindle in every student's hands is a little daunting but if a school or district can make that happen it becomes much less expensive to get a copy of every text book into every student's hands. Perhaps school agreements can be worked out the minimize the costs of both textbooks and assigned reading books. It would be worth a reduced purchase price to know that you could get schools to buy updated editions more often. Bye bye seven year replacement cycle. Now wouldn't that be cool! Publishers and authors who are willing to make a lower cost up on higher volume should do well in this model.

    The Kindle has the ability to take notes in the book as well. So there you have a real study tool but I suspect that students are less likely to completely mess up their book and make it unreadable with doodles. Have you ever seen a grade school book after a student who didn't like the teacher/course/book has gotten finished "taking notes" in it?

    The other thing I see as interesting is the potential for teachers to create their own books for use. They can create them in Word or Publisher or some other tool and at 10 cents a copy each student can get their own. You can't copy anything worth having onto paper for that cost to say nothing of binding costs. That might open some real creative doors for teachers.

    Is Kindle the book that changes the world of textbooks in a dramatic way? I really don't know but it sure is interesting to think about the possibilities. BTW if you are going to order one use this link. Maybe I'll make a few bucks and get my wife to let me buy one of my own.

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