Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

Speaker

Angela Lee Duckworth, an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies intangible concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success

Summary

At age 27, Angela quit her management consulting job to become a math teacher in the NYC public school system. After a while she noticed that her best performing students were not always the smartest ones. She asked herself “what if doing well in school in life depends on much more than [students’] ability to learn quickly and easily?”

Angela went to graduate school and tried to find out who succeeds and who does not. She conducted research at West Point Military Academy, schools, private companies, and from these very different contexts concluded that one characteristic was more indicative of success than the rest. And that was grit: having passion and perseverance for long term goals.

The shocking thing, she says, is how little about grit we know. What we do know is that grit is unrelated, and sometimes inversely related, to talent. We also know the effect of the Growth Mindset, understanding that the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort. When kids read about the brain and understand that failure is not a permanent condition, they are more likely to persevere where they usually fail. Promising ideas like this are what we should be testing and measuring. “We need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier.”

Jennifer Golbeck: The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think

Speaker

Jennifer Golbeck is the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. Her work focuses on how to enhance and improve the way that people interact with their own information online.

Summary

About two year ago, a story about Target spread through the news. The retail giant’s mailing system had sent pregnancy related discounts to a 15 year old girl and received some backlash from her father. It turned out that girl was in fact pregnant, but hadn’t even told her parents yet. By looking at little patterns of behavior, like buying extra vitamins or bigger handbags, Target was is able to make very accurate predictions about its customers.

Jennifer’s lab does similar work and can predict things like political preference, intelligence, age, just by using Facebook. One study was done just using people’s Facebook likes (looking at which pages they liked). A list of the top 5 likes indicative of high intelligence showed that one of those likes was actually for the “curly fries” page.  Why? Because the action of liking reflects back to the attributes of the other people who liked it. If someone intelligent created the page, than their friends who like the page are probably smart as well.

The  problem is that people don’t really have any power over how this data is used. Jennifer says that if she wanted to, she could quit her job and start a new company, selling reports to H.R. companies that predict how well you work in teams or if you use drugs or not. This is certainly something you would want control over. A solution she proposes is to develop mechanisms that tell users how risky certain online actions are. “By sharing this piece of personal information, you’ve improved my ability to predict if you use drugs”.

Although the work she does depends on using that very information, she would rather see a user base that is educated and informed. Her goal is not to infer information about users, it’s to improve the way people interact online.

Lawrence Lessig: The unstoppable walk to political reform

Speakers: Lawrence Lessig – Lawrence is an academic of law and political activist, a proponent of reduced restrictions on copyright and trademark.

Summary

Lawrence talks passionately on behalf of Aaron Swartz, a programmer and software freedom activist who died a year before the talk. The focus of the talk is on the financial influence on politics.

When Intel discovered a problem with the early Pentium chips, that caused a miscalculation 1 in 360 billion times, they spent $475 billion to fix it. However, when politics is currently ‘broken’ in a way that influences every single decision, no one responds. When Aaron Swartz asked Lawrence why he doesn’t respond, he said it wasn’t his field as an academic.

in 1999, at the age of 88, Granny D walked from Los Angeles to Washington DC carrying a sign labelled “Granny D for Campaign Finance Reform”. 18 months later, Granny arrived in Washington, with hundreds of followers. Most people don’t have the time to devote that long to walking 32,000 miles, but Lawrence instead organised a 185mile walk across New Hampshire with 200 passionate people. During his walk Lawrence conducted a poll, and found that 96% of Americans want to remove the influence of money from politics, but 91% believe there is nothing they can do about it. There is a politics of resignation about the issue.

Lawrence wants to keep the hope alive that something can be done.

  • He wants to organise a 1,000 person walk in 2015, and 10,000 people in 2016 to influence primaries in 2016. He has designed an open platform to the walks to allow other states to replicate the New Hampshire walk.
  • A list is being circulated to inform voters where candidates stand on the issue of finance reform.
  • Organising a Super PAC (a political action group, that collects funds to influence politics on an issue) to end all Super PACs. They will coordinate with experts to work out how much money it would take to influence this issue, then arrange a kickstarter-style funding model to make it happen.

Lawrence calls on you to join this movement not because you are a politician, not because you are an expert, not because it is your field, but because you are a citizen.

Anant Agarwal: Why massive open online courses (still) matter

Speaker

Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX, an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. As a  professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Anant taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries.

Summary

MOOCs  (massive open online courses) have become increasingly popular, but Anant Agarwal wants to create a blended model of learning. But education hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years. He equates the change needed  to transitioning from ox carts to airplanes; education must be reimagined.

With the younger millennial generation so dependent on technology, it doesn’t make sense to try to keep technology out of schools. He gives the example of two high school teachers in Mongolia who had flipped the classroom. They would assign watching lectures as homework and work more interactively during the school day. A similar pilot program was run at San Jose State University and the failure rate of the class fell from 41% to 9%.

So what are the key ideas that make blended learning effective?

  • Active Learning: Students learn much better when they are interacting with the material
  • Self Pacing: Hitting pause, or rewinding can be very useful to catering
  • Instant feedback: By grading with a computer, students can learn what they did wrong and find the correct solution on the spot.
  • Gamification: Gamifying work can be much more effective in engaging students
  • Pure Learning: Discussions are used a tool to help students learn from each other

The blended model has another benefit and that solves the practical problem of MOOCS: profitability. By licensing MOOCs to other universities, a new revenue model is created. MOOCs can become the next generation textbook.  “We have to move from bricks-and-mortar school buildings to digital dormitories.”

Stephen Hawking: Questioning the universe

Speakers: Stephen Hawking – Physicist with University of Cambridge, known for the book “a brief history of time”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking

Summary

Until 1920s, people thought universe was static and unchanging. We then discovered that distant galaxies were moving away from us, which suggested originally everything was extremely close before expanding, hinting at a big bang. We have made progress understanding Maxwell’s equation and general relativity to understand how the universe has evolved, but struggled to describe the initial state of the universe. Under certain conditions, general relativity allows time to behave as another dimension, removing the distinction between time and space and allowing the universe to spontaneously create itself from nothing. We can use probability to simulate a number of different initial states which agree with observations. In this way, we have solved the creation of the universe.

Looking at extraterrestrial life, we believe life appeared spontaneously on Earth so it should be able to appear elsewhere. Algae fossils imply that life appeared on Earth within half a billion years of it becoming possible, which is short in the earth’s history. This implies that life can form relatively easily, but on the flipside we have not seen any aliens. From searches such as SETI, we can imply that there are no civilisations of our level of development within a few hundred light years.

Looking at the future, if we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy we should ensure we survive and continue. But we are in a dangerous phase of history – our consumption of finite resources is increasing exponentially, as is our ability to change the world for good or evil. Our genetic code still carries selfish and aggressive instincts that may steer us astray. It will be difficult to deal with these problems to survive 100 years, not to mention thousands or millions. To ensure our survival beyond a hundred years we must expand into space. Stephen was later asked if he believes we are the only civilisation in the Milky Way at our intelligence level. He responds (after 7 minutes to compose the speech, edited out of the video) that he believes this is true, we would have found them otherwise. The other possibility is that our civilisation is in a late phase, and previous races of our technology level have not lasted long before destroying themselves.

Throughout his life, Hawking has tried to answer these 3 questions. He is grateful his disability has not prevented this, and it has given him more time to answer these questions.