Resilience – STEM – School children – Code Cadets

Code Cadets

I have written many blogs at QF32.com about the Code Cadets, led by Canberra Grammar teacher Matthew Purcell.

This group of passionate school children meet weekly to discuss STEM topics.  The Code Cadets has grown under Matthews guidance from an initial group of 10 (in a school of 1,000 students) to its current size of 300 boys and girls.

Though Coral and I did not attend Canberra Grammar, we have supported the Code Cadets and its mission to further STEM studies at school.

Coral and I are visiting Canberra Grammar on the 17th September.  We will first luncheon with a small selection of the Code Cadets, then I will address the 300 Code Cadets, talking about some of the resilience skills they will need to thrive and survive.

The Code Cadets with Buzz (Canberra Nove 2016)
The Code Cadets with Buzz Aldrin (Canberra Nov 2016)

Challenge

Matthew wanted a small group to attend the luncheon.  So to reduce the numbers he set them a challenge.  The code cadets who wanted to attend the lunch had first to provide a written response to the following questions:

  1. Discuss the following statement: today’s information systems have become so complex that users often have little to no understanding of the inner workings. When something goes wrong, they rely on a “spare” to complete their task. When it’s taken to a repair shop, the repairers rely on test equipment to tell them what to replace. We are losing the knowledge to look at failures, see the underlying cause, and address those root causes of failures.
  2. Consider the following statement: it is important to be motivated by facts, not assumptions or bias. Richard Dawkins’ is quoted as saying: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”. Tom Haueter, who is a former investigator for the NTSB, said that you must keep an open mind when drawing conclusions in the absence of data. Describe a situation that you have made an initial decision without appropriate data, and then completely changed direction after receiving data or facts.
  3. Do you think that information overload is becoming a problem in modern society? Discuss and provide examples.

 

Responses

Matthew received extraordinary responses to the problems he posed.  I list a few of the responses below to give you a view into the STEM skills students possess in schools today.

I congratulate Matthew Purcell for his initiative and efforts to encourage STEM skills at school.  Coral and I will have a great time meeting the code cadets again.

In FLY! – the elements of resilience I posit:

  • every one of us must commit to a lifetime of learning and to resist the temptation to relax as we become more experienced
  • we must exercise creative destruction of legacy knowledge to clear space for the new
  • we must all have STEAM or STEM skills to prepare us for the disruptive changes ahead.

I think you will agree that the Code Cadets is a great example of the introduction students need to build skills to face the future shocks of change that will affect us all.

I welcome other schools take up the challenge to build resilient adults.

 

Speaking at Visa conference – Singapore

Question 1.   Discuss the following statement:

Today’s information systems have become so complex that users often have little to no understanding of the inner workings. When something goes wrong, they rely on a “spare” to complete their task. When it’s taken to a repair shop, the repairers rely on test equipment to tell them what to replace. We are losing the knowledge to look at failures, see the underlying cause, and address those root causes of failures.

Harry, Year 9:

Despite the rapidness of growth in the technology sector, and a growing reliance and trust towards new technologies, we are becoming further and further distanced from the general understanding of how these technologies work. For the general public the best chance they have in fixing their own simple computer issues is using the standard troubleshoot, which too often leads to a dead end and encourages people to spend money in going to get their devices fixed. These problems can shut down major companies and halt business for many hours, but very few people have the skills to fix these problems. Just recently, on the busiest shopping day of the week, Coles supermarkets across Australia shut down for 3 hours due to a small malfunction which caused check-out systems to be unusable. Due to the lack of understanding and “backups” it took them a long time to solve the issue. Even in this superficial research it is obvious to me that even technology “wizzes” find it difficult to understand some technologies and how they properly function. I feel there is one very obvious way to solve this problem which is already underway in many places; this is to educate people from a young age to ensure a level of competency in the IT sector. Nowadays people are becoming more involved in activities such as “coding”, but due to the way that devices and user platforms are set up we can develop attitudes of indifference to the very technology we rely on.

Frida, Year 8:

The fact that today’s technologies have become so complex brings challenges and benefits respectively. With technology becoming so complex it is becoming impossible for people to solve software or hardware related computer problems at its deepest level. Conversely, the fact that our technology has now become so complex allows it to be able to do harder tasks for us.

Thus, the fact that technology has become so complex prevents us from understanding any problem creates challenges for everyday people as well as developers and IT technicians. Technological complexity causes economic problems for both people and IT technicians because the core problem cannot be understood or solved leading people to buy technology more frequently. As this complexity spirals, and IT technicians are unable to solve the problems they will have less clients as a consequence. More complex computer systems cause problems for people dealing with information systems but also developers. As the technology becomes ever more complex it is harder to understand and develop new technologies and programs because, fundamentally, to advance a body of knowledge the original body of ideas and knowledge needs to be understood.

Although there are a lot of disadvantages with this increasing complexity there are also great advantages including information systems being able to do extraordinary tasks. As technology advances it is able to adapt in its capabilities and help people in important tasks and make human lives easier. A great example of this is the development of AI. AI is a very complex system that cannot easily be understood at a deeper level but it has amazing effects on our lives like it being able to diagnose illnesses better than humans in some areas. In the aviation industry AI saves many lives as flying with deploys AI to autopilot the plane is much safer than just operated by humans. In other fields like space technology, AI enables the collection of data and can compete tasks that are too dangerous for humans. Therefore, the fact that human technology has become so complex has both major advantages and disadvantages.

Zack, Year 10:

This statement is definitely true to at least some degree; however, I do not see this as a problem, it is more of a side effect of what actually makes digital technology so powerful.

To most users of information systems, what a computer can do appears to be magic. To some degree, the same even happens for developers or others who understand the technology more. A front-end developer will probably not know how their back-end API works, or how the browser will render their HTML and CSS code. As another example, when using a higher level programming language, you probably do not know how the compiler works, or how the assembly code is run on the CPU. The user or developer only ‘knows’ about one layer of the many that make up the final application on the computer.

This is where the problem that the question points to comes from. If every person only knows how a small layer of the whole system works, they are relying on the knowledge and tools of other to fix a problem. The user might be an expert on using the computer and it’s applications, but has no idea how the computer works on the inside. The repairer might be an expert on pulling a computer apart, but has no idea how computing chips work. This is also seen in other products in depending on how complex the product is. A car driver might be able to fix small problems in their car, but for more serious ones, will need to take the car to a repairer as a car is quite complex. If something is very simple, like a pen, most users will have the knowledge to fix any problems themselves.

However, this is necessary. If one person had to know every single thing about a computer to use it or develop for it, it would be a complete waste of time. Instead, everyone knows a certain amount and can combine this knowledge into something that is extremely useful without any of them being able to completely describe how it works.

While this does create a small problem, it is much better than the alternative: everyone understanding completely all the layers of what they are using.

Each person using or developing for a system will only understand one or two of these layers in detail. Image source: https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/353915/what-is-the-role-of-isa-instruction-set-architecture-in-the-comp-arch-abstract?rq=1

Jack, Year 8:

This statement shows how reliant humans are today upon actions and studies completed by those before them. The fact that people rely on always having a preprepared duplicate for them when they need to fix something shows that they would be unable to recommence working with that item if no such “spare” existed. Even the repair shop workers, who fix things for a living, gain knowledge of the problems and their solution either from completing these tasks beforehand, or from researching it, and letting more knowledgeable people fix their client’s problem. We are unable to look at the causes of these failures, and actually understand what is happening. Some things are simple to fix, like a forced restart because of a crash. Others are harder, such as suddenly reverting back to a command-line operating system with basic input. But we should be able to figure out what we have done wrong, and, using steps that we gained from simpler fixes we have done, we should be able to restore our technology ourselves. Certainly there will be occasional problems that you simply do not know how to solve, but as long as most problems are solvable without a professional technological review, we can continue to expand, develop, and eventually increase the complexity of our technological world.

 

Question 3

Do you think that information overload is becoming a problem in modern society? Discuss and provide examples.

 

Zack, Year 10:

I think information overload is a potential problem in modern society, but I think there are various solutions to this problem that we already have. With the coming of the Information Age, there is more information available for people when making decisions. While this can be overwhelming, I think this is actually a good thing when handled properly. People working in IT (especially with big data) are skilled at handling this data and can create applications that collect this data together for people to make decisions. A good example of this is search engines. If people had to manually go through all the data on the internet in order to find something that they wanted, there would certainly be an information overload problem. To fix this, software engineers have created applications that allow someone to input search terms to receive a small, easily understandable amount of information presented in a way so that it is easy to understand where the critical information is. In short, information overload could become a problem, but there are already solutions in place which are getting better so it is unlikely.

Dylan, Year 10:

I think that information overload is a problem in modern society, with so much data and information around it is very easy for people’s decisions to be affected by it. I think that personally it isn’t t too much of a problem in what I do but I can see where it can become an issue as I get older and have to make more important decisions. I think that it is becoming more of an issue today than it has ever been before as information is more readily available than ever. People can use the internet, Wikipedia, library’s and more to find out information quickly and easily. Just 30 years ago it was a very different story where you would have very limited access to information outside of a library or classroom. In the modern era information overload can come from anywhere and can impact decisions greatly. For example, when reading a website on the internet there could be too much information, it could be non-reliable and it could also give a biased view. It becomes a great issue when researching and trying to find out information on a topic where there is too much information, for example if you are researching something and find a website there could be too much information and you could miss important parts which would be detrimental to any decision you have to make. Furthermore, having an information overload can affect your ability to tell what is true from false. Not only is information overload an issue when researching and actually looking for information but it is also a great issue in today’s modern world because of the interconnectedness of everyone. These days you wake up to lots of emails, Facebook posts and other things require attention or action which can greatly affect your decision making. People often struggle to keep up with their emails and the rate of incoming messages, distracting people from what they really need to get done and overloading them with too much information. Social media platforms also play their part in overloading people with information, messages from friends, posts from friends of friends and advertising all contribute to an information overload. I think that it is a pretty big problem in today’s society and people need to find ways to ensure that they aren’t being overloaded with information and that they can make conscious decisions about their lives.

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