Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cool Ways to Teach History

Just saw this article in The Register and it made me think of an old idea for teaching what life in Rome was like circa whenever. Basically you start with the information in "Ancient Rome 3D" and you use it to create a mediated MPORG in which the students can participate as individual characters. I use the term "mediated" because I think it is important to allow the teacher to control plot lines and external events to illustrate specific points such as food riots, etc. The idea is not to replace reading and discussion, but to help provide a more immediate context for these more traditional types of instruction.

Obviously this same technique could be applied to just about any time and place for which we have enough data to create the 3D environment. You could hit all the high points, Athens circa 500 BC, Tenochtitlan circa 1400, San Francisco circa 1965. What is really exciting is that, technically, this should be relatively easy to do. That is to say, it could be done with an awful lot of work by artists, programmers, writers, etc. like any game, but we don't need to invent any new technologies to make it happen. All we need is a business plan whereby somebody can make money off of this idea while simultaneously providing it to schools for little to nothing.

Computer "Science"

Someone brought this up at a recent WS-I meeting and I thought it was funny enough to riff on; "Things with 'science' in their names usually aren't". Examples were provided such as "Political Science", "Social Science", and "Scientology" (the last one is a stretch). The shared joke being that we all felt our profession, despite outwards appearances, to be much more akin to political science than physics.

Certainly there are sub-fields of computer ccience that are scientifically rigorous, but I would guess that the majority of "programmers" rarely measure anything more than simple performance metrics, rarely use any math more complicated than basic combanitorics, etc. Obviously you need to be able to think logically and express your ideas in a non-ambiguous language in order to program, but that doesn't make us scientists any more than reheating frozen waffles makes someone a chef. I've always thought that Computer Science (the programming part - not the designing chips part) would be more properly thought of as a "Applied Philosophy" than as a sub-branch of mathematics, science, or engineering.