Thursday, October 18, 2007

Education, Intelligence...

Funny how things seem to happen in threes sometimes

  1. I read this blog entry by Seth Godin last night, it summed up lots of things I had been thinking about.
  2. That was after I spoke at American University, at their Social Networking and Business class.  It went well - we talked about (among many other things) Seth's blog, interviewing, knowledge (smarts, intelligence).
  3. And that was after I wrote this about interviewing

and then last night, Nicole Melander (the professor of the class) sent me a link pointing to a trailer for a movie a friend of hers is making about (sad state of) education in the US.  And they are all related - around the theme of:

How to get ahead and be successful.

In the AskTom interview question referenced above, I basically said "I don't have a checklist of factoids one needs to have remembered when interviewing".  Rather, I'd like to see them be "smart", conversant, generally intelligent, engaging, sharp - creative.  If they can dryly regurgitate factoids about the database, a programming language, a software package - whatever, not interesting.  If they are conversant and are creative, the conversation will flow and their ideas and thoughts will impress (or not, that's the point).

I might fail some peoples interview (the ones that want to have factoids spit back at them) - simply because I haven't remembered the factoid they thought was most important.  Never mind that I know how to find that factoid out (really fast).  I believe people should understand how things work - and then be able to derive from that lots of specific solutions, or at least be able to hypothesize how something will work - and then be able to construct a simple test (benchmark) to test that idea out.

When I was talking to Nicole's class - I basically said the same thing, they had questions about the interview process and how much the resume counted, how much the interview counted.  My response was that the resume is needed to get past the check list people, the human resources recruiter who is not knowledgeable in the field they are recruiting for - but rather has a checklist to satisfy.  After that, the resume was a piece of paper the interviewer would scan before the interview to generate a list of talking points.  After that, the resume was just a piece of paper - it was all about the interview and being "sharp".

And that was exactly the crux of Seth's blog:

I don't know about you, but when I hire someone, or go to the doctor or the architect or an engineer, I could care less about how good they are at memorizing or looking up facts. I want them to be great at synthesizing ideas, the faster and more insightfully, the better

I agreed with Seth that tools like Wikipedia should not only be permitted in schooling, they should be encouraged.  But, as a good friend wrote me while talking about this:

The only thing I can think of that MIGHT be the reason - and I'm not defending the reason ... just trying to understand the ban, per se - is that people automatically look at encyclopedias as facts.  Wikipedia ... cut and paste ... and presto ... your term paper's done the teachers probably got tired of it.

But that goes back to what Seth and I were saying/thinking - Seth's blog said it nice and succinctly:

I want them to be great at synthesizing ideas, the faster and more insightfully, the better

Wikipedia is just a single tool, one of thousands.  The students should be taught to use as many tools as possible, simultaneously.  They should not be prevented from using any.  They should be challenged to prove that what they 'synthesize' is true - via attribution in their write up, as well as good old fashioned fact checking.

When I'm writing something technical - I use many 'tools' to get it right.  I take the ideas, concepts, facts - from many sources and put them all together in a different way (add value).  And check the facts

That is what it is all about

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Maybe the fact that the kids are just copying and pasting and not thinking about it is actually stopping the devlopment of their idea process - if they don't learn about things how can they produce ideas?

I mean i find it hard to remember my name so i agree about interviews should not be about remembering the finite details of oracle internal memory workings - thats what google...and askTom are for.

Thu Oct 18, 11:46:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

but you can tell if they just cut and paste. Not much different than copying text from a book - easier, sure, but also EASIER to see if they did that!

Thu Oct 18, 11:51:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Pete_S said....

When interviewing I like setting questions that I don't expect the candidate to know the answer (or at least not learnt by heart a ready response) I look for thinkers, the ones who can explain how to tackle a curved ball. But perhaps I am bit too demanding

Thu Oct 18, 12:09:00 PM EDT  

Blogger morgan! said....

Thanks again for stopping by and speaking to our class - it is rare that a speaker can, well, speak for the length that you did without looking at a bunched of glazed over students. You were clear, well-organized, and fun.

Again, thank you very much for the time you gave us, as I/we know you are quite a busy man.

All the best
morgan!

Thu Oct 18, 12:16:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I'll be the first to quote Albert Einstein then, "Why should I fill my brain with facts I can find in two minutes in any standard reference book"

Two minutes! He should optimize his search methods ;-)

Thu Oct 18, 12:35:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Sarah said....

Thanks so much for linking my blog, you made my day!!

Thu Oct 18, 01:45:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous fasteddie said....

The examples I've seen don't ban students from using wikipedia, but they do ban them from citing it. So they are allowed to use wikipedia as Seth used that great book on Castro - to point them on their way. And of course they are allowed to use it for ideas - but they are not allowed to cite it as a "reliable" source.

Thu Oct 18, 01:58:00 PM EDT  

Blogger J. Wilson said....

It excited me when you featured my blog [eight-thirty.blogspot.com] in your presentation yesterday here at American University. I liked the content of your presentation. You're a very interesting person, and I can see why your online identity is so strong, and, well, positive. I wish you the best in all future endeavors.

Jeff

Thu Oct 18, 03:06:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Tom, totally off topic but I was at Bentley College in Waltham, MA on October 9 and wanted to get a copy of your powerpoint decks. Are they available?

Thanks

Thu Oct 18, 03:11:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

... I was at Bentley College in Waltham, MA on October 9 ...

goto asktom, click on files tab, sort by created on and make it sort from most current to oldest (arrow points down after created on).

noug.zip is there...

Thu Oct 18, 03:17:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Just curious …

(sad state of) education in the US.

Do you mean education or education system, both?

How to get ahead and be successful

I’m wondering what is the message being projected. And isn’t that already entrenched in the American psyche?

Thu Oct 18, 08:53:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Solid Snake said....

Tom said: After that, the resume was a piece of paper the interviewer would scan before the interview to generate a list of talking points.


This is turth. I just had two rounds of interview in Oracle, Sydney. Most of questions that I was asked were tightly based on my resume. I should not have wasted that much time on preparing for "common questions" which I found from Internet. So, if someone come to me for suggestions about interview, I will ask him/her to be absolutely honest on his/her resume and prepare for questions related with the resume.

Thu Oct 18, 09:26:00 PM EDT  

Blogger FirstYearAndSurviving said....

did they get yo-yos? suckas!

Thu Oct 18, 09:39:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

that last comment deserves a bit of context :)

and this would be the context

Thu Oct 18, 09:45:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Mihaï said....

In the paper age, the teacher would provide some bibliography, and than he was aware about the limited set of sources, so it was easier for him to judge the works based on the facts he knew.

I guess now the teacher work may seem a little harder.
Maybe some teachers would like to ban all the online sources because they feel like it is harder to check if the students were copying from wikipedia or from other thousands of online sources.

Fri Oct 19, 04:37:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Joe said....

Actually, the problem is that our educational system has failed to adapt. When I was in HS/College, there was no internet and the best you had to work with was local library resources...books, publications, and so forth.

If kids copy/paste an assignment, it points to a failure in the assignment. If I can find the exact information on the internet, then the task is trivial and wastes the students' time.

I had quite a few assignments in college that were designed to teach me how to research information, a process that is fairly trivial today. Teachers today need to step up and get past the theories of fifty years ago that were based on the resources available at the time.

If you want students to learn how to write, give them something useful to write about, not topics that have already been covered well.

Fri Oct 19, 11:41:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Michael said....

Hey Tom, thanks for stopping by at our class. You seem like a pretty cool guy and if I'll keep you in mind if I ever want to work for a databasing company.

As for the EDU part of your post...I think in reality people are smarter than we'd like to think.

College students are more wild than they were years ago but that does not mean that a good percentage of them are not incredibly smart.

As tech people I think it is comforting for us to think that folks inside our industry are representative of everyone when in reality there are people outside our industry who are pretty darn smart; PR, Hotel Management, Accounting.

What can I say? I hope I'm right.

All the best.
Michael

Sun Oct 21, 12:59:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

To simply say that information out on the net cannot be trusted, but information in books can, is the modern equivalent of chanting of 'four legs good, two legs bad'. The wikipedia ban seems to me, though understandable, to be a knee-jerk reaction. From an educational perspective, if you are going to rely on a piece of information, then you need to assess whether it is relavent or accurate.

When we come to books about Oracle then we need to test whether the information is true, and we should be capable of repeating an experiment and confirming the results. As somebody we know has been known to say 'just because it is written in a book, doesn't mean it is true', and there are certain books out there which make some very dubious claims! Many authors maintain erratta and addenda on their websites, or their publishers' websites. This would make me more likely to trust their material rather than less.

Sun Oct 21, 03:51:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous joel said....

I once took a field biology class - and the prof said to me "facts are for men, concepts are for women" -

Sun Oct 21, 04:38:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Gary Myers said....

"If kids copy/paste an assignment, it points to a failure in the assignment. If I can find the exact information on the internet, then the task is trivial and wastes the students' time."

That's valid if you are thinking in terms of copying facts (eg from an encyclopedia), but not for more general plagarism. It could just mean someone has already posted their essay on the same question.
The point of an assignment might be to encourage interpretation of a range of informtion sources. If the student skips that and simply copies someone else's interpretation, it isn't the fault of the assignment.

Sun Oct 21, 10:18:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Noons said....

of course, Seth has completely overlooked that NOT all information in Wikipedia can be considered true fact.

Hence, his contention that Wikipedia should be allowed to help students realize "how to quickly take a bunch of facts and turn them into a new and useful idea" is fundamentally flawed:

one cannot take a bunch of facts and use them as such if they are NOT facts to start with!

Kinda like the BCHR, really...

Mon Oct 22, 01:04:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Technology breeds crime -- it always has, it always will.

Mon Oct 22, 09:38:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Wiki: Not sure about recommending it. It's famously susceptible to any old hack typing-in any old rubbish. A quick Google will reveal some pretty eyebrow-raising stuff about the reliability of Wiki's content and how Wiki is managed. Caveat emptor... chisel that in stone!

Tue Oct 23, 04:49:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jill said....

Thanks for coming to speak to our class at AU! It was interesting to get a perspective on "online reputations". While I try to maintain a good reputation online, you helped remind me to think about anything I write before I place it on a website-because who knows, it may be permanent!

Tue Oct 23, 07:41:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

hi,
I have encounterd a problem. We can call storage procedure in Oracle 8.1.7 in Solaris 8 and oracel server return correct result. When the proC file is copied to Solaris 10, the source code in ProC complied Ok. However, it failed after the ProC executed. It returns Ora-02055 and ORA-2067. If we copy the excute files from solaris 8 to solaris 10, the oracle 8.1.7 return correct result.
Why the souce code in ProC execute failed , which is copied from Solaris 8 to Solaris 10 ? Can you help?

Tue Oct 30, 12:06:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Tom,
Eventhough it is not directly related to this topic but very inspiring

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5700431505846055184

Fri Nov 09, 10:49:00 AM EST  

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