Don’t "like" this post

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
A few days ago, I was talking to my Robotics students about the posts made in our Facebook group. I didn't want to come across as the old guy bashing social media, but I told them I was surprised at how little discussion was actually taking place online. Students would post, but usually others would only respond by "liking."

If my students were only posting cat videos, I wouldn't have a problem with people clicking "like" as cat videos lend themselves to that behavior. On the other hand, because most of the posts were intended to start a discussion or get feedback clicking "Like" is less useful, in fact it's often meaningless.  

Before Facebook and Twitter, if you wanted to engage with somebody's post, the only way (on nearly all platforms) was to make a comment. Writing and posting a comment takes at least a little thought and effort.

I'm not saying that "Liking" is bad and everyone should stop it. What I am saying is this: think about what your "like" means.

Here's an example of a post where "liking" would be completely appropriate:

An example of a Facebook post where liking would be appropriate

In this case, "like" simply means "yes."

On the other hand, think about what "like" means for a post like this:

An example of a Facebook post where liking contributes absolutely nothing

In this case, "like" doesn't mean much of anything, except maybe "I approve of this idea, but don't want to contribute anything to it."

What do you think?

Getting a robotic arm to solve a puzzle might not seem like much, but two students in my CS328 Introduction to Robotics course have been learning how challenging stuff like this actually is. That's why I'm proud of what they have accomplished.

The classic "Towers of Hanoi" puzzle was invented by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas in 1883 and involves moving blocks or discs from one place to another according to certain rules. This is often difficult for a human to figure out -- just imagine programming a robot to solve it!

Here's a quick video of the robot in action:

The Towers of Hanoi is a common problem assigned to computer science students to help them organize their thinking about problem solving and iterative logic and most especially recursion.

The above video shows step one, which is to solve the problem by discrete programming moves. The next step, if they are up to it, is to take what they have learned and write the algorithms to solve this problem automatically. In any case, they are off to a fine start.

Yes, most of the equipment is older than they are, but it's all they need to learn the fundamentals. And it builds character!


One of the personal projects that has taken quite a bit of my time lately has been helping our symphony orchestra prepare for their mid-winter family concert.

This year, the all of the music including the featured work, The Light Princess" was written by my daughter, Amy, who is a music composition major at The Master's College.

Amy has been working for years on the arrangements for this concert which is called "Tunes, Tales, and Truths." The concert will feature the World Premier of “The Light Princess,” an adaptation of George MacDonald's beloved fairy-tale into orchestral music and narration.

The concert will also include a sweeping suite of original music: pirate legends, great awakenings, swinging jazz, and powerful tales of redemption and new life.

T3 poster - painting with title text

See that painting above? That's an original painting -- one of 10 -- that Amy commissioned for the concert. Working with the artist, Jay Wegter, Amy designed the theme and sketch for each piece of art which Jay then masterfully painted. These will be presented on giant screens during the concert. After the concert, the original score and the 10 paintings will be available in the lobby for closer inspection.

Continue Reading "Of Tunes, Tales and Truths -- and The Light Princess" »

Why I love teaching at The Master’s College

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
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Imagine returning to your old college -- seeing students learning what you learned so many years ago, maybe even from the same professors, getting the same education you did. Imagine returning to be part of their journey!

That's just what I've been doing for seven years as an adjunct professor at The Master's College. Obviously, I have the best students in the world, and I love my subjects and the school's commitment to Biblically-based teaching.

The Biblical perspective shapes everything about teaching here, from how the material is presented to how professors engage with the students.

Business by the Book


The Bible in a business course? We might not teach accounting out of the book of Numbers, but instructors at TMC bring Biblical truth to the classroom as well as invest in their students personally and spiritually. I love that this happens not only in Bible and theology classes, but every class, even business and robotics.

Here's the mission statement of TMC:

The mission of The Master's College is to empower students for a life of enduring commitment to Christ, biblical fidelity, moral integrity, intellectual growth and lasting contribution to the Kingdom of God.

Image:Why I love teaching at The Master’s College


This has clicked with me from the start, and I've seen it ring true not only in my life, but in the lives of my students and my daughters, two of whom are graduating from Master's this year.

The Master's students


The students are a pleasure to teach -- they all want to be there, and they're eager to learn the material and apply it. Not only that, but they also share their personal passions with me and give me the freedom to pour into their lives. I love that many of my students, even the younger ones, want to get married and have families someday, and I have the opportunity to guide and challenge them in this.

This is what I love about teaching at the College: students don't just get an education. There are many fine institutions that offer this, but Master's prepares students for life by building their skills, character, and spiritual maturity. I experienced this while I was there, I've seen it in my children, and I enjoy being part of that process in my classroom.

The students also get something that was largely lacking in my first college experience at 16: practical life skills. For example, the central focus of my Intro to Robotics class is critical thinking and problem-solving; I'm teaching 18 Computer Science majors, and we've enjoyed putting these concepts into motion.

In the same way, my Technology for Business Decision-Making course equips future managers with an understanding of technology tools and how to make decisions in management -- this way, they learn something more than theory.

Where I came in


In entered college at 16 and I excelled as a computer science major; however, my emphasis was all on the technical subjects, and I was hardly prepared for life outside of technology. I had to pick up other essential life skills over 30 years in business.

Later, I graduated from The Master's College with a degree in Organizational Management (OM). At the time, there were no classes that even mentioned technology at any point in the curriculum. To me, this was incomprehensible -- so in my business communications course, when we had to give a persuasive speech, I chose to persuade the College that the OM degree should be expanded to include courses in the use of technology. After all, there are no businesses that are not in some way impacted by technology, so I strongly felt that managers and workers need to understand the basics at the very least.

My speech may have ruffled some feathers at the time, but I moved on and graduated. I went on to earn my Master's degree in Information and Knowledge Management from CSUN; while I was there, I received a call from Wayne Dell, the chair of the OM program, who asked me to come back to Master's and teach. Together, we created Management 430: Technology in Business Decision-Making, which I've been teaching for seven years.

Someday, I would love to be a part of TMC's Business Department and teach students business and life skills for the 21st-century professional, including self-organization, managing projects and actions, and how to prevent information overwhelm. These skills aren't normally taught in any college, but 34 years in business have taught me that they're invaluable.

Having graduated from The Master's College myself, I'm well aware of the impact that a TMC education made in my own life. Now, seeing it through my daughters and their friends, I'm thrilled to able to return and invest in the lives of students.

Afterword


When I say "Biblically-based teaching," I mean that everything taught at Master's is founded on Biblical principals, not necessarily that everything taught can be traced back to chapter and verse. God's Word might not tell you how to build an award-winning robot or implement a budget tracking system, but it will give you principles for how to make wise decisions and treat the people involved.
Not long after my Introduction to Robotics course started, it got its very first press coverage!

Three years ago, I was interviewed by Jason Cremeen, a student writing for The Master's Piece, a student publication of The Master's College. What I love about this article is how Jason emphasizes that this course is not an engineering program for computer nerds only -- it's a hands-on critical-thinking course for anyone.

You can read Jason's article here.

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We had a great first session of my Intro to Robotics class last night at The Master's College! I have 17 upper-division computer science majors, and I think they're even more excited about this course than me!

The students were so engaged last night that I asked them whether they'd like to stay an extra half-hour, and every one of them said yes.

After the lecture, we spent time in the lab building our test robots. It's going to be a lot of fun helping them move from inanimate software development to moving parts!

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For more info on the course, see here.

Starting this evening, I'll be teaching Intro to Robotics at The Master's College once again. I love having this opportunity to teach students critical thinking and problem-solving in a very hands-on way -- by building robots that solve puzzles and attack each other!

I created this course at Master's a couple years ago. At the time, a few students from the College made this (admittedly silly) video to show in Master's chapel to promote the course:

Of course, this video is not wholly accurate. Students never watch cartoons in my class (though they have been known to eat M&M's).

And since we're on the subject of teaching...

Pop quiz!
Which TMC faculty and staff did you see in the video?
How many different robots were shown?
Bonus: whose lab was this shot in?

I look forward to sharing more about this class!

A fuller description of the course is available at masters.edu.