Skip to content

w00t! Haptic Influences: The Importance of Sensation

June 28, 2010

Studies Show That Touch Plays an Important Role in How We Make Decisions

FROM MITNEWS.COM (Peter Dizikes): “Your success in your next job interview may not have much to do with the contents of your resume. Instead, it may depend on what’s under your resume. Namely: Have the people interviewing you put your CV on a heavy clipboard, or a light one?

That is one finding made by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management, whose research indicates that haptic impressions — our sense of touch — may strongly influence our thoughts.’Our understanding of the world and our social environment is not just a product of our minds,’ says Ackerman. ‘It’s a product of our bodies as well.’

In a new paper, ‘Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions,’ published this week in the journal Science, Ackerman and his co-authors, Christopher Nocera of Harvard and John Bargh of Yale, describe the results of six studies showing a variety of ways that tactile sensations can affect decision-making. From workplace judgments to financial decisions, they write, ‘haptically acquired information exerts a rather broad influence over cognition, in ways of which we are probably often unaware.'”

Haptic: “relating to or based on the sense of touch.” : ) Currently, this research is all about decision making but the implications for designing learning environments are obvious and, I’d venture, potentially profound. That’s why I’m giving it w00t! status and a place on my list of things to learn more about. You can read the full article here — it’s good and quick reading on some very interesting findings.


We’re Getting Closer! Computer Speech Recognition’s Recent Strides

June 25, 2010

Stuart Isett for The New York Times

FROM NYTIMES.COM (Steve Lohr and John Markoff):

No time for comment or good post this morning. Just want to get this out. Will improve later.

w00t! At Last! Vuvuzela Relief! (You’re welcome.)

June 16, 2010

Off Topic Alert: This is for all my World Cup loving friends…


Yes, yes, you can save your hearing and your sanity by filtering out those vuvuzelas during the WC matches. If you have a low latency sound card and software, great. If not, a decent equalizer will do. Learn how to eliminate most or all of the drone and still be able to hear the commentators. (If you don’t want to hear the commentators, either, then you don’t need this tip. You just need your volume control. 🙂 )

Talk about a w00t! Learn what to do at (Go Red!! w00t! w00t!)

Digital Distractions: When Technology Interferes with Parenting

June 15, 2010

Your Brain on Computers: The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In

William Zbaren for The New York Times

FROM NYTIMES.COM (Julie Scelfo): “Much of the concern about cellphones and instant messaging and Twitter has been focused on how children who incessantly use the technology are affected by it. But parents’ use of such technology — and its effect on their offspring — is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.

Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in ‘Alone Together’ early next year by Basic Books.

In her studies, Dr. Turkle said, ‘Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.’

Dr. Turkle said that she recognizes the pressure adults feel to make themselves constantly available for work, but added that she believes there is a greater force compelling them to keep checking the screen.

‘There’s something that’s so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world,’ she said. ‘I’ve talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they get resistance, “Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.” It’s like “one more drink.”’

A quote within a quote within a quote is hard to punctuate sublimely. : )

In my home, we do take care to corral tech time into specific periods of the day, when we can. Or, more correctly, we usually keep technology away from dinner time and other important interaction times. (It’s not always an interference to parenting, of course; it can be a facilitator and a reason for group learning. Any kind of valuable group activities rock when it comes to family time.) But, I must admit, the ease of access is an awfully tempting double edged sword.

For me, the interesting question posed by the book’s author is whether or not the socioeconomic status of the most frequent technology users will show a change in the traditional connections of affluence and language development. Until now, increased affluency has correlated to increased language and social interactions at home, and a richer developmental environment for the children in that home. Will technology use in these households now mean tuned-out parents and poorer environments for the kids?

At what point, as developers, do we take all of this into consideration? Should we?

You can read the rest of the article here.

Cat vs. Dog, Sedan vs. Sports Car? No Problem for the Prefrontal Cortex

June 11, 2010

Scientists find that neurons in the brain’s planning center can handle more than one kind of job.

FROM MITNEWS.COM (Anne Trafton): “In humans and other primates, the prefrontal cortex is the seat of high-level functions such as learning, decision making, and planning. Neuroscientists have long wondered whether neurons in that part of the brain are specialized for one type of task or if they are “generalists” — that is, able to participate in many functions. A new study from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory comes down in favor of the generalist theory.”

Adaptability and flexibility are the hallmark of the multi-tasking neurons in the prefrontal cortex. And how does that help us learn? It may boil down to the connected role of the basal ganglia, as the general receiver of new information, and the pre-frontal cortex as the categorizer and analyzer.

Implications for educational technology design? Chew on it while you read the full article here.

Roll-Back Prices on B.A.s?

June 5, 2010

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

FROM NYTIMES.COM (Stephanie Clifford and Stephanie Rosenbloom): “Now on sale at Wal-Mart: college degrees for its employees.

The purveyor of inexpensive jeans and lawnmowers is dipping its toe into the online-education waters, working with a Web-based university to offer its employees in the United States affordable college degrees.

The partnership with American Public University, a for-profit school with about 70,000 online students, will allow some Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees to earn credits in areas like retail management and logistics for performing their regular jobs.”

I’m still thinking about this. One the one hand… But, then, on the other hand…

Any thoughts? Read the full article here.

w00t! A New Book By, Um, You Know, What’s-her-name, Tells Me Not to Worry About My Middle-Aged Brain

May 3, 2010

No, You’re Not Getting Dumber, After All!

FROM NYTIMES.COM (Tara Parker-Pope): “After we hit 40, many of us begin to worry about our aging brains. Will we spend our middle years searching for car keys and forgetting names?

The new book “The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind,” by Barbara Strauch, has the answers, and the news is surprisingly upbeat. Sure, brains can get forgetful as they get old, but they can also get better with age, reports Ms. Strauch, who is also the health editor at The New York Times.”

It’s about time! (bad pun?) There are things that mature brains do better than young ones and, big news, our brains are continuing to develop well into our 60’s. Certainly a w00t! find and promises to be an interesting read. Meanwhile, you can gather some insight into the benefits of aging for the brain, and a nice pick-me-up, from Parker-Pope’s interview at

Maybe considering PhD work in my 40s isn’t so crazy… Now, where’d I put those reading glasses?

Apple Chooses to “Scratch” Scratch Access

April 30, 2010

Really, Apple? REALLY?

Mitchel Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory. Photo: Donna Coveney

FROM MIT NEWS (David L. Chandler):  “The free, open-source Scratch programming language, developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab by a team led by Mitchel Resnick, has found great popularity around the world as a way for young people (and adults) to learn about programming by manipulating colorful onscreen modules to create games, slideshows, interactive storybooks and other creative projects. More than a million such projects have been uploaded to the Scratch website for public sharing. But Apple this month, in a decision that immediately stirred controversy, rejected an App (developed independently by a programmer in Canada) that would allow viewing of these projects on iPhones and iPads.

In an interview with MIT News, Resnick shared his thoughts about Apple’s move — and what might happen next.”

One more blow to popular creativity and content control? <scowl> You can read the full text of the “3 Questions” interview here.

Rosie and APD: A Primer

April 27, 2010

Little Known Disorder Can Take a Toll on Learning

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

FROM N.Y. TIMES (Tara Parker Rope): “Parents and teachers often tell children to pay attention — to be a “good listener.” But what if your child’s brain doesn’t know how to listen?

That’s the challenge for children with auditory processing disorder, a poorly understood syndrome that interferes with the brain’s ability to recognize and interpret sounds. It’s been estimated that 2 to 5 percent of children have the disorder, said Gail D. Chermak, an expert on speech and hearing sciences at Washington State University, and it’s likely that many cases have gone undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

The symptoms of A.P.D. — trouble paying attention and following directions, low academic performance, behavior problems and poor reading and vocabulary — are often mistaken for attention problems or even autism.

But now the disorder is getting some overdue attention, thanks in part to the talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell and her 10-year-old son, Blake, who has A.P.D.

In the foreword to a new book, “The Sound of Hope” (Ballantine) — by Lois Kam Heymann, the speech pathologist and auditory therapist who helped Blake — Ms. O’Donnell recounts how she learned something was amiss.

It began with a haircut before her son started first grade. Blake had already been working with a speech therapist on his vague responses and other difficulties, so when he asked for a “little haircut” and she pressed him on his meaning, she told the barber he wanted short hair like his brother’s. But in the car later, Blake erupted in tears, and Ms. O’Donnell realized her mistake. By “little haircut,” Blake meant little hair should be cut. He wanted a trim.

“I pulled off on the freeway and hugged him,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I said: ‘Blakey, I’m really sorry. I didn’t understand you. I’ll do better.’ ”

And, as Ms. Rope continues to report, that was a turning point. This article and its accompanying video segment is a brief but informative primer on APD and its impact to young learners. Read the rest of the article and see the video at

The Importance of Prosody

March 26, 2010

MIT's Norvin Richards (Photo:Patrick Gillooly)

In his newly published book, Uttering Trees, linguist Norvin Richards explains how the noises we make help to shape the sentences we speak.

From MIT.EDU NEWS (by Peter Dizikes): “In linguistic terms, a question is largely the re-ordering of a statement. Shuffle the words around, make a couple of other changes, and ‘John rode a horse’ becomes ‘What did John ride?’

Linguists call this re-arranging of words ‘wh-movement,’ due to the wh-words used in questions (who, when, and so on) and they believe it occurs in two forms. English displays what linguists call ‘overt wh-movement,’ in which word order is shuffled heavily, since many questions begin with wh-words. (There are exceptions: ‘John rode a what?’) But some languages, like Japanese, deploy ‘covert wh-movement,’ in which word order remains largely intact as a statement becomes a question, and the wh-words appear in a variety of locations.

But what determines which of these options a given language uses? In a new book, ‘Uttering Trees,’ MIT linguistics professor Norvin Richards asserts that if we carefully study prosody — the way the pitch of our voices goes up and down — we can determine which kind of wh-movement any language will employ. In turn, Richards believes, this suggests that for all languages, the sound pattern in sentences is more integral to the syntax — the processes and principles that govern the structure of sentences — than scholars have generally thought.” (more)

This is fascinating study, to me. I think anyone with a writer’s ear innately understands the role of cadence and prosody in the development of linguistic structures. For educators, particularly language educators, being attuned to languages’ prosodies — and how they might reflect and lend access to a universal grammar — can be a key to unlocking reciprocal language awarenesses (for both students and teachers).

More support for the adage “you know more than you think you know,” when it comes to understanding other languages. And what of music?

Read Dizike’s full article here: