Bill Jerome

Learning engineering … yeah, it’s still here

I was happy to speak with Mark Lieberman from Inside Higher Ed a couple of weeks ago about the current state (more or less) of learning engineering in the professional world.  The final product of his work is here: Learning Engineers Inch Toward the Spotlight. Aside from the quotes attributed to me, we spoke about what I saw as important to the role of someone with a title of “Learning Engineer.”  In different jobs I have held, I have worked with teams of people with that very title. Wherever the contents of the article came from I was happy to see a few things:

  • The bullet points around what it means to be a learning engineer are focused on data and iterative improvement
  • Carnegie Mellon being well represented, as it should be
  • Debate

If we’re all lifting the field of education to take advantage of what we can learn to improve student learning, then we’re all rowing the same way and that’s great.  I was only a bit disappointed to see a reaction to the article from a prominent individual such as this:

I respect Dr. Siemens very much, and I’ve even been on a panel with him. I’m not sure where this take comes from exactly, but I cannot describe the statement as collaborative or advancing of ideas.

I hope going forward, we can all be more constructive than that, and work together to apply what research tells us about student learning, as a team. Debate is helpful. It makes us think hard about what we’re trying to achieve. Learning Engineering is coming to the spotlight.


Sometimes you get a gift.  Sometimes you get a hand-made gift.  Sometimes you turn 40… Sometimes… well anyway, look at this amazing gift I received from my friend Eric.  Is it… a checkers game?

Yes.  Is it a chess set?

Yes, but there’s too many pieces… what are they?  And these extra tiles that run down the side?  Oh.. It’s Stealth Chess!

But why is the box so large, with all these inserts?      If you’re a Terry Pratchett fan you already know where this is going…


Not to get too proud… but yeah, I love it.  You can come play!  But this set is not for borrowing.

Of course you need vinyl suggestions….

I need to create a #nobodyasked tag. Then tag all my posts with it. But in this case someone almost asked by posing the question in Facebook “what was the first record I listened to on my new turntable?” The answer (which I got, natch) was Dark Side of the Moon.  He thanked all the guessers for, in the end, giving him a list of vinyl to procure.  So here some more off the top of my head in no order, with helpful links where dollars can be traded for them…

  • All The Moody Blues Albums
    • Funny thing, I hadn’t seen/heard about the 2016 reissue of TOSOL so my own list making had me placing an order.
    • Nope there was another recent DOFP vinyl release that was not up to par
  • Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers – The Long-Awaited Album
  • Robert Plant – lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Anything Mondo
    • My favorites: The Back to The Future set, The Fountain, The Black Swan, Wrath of Khan, Jurassic Park, Fifth Element, Paranorman…
  • Joanna Newsom – Divers
  • Bob Dylan – Greatest Hits
    • (Mobile Fidelity – 45 rpm!)

Sometimes a collector, sometimes not

I started an interesting thread today, without intending to, on a Facebook group. Basically, I was excited to arrive home from work to see this! :

See, my first “real” computer growing up was an Apple IIgs. I had a TI-994A before that, so I did learn to do some programming and saving (via cassette!) and loading programs. But the IIgs was what hooked me. By the time I applied to computer science at Carnegie Mellon, I made sure the admissions officer was clear that I could program a IIgs in assembly, and I’d be happy to show some of the programs I’d written. However, by then, I didn’t have my IIgs anymore. I had moved on to PC at the 386 era when Apple moved to Mac and stopped the II line.

But, then, I got older, had a bit more money thanks to that CMU CS degree, and I longed for my simple IIgs, so I grabbed one when my daughter was born. It was her first computer. There was nothing she couldn’t do that turning it off and on again wouldn’t work, and there was a great (second edition) “Tour of your IIgs” app that basically taught you to use a mouse, starting with motion, then clicking, then dragging. Perfect!

Anyway, this week, I picked up a new chassis, if you will, for the beat up box of a GS I had, which was missing some back covers, and had a LED drilled into it that no longer belonged to anything (my guess is a Vulcan used to be in it – just like I had). So I posted my excitement to an Apple II group! The seller even popped in “hey, you bought that from me!” Exactly as it should be: some general merriment and nerdery.

But what I didn’t know, and apparently the seller didn’t either, is:

woe unto you, if you ship in an original box!

Ok, I get it, if I was a real collector, and I was buying for the original packaging, yes, I’d be unhappy if a label was slapped on it and it was shipped like that. It (in that case) should have been double boxed. The original post only made a passing mention of shipping in the original box. So technically the seller said exactly how they were shipping, and frankly I was impressed it was an actual original box! I assumed it meant the box they got it in. I didn’t pay for it that way, and you know what? I got a burst of joy seeing that IIgs box on my stoop when I got home.

So I thought about all the folks that replied to my post belaboring the point that it was “poor shipping.” One person said they hoped the seller learned a lesson. I bet that lesson was “Don’t sell your stuff to this crowd!” In the end, the originator of the sale was happy, I was happy because I got what I wanted, and my GS is looking spiffier than before.

What I learned for sure: I am not an Apple IIgs collector. I just want one in good shape to play games on. It’s a hit at parties to have it running (next to the wine and booze, natch) and for folks to play games like Marble Madness against each other on it (often with drink in hand).

Now, when it comes to Moody Blues stuff…….. yeah, I get it, I’d be pissed 🙂 That’s how I know I’m a collector in that arena, but not this one!

One more thing to add – I don’t want to sound down about the group that chimed in on the shipment. I’ve learned a lot from them, I’ve re-learned a lot too, and in fact they are how I found the auction in the first place. My spiffy IIgs wouldn’t be running like it is and with as many games from my youth as it is without them. My ultimate learning was this:

Sometimes, I am a collector, sometimes, I am not. Both are fun!

The Wind of Heaven

via :

Full honesty up front.  I was at the web premiere of The Wind of Heaven as a video.  I wasn’t very moved at first viewing.  It could have been the interview around it, who knows.  I watched it once or twice after and it didn’t grab me.  Today my copy of All The Way arrived so I was afforded the opportunity to sit back and just listen to this more than seven minute journey.  I also looked up more information and found this synopsis of the film it (strikingly well) represents:

“The Wind of Heaven is about a veteran that comes back home from Afghanistan and really loses himself, can’t pick up the life he had before he left.  Eventually, he gets work on a ranch and he finds that he has kind of a communion with the wild horses and he finds himself through horses.”

In addition, one should know:

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears” – Arabian Proverb

So, with both of those in mind, I listened again, without the video.  It starts very much in the area of despair, and the chorus arrives and lifts us slightly out of it before the song goes back into the sadness.  But again, the chorus “rescues” us.  The cycle repeats, and the length of the song gives it time to do so over and over.  Thrust back into dark, lifted back out of it.  Incredibly lifelike.  It took me repeated listens, though, to notice how each time the chorus visits us, it is more uplifting than the previous, and by the end the keyboards are practically giddy before the end.

It is not just a beautiful song, the structure of it has made me really love it.

When I was a freshman in college (so, 1996), I learned to build some websites.  They were all vanity projects – that’s all you do when you’re in college!  But the one that got a little attention was the site I kept for the actor Ted Knight.  There was a family connection, you see, so I realized I actually had some articles and pictures worth sharing even if the celebrity in question had already passed on.  But I got them up anyway and my silly little site was linked to by Entertainment Weekly.  But at that time, when I say “linked to” I mean they printed the link in their paper magazine.

At any rate, I got very bad at keeping it running smoothly.  So, I’ve brought the key elements back online and am making the modest promise to bring the rest back by the end of the summer.

Please spend a moment browsing my site at

I’m not selling a thing – I promise!

Fortunate Lighting


Early June, I get this best moment of lighting in the evening before sunset.  The window through which the light is coming is at the other end of the house.  And just as it finds its away Over The Hill (literally), through the trees, and makes its way across my living room, it does this!  It makes me feel like Gandalf is knocking on the door reminding me to re-read The Hobbit, LOTR and the Silmarillion (and listen to the Tolkein Ensemble discs which are also between those bookends).  A happy, lovely accident of placement that means I will never move them!

My Friend, The Pedagogy Cat

Presented without comment:

Class discussion on Learning Analytics

I was recently invited to have a conversation with some students at Northeastern who are taking a course on Competencies, Assessment and Learning Analytics. They’ve posted the conversation online (below). As always, about 10 minutes later I was thinking of other things I wish I’d had time to add. Still, it was a great discussion! Thanks!

Disentangling Pedagogy from Epistemology

By Bill Jerome and Dr. Benny Johnson
Cross-posted from the original location at

Because Pedagogy

Dating back to my time at the Open Learning Initiative, I had sat in some meetings and felt the percussive impact of pedagogy — or “The P-Bomb” as I thought of it. Not having been trained in cognitive sciences like many of those around me, I simply deferred to those who invoked the word “Pedagogy.” Once deployed in an academic setting, it often served as the final word in many matters. (Dear internet, I would love a sketch of this). On the whole, this was a very good thing indeed because it emphasized the focus of what we were working together to achieve. Sometimes we can reach conclusions or make assumptions we believe to be based on sound pedagogical thinking but when investigated can prove otherwise. (We will get to what I think is a counterintuitive example of this in a moment). Being guided by pedagogy continues to be the driving force of the work I do, though outside of the academy, I’ve learned to be a bit more skeptical (and I am more informed) when the P-Bomb is deployed as if it is a mystic force that cannot be understood; only believed in with solemn nods of agreement. If it were a meme, it would be this:

Because Pedagogy

I think it is important to sometimes stand back and ensure when we are using the word, we are in agreement about what we are all talking about. That is my most critical point I wish to make. As a primary example, however, it frequently seems to have become conflated in general discourse in one critical way we should aim to disentangle so that we can ask meaningful questions about it.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
– Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Pedagogy Or Epistemology?

Recently I have had the opportunity to see a number of presentations and discussions around work being done in the adaptive and online learning space, for which I am grateful, but something was nagging at me in the back of my mind. I felt that the room was nodding along with thoughts of good pedagogy but something wasn’t sitting right. The following morning my colleague Dr. Benny Johnson and I met in a café like you do when in Seattle. He was able to capture succinctly the disconnect I was having. Pedagogy was being conflated with epistemology.

Aside from referencing a dictionary (or modern equivalent) and thinking critically when we hear the word pedagogy used, this is one area in particular we can be cognizant of: “Are we conflating pedagogy with epistemology?” More in depth discussion: Epistemology or pedagogy, that is the question by Paul A Kirschner, 2009.

It is naturally intuitive to think about this and come to the conclusion that “real world discovery” is the best way to learn. It simply makes sense when you hear a sentence such as “Doing the real work of a scientist teaches students to become scientists while being motivating and engaging.” In fact for novices, this can be counterproductive by ratcheting up extraneous cognitive load.

In an earlier publication, Kirschner writes:

[…] inherent flaws in considering and using the epistemology of the natural sciences as equivalent to a pedagogic basis for teaching and learning in the natural sciences. It begins with a discussion of the difference between practicing science and learning to practice science. It follows with a discussion and refutation of three commonly held motives for using practicals in science education. It concludes with the presentation of three new, better motives for their use.
Epistemology, practical work and Academic skills in science education
Paul A. Kirschner, 1992.

The practical takeaway for us today is not to confuse immersive (usually quite gorgeous, engaging, and expensive) virtual spaces built for the explorers among us for good pedagogy just because they are attractive and make those of us who are not novice learners excited and motivated. The chief principle of the human-computer interaction discipline is “You are not the user” and it applies directly here: “You are not your student.” Engagement is critical indeed, but for my part, I would not want to sacrifice good pedagogy designed for novice learners. In fact, despite the considerable enthusiasm generated by these environments, research has not shown an advantage commensurate with that enthusiasm, and cognitive load theory cautions that for novice learners such realistic task assignments can easily lead to cognitive overload.

My view on that subject is of course just that, but we should at least all be equipped to recognize the difference and make decisions accordingly. And when you hear someone deploying the word pedagogy and you think it might not be, be prepared to raise your hand and say, “You keep using that word…”