Joan Slonczewski: October 2011 Archives

It's been a great ride, the past week; thanks so much to Charlie for letting me visit. Thanks also to those of you who still feel professors deserve our pensions.

For my final post I'll give you the chance to say: What should I write next? At this point I have no commitment, but every book I've written has sold. No idea is too bizarre, and if I use it I'll acknowledge your help.

Thanks for the good thoughts you've shared already. Sensing magnetic field lines--that will be a great trick for one evolving branch of my alien quasispecies. And echolocation will help people catch all those mosquitoes escaped in my spacehab.

The crustacean space ship has real possibilities. Any more thoughts on that?

And closer to home, can we put solar in space and run all the factories there too? What will it take to do that?

Feel free to keep in touch, either email or Facebook. According to Clarkesworld, I have my own blog; that's news to me, but I can start one. Would anyone care to help run it?

One last thought: The most complex fermentation product, even more so than wine, is chocolate. Cocoa requires three stages of fermentation by a thousand different microbes. It works only in environments like Madagascar and Côte d'Ivoire, with slave labor unless it's fair trade. The last time I checked, chocolate still doesn't print out from the web, nor has any neural probe found the "chocolate spot" in the brain. So if you find yourself strolling past a Patisserie Valerie, please send me a treatbox (just kidding.)

Today we have a change of pace, as two of Charlie's superfans from Kenyon visit, Jeanne Griggs and our IT director Ron Griggs. Jeanne and Ron say:

"Educational institutions are under stress worldwide both from economic and technological factors. The bloated university structure is--literally--medieval. The online education boom is producing the usual mix of stunning innovation and snake-oil charlatans. Some predict the demise of the university itself, and for people who use Wikipedia today, Charlie's lifelogs tomorrow, and soon (galactic civilization willing) the Hitchhiker's Guide, all facts, knowledge, and experiences are retrievable instantly without mediation. What does science fiction have to say about the future of education?

"In Joan's The Highest Frontier, much of the story takes place in a college on a space habitat, a college remarkably similar to a private liberal arts college in the United States today. She is not alone in suggesting that the basic concept of people coming together to learn will endure. Consider Battle School in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, the concents in Neal Stephenson's Anathem, or the many ways that Robert Heinlein portrayed education: advances in learning techniques including high speed video combined with drugs, or being Renshaw-trained, or the orbiting military academy in Space Cadet with its Oxford-model tutorial. Readers of this blog can probably think of many other examples (and are invited to list them).

"Star Fleet academy is both a little disappointing and a bit reassuring; it doesn't seem much different from current military service academies (the Kobayashi Maru simulation notwithstanding.) And River Tam's school in Firefly already exists, if one assumes that River is avoiding the lecture by playing with her iPad 3.

"So let's postulate a near future like the one in Accelerando, where the brain-Internet interface is much better. Why do we need content memorization? Or is it important to have some data in RAM, so to speak, and not just available on the hard drive?

"People working in education have always wrestled with the "skills vs. content" problem. But the way we make connections and approach subject matter has changed since the time of Aristotle. The human species needs to develop ways to learn conceptual and analytic thinking other than in a classroom with other human beings. Does science fiction offer plausible alternatives?"



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Joan Slonczewski in October 2011.

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