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XX.3 May + June 2013
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Targeting the Fitts Law

I enjoyed reading this article. I finally got why Harold [Thimbleby] wants to call it “the Fitts Law.” If enough people write it that way I would never have to correct another submission making the embarrassing mistake of “Fitt’s Law.”

I did not completely get the following remark, though: “The Accot and Zhai paper about the Fitts Law [3] has a clever title that illustrates the rules on letters, ‘More than dotting the i’s…’—a bad pun on eyes.”

I came up with the title, but the word eyes never came to my mind. We meant that the point-and-click style of UI is like dotting the i’s everywhere—placing a click on constrained targets as the fundamental action in interaction. Why not use “crossing the t’s” as an alternative action? Indeed, we presented models of a new style of UI, which systematically reveals when crossing is superior to clicking, hence the subtitle of the paper, “Foundations for crossing-based interfaces.”

Shumin Zhai

Blog Deborah Tatar: Ai Weiwei and trust in the system

http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/ai-weiwei-and-trust-in-the-system-the-background-foreground-playground

This review does what a good review should do: It creates an almost physical need to see the “great black rug” and to join in a passionate response. Thank you for an elegant experience of language as well.

Hakuin Rose

Thanks. Some people have sent me thoughtful responses via email. One concern pushed through the work of art to the question of justice in China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Evidently Erik Jansen, at Stanford, has recently been funded to build a law school in Afghanistan, on the logic that in places without a rule of law, the rule of law comes first and that law schools are places where people learn them. Of course, China, as my correspondent pointed out, has had a government for a long time and we cannot have the illusion of “fixing” them. I am not comfortable with the thought of fixing other countries. I just keep thinking of the beam in my own eye.

Deborah Tatar

Blog Gilbert Cockton: Why ‘bwords will suddenly reappear every time we are here

http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/why-bwords-will-suddenly-reappear-every-time-we-are-here

[A barrack room is a] U.K. military accommodation for non-officers, and a barrack room lawyer is someone who holds forth on rules and regulations that they are not qualified to comment on. By analogy, barrack room philosophers of science lay down the law on the rules of science, when they have never read any key references on the history, philosophy, or sociology of science. They are folk scientists, with folk remedies to scientific practices. They are not well-informed experts.

Anonymous

Blog Jonathan Grudin: Couch Potato U.

http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/couch-potato-u

I took Eric Lander’s intro biology course for credit at MIT five years ago. I’m taking it again with my daughter for free on edX now (started this morning). It’s hard to imagine anything much more appealing than Eric live, but what a treat to be able to share the course with my daughter, who is probably going to end up at a more liberal arts-y institution than MIT, and would probably be too late to take 7.012 from Eric even if she were to go there.

The rhythm of an online course is completely different from that of a series of online lectures: The lessons are broken up into short chunks. There are trivial quizzes during and after most chunks, just to be sure you’re paying attention (and also maybe to provide you with a little positive feedback: “Hey!!! I got it right! I’m getting this!”) Then there are weekly problem sets that I have found to be significantly challenging (like grad-school-level difficult, in some cases). The problem sets are graded automatically and also by peer review. Some courses give the student multiple attempts to get the problem sets right, while others allow only a single submission without penalty. Finally, there are online discussion fora, where students can share their insights, questions, likes, dislikes, etc. I have found that if you make the effort to do the problem sets, you get “hooked into” the course. Once you’ve done one problem set it gets harder to walk away from the course. I think that this particular form of free, rigorous online education is world changing and am fascinated to see what develops. The blog post compares the effect of MOOCs to that of file sharing on the music industry. I think it could be much more profound than that—perhaps as world changing as the effect of the invention of movable type on the dissemination of knowledge and culture.

Peter Sisk

The point you make here about engagement gets at what is so far noticeably absent from the rhetoric around MOOCs and points to a larger issue: pedagogy. The pedagogical tactics for MOOCs appeal to a very specific type of learner—one who can work confidently alone. While MOOCs are touted as a solution for the skills gap in the STEM workforce, I’m doubtful that they alone can engage the students who are so underserved by traditional STEM education.

Amelia Abreu

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