Nathan Balasubramanian's Summary and Analysis of Assignment 12

Read Fischer, G. (2002) Beyond 'Couch Potatoes': From Consumers to Designers and Active Contributors, in FirstMonday (Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet), at:

Summary and Analysis

Briefly discuss the following issues (articulate the answers in your own words) :

1. What do you consider the main argument of the article?

Everyone concurred that the main argument of the article was that new computational media must enable and empower people to become designers and active producers rather than passive consumers, as the title suggests.

2. Do you agree or disagree with the main argument? give a answer based on your own experiences?

Everyone agreed and the experiences included teaching children, playing tennis, active learning, building with wood, playing music, and designing educational programs. One articulated the difficulty in finding the right balance between generalists and specialists.

3. Enumerate in which situations

3.1 you acted as a designer/active contributor

Common examples included programming, writing, designing websites, swiki, building custom-made computers, designing MANTIS OS for wireless sensor networks and a 3D rendering engine.

3.2. you acted as a (passive) consumer

Examples included learning in high school to undergraduate classes, watching television/websites, passive reading, and listening to music.

3.3. situations in which you believe you should have acted differently

Learners were reflective and commented about how they would have liked to act differently during college learning, designing websites, providing feedback to the service industry, and planning travel.

An exercise in learning for understanding — pick one of the following problems and try to solve it

1. Will the Flight Time Change?

1.1. An airplane is flying from Denver to Frankfurt and back (round trip) with its own average speed of 500 miles/hour (for all trips). On its first trip, there is a no wind in both directions. On its second trip, going from Denver to Frankfurt, there is a tale wind of 100 miles/hour. Returning from Frankfurt to Denver, there is a head wind of 100 miles/hour.

1.2. Question: will the flight time be the same or different (if different: shorter or longer for the trip with wind)?

2. The Rope around the Earth

2.1. There is a steel ring around the earth at the equator touching the (flat) earth everywhere. We extend the steel ring by 1 yard in length and form a concentric circle around the earth (i.e., the distance between earth and steel ring is the same everywhere.

2.2. Question: Will a small cat be able to sneak through between the earth and the steel ring?

3. How Old are the Children

3.1. A person visits a family with 3 children and would like to know the ages of the children. The mother tells the visitor: “Their ages multiplied with each other is 36. Their age added is equal to the number on the house.” The visitor goes in front of the house and looks at the number (and she knows now the number). She comes back and says: “I still do not know the age of the children.” The mother then tells her: “The oldest son plays the piano”. Now the visitor knew the age of the children.

3.2. Question: How old are the children? (note: the ages of all children are integers!)

Answer briefly the following questions:

1. Describe your solution (if you found one) or why you were unable to find one?

2. What did you learn solving (or thinking about) the problem?

3. What kind of knowledge was most important for solving the problem?

4. Are (or would be) computers helpful in solving these problems?

Learners attempted one of more of the three “learning for understanding” problems.

In the first problem of change in flight time, one found the correct answer that the trip with wind will be longer by trial-and-error but did not elaborate on how the distance formula (distance = speed x time) might have helped.

Several attempted the rope around the earth problem. Five concluded correctly that the cat will be able to sneak through. One was purely surgical, three were surprised by the counterintuitive result, and a fifth extended the argument that a cat might dig under the rope! A fifth group concluded that the cat would not sneak through because “adding a yard would probably not allow enough space.”

In the third problem, about the age of the children, answers varied. If it could be assumed that a 1-2 year old cannot play the piano, two found the correct age of the children as 9, 2, & 2! Three responses started logically with algebraic equations and stopped because of “lack of adequate information” about twins and the piano-playing age!

The reasoning included: visualization, using tacit information, pushing assumptions, breaking down the problem into smaller ones, finding (un)necessary information off the web, thinking logically, knowledge of geometry, equations, algebraic skills, language comprehension, cultural assumptions, and guessing.

Re the possible use of computers to solve such problems, the answers were more along a continuum – qualified no to emphatic yes. Three were on one end of the continuum, one in the middle, and six on the other end respectively.

Nathan Balasubramanian