Tag Archive for p-prim

More is always better – Or so most think!

Tugend, A., (2010). “For the Dishwasher’s Sake, Go Easy on the Detergent.” NY Times Online. Visited on November 04, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/your-money/13shortcuts.html   If dishwashers do not seem to be doing their job or if your clothes are not coming out as soft as you’d like them to, or if these machines break down easily, it is most likely due to “user error.” We throw in multiple fabric softener sheets because more is better. More isn’t better in this case! The excess sheets liquefy when the dryer gets hot and gum up the dryer. Most people use ten to fifteen times the amount of soap they need. This excess soap is detrimental to the life of the machines.   This article has some clear implications for interaction and interface design.  User errors are likely to happen. Even if you have a manual with detailed instructions, the chances of somebody reading that manual are very slim. Even if they read it, they are still likely to err. How can design inculcate the right usage in the user? In this case, what can design do to prevent errors resulting from the ‘More is better’ p-prim?    Possible Interaction Design Solutions: Solutions could be…

Re “A New Name for High-Fructose Corn Syrup”

Parker-Pope, T., (2010). “A New Name for High-Fructose Corn Syrup.” New York Times Online. Visited on October 3, 2010: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/a-new-name-for-high-fructose-corn-syrup/ As this article describes, corn syrup producers in the United States have begun to push for a re-naming of their products. While it may sound innocuous, this is in fact a major change in the way that High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is marketed to the public. Due to a combination of structural factors such as the widespread success of processed foods, corn production subsidies, and the natural human inclination towards sweet foods, HCFS is present in an astonishing array of food products. Recently, however, there have been indications of a backlash against the prevalence of HFCS in the American diet. Some health professionals and consumer groups have even advocated for its removal from many processed foods. This recent trend in the public perception has left HFCS producers in a bind. They have an economic interest in continuing to produce HCFS at low cost and having it utilized in as many products as possible, but they are not able to change any fundamental features of their product. As a simple mixture of glucose and fructose refined from corn, there is nothing to add to or remove from HFCS to improve it in the public’s eyes. The main lobbying…

Re “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits”

Carey, B. (2010). “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits.” New York Times Online. Retrieved on 26 October, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html The main topic of this article is to dispel a few beliefs about effective study habits. According to this article, research has clearly demonstrated that we don’t have credible evidence for the utility of popular learning-style approaches that we follow. The article also outlines a few simple techniques that can reliably improve how much we learn from studying. Personally, I wish I read this article when I was a full time student as it might have helped me to be a better learner. Conceptual Design: With each of us having specific learning styles, a designer for a learning product can build a system that adopts to our learning styles. For example a system can test its users and determine their learning style and focus on a approach that might make the user learn faster and better. If the learning is tough, learners (Students) might lose interest and motivation. So effective approaches of learning such as variability in setting and materials must be used to improve learnability and retention.  Such design approaches would make learning easy and engage the users…

On “Keeping Kids Safe From the Wrong Dangers” by Belkin

Belkin, L. (2010). “Keeping Kids Safe From the Wrong Dangers” New York Times Online. Retrieved on October 6, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/weekinreview/19belkin.html?_r=1 Summary: Belkin puts the spotlight on the somewhat irrational behaviors of parents when it comes to protecting their children. With the best of intentions, they worry about kidnapping, school snipers, terrorist, dangerous strangers and drugs, while the most likely things to cause children harm are car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide and drowning. So why are parents constantly overestimating rare dangers while underestimating common ones? The author makes the point that evolution may have something to do with it in that our brains are not designed to process abstract or long-term risk, but rather to react to an immediate dangers for instance represented by a sound and make a determination of whether not it presents a danger. In today’s fast-paced world where we are bombarded with all kinds of worst case scenarios and sensationalism, our sense of proportions gets distorted. So, we end up driving our kids to play-dates, when a walk on their own may have been better both health and safety wise. User Groups: So how can parents make more…

What is a p-prim?

I’ve been using the p-prim ever since I’ve learned of them, back in my graduate school days at UC Berkeley. P-prims stand for phenomenological primitives and were “invented” by Andrea diSeesa, a UC Berkeley professor in the School of Education who also happens to be a physicist (diSessa, 1983). Visit his Wikipedia page and check out some of the cool projects he’s working at now. Before I give a definition of a p-prim, I think it would be good to give a few examples. Here’s a graph published by OkTrends on beliefs of various groups (in this case as defined by their sexual orientation) about the relative size of our sun versus the Earth (our planet). Even disregarding the differences in percentages due to sexual preference, an awesome 5 % to 10 % of our population believes that the planet we live on is larger than the star it orbits. Would this qualify as a p-prim? Yes: it’s not a formally learned concept; it describes a phenomenon; it’s a bit of knowledge based on personal observations: the sun looks like a small round disk in the sky; it’s a useful problem-solving tool when one has to draw a picture with…

Grabbity and Other Folksy Wisdom

We spend our lives engaged in problem solving: When should I leave the house to get to work on time? What can I make for dinner given the stuff in my refrigerator? How much work do I need to get done today in order to leave a bit earlier tomorrow? What’s the best driving route given the traffic report coming over the car radio? Can I make the this green light? Can I talk my way out of a traffic ticket? What’s the maximum amount I can pack into my trunk after a COSTCO run? How can I get that stain off the carpet? Is this blog good-enough to post? Looking over this sample list of problems, it’s easy to see that some have to do with temporal and spatial processing (e.g. packing the trunk, picking the best route, judging speed, making schedules), some with background knowledge manipulation (e.g. coming up with a recipe given a list of ingredients, looking up cleaning strategies), some with social processing (e.g. ability to analyze social situations and make correct predictions of possible outcomes—”I will get that ticket, if I run that red light.”), and some with metacognitive tasks (e.g. judging quality, comparing standards…

Metacognition Failure: If I find it easy, it must not be important

Making something easy to understand is extremely difficult. A good designer knows this, knows how hard one has to work to make something comprehensible and easy to use. Unfortunately, users and consumers of products (including education) tend not to get it. We live in society ruled by “More is Better” p-prim: more stuff is better, more money is better, more food is good, more medication is great…more, more, more. Movies, television, newspapers, magazines, all reinforce this idea in our minds. We live in a “super-size me” world. But this basic decision-making algorithm leads to very faulty reasoning. There are multiple corollaries to the “more is better” axiom: thick books without graphics are more educationally valuable, more important (this is based on research I did many years ago with 5th graders); longer essays are clearly better and should get higher graders (the students worked harder/longer on them); big words are better than small ones in expressing ideas (thus we get very pretentious writing); work should be judged by the time it took to complete and not by the quality of the results it produces; more expensive clothes (cars, stereos, etc.) are clearly more valuable (this is a true statement, but most…