Communicating Science and Technology

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Learnings from ScienceComm’17 India


Yesterday I attended a conference organized by Swissnex India that was hosted at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) at IISc campus in Bangalore. Although the event was focused on science, the theme applies just as well to technology. Being an engineer, I write more about technology than science per se. Nowadays, the boundary between science and technology is fuzzy and the lag between research and commercial application is also shrinking.

The premise is that science is not just for scientists. Everything that’s discovered and later applied comes back to affect society and the common man. Genetically modified foods, cancer research, climate change, species extinction and artificial intelligence are just some areas of science that people need to know about, discuss and debate. But science and technology is not written in simple language. Use of technical jargon and dense writing are common traits of scientific writing. It may be understood by the scientific fraternity but not the common man. Worse still, if written by journalists who don’t understand science very well, facts can be misrepresented, misquoted and misunderstood. How then can we simplify science for all?

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What is Design and Why Should We Care?

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Notes from the Design Open event at Bangalore


Earlier today I was at the Design Open event held at the IISc Bangalore. Design Open is a 2-day event that started yesterday. Packed with talks, exhibits and workshops it was a place where academics, professional designers and students of design converged over the weekend. A lot was talked about the discipline of design but also about the undisciplined creativity that needs to be channelized to produce results. So what is design?

As basic as it might seem, a single definition of design is elusive. One can have a number of definitions that may all be correct depending on the context. It’s because of this dependence on context that we have adjectives that are often used as qualifiers: responsive design, interaction design, interface design, emotional design, process design, product design, industrial design, engineering design, inclusive design, indigenous design, visual design, and so on.

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How to Get Your Kids Interested in Programming

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Programming Languages for Kids


Okay, you think programming will be good for your kids perhaps for better career opportunities, or simply for better skills in logic and problem solving. The question is what language should they start with: JavaScript, HTML, Android, Python, C++, Java? For young children (below 10 years), writing lines of code can be a boring task. The problem may be interesting but why would they get interested to code a solution when they can play dozens of colourful games on their tablets?

Let’s not dismiss the usefulness of games. Games are usually not designed to teach anything. They are simply meant to hook kids into using them and hopefully entice them into in-app purchases. Despite this, kids learn anyway. They learn motor skills. They learn the physical limitations of jumping across a broken bridge or how fast they can safely turn a corner. They learn numbers and how the points add up.

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Can You Be Too Young to Start Coding?

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Computer Literacy Revisited


Would you introduce software programming at the primary school level? Or would you rather wait till secondary or much later? Why should kids learn programming anyway when only some of them are going to become computer scientists or engineers? Is programming as essential as basic maths or linguistic grammar?

The debate has been ongoing for some time now and there has been a fair share of argument in both camps. There are those who argue that kids spend too much time as it is with technology. Many are addicted to games. Vocabulary and basic maths skills are dropping. Others argue that technology can be used to teach kids more effectively. Learning can be personalized. Learning can be made engaging and fun. Children can learn at their own pace rather than fitting into the traditional one-to-many classroom model.

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An Open-Source Data Management Software for Schools

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Thoughts on design and implementation


Earlier this year I was approached by BGMS Shishukunj Vidyalaya with a problem. Apparently, they had a tough time collating and formatting student data at the close of last academic year. Data was scattered across different computers and email accounts. Most of it was in the form of spreadsheets but they were all differently formatted. They wondered if there was a better way to do things.

Spreadsheets are great for small amounts of data or when only a few are editing them in a controlled way. They are also somewhat antiquated in the light of newer web-based technologies. Today it is easy to quickly put together a web app that resides in a secure server and accessible by all. So I took up this project to create a web app for their needs.

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Engineers Learn Better Through Experiential Learning

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Students can build even without in-depth theory


Many weeks ago, we featured on IEDF a competition named Engineering Infinite 2014. Over this weekend, the competition entered its final days of reckoning. As part of Elecrama 2014 held at Bangalore, students from various colleges across the country displayed their projects. I visited the exhibition two days ago and spotted more than fifty projects on display. I am told theĀ judges had a tough time picking out the winners.

Winners would have been announced yesterday morning and if someone is maintaining the Facebook page, their names would appear there. In the end, all students who participated are winners. The reason is simple. When most of engineering education is focused on theory and formal examinations, an event like this can spark curiosity and build essential engineering skills. An event like this can create interest in a subject often perceived as tough, mathematical and even boring.

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