Category Archives: Higher ed

April 4, 2012, 8:46 am

Making Computer Science a Requirement?

This US News article points out a growing interest among colleges and universities to make basic computer science a required course for all students. Georgia Tech already does this. The article points out that universities not normally considered to be science/technology-heavy are leaning this way too:

Every student at Montclair State University in New Jersey must complete a computer science in order to graduate. For most students, that course is Introduction for Computer Applications: Being Fluent with Information Technology. (Music majors take Music and Computer Technology I.)

The course is designed to teach students majoring in subjects such as fashion, dance, or art history about network security, artificial intelligence, databases, and e-commerce, says Michael Oudshoorn, chairman of the computer science department at Montclair.

“It’s not aimed at making them experts; it’s…

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April 3, 2012, 6:22 am

Udacity CS101: What’s Been Good

Sorry to be gone for a few days without posting. It’s been basically triage here as we move toward the end of the semester. It’s also nearly the end of the CS101 course at Udacity (whose courses come in “hexamesters”, six times a year), so this week I’m planning on giving a sequence of posts that sum up my experience.

I almost didn’t do the CS101 course at all. I was waiting for Stanford University’s similarly-named course, but its repeated delays compelled me to look into Udacity. (I’m wondering if those delays, which were explained as legal and business issues in Stanford’s emails, had something to do with Udacity’s and Stanford’s courses being similarly named and similarly timed and potential legal action between those two orginzations.) I was really motivated to learn Python and tired of waiting on Stanford’s course. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a startup that wasn’t formally…

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March 21, 2012, 6:38 am

Udacity Update

It’s been a couple of weeks since my first post about the Udacity CS101 course, so here’s an update. Before that, let me mention this nice article in Wired about Udacity and its origins. That article sheds a little light on the questions I had earlier about Udacity’s business model.

So, Units 3 and 4 are now done with the CS101 course. The focus of Unit 3 was mostly on the concept of the list in Python, along with FOR loops and an emphasis on computer memory. Unit 4 was a bit of a left turn into a discussion of computer networks, with an emphasis on the basics of the Internet and the concepts of latency and bandwidth. So, just from this description, you can see one of the things I particularly like about CS101: It’s not just about Python. This is a class that is actually about computer science in general with Python as a tool for understanding it. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I…

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March 19, 2012, 6:38 am

Lecture Fail?

Jeff Young from the Chronicle has started a flame war conversation on the future of lecturing in higher education by having students send in videos with their thoughts on lecture, followed by professors sending in their videos on the same thing (and to rebut the student comments). Here’s my response, which shows up at the main discussion thread but a few slots below the main professors’ video:

To sum up my main points from this video:

  1. The discussion shouldn’t be about whether we are pro-lecture or anti-lecture, but whether lecture works in terms of student learning, where by “student” we mean the learners that are actually there in the classes we are teaching at the moment.
  2. When you frame it that way, lecture by itself is often a poor choice and we need to be open to using whatever combination of teaching tools best enables our students to learn.
  3. Something that…

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March 6, 2012, 8:10 am

Two Weeks With Udacity

One of my professional plans for this semester was to take two of Stanford University’s massively-open online courses (“MOOC” for short), one on Introduction to Computer Science and the other on Cryptography. I had planned on taking these, that is, until the courses started suffering repeated delays. The last email I received from Stanford cited “legal and administrative issues” that have pushed the Cryptography course — which was originally slated to start in January — back into March, and the CS course that was originally scheduled for late February has also failed to materialize. I think I’ll be writing a separate blog post regarding what I think about these delays and what it might mean for Stanford. Let’s just say it doesn’t make Stanford look good. In the meantime, I decided I was ready to learn and didn’t want to wait around anymore, so I signed up for the CS101 class offered…

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January 18, 2012, 7:12 am

What I learned in 2011: There is always a backstory

Here’s a previous article in an ongoing series of What I Learned in 2011.

While it was still on TV, the show LOST was a favorite of mine. No, that’s not strong enough — it was an obsession. I discovered the show about halfway through its fourth season when I downloaded the series pilot from iTunes on a whim. I was hooked. I proceeded to watch the episodes online at a rate of about one per day — sometimes two or even three — until I caught up. I read the blogs, edited the wiki, listened to the podcasts. I was completely and totally absorbed. And this is coming from a person who otherwise watches TV maybe about an hour a week (modulo football and kids’ shows).

What was it about that show that I found so engaging? For me, the main thing was the deep humanity of the characters. In the first few episodes, it was very easy to pigeonhole them all. Sawyer was the criminal you had to…

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January 3, 2012, 1:59 pm

Three things I learned about teaching by taking a short course

One of the main reasons I’m at the AMS/MAA Joint Meetings this week is to take an MAA short course on discrete and computational geometry. That course is wrapping up this afternoon, and it’s been a good experience. I came into the course with zero knowledge of computational geometry, a within-\(\epsilon\)-of-zero knowledge of algorithms, and an extremely rusty skill set in topology. But I’m coming out with an appreciation for this subject and, hopefully, a basis for pushing farther into the field and eventually contributing something new.

Teachers ought to take courses more often. Apart from being intellectually satisfying, it’s useful to be on the receiving end of academic teaching in one’s own discipline every now and then because it helps you remember what it’s like to be in the shoes of your own students. Here are some things I’ve re-learned about being a student in a math…

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December 20, 2011, 7:53 am

Will MITx Disrupt Higher Education?

MIT has been doing online access to education a lot longer than most people, largely due to their invaluable OpenCourseWare project. (Here’s an interview MIT did with me last year on how OCW strongly influenced my inverted-classroom MATLAB course.) Now they are poised to go to the next level by launching an online system called MITx in Spring 2012 that provides credentialing as well as content:

Mr. Reif and Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said M.I.T.x would start this spring — perhaps with just one course — but would expand to include many more courses, as OpenCourseWare has done. [...]

The M.I.T.x classes, he said, will have online discussions and forums where students can ask questions and, often, have them answered by others in the class.

While access to the software will be free, there will most likely be an “affordable…

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November 8, 2011, 6:52 am

Is math too hard? Or just not interesting enough?

The title of this NY Times article making the rounds in the blogosphere is titled “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)”. But it seems like the real reason that 40% of university students today who plan on careers in the STEM disciplines end up changing into other fields or dropping out is only partly about the hardness of the subjects. What are the other parts?  Read this:

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash …

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November 2, 2011, 7:30 am

Was this professor really fired for being too tough?

From Utah, here’s a story about business prof Stephen Maranville who was denied tenure at Utah Valley University, apparently based on student complaints about his use of the Socratic Method. I won’t quote from the article because it’s short — read the whole thing — and because it sounds a lot like other cases where profs have found themselves on the wrong side of student and administrative graces because of grades or pedagogy or both.

Here are my thoughts on this.

1. It can’t be as simple as the meme of: Professor is tough -> Students complain -> Administration caves to student demands -> Prof gets fired. What actually happened in Maranville’s classes? Do we know? There are profs using the Socratic Method all the time, being tough and holding high standards with students not that different from UVU students, who don’t get complaints on this scale or lose tenure. Some of them are…

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