Category Archives: Higher ed

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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October 21, 2011, 8:51 am

Article about the flipped MATLAB class

As my only real contribution to the blog this week (I’m trying to amortize a stack of Calculus 2 exams before the weekend), I just wanted to announce that Mathworks News & Notes, the trade publication for Mathworks (developers of MATLAB), this quarter has an article about my flipped MATLAB class that I taught at Franklin College. You can download a PDF of the article at the website. That article has been about 9 months in the making. They did the photo shoot in April. (My students come off looking a lot better than I do, which is about right.)

The article does a nice job of explaining the context of the course, why I chose the inverted classroom format for it, and how things went on a day-to-day basis. I am very proud of the course and the work that students managed to do in it, and I’ll be thinking about — and trying to improve upon — that course for years to come. Longtime readers…

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September 29, 2011, 4:20 pm

Will the Fire burn its way into higher ed?

In case you didn’t hear, Amazon has announced a major upgrade to the entire line of Kindle devices, including a new 7″ tablet device called the Kindle Fire. The Fire won’t be released until November 15, but already the phrase “iPad killer” is being used to describe it. Wired Campus blogger Jeff Young put up a brief post yesterday with a roundup of quick takes on the Fire’s potential in higher education. One of those thoughts was mine. I’ve had some time to look around at what we know about the Fire at this point. I have to say I am still skeptical about the Fire in higher education.

It seems like the Fire is a very well-made device. I’m not so interested in getting one for myself — I’ve got a current-generation Kindle and an iPhone 4, and am very happy with both …

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September 27, 2011, 4:35 pm

Education as a complex adaptive system?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Engineering Education, there’s a guest editorial by Rick Stephens and Michael Richey, both from The Boeing Company, that describes Boeing’s internal efforts to educate its engineers. Here’s the video abstract:

You’re more likely to associate the name “Boeing” with airplanes than with education, but in fact it turns out that Boeing’s educational portfolio is massive: 7 million hours of instruction to more than 150,000 employees across 45 countries — in 2009 alone! That comes out to about 28,000 hours of instruction per week, which would put Boeing in the league of a mid-sized university in terms of contact hours in the classroom.

But comparing Boeing to traditional educational structures is decidedly not the point of the article. The Boeing people ask: Why is it, after so much has been invested in STEM education research and practice, that…

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