Posts tagged ‘higher education’
Hot topic these days, like the debate in the UK. Workshop to be held in conjunction with ASEE in Atlanta June 26-28.
A primary objective of undergraduate computing and engineering programs is to prepare graduates for professional practice. New graduates often find themselves working on large, complex systems that require dozens (or hundreds) of people and months (or years) to complete. Unfortunately, graduates often feel ill-prepared to work on systems of such size and complexity. Educators find it extremely difficult to provide a realistic experience with such systems in an academic environment.
Engineering and computing curricula primarily rely on a senior design course (one or two semesters in length) to teach professional practice. Students are typically organized in project teams to develop a realistic product or service, in which the students engage in various professional practices: such as project management, requirements analysis and modeling, highlevel and detailed design, implementation or simulation, quality assurance, project reporting, and use of appropriate engineering tools and methods.
I’m guessing that the regents at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign does not think that “the end of the University” is near. At least, not in the next five to seven years.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced this week that it would hire about 500 new full-time, tenure-track faculty members in the next five to seven years.
The hiring spree follows years of budget shortfalls that limited hiring at the university, including one year in which hiring was frozen campuswide. University officials now want to restore the total number of full-time faculty members to a level closer to what the campus had in 2007, just before the recession hit.
The hires will be made in two ways, said Barbara J. Wilson, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. Some new hires will fill traditional roles in academic departments. Others will be hired in clusters.
The “cluster hires,” Ms. Wilson said, will be sorted into the six areas that have been identified by the university’s “Visioning Future Excellence at Illinois” project, an effort begun by the chancellor to map out the university’s needs for the future. The review focused on two questions: “What are society’s most pressing issues?” and “What distinctive and signature role can Illinois play in addressing those issues in the next 20 to 50 years?”
Rich DeMillo emphasizes in his book Abelard to Apple that higher education institutions need to differentiate themselves, to avoid being a commodity. I think Amherst College is doing that, in being articulate in their core values and choosing not to partner with any MOOC companies.
“It’s not something they reject totally,” Martin said in a telephone interview, referring to the faculty’s online ambitions. “They just don’t want to do it right now through a firm that may or may not end up allowing us to do what our core values suggest we do in the form of teaching and learning.”
Hooray for NCWIT, for producing materials aimed at higher-education faculty to get them to change their teaching practices! Stereotype threat is real (measurable, reliable, consistent), and can be addressed through better teaching. It’s worth the effort to try to get faculty to pay attention to these issues.
This slide deck is a companion piece to the NCWIT Talking Point Card Talk with Faculty Colleagues About Stereotype Threat (www.ncwit.org/stereotypethreattp). You can hand out the card to your colleagues and then share these slides at a faculty meeting.
The Computing Research Association conducts an annual survey of US doctorate-granting departments in Computing, called the Taulbee Survey. It’s an important resource for understanding the state of computing education in the United States, but only gives the research-focused side of the picture. The ACM has launched an effort to do a similar survey of the-rest-of-us (hence it’s original name, “TauRUs,” Taulbee for the Rest of Us). Please do help to get the word out so that we can get a clearer picture of US post-secondary computing education.
As of last week, the NDC Survey of Non-Doctoral Granting Departments in Computing (all U.S., not-for-profit bachelor’s and master’s programs in CE, CS, IS, IT, SE), previously known as TauRUs, is live. We have gone out to our list of qualifying schools, but we can use YOUR help in getting the word out so we can get to those who may have been left off the mailing, and those who might “forget” to participate! Among other benefits, there is a drawing for five $2,500 grants for the respondents’ departments!
Here is an informational flyer you can share with your colleagues in the non-doctoral computing program community: http://www.acm.org/education/acm-ndc_flyer.pdf.
There will also be an announcement in SIGCSE welcome bags and its listserv.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS — the organization that publishes Science) sponsors a Science and Technology Policy Fellows program that places scientists and engineers into positions in the US government. The idea is to get more people who know science and engineering involved in public policy. In general, few of these fellows come from computer science and engineering, which is a real shame since an increasing amount of science and technology policy involves issues around computing.
I got a chance to chat with Becky Bates who was a AAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow last year, placed in the National Science Foundation (NSF). She told me, “I really care about the issue of policy, and the issue of how scientists and engineers interact with government.” She wanted to get involved because she saw that better understanding of science could inform policy, and that policy impacts what we do as scientists and engineers.
The program requires either a PhD in science or engineering or an MS in an engineering discipline plus eight years of experience. Many Fellows are placed at NSF, but there are also Fellows at NOAA, NASA, NIH, the State Department, Department of Defense, US AID, and other executive branch agencies as well as in various offices in Congress. Congressional Fellows are sponsored by professional societies (IEEE sponsors fellows, but ACM does not). What AAAS provides is matching, training, orientation, and coordination between all parties.
Becky’s degrees are in engineering, but she has worked as a CS professor for the last 10 years at Minnesota State University Mankato. She did the fellowship as a “not-quite sabbatical year.” It’s a fully-funded year, including travel money. Many of the fellows treat it as a kind of post-doc. Post-doctoral study years are still uncommon in computer science and engineering, so the fellowship doesn’t have a lot of visibility in computing.
She saw the fellowship as professional development and networking opportunities for her, and the government agencies appreciate having experts in science and engineering available. Fellows inform policy and help to create policy for issues that they care about. The AAAS-provided professional development goes on throughout the year. “Once a month, we go downtown to the AAAS mothership, to get seminars on cooperation, on working with the press, having ‘crucial conversations,’ on negotiation.”
“The first two weeks were pretty intense orientation. 8am to 5:30 of training for two solid weeks. It’s like a professional masters in two weeks: History of government, how policy happens, how budgets get decided.” That last part was particularly useful to Becky. ”We know that money is good, and how it helps us to do what we want to do, but how it gets allocated and distributed is mostly hidden from us. We’re vaguely aware that it happens, and we definitely don’t know what kinds of influences are deciding who gets what.” That’s particularly important for readers of this blog, because how the money is allocated is important for STEM education and for support of research in computer science and engineering.
It’s a long application process, but both easier and shorter than a Fullbright. Written applications are due on December 5, 2012 (applications are now open at http://fellowships.aaas.org). You have to write a couple essays and provide some letters of recommendation. ”Most importantly,” says Becky, “think about your interests and how that can connect to areas of fellowships.” Becky applied to Health, Education, and Human Services program area. ”I had been doing a lot of educational research, and care about Broadening Participation in Computing. I made a convincing case that I fit into education. I mostly supervise undergraduate researchers doing AI and speech, and I look for connections to community in order to inform student engagement.” Another program is Diplomacy, Security, and Development, which could be a good fit for a computing person interested in information security.
In February, you learn if you are a semi-finalist, and then you have a month to prepare a policy briefing memo on some topic related to your area. Then you have a 30 minute interview in early March, where you present your policy memo to a committee. If you make it through that round, you’re a finalist, which isn’t a guarantee of placement, but many agencies want Fellows. ”There’s a fun week, where you go around to different agencies to find the office for you. It’s almost like a residency match — they have to want you, and you have to want them.”
Becky said that producing the policy memo was challenging. She wrote about Race to the Top Funding. ”I connected it to my research on connections to community and self-efficacy, presented some brief statistics about the pipeline and what we know works for under-represented students. I also thought about things happening at different levels. If we’re thinking about this at a national level, you can’t just say, ‘I want more faculty doing this in their classrooms.’ You need to go beyond your own classroom. Moving to a national level, who are all the stakeholders? Companies, state and national agencies, industry, etc. Think about what solutions would have an impact. Some things are expensive. But if I could plan partnerships with agencies to highlight things that are already happening, it could have a broader impact.”
She said that it was a great experience that she recommends to others. She finds herself thinking about education as an engineering problem, viewing education challenges from an engineering perspective. ”Now, I think about engineering and STEM education. Can we imagine engineers engineering the education system? Modifying it using engineering principles? What would it mean to engineer the whole education system, mapping all the inputs, outputs and transformations, the way that engineers work with the power grid, or a transportation system, or even a very large software project?”
She told me, “Your perspectives get changed. It won’t ever again be as small as it was. I didn’t know how big it could be. I’ll go back to Mankato, but now think about state and federal levels. And think about how things I do at my university make an impact at multiple levels.”
The Dean of our College of Engineering, and an advisor on “Georgia Computes!”, wrote this excellent essay on what it will take for MOOC’s to have impact on higher education.
Until higher education invents solutions that address these areas of concern, the future and value of MOOCs is uncertain. To employers, after all, the credential is paramount; if the credential comes with questions about quality of experience or depth of knowledge, its worth is compromised. This is not to say that Georgia Tech and others are sitting and waiting. We are actively experimenting with – and advocating for – MOOCs to harness their potential. In fact, this fall, engineering and computing faculty will be teaching several classes through Cousera on computational photography, control of mobile robots, computational investing and strategic energy. A colleague recently reminded me of why we work toward this end when he posted to his Facebook page a quote by W.E.B. DuBois: “The purpose of education is not to make men and women into doctors, lawyers and engineers; the purpose of education is to make doctors, lawyers and engineers into men and women.”
I don’t know of a study that addresses the question Nick is asking here. It may certainly exist — I’m not up on research in higher education. (For the CS folk who read this list, there are actually departments in schools of education just on higher education administration, and you can get your doctorate in it.) What percentage of faculty in various kinds of higher education (community college, liberal arts college, research university) want to teach? Enjoy it? Want to get better at it? The closest that we in our group have come to exploring this question is when Lijun Ni interviewed CS faculty in the University System of Georgia, and was told by one faculty member (at a school with a teaching-primary mission) that he was not a computing educator and was not interested in getting better at it. What’s the percentage overall?
Have we actually ever asked people these key questions as a general investigation? “Do you like teaching?” “What do you enjoy about teaching?” “What can we do to make you enjoy teaching more?” Would this muddy the water or clear the air? Would this earth our non-teaching teachers and fire them up?
Even where people run vanity courses (very small scale, research-focused courses design to cherry pick the good students) they are still often disappointed because, even where you can muster the passion to teach, if you don’t really understand how to teach or what you need to do to build a good learning experience, then you end up with these ‘good’ students in this ‘enjoyable’ course failing, complaining, dropping out and, in more analogous terms, kicking your puppy. You will now like teaching even less!
Admittedly, this is Texas, whose state Republican platform recently recommended no teaching of higher-order thinking skills or critical thinking skills. It may be an outlier. It may also be a leading indicator. The Houston Chronicle has published an op-ed which proposes replacing more university courses with MOOCs.
Number five is the most cost-saving recommendation: Move more classes online. Online learning will become to education what the forward pass was to football. It will revolutionize.
MIT, for example, has implemented an online program free of charge, and for a small fee, it will award a certificate of compliance. The first course, Circuits and Electronics, drew 120,000 registrants in the first month.
We’re in the final week of the Computational Freakonomics course at Oxford, and students are looking for data. Several of my students are diving into the Guardian’s impressive open data journalism site. Helping them look around, I found this interesting article relating funding to teaching quality. The findings are all for UK institutions (comparable to US? Similar issues?). The “teaching scores” are not course-specific, but at the end of the three year undergraduate degree, what did the graduates think of the teaching at the institution? I wonder if the influences are the same as on other course surveys. The graph below was one of the most interesting: Higher funding was related to better teaching and student-to-staff ratios.
In the chart below, we seed how teaching scores relate to the expenditure per student and the student staff ratio and how expenditure per student and student staff ratio relate to each other:
“The Snowbird Report and the NSF-ED report both make the point that the working environment may not be able to sustain quality: Lab and computing facilities are not being upgraded or expanded to meet the demand; salaries and graduate student stipends are unattractive; faculties have not grown; heavy time commitments to large classes and counseling destroy the intellectual atmosphere and deprive graduate students of proper supervision…On the other hand, there is in Congress sentiment that ‘all the universities must do is raise faculty salaries,’ and the problem will go away.”
No, that’s not from a follow-up to the below article. It’s a quote from Peter Denning’s 1981 Letter to the ACM, “Eating our Seed Corn.” Eric Roberts warned last year that we were going to end up in the same place as we were in the early 80′s (when Peter wrote the above words) and in the early 2000′s (during the dot-com boom). According to US News and World Report, we’re getting there — the flow of students, in a time of cutbacks at Universities, is going to hinder our ability to meet demand, and the relentless draw of industry with its higher salaries is going to make it harder to find faculty.
At some institutions, the computer science program faces a shortage of qualified computer science faculty to meet student demand, notes Gwen Walton, a professor of computer science at Florida Southern College. Walton, who spent more than 20 years working in the industry, says schools cannot compete with the salaries many professionals command in the job market.
“Computer science is one of the few fields where you can start with a very high-paying salary with only a [bachelor's degree],” Walton says. “You don’t go into [teaching computer science] for the pay.”
Interesting question, beyond asking what is computational thinking: If you require “programming,” what counts as “programming”? The Chronicle asks, does typesetting in LaTeX count?
I’m interested in how the non-CS community will answer that question. What will programming look like for “everyone else,” the non-CS majors, those who aren’t professional software developers? I’m fascinated by CSound, the music and sound synthesis language. There are no looping structures, just go-to. If your first thought is “it looks like assembly language,” check your CS-informed biases at the door, please. If you don’t know what “assembly language” is, what is CSound? Almost none of the examples include looping or conditionals. But for me, it’s definitely programming. What is our bottomline of what is programming, and in particular, for what communities of practice?
We’ve discussed this before here at the blog, and I suggested that the definition of “programming” be broadly defined to include any creative work that gets a computer to work beyond its basic feature set. So, for example, learning to use MS Word to write a paper — while that’s important — would not count as “programming”, but learning to typeset a research paper in LATEX with a bibliography would (probably) count. Georgia Tech’s approach of using of media computation would seem especially attractive to students who wouldn’t normally count themselves among CS enthusiasts.
Interesting piece arguing that schools are actually getting better over the last decade, despite the growing rhetoric about their failure.
Some schools are having a difficult time educating children – particularly children who are impoverished, speak a language other than English, move frequently or arrive at the school door neglected, abused or chronically ill. But many pieces of this complex mosaic are quite positive. First data point: American elementary and middle school students have improved their performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study every four years since the tests began in 1995; they are above the international average in all categories and within a few percentage points of the global leaders (something that few news reports mention). Second data point: The number of Americans with at least some college education has soared over the past 70 years, from 10 percent in 1940 to 56 percent today, even as the population has tripled and the nation has grown vastly more diverse. All told, America’s long-term achievements in education are nothing short of stunning.
Audrey Watters responds to this issue. She believes that Farhi’s article points to a failure of educational journalists.
Farhi contends that journalists simply aren’t doing the legwork necessary to write good, critical stories. Instead, he argues, they’re parroting the “ed reform” movement’s version of the story — not questioning the press releases, policies or narratives that they’re handed by the likes of the politicians, philanthropic organizations, and corporations. Part of my criticisms of tech blogging certainly involves a similar issue: uncritical parroting of “buzz,” churnalism, copy-and-pasting of press releases, and “parachute journalism.”
Farhi says there’s a lack of “due diligence” on the part of reporters, who have a starry-eyed fascination with Bill Gates alongside an inability to walk into the classroom or talk to many educators (thanks to both policy proscriptions and schools’ unwillingness to communicate with the press). But I think there are other issues at stake here too, least of which is the fact that journalism is a rapidly changing industry, one where “Old Media” is feeling increasingly squeezed and where — in the brave new online world — pageviews drive the product and often the storyline. There’s an incredible amount of “diligence” that goes into addressing the latter, and so I’m never surprised to hear fear and failure touted.
Of course, there are significant problems with the American school system. I have one of Alan Kay’s quotes on a post-it on my monitor, “You can fix a clock, but you have to negotiate with a system.” At any moment, there are lots of things going to be going right and getting better with the American school system, yet there will still be a need for change and improvement. How do we change such a complex system? How do we make it better?
F0r me, it’s important to know what we’re trying to change and how. The system is too big and complex, and too expensive to change, to design without a good idea of the purpose. That’s why I found the call for more distance education in Georgia schools distressing. More distance education is a good thing, but it’s unlikely to improve graduation rates. I can imagine a lot of effort going on to create distance education opportunities in Georgia, with the wrong design criteria, and judging success or failure by looking at the wrong outcome variables. I could imagine the distance education efforts enabling adults to return for formal education, or to reach students who might not even enter into higher education. Those are good goals, but they require something different than what’s needed to raise graduation rates. And if you watch graduation rates, you’re not going to see rural access and a rising average age of students (or graduates).
American schools have never been better, and there’s never been more work to do.
Robert Talbert has blogged twice recently in the theme of requiring computer science for all students in The Chronicle‘s blog. His points, and the discussion in response, are fascinating, since they reflect the perspectives of a wide audience. There are lots of calls in the comments for just teaching computing applications, not programming, and it’s useful to read those perspectives.
The reason I bring this up is that I’m hearing some say, in response to the articles about the CS requirement, that we should require a course in office applications and basic digital literacy for those who come in with lesser technological skill, and that can be their CS course. I think that’s looking at the problem from the wrong end. It seems that we might want a global CS requirement because in this era, the quantity and quality of digital skills that we should expect from students has changed. Office suite proficiency is necessary but no longer sufficient: We want students to be able to program (where “programming” is broadly defined), to articulate how computers and the internet work, and so on. The question ought to be, where do we want students to end up with respect to CS, not where are they now. If we want all students to program — which I think is the true gist of the push to require CS — then let’s aim high, set the goal, and help students get there. (Which involves asking “where are they now”, I know.) But let’s not say that students with low tech proficiencies can’t get there or shouldn’t be expected to get there.
This is a really interesting question, and an important one for building an economy around specially-built courses. Can a college outsource its foreign language courses to the commercial company Rosetta Stone? I was amazed at the anger at James Madison University’s plans to do just that. This isn’t an issue of whether a for-profit can provide reasonable learning. This is about a non-profit outsourcing single courses. I like the idea — I’d like to see higher education control costs by creating a market for high-quality courses. The faculty can serve as both a broker and as quality control, which it sounds like they are doing in the James Madison case. Of course, the last question in this quote is the key one.
Feal, the MLA director, said James Madison’s program “sounds like buying college credit.”
“If a college is charging tuition and essentially turning their students over to Rosetta Stone with very little value added, that is scandalous,” said Feal. “Why would a student need to go through a college for that experience?”