Archive for September 23, 2010

Scientists in classrooms squash motivation

Most interesting tidbit I’ve learned so-far at this meeting: Larry Suter, long-time NSF staffer, talked about how to increase student interest in pursuing STEM studies. A common strategy is to show students what real science is all about, because students in the United States don’t understand what STEM jobs are like. One of the findings coming out of NSF’s ITEST program is that sending scientists into classrooms is a recipe for squashing student motivation. Scientists stroll into the classroom and talk about whatever boring thing they’re currently doing, and students react, “I really don’t want to do that!” Things get better if the scientists get briefed on what to talk about and how to relate to the students.

An important lesson for us in Computing Education where motivation to study is a significant issue.

September 23, 2010 at 11:06 am 4 comments

Few users study in MIT Open Courseware

I’m at an NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning and Workforce Development meeting where issues of on-line and open education are arising often. There’s a sense here that the MIT Open Courseware site has many students (often in the developing world) getting a higher-education through self-study.  I like data, and I knew that there were site statistics available, so I went to look and found their World Impact report (old now, from 2006).  I think it shows that these opinions are false.

  • 51% of all visits to the site are single page-views. 29% are 5 or more page views, but only 6% are viewing more than 25 pages.  That’s not a lot of reading, consuming content.
  • 70% of visitors to the site visit only once, ever.  Only 30% are return visitors.  (They did a survey that found that 60% were return visitors and 40% were once-only, but they admit, based on the site stats, that they over-sampled the return visitors.)
  • The average duration of a visit to the site is 11 minutes, but the median is 4 minutes — and this is not counting all those single-page views.  The reality is that few people are spending much time there.
  • 64% of use of the site comes from North America and Europe.  We’re up to 21% of use from Eastern Asia (China), which is impressive.  But 2.9% comes from the Middle East and North Africa, 8% from India, and 1% from Sub-Saharan Africa.

There probably are students in the developing world who are learning through the MIT Open Courseware.  But few people are studying there at all.  Most use is like Wikipedia — people in the developed world looking something up, and giving up quickly after finding (or not finding) it.

Learning takes sustained effort and focus. That’s still hard to get on the Internet.  Harvesting material for free is unlikely to stumble upon the technique for getting and holding attention.

September 23, 2010 at 10:59 am 12 comments


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