Archive for October 18, 2010

Latest enrollment numbers at Qatar University: Big gender imbalance

John Impagliazzo at Qatar University just sent me some striking numbers about enrollment in their computing programs for this semester, which he said that I could share here:


Computer Science: 39 males, 94 females.

Computer Engineering: 0 males, 128 females
(Computer Engineering not yet offered on men’s campus, only on women’s campus)


MS in Computing: 14 males, 23 females

Why is the gender difference so shifted in Qatar as compared with US and Europe?  Do these students have a different perception or definition of the field than do students here in the United States?  Or are they deciding based on other factors than whether CS is “nerdy/geeky” or not?  While the Computer Science and MS numbers are amazing, I find the huge numbers for Computer Engineering just as interesting and even more puzzling.  Why would Computer Engineering be an even bigger draw than Computer Science?

October 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm 13 comments

Despite attention and dollars, existing social media won’t fix online learning

For many of the same reasons articulated in the discussion with Dave Patterson and Alan Kay, there is growing interest in making online learning work better — and now there are dollars backing up that interest.  The new funding from the Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation will focus first on post-secondary (which is exciting to me, for trying to teach high school CS teachers in-service), then later on secondary.

The education gap facing the nation’s work force is evident in the numbers. Most new jobs will require more than a high school education, yet fewer than half of Americans under 30 have a postsecondary degree of any kind. Recent state budget cuts, education experts agree, promise to make closing that gap even more difficult.

Bill Gates, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is giving an initial $20 million for postsecondary online courses.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and four nonprofit education organizations are beginning an ambitious initiative to address that challenge by accelerating the development and use of online learning tools.

via Gates and Hewlett Foundations Focus on Online Learning –

But how do we do it?  How do we make these online learning tools, and even larger challenge, all the content and curricula with those tools?  I argued in a previous post that open source, multi-author, free books will likely not innovate nor have high enough quality.  There’s some support for that argument in a recent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell writes, in an article titled “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media efforts (including Wikipedia) are only good for some kinds of change, and not for others.  He argues that the “Twitter Revolution” has not existed, nor will it.  (Good clue: If all those tweets that were supposedly from Iranian dissidents were actually organizing protests inside of Iran, why were they in English and not Farsi?)  Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia are networks, which are good for keeping updated on information, but not for generating new ideas or taking on a well-organized establisment, as the civil rights effort did.  Facebook and other current social media generate participation, not motivation.

Related to the point about design of new kinds of online learning tools, Gladwell writes:

This structure makes networks enormously resilient and adaptable in low-risk situations. Wikipedia is a perfect example. It doesn’t have an editor, sitting in New York, who directs and corrects each entry. The effort of putting together each entry is self-organized. If every entry in Wikipedia were to be erased tomorrow, the content would swiftly be restored, because that’s what happens when a network of thousands spontaneously devote their time to a task.

There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Gladwell’s article actually gave me some insight into how to build online content successfully — don’t do it as a network.  Create roles.  Create specialization of author’s contributions.  Create hierarchy.  Not everything should be a flat article, as it is now in Wikipedia.  To be successful, we need structure, real pedagogical structure. Chapters, lectures, and tutorials are boundaries of time-space, not pedagogical structures.  They separate chunks, as opposed to defining how the chunks help learning.

The Gates and Hewlett Foundation are sounding the call, rallying the troops to improve online learning.  Great!  Malcolm Gladwell is saying that it won’t work if it looks like existing social media, and I think his ideas give us insight into how to make it work.


October 18, 2010 at 11:35 am 6 comments

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