Archive for August, 2012

How do we evaluate the value of face-to-face contact?

In the last few weeks, the focus of the MOOC debate seems to have shifted to an important question: Exactly what is the value of face-to-face contact?  The President of Williams College, Adam F. Falk, published a piece in WSJ claiming that contact hours with a professor is the most important factor in learning.

A recent article in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine claims exactly the opposite (with no reference to support this dubious claim): “In fact, one of the core tenets of traditional learning—that face-to-face interaction between teacher and student is critical—is actually of almost no value, according to meta-analysis of education studies.”  The very next paragraph starts with: “Meta-analysis shows that the other most effective educational tool is one-on-one tutoring.”  So the tutoring is only valuable if it’s not face-to-face?

The below article by Walt Gardners raises a more reasoned critique of Falk’s WSJ piece.  The question hasn’t been resolved one way or another for me, but it’s certainly one of the key questions in the debate over the value of MOOCs.  What is lost when face-to-face contact is removed?  How are on-line media forms best used for learning?

According to Falk, the curriculum, the choice of major, and the GPA do not predict self-reported gains in these critical outcomes nearly as well as “how much time a student spent with professors.” In other words, a professor can be a dud in the classroom and yet still be effective in helping students achieve the stated goals. How is that possible? I don’t doubt that the relationship between professors and students is an important factor in learning. But that’s not what Falk argues. Instead, he asserts that it’s the number of hours a professor logs with students after the bell rings that counts the most. I fail to see what that has to do with instruction.

The rebuttal is that not all learning takes place in the classroom. Fair enough. But “personal contact” can mean having coffee and talking about the latest fashions. ‘Im sure thats a pleasant way to spend time, but how does that translate into, say, being able to write effectively? I assume that the time spent with students does not involve tutoring because Falk never uses the word. The irony, of course, is that when teachers in K-12 complain about the need for small classes so that they have a better chance to know students and design lessons in line with their needs and interests, they are seen as making excuses.

via A Strange Way to Evaluate Learning – Walt Gardners Reality Check – Education Week.

August 31, 2012 at 9:52 am 5 comments

IEEE CS Video about Media Computation and Georgia Computes (and me)

IEEE Computer Society does good videos. They did a nice video at the Awards Ceremony, and now, they’ve put together a follow-up video with footage from interviews that they did after the Awards Ceremony. I always find it painful to watch myself being interviewed in a video, but I like how they got what’s important about Media Computation and Georgia Computes in this piece. You always try to get some of the important stuff into an interview, but the stuff you thought was most important usually ends up on the cutting room floor. Here, they got what I thought were the important bits.

August 31, 2012 at 9:05 am 1 comment

Perplexity over engagement: How to get kids in an enduring STEM relationship

This piece got mentioned in an earlier blog post comment Mylène, and I wanted to make sure that it got highlighted.  It’s a wonderful post about what really leads to an enduring relationship with a subject matter.  There are some great lessons here for computing education. Media Computation fares well when considered from this perspective. I just used MediaComp as a way of introducing graduate students to Python, and they puzzled (for example) over why sounds came out the way that they did.  I thought it worked as a way of getting the students to start reasoning with Python.

An ounce of perplexity is worth a pound of engagement. Give me a student with a question in her head, one that math can help her answer, over a student who’s been engaged by a poster or a celebrity testimonial or the promise of a career. Engagement fades. Perplexity endures.

Perhaps it comes to this: rather than remembering your own tastes as a twelve-year-old, empathize with the tastes of a twelve-year-old who isn’t anything like you, one who has experienced only humiliation and failure in mathematics. What does math have to offer that student?

via dy/dan » Blog Archive » Public Relations.

August 30, 2012 at 11:43 am Leave a comment

Asking the Question in Higher Education: Do You Love Teaching?

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!

via The Key Difference (or so it appears): Do You Love Teaching? « Nick Falkner.

August 29, 2012 at 11:40 am 2 comments

New kind of spam? Snagging legitimate comments

I want to go meta for a moment, because I noticed something that I found interesting in my WordPress spam folder.  I have several completely legitimate, thoughtful comments on the blog, with completely illegitimate ownership.  I suspect that the ownership of the comment has been hijacked to drive traffic to their site.

For example, here’s a comment that has supposedly been made by a “Panama Offshore Bank Account” website:

We do know how to engage kids now. We have NCWIT Best and Promising Practices , and we have contextualized computing education . The real problem is that, when it comes to high school CS, we’re just not there. If you choose a high school at random, you are ten times more likely to find one that offers no CS than to find one offering AP CS. That’s a big reason why the AP numbers are so bad. It’s not that the current AP CS is such an awful class. It can be taught well. It’s just not available to everyone! The AP CS teachers we’re working with are turning kids away because their classes are full. Most kids just don’t have access.

That’s a relevant contribution — why would a Panama Bank submit that?

Here’s another, on the Khan Academy CS supports, from an “Anglo-Far East Gold Bullion” site:

The system works wonderfully. Educators often call it “scaffolded problem-based learning.” Essentially students will be solving real-life problems while being encouraged to explore, but are also guided by a teacher along their way, who will be able to point out a number of different ways of accomplishing the problem. Scaffolded learning acknowledges that real-life problems will always have more than one way to solve the solution, that students will always learn best by doing instead of watching, and that curiously should drive exploration (as a personal thought, it’s kind of funny that we’re basically finding things out that were already discovered hundreds of years ago).

These are far too-relevant to be generated by auto-spamming bots.  I’m wondering if, somehow, legitimate comments are getting relabeled.

If you make a comment, and it doesn’t show up, please drop me a note to check the spam filter, and I’ll try to make sure that your comment gets posted.

August 29, 2012 at 9:14 am 4 comments

Sebastian Thrun bets education over driverless cars

Last week, I got to meet Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity.  It was great fun, and I got to ask him about a bunch of the issues raised in this blog.

If you haven’t read the piece in Huffington Post about him (linked below), I recommend it.  He said that he doesn’t like the piece, since it depicts him as a reckless driver.  When you’re developing a driverless car, it’s not a good thing for people to see you as someone who can’t drive safely.  Beyond that, he liked it.  How could he not?  It paints him as a bold genius who is making big, broad gambles.

I found that Sebastian’s take on MOOC’s is quite a bit more careful than many who talk about MOOCs.  He doesn’t believe that MOOCs are going to wipe out Universities anytime soon, and he sees that there are many subjects (like occupational therapy, that I mentioned in another post) that will never work well in MOOCs.  While he believes that the Udacity platform could be used to provide substitutes to community college classes, he doesn’t see that Udacity itself is going to be doing that anytime soon.  He definitely sees Udacity as offering corporate training.

We talked about the low completion rates in Udacity courses and the fast pace that students complained about.  Sebastian said that that’s been fixed — Udacity courses can now be completely self-paced.  However, that doesn’t raise the completion rates.  Course-pace and self-pace don’t lead to high completion rates.  Maybe cohort-paced?

I asked him if he’s seen Dick Lipton’s blog on cheating vs mastery. He said that he had and that Udacity doesn’t work like that anymore.  Students taking an exam in Udacity can see the answers after the exam, which eliminates the mastery-learning component.  Students can optionally pay to go to a testing center, which diminishes the cheating possibility, but also prevents the mastery learning element.

Sebastian didn’t say this explicitly, but here’s what I believe his goal is.  He’s not out to replace the lower end.  He’s trying to create a new, low-cost option at the upper end of the higher-education spectrum.  He wants to create an inexpensive, high-quality “Elite” (to use Rich DeMillo’s term): An E-Ivy, or an ubiquitously-accessible Stanford.  The low pass rates aren’t a problem, then.  Rather, it’s using motivation and willingness to put in the effort as the filter, rather than wealthy and clout.  They’ll still have few graduates, but it’s because that’s who makes it through, not who can pay the tuition.  Those who graduate will really know their stuff.

I asked Sebastian, “Which do you think will have a bigger impact on society, Udacity on education, or your driverless car?”  He said, “Udacity’s impact on education.”  I bet the Driverless car.  I’ve seen too many people with big, even wonderful ideas to change everything in education, but they ran headlong into the schoolification of everything.  I do think that Sebastian has an angle that they haven’t.  He’s aiming to change the top, rather than try to reach the bottom.  Rather than make something that can be used with everyone, he’s making something that only a few have to succeed at. That’s an interesting and unusual strategy. The reality is that the top is the goal for everyone else, so education does get changed from the top down.  Udacity will likely change things, but I don’t think I can predict how. On the other hand, I was born in Detroit where cars are a very big thing.  I took a course at Wayne State University where a big part of it was an analysis of how car culture influenced American culture.  A successful driverless car could affect everyone in society, not just those between 4 and 24 years old, and will be especially important with the aging of America.

I suggested that we meet again in five years and see who was right.

Thrun’s resume is populated with seismic efforts, either those already set in motion or others just around the corner. There are various robotic self-navigating vehicles that guide tourists through museums, explore abandoned mines, and assist the elderly. There is the utopian self-driving car that promises to relieve humanity from the tedium of commuting while helping reduce emissions, gridlock, and deaths caused by driver error. There are the “magic” Google Glasses that allow wearers to instantly share what they see, as they are seeing it, with anyone anywhere in the world—with the blink of an eye. And there is the free online university Udacity, a potentially game-changing educational effort that, if Thrun has his way, will level the playing field for learners of all stripes.

via A Beautiful Mind.

August 28, 2012 at 9:31 am 9 comments

Proposal in Texas to move higher ed classes to MOOCs

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.

via Texas can cut down on the cost of higher education – Houston Chronicle.

August 27, 2012 at 10:48 am 2 comments

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