Archive for November, 2012

A new MOOC Platform: Class2Go, Stanford’s New Open-Source Platform

MOOCs are still quite new, so it’s not surprising that more platforms are coming out.  It’s a little surprising that this is the third one to come out of Stanford.  Why is Stanford ground-zero for the MOOC movement?  Because Stanford is so entrepreneurial or innovative?  Because of the Silicon Valley culture which encourages exploring use of technology to solve problems, like education?  Because Stanford has deep enough pockets that they can afford to experiment?  I really don’t know, and do find it fascinating.

To unpack that a little: When Class2Go says it’s portable, it means that it wants to be platform agnostic. Its documents are already portable, its videos already live outside its system on YouTube, its assets can be repurposed as professors see fit and the platform’s exercises and problem sets are in the Khan Academy format (meaning they’re not in a proprietary database) and can be used anywhere.

In terms of interoperability, Class2Go’s website reads, “we don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to,” so it stands on the shoulders of, or relies significantly on, other services to run, like Khan, Piazza, YouTube, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode and Github. Furthermore, designing the platform for both teaching and research means that the platform will leverage data to inform and evolve pedagogy, as well as to give them a glimpse into the efficacy of lessons, teaching style, tech tools, etc.

via Class2Go: Stanford’s New Open-Source Platform For Online Education | TechCrunch.

November 30, 2012 at 5:31 am 4 comments

In USAToday: Women band together, make inroads into tech

The basic story here is one we’ve heard before. What I liked about this one was who is talking.  These aren’t just interviews with the academics and others working with NCWIT.  These are interviews with corporations and engineers, and even our Georgia Tech Dean of Engineering, Gary May.  This is a broader base for the argument for getting more women into computing.

Despite an influx of females among Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ranks, the computer-science field remains dominated by men. According to the National Science Foundation, women have plummeted from 28% of the graduates in computer sciences at U.S. schools in 2000 to 17% in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.

“There should be more female engineers,” says Rani Borkar, general manager for Intel’s Architecture Development Group. She came to the U.S. from India in 1985 and has seen steady, if slow, progress.

The field’s stunted growth, especially for women, is rooted in education. There just aren’t enough kids weaned on the topic in high school and, before that, elementary school, says Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Computer science is taught in a fraction of U.S. high schools. Only 2,100 of 42,000 were certified to teach advanced-placement computer science courses in 2011,and just 21,139 students took the AP exam.

via Women band together, make inroads into tech.

November 29, 2012 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Draft ICT Programme of Study now available for comment

The process that started with the Royal Society’s report on the state of computer science education in UK schools has now resulted in a new draft program of study, available for comment. It’s interesting to contrast with CS:Principles and Exploring Computer Science as two US curricula aiming to, similarly, give students the computing knowledge and skills that they need for modern society.

In his speech to BETT on 11 January, the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove responded to the call from industry by starting a consultation on withdrawing the existing National Curriculum Programme of Study for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) from September this year. The intention was to allow the development of innovative, exciting and rigorous new ICT courses in advance of the launch of the new National Curriculum in 2014. Following consultation, the government confirmed on 11 June that it was their intention to proceed and that ICT would be a compulsory subject up to Key Stage 4 with its own Programme of Study.

In late August 2012 the DfE invited BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering to coordinate the drafting of a new Programme of Study for ICT. In discussion with DfE, BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering decided to follow the following process

  • Form a small working party to write a first draft.
  • Publish this first draft in late October, and seek broad comment and feedback.
  • Revise the draft during November and December in the light of that feedback.
  • The DfE will publish the revised draft, along with the Programmes of Study for other subjects, for full public consultation in the Spring of 2013.

The working party included several school teachers, together with representation from Naace, CAS, ITTE, Vital, and NextGen Skills. The group’s membership appears below. It met for the first time on 19 September, and completed the draft by 22 October as required by DfE.

We are now at Step 2 of this process. The current draft should be regarded as a first step, not as a finished product. It has not received widespread scrutiny, and it is not endorsed by DfE. It is simply a concrete starting point for wider public debate.

via Draft ICT Programme of Study | BCS Academy of Computing.

November 29, 2012 at 7:09 am 1 comment

How do we measure the value of a degree to society?

I enjoyed this blog post from “Gas stations without pumps,” where he talks about how we value the “private good” value of a college education. But given the interesting distinction he makes in the first paragraph (below), I wonder if we could measure the value of a degree to a society, rather than to a person. How much good does it do the society and the economy for someone to earn their college degree? I’ve read evidence that dropouts have a high cost to society, but I don’t know how to measure the value that society gets by having someone finish. It’s an important question, as the cost of higher education gets increasingly shifted to the individual.

The ongoing privatization of higher education in the USA is driven largely by a view of education as a private good (of benefit primarily to the one receiving the education) rather than a public good (where society as a whole reaps the benefit of an educated populace). To make the “private good” view work, one has to convince people that there is a substantial benefit to the recipients of the education that far exceeds any benefit to society. This has generally been done in crassly monetary terms, talking about the earnings of graduates compared to those with less education (generally in lifetime earning terms, to make the differences appear as large as possible). By using a purely monetary assessment, one can conveniently ignore all the other effects on society, and pretend that education is purely a private investment in increasing earning potential.

via How much is a degree worth? « Gas station without pumps.

November 28, 2012 at 5:58 am 1 comment

Crazy Travel Begins: NASA Goddard, MIT CSAIL, Stanford, and Tufts

It’s nearing the end of the semester here, and classes are wrapping up, so the pent-up travel bursts into my calendar.  Here’s what I’ve got the next three weeks:

  • I told my youngest daughter, “I’ve got a cool talk coming up.  What’s the coolest, geekiest, most amazing techie thing you’ve heard of recently?”  She immediately replied, “The Mars Rover!” And I got to say, “I’m going to NASA!”  (which is even cooler in our house than saying, “I’m going to DisneyWorld!”)  I’m flying tonight to Baltimore to visit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center tomorrow and give a talk about computing education for everyone.  My eldest daughter wishes she could come with me — “That’s my dream job!”
  • Friday, I’m going to MIT Computer Science and AI Laboratory (CSAIL) to talk about “What we know about teaching computer science (Answer: Not all that much)”.  It’s going to be an exciting day. Hal Abelson and Mitchel Resnick are both on my schedule.  I’ve already received a note from Richard Stallman saying that he can’t make my talk, but am I going to release any free/libre software to address problems in CS education?  (Seriously!)
  • Next Tuesday and Wednesday (Dec 4-5), Barbara and I are visiting Stanford again.  We were just there in March and are pleased to be invited back so soon.  I’m giving two talks on Tuesday (and the nervousness factor rises geometrically, not linearly).  The first is a demonstration lecture, which I’m excited about and wish I got invited to do more often when I visit places — I don’t get to teach introductory CS much here, and I love doing it, so it’s a treat for me.  The second is a research talk on “On-Line CS Education.”
  • Then the following Monday (Dec 10), I’m at Tufts University visiting the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. There’s a bunch of great work going on there, but I have a more personal interest in going there, too.  I lived at Tufts when I was an intern for GTE Laboratories in Waltham in the Summer of 1983, and have fond memories of the campus.

If I’m slow in responding here (or via email) over the next three weeks, I hope you’ll understand.  If you’re around one of these places and can come to my talk, please do and stop by to say hello!

November 27, 2012 at 10:26 am 4 comments

Learning Science and Engineering Professional Masters Program at CMU

I admit jealousy. This sounds like a great program that I wish we could offer at Georgia Tech. A CS Ed track would be natural in a program like this.

The Learning Science and Engineering Professional Masters Program (LSE)

The Master of Science in Learning Science and Engineering program offers students who have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in such areas as psychology, education, computer science, information technology, business, or design the opportunity to improve their training with advanced study in Learning Science and Engineering. Our students will gain the knowledge, skills, and techniques to develop and evaluate programs in learning settings that range from schools to workplaces, museums to computer-based environments—as well as other formal, informal and non-traditional educational settings. Graduates of the program will take key positions in corporations and private and public universities and schools; they will become designers, developers, and evaluators of educational technologies and learning environments as well as domain experts, learning technology policy-makers, or Chief Learning Officers.

via Learning Science and Engineering Professional Masters Program – Overview | Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

November 27, 2012 at 9:17 am 1 comment

The BlueJ/Greenfoot Team Are Hiring at University of Kent at Canterbury

This does sound like a wicked-cool job.  And U. Kent-Canterbury would be a wicked-cool place to work.

We are a small team: essentially, there’s Michael Kölling and Ian Utting, who also teach at the university, and then there’s Davin (now doing his PhD) and me — where Davin and I are the sole developers at the moment. (Honourable mentions for our PhD students Michael Berry and Fraser McKay.) Right now, we’re too small, and we need more people! The group’s main activities currently include:

  1. development and maintenance of BlueJ (a large Java application)
  2. development and maintenance of Greenfoot (another large Java application)
  3. user support
  4. development and maintenance of various Ruby on Rails websites (, and a few more)
  5. developing a large-scale data collection mechanism for BlueJ
  6. designing the Next Big Thing in computing education (ha! — we hope)
  7. doing outreach with teachers, especially around the UK
  8. developing educational material
  9. writing academic papers

via The BlueJ/Greenfoot Team Are Hiring | Academic Computing.

November 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm Leave a comment

A MOOC is not a Thing: Seeking a Translation

“MOOCified”?  I’ve read this twice now, and still can’t figure it out.  What are they saying?!?

There is also nothing about a MOOC that can be contained. Try as they might, MOOC-makers like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity cannot keep their MOOCs to themselves, because when we join a MOOC, it is not to learn new content, new skills, new knowledge, it is to learn new learning. Entering a MOOC is entering Wonderland — where modes of learning are turned sideways and on their heads — and we walk away MOOCified.

“There is a relational aspect to learning.” There’s an invisible network (or potential network) underneath every learning community. The best MOOCs make the networks patent. The worst MOOCs are neutered, lost objects that float unabsolved in the ether as capital “L” Learning, abstract and decontextualized.

MOOCification: to harness (in an instant) the power of a nodal network for learning. Rather than creating a course to structure a network, MOOCification relies on nodes to power a learning activity (or assignment). MOOCification also refers to a pedagogical approach inspired by MOOCs that is unleashed in an otherwise closed or small-format course.

via A MOOC is not a Thing: Emergence, Disruption, and Higher Education | Open Education | HYBRID PEDAGOGY.

November 26, 2012 at 7:29 am 13 comments

edX offers a CS1 MOOC via Massachusetts community colleges

Definitely the most interesting MOOC experiment I’ve seen in the latest batches — an edX CS1 aimed at community college students, and offered in a blended format.  I very much hope that they do good assessment here.  If MOOCs are going to serve as an alternative to face-to-face classes for the majority of students, they have to work at the community college level and have better than face-to-face retention rates.  Retention (and completion) rates are too low already in community colleges.  If MOOCs are going to be part of a solution, part of making education better, then they need to have high completion rates.

The fast-moving world of online education, where anyone can take classes at a world-famous university, is making a new foray into the community college system, with a personal twist.

In a partnership billed as the first of its kind, the online education provider edX plans to announce Monday that it has teamed up with two Massachusetts community colleges to offer computer science classes that will combine virtual and classroom instruction.

Beginning next term, Bunker Hill and MassBay community colleges will offer versions of an online MIT course that will be supplemented with on-campus classes. Those classes, to be taught by instructors at the two-year schools, will give students a chance to review the online material and receive personal help.

“This allows for more one-to-one faculty mentoring” than exclusively online courses, said John O’Donnell, president of MassBay Community College in Wellesley. O’Donnell added that the schools’ involvement allows edX “to test its course content on a broader range of students.”

Students will pay the same amount they would for a standard class.

via edX expands offerings to Mass. community colleges – Metro – The Boston Globe.

November 23, 2012 at 8:05 am 6 comments

Setting an Agenda for Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) organizes efforts to focus computing research in the United States.  I’m on the organizing committee for this effort, triggered by MOOCs, to identify research issues in online learning for the computing research community.

Participants will explore and delineate computer science and multidisciplinary research agendas designed to improve formal and informal education. The workshop will build on CCC’s earlier visioning activities on Global Resources for Online Education (GROE), addressing education-relevant research in areas such as intelligent student modeling through data mining, mobile computing for data logging, social networking, serious games, intelligent learning environments, HCI to facilitate educational interactions, computer-supported collaborative learning, interactive visualizations and simulations, and many other areas, to include research at the interface of computing and the social/behavioral sciences.

While the workshop will build on a rich existing landscape of cyber-enabled education research, it also will be informed by very recent developments, such as massively open online courses (MOOCs), that make important dimensions of scale and openness explicit. Throughout the workshop, issues of education and learning quality will be also at the fore; how will the character of education change, and what are the important dimensions and evaluation methodologies for designing online educational instruments of quality at scale for different populations? What computing-relevant multidisciplinary research imperatives will grow to facilitate cyber-enabled transformations in online education?

This CCC visioning workshop will address these and related questions on computing-relevant multidisciplinary research, looking 5-10 years out, for online education. Importantly, the workshop will not address shorter-term concerns such as credentialing and business models for online education ventures, except as these inform the workshop’s focus on longer-term research agendas.

via Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education..

November 22, 2012 at 11:25 am 1 comment

CS2013 Ironman Draft Available

We are happy to announce the availability of the ACM/IEEE-CS Computer Science Curricula 2013 – Ironman v0.8 draft. The draft is available at the CS2013 website ( or directly at:

The Ironman v0.8 draft contains the complete CS2013 Body of Knowledge, fully revised based on comments from the previously released CS2013 Strawman draft. We are now calling on the computing community to submit exemplars of courses and curricula to better connect the CS2013 Body of Knowledge to real, existing approaches representing diverse and innovative ways to teach computer science.

The CS2013 Curriculum Steering Committee is seeking exemplars of courses and curricula from the broader community. This open process will better connect the CS2013 Body of Knowledge to real, existing approaches representing diverse and innovative ways to teach computer science. In computer-science terms, the topics and learning outcomes in the Body of Knowledge represent a “specification”, whereas a curriculum is an “implementation” and a course is part of a curriculum. The CS2013 Ironman v1.0 draft (the penultimate CS2013 draft) will be released in early 2013, containing an initial set of such course/curriculum exemplars.

Including exemplars as part of the CS2013 effort is a new idea not present in previous versions of the ACM/IEEE-CS Computer Science Curriculum guidelines. The steering committee believes they will provide greater value than stylized model courses that do not directly describe actual experience. Submitting an exemplar is your opportunity to present a successful approach to teaching computer science in a way that will prove useful to educators working to adopt the CS2013 guidelines.

Information on how to contribute course/curriculum exemplars is available at the CS2013 website ( or directly at:

A special session, entitled “CS 2013: Exemplar-Fest,” will be held at SIGCSE-13. This session will showcase submitted samples of CS2013 course/curriculum exemplars and provide the opportunity to engage the community in the development of additional course/curricular exemplars for CS2013. Exemplars submitted prior to December 5th can be considered for potential inclusion in this special session. The special session will be held on Friday, March 8, 2013 from 10:45am to 12:00pm.

We welcome additional comments on the CS2013 Ironman draft from the computing community. Information on how to comment on the draft is available at the CS2013 website. Comments on the Ironman draft will be addressed in the final released version of CS2013.

Warm regards,
Mehran Sahami and Steve Roach
Co-Chairs, CS2013 Steering Committee

CS2013 Steering Committee

ACM Delegation
Mehran Sahami, Chair (Stanford University)
Andrea Danyluk (Williams College)
Sally Fincher (University of Kent)
Kathleen Fisher (Tufts University)
Dan Grossman (University of Washington)
Beth Hawthorne (Union County College)
Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)
Rich LeBlanc (Seattle University)
Dave Reed (Creighton University)

IEEE-CS Delegation
Steve Roach, Chair (Univ. of Texas, El Paso)
Ernesto Cuadros-Vargas (Univ. Catolica San Pablo, Peru)
Ronald Dodge (US Military Academy)
Robert France (Colorado State University)
Amruth Kumar (Ramapo Coll. of New Jersey)
Brian Robinson (ABB Corporation)
Remzi Seker (Univ. of Arkansas, Little Rock)
Alfred Thompson (Microsoft)

November 21, 2012 at 10:18 am 2 comments

Motivating learning: Is it ever about the badges?

I’m with “Gas Stations without Pumps” in his take on the NYTimes article cited below.  Does anyone have any evidence that anyone does anything because of badges?  I understand badges as a kind of mini-certification, and unlike “Gas Stations,” I do believe that companies may find valuable having certification about smaller-than-degree skills.  We do know that companies are more carefully tuning their job searches these days, and badges may serve as verified skills tags to make it easier to do these searches.  However, I would be interested to see some evidence that people really do the activities that earn them those badges because of the badges.  I think people answer questions on Stack Overflow because they like to do it, and the badges are a certification of that.  I can’t imagine someone studying algebra or US history just to get a badge in those subjects.

In my Prototyping class, we just read the Luis von Ahn and Laura Dabbish paper on the ESPgame.  This was the game that they created where randomly-selected pairs of players are asked to “think like the other person” to come up with text labels to match what the other person writes, when both view a randomly-selected image from the Web.  It was a popular, fun game that resulted in effective labels for thousands of images on the Web.  The sentence that caught my attention was, “However, we put greater emphasis on our method being fun because of the scale of the problem that we want to solve.”  First, they never define “fun” or why the game is fun (maybe ala Malone and Lepper), but I was more taken with the notion that we use “fun” to deal with “scale.”

Fun isn’t the only way to solve problems at scale. It’s not even clear how far fun works for large-scale problems. Millions of people get fed every day on the relatively-agriculturally-barren island of Manhattan because of Adam Smith’s iron hand of capitalism, but not because it’s fun to bring food into Manhattan.  Pay works to scale solutions.  As a parent, I perform a useful purpose to our society, helping to raise the next generation of workers and citizens.  It’s not always fun, and it costs me lots of money. The rewards of being a parent are different than fun or pay, and it scales to millions of people.

People learn things for all kinds of reasons, including certification, fun, and for economic benefit (e.g., a good job).  I still remember (over 25 years since the last time that I used this knowledge) that hex A9 is “Load A immediate, LDA #” for the 6502 microprocessor, and decimal 32 (hex 20) is “Jump to subroutine, JSR.”  I have also programmed (at the machine and assembler level) the 8800, Z-80, and 6800 microprocessors, and the LSI-11 and IBM 360, too.  Why do I still remember the 6502?  Because I owned one.  Learning assembler languages was always fascinating for me, but I particularly wanted to learn the processor that I owned.  Feeling ownership of some knowledge encourages learning it.  I didn’t learn the 6502 so well because I could get points for it, nor certification, nor economic benefit.  I wanted to own that knowledge.

Bottomline: Motivation is key to learning, and we know a variety of ways to motivate students.  I don’t believe that badges do it in an effective way.

Badges are gaining currency at the same time that a growing number of elite universities have begun offering free or low-cost, noncredit courses to anyone with access to the Internet and a desire to learn. Millions of students have already signed up for massive open online courses, or MOOCs. By developing information-age credentials backed by a wide array of organizations outside the education system, creators of badge programs may be mounting the first serious competition to traditional degrees since college-going became the norm.

via Show Me Your Badge –

November 21, 2012 at 8:42 am 11 comments

The UK Version of Computing in the Core

Many Americans I’ve met don’t realize that the United States doesn’t have a national curriculum, and that the Federal government is prohibited (in the bill establishing the Department of Education) from ever creating one. States control curricula. The new “Common Core” standards are interesting because they’re being established by the state Governors — the states can work together to develop a common set of standards and curricula, but the Federal government cannot create such a set. Computing in the Core is an effort to get the Governors to consider computer science in those core standards.

There’s a parallel kind of effort going on in the UK. Their new secondary school standards are called the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), and the English Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has indicated a willingness to include computer science in the new EBacc. As covered by the BBC:

Mr Gove indicated that computer science could be added to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) list of key academic subjects that teenagers are encouraged to study at GCSE. He said: “Computer science is not just a rigorous, fascinating and intellectually challenging subject. It is also vital to our success in the global race.”

A working group from the British Computer Society (BCS) has now completed a report making the argument for CS in the EBacc. It’s an exciting effort, supported by a coalition of corporate and higher education interests. I don’t know how to estimate which effort (Computing in the Core vs. CS in the EBacc) is more likely to succeed or how quickly. My sense is that CS in the EBacc has the advantage in that it only has to convince a single Department for Education, as opposed to the Computing in the Core effort which has to convince a coalition of state governments.

November 20, 2012 at 6:53 am 1 comment

10 Universities to Form Semester Online Consortium

This is the exciting next stage after MOOCs. MOOCs are an interesting platform, but their success has been narrow. We need more models for on-line learning for different audiences, yet still supported by higher-education. Here’s an exploration of another model.

The virtual classroom is a cross between a Google+ hangout and the opening sequence of “The Brady Bunch,” where each student has his or her own square, the equivalent of a classroom chair. However, with Semester Online courses, there is no sneaking in late and unnoticed, and there is no back row.

Unlike the increasingly popular massive open online courses, or MOOCs, free classes offered by universities like Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford, Semester Online classes will be small — and will offer credit.

“Now we can provide students with a course that mirrors our classroom experience,” says Edward S. Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the participants.

“It’s going to be the most rigorous, live, for-credit online experience ever,” said Chip Paucek, a founder of 2U.

via 10 Universities to Form Semester Online Consortium –

November 20, 2012 at 6:48 am 2 comments

Berkeley talking about compulsory computing

Cool!  Glad to see the discussion!  Mike Hewner’s dissertation really supports the argument for requiring computer science of everyone and making it enjoyable, as a strategy to get people to explore computer science (the ACM/WGBH study suggests that few students will explore academic CS unless it’s put in their path) which creates the opportunity for students deciding to pursue more computer science.

Why doesn’t UC Berkeley require — or at least strongly encourage — nonmajors to take computer science? For a few reasons, none of which are particularly compelling. The computer science department would need to accommodate many more students. And the department would likely need to create a suite of introductory courses, rather than simply dramatically expanding its existing course for nonmajors, according to Garcia. This would be a challenge, Garcia says, but it’d be a worthwhile one.

Some people will no doubt charge that requiring a computing course would undermine the ideal of a liberal arts education by making the Letters and Science curriculum too focused on vocational preparation rather than intellectual exploration. But the terrible job market has already put the concept of a pure liberal arts education under scrutiny. If the liberal arts are to retain their credibility, they must be adapted to reflect changing economic realities. Not to mention the fact that, as Garcia and others have argued, computational literacy is a fundamental skill in the 21st century — it has nearly as strong a claim to a place in the liberal arts curriculum as reading or writing.

via Compulsory computing? | The Daily Californian.

November 19, 2012 at 8:32 am 4 comments

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