[teaching] A student’s perspective on course selection

I stumbled across this article while waiting for a meeting to start. It is a bit “inside baseball”, in this case “inside brandeis” but it was revealing to me at least. Students can “shop” for courses for the first two weeks of the term, attending classes and adding and dropping at will during that time as they settle for their choices. I guess when I went to college they had that too, but I wasn’t aware of how it worked, so I never did it.

It makes for odd dynamics in the class room as for the first two weeks you don’t really know who to expect to see, who will show up next time, and whether they are keeping up or not. This writer does not seem to be enjoying his college experience as much as I did ūüôā

The Brandeis Hoot » Course selection shopping period: the honeymoon is over:

Not so this semester. At final tally, I had signed up for five classes and audited seven more only to realize that I did not enjoy the class. So what was the problem? What do I look for in a class? The first consideration I take into account is whether it fulfils course requirements. The truth is that I don’t particularly enjoy 90 percent of the classes I join, and I am frankly confused when I hear of someone taking a class “for fun”.


[EDUCATION] Is the innovators’ dilemma coming to higher ed?

An interesting fact:

“In the last years of the nineteenth century, Charles Dow created an index of 12 leading industrial companies. Almost none of them exist today‚Ķ.[‚Ķ]‚Ķ¬†Four years after Dow invented his average, a group of 14 leading research institutions created the Association of American Universities. All of them exist today.” (fromThe Higher Education Monopoly is Crumbling As We Speak)

The article goes on to talk about where Higher Ed’s staying power has come from:¬†

“I¬†think that rule is going to change, and soon. Many factors explain the endurance of higher education institutions‚ÄĒthe ascent of the knowledge economy, their crucial role in upper-middle class acculturation, our peculiar national enthusiasm for college sports‚ÄĒbut the single greatest asset held by traditional colleges and universities is their exclusive franchise for the production and sale of higher education credentials.¬†¬†(fromThe Higher Education Monopoly is Crumbling As We Speak)

The question arises: how long will those credentials continue to be worth so much money? Every day we read in the paper about a new educational entrepreneur (yours truly included) who wants to offer valuable and relevant educational opportunities outside the University walls, to bring it to a wider and underserved cohort, and for a more realistic cost.

I love teaching at Brandeis University and hope to continue doing it for a long while to come. At the same time I believe there is a major unmet demand from Computer Science students and career changers for a super intense introduction to what I like to call Applied Computer Science, with a strong focus on doing and building products. I feel that what we are trying to achieve is a clear part of the trends covered in The Higher Education Monopoly is Crumbling As We Speak)

Social Networks: Good or Bad?

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about social networks in preparation for the 2012 edition of my Brandeis University Course, “Web and Social Applications“. This morning I was preparing lecture notes for “Current Issues In Social Networks”. Here are some good current links I have been able to find:

I have just come from a family reunion where there were people pulling out iPhones at ‘inappropriate times’ and other people debating what has happened to the art of conversation now that we are all Facebooking all the time. (Guilty as charged!)¬†
So between the two I have spent some time thinking about this phenomenon and whether social networks and mobile phones together are a new kind of addictive behavior which is doing real damage to social interactions (that is, human to human, face to face.)
Or on the other hand, are they just an evolution of interaction and communication and anyone who doesn’t see it as an equally valid way of interacting must be a fuddy duddy. ¬†Good question! And I don’t really know the answer, not even what I myself think about it.
But this article by Zaynep Tufekci contains what for me is a profound insight or claim:
¬†“Finally, I’ve previously argued that some people may be “cyberasocial,” that is, they are unable or unwilling to invoke a sense of social presence through mediated communication, somewhat similar to the way we invoke language — a fundamentally oral form — through reading, which is a hack in our brain. I suspect such people may well be at a major disadvantage similar to the way people who could not or would not talk on the telephone would be in late 20th century.” (from¬†Social Media’s Small Positive Role in Human Relationships)

In other words, I can imagine that when writing was ‘invented’ and more importantly I suppose, when writing was becoming accessible to everyone, that there were those who were bemoaning the loss of story telling and oral history.

I can imagine that when the telephone started becoming popular (as indicated in the quote above) there were those bemoaning that we no longer had to visit together by the fireplace but could just make a phone call.

I myself can remember people who refused to have an answering machine because they wanted to talk, or refused to leave a message because it was too impersonal.

But none of those foretold the end of civilization. They were evolutions which enriched and eventually became a commonplace aspect of the way we interact.

I think that’s a great insight: that being in community or sharing relationships through social media – to our Facebook friends or mailing lists or twitter or even sharing photos in Instagram may seem to be taking time away from our spending ‘quality time’ together.

But perhaps it’s just the next evolution of sharing and relationships – not to displace what came before but adding a new dimension and a new valuable dimension to inter-personal relationships.

Teaching: Group Projects

I’ve had occasion as you know to teach a few times at Brandeis University. The courses were in Web Development, Mobile Development and Game Development. A major component was a Product Incubator where students worked in teams to develop a product. The organizational and logistical questions as well as the dynamics around team work were significant and challenging.

In my mind the overall benefit of team student projects are:

  • students must show mastery of the material to do well
  • it is more fun and rewarding for the students
  • team work is a fundamental aspect of whatever they will do in the future
  • the teachers are around to help steer and guide each team as appropriate

So far so good. Now, Students reported that working on the projects in team was definitely rewarding and effective. But certain students also found them frustrating in these ways:

  • how students were divided up into teams
  • variety of levels of knowledge or skill
  • variety in commitment or dedication
  • grading is not perceived as fair because everyone on the team gets the same one

Here’s an article that writes about How to Fix Group Projects, and suggests ways to make experiential courses like this more effective. It suggests an interesting scheme for forming the teams and also making grading more individualized.

He concludes, somewhat depressingly, saying that he’s not going to try this himself because all he would get is complaints from the students and bad student reviews.

What do you think of this approach?

I’ll be teaching a course at Brandeis University

Follow along as I develop the course: Brandeis University Web App Dev, Mobile App Dev and Incubator

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to co-teach 3 courses next year at Brandeis University. It’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time now and I am looking forward to it. As an experiment, I thought I would publish the course notes as I am developing them and perhaps get some feedback, suggestions or even volunteer guest speakers.

Here are the blurbs:

  • Web Application Development: An introduction to web programming that covers the fundamental languages and tools, including HTML/CSS for page layout, javascript/ajax for client-side interaction, and server side programming in Java, Ruby, and SQL. The course will also discuss security, scaling/optimization, and multi-tier architectures.
  • Mobile Application Development: An introduction to the design and analysis of mobile applications that covers the architecture of mobile devices, APIs for graphical user interfaces on mobile devices, location-aware computing, social networking. The course also covers the theory and practice of space and time optimization for these relatively small and slow devices.
  • Incubator: An introduction to software engineering for web and mobile applications. This course covers agile programming techniques, rapid prototyping, source control paradigms, effective software documentation, design of effective APIs, software testing and analysis, software licensing, with an introduction to business plans for software entrepreneurs.

I hope you are interested and take a look at the detailed syllabus and course notes and give me your comments and also volunteer as a speaker (we will be looking for a different speaker every week.)

Follow along as I develop the course: Brandeis University Web App Dev, Mobile App Dev and Incubator