Getting an “A” at Harvard is e-z!

Unfortunately students can be quite focused on their grades, and as a result I end up paying more attention to grading than I would like. By the way let me point out that ‘grading’ is more than assigning a grade to a bit of homework. Without going into detail, you have to decide and communicate:

  1. What all the gradable items of work are (e.g. a programming assignment, a reading assignment, a test, a presentation, a mockup or prototype, etc. etc.)
  2. Your logical scheme for assigning a grade to a work item. That is, what is an “A” for a programming assignment? For a particular presentation, etc.)
  3. What the relative weighting is of each grade is
  4. What formula you use to convert all the individual work item grades to a final grade

And then when you are teaching you have to stick to what you decided and communicated because you can be sure someone will ask for an explanation. 

I just had a converation about this today with some students. So in this mindset I was amused / intereste to read this article:

The most commonly awarded grade at Harvard is an A – Quartz:

“The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-,” the school’s dean of education said today, according to the student newspaper. Even more stunning: “The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.”

Now. Harvard will probably say, and maybe reasonably, that it’s so hard to get into Harvard that all the students deserve the grades they get because that’s just how good they are!

Interesting article about Moocs and Higher Ed

Master’s Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online – NYTimes.com:

Next January, the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a master’s degree in computer science through massive open online courses for a fraction of the on-campus cost, a first for an elite institution. If it even approaches its goal of drawing thousands of students, it could signal a change to the landscape of higher education.

 

Ongoing coverage of MOOCs: How good are they really?

This trend is now unstoppable – massive open online courses – or MOOCs – are constantly in the news. The angle often seems to be about whether or how or how much they will impact higher education and education in general. It’s a topic I am very interested in.

Here’s another piece of the puzzle, this time from the New York Times. In this article a reporter signs up for ten different online courses in a quest to assess from his personal experience along these dimensions:

  • Professors: B+
  • Convenience: A
  • Teacher to student interaction: D
  • Student to student interaction: B-
  • Assignments: B-
  • Overall experience: B

His telling comments about the convenience factor:

“Regardless of the convenience, you still have to carve out time for the lectures. Which is one reason the dropout rate for MOOCs is notoriously high: Coursera’s bioelectricity course, taught by a Duke professor, saw an astounding 97 percent of students fail to finish. My dropout rate was lower, but only a bit. I signed up for 11 courses, and finished 2: “Introduction to Philosophy” and “The Modern World: Global History since 1760.” (Well, to be honest, I’m not quite done with history — I’m still stuck in the 1980s.) Not coincidentally, these were two courses with lighter workloads and less jargon.” (from NYT: Grading the MOOC University)

 

Olin College of Engineering

I don’t know if I mentioned that I’m teaching Engineering Entrepreneurship at Olin. What a cool school! While the two course have existed at Olin, I was asked to re-invent them so to a great extent they are new.

Here’s a blurb that appeared in the Boston Globe today that illustrates how different Olin is from many other colleges. It describes a course called “Engineering for Humanity”:

“Created by Olin professors Caitrin Lynch, who teaches anthropology, and Lynn Andrea Stein, who specializes in computer and cognitive science, the course is in its third year with funding from a Healthy Aging grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation in Framingham. While Olin previously partnered with the Needham and Wellesley councils on aging, this year’s class involves seniors affiliated with the Natick Council on Aging.” (from Boston Globe)

 

Sage on the e-stage?

There are fascinating shifts going on in higher education today, from MOOCs to the ‘flipped classroom’. A lot of action. I think we are looking at another text-book “Innovator’s Dilemma” scenario playing out:

The established players (traditional universities), aware of a new way of delivering their offer, but seeing that it doesn’t meet the needs of their customer’s as well as the old way. And the upstarts (udemy and others), the disruptors, applying and refining the use of the technology in niche markets, eventually perfecting it to the point that they can blow by the laggards, and leave them in the dust. Textbook!

Check out today’s New York Times:

“Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know.” (from New York Times: The Professor’s Big Stage)

[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….[…]… 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—the ascent of the knowledge economy, their crucial role in upper-middle class acculturation, our peculiar national enthusiasm for college sports—but 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)

[EDUCATION] Booting up experienced technical talent who have dated skills

As you may know, I’ve been working on launching Bootup Academy, which will offer applied computer science or engineering programs to college students who want to supplement their studies with an intensive 10 week summer program. That’s why you may have seen more posts here labeled [EDUCATION].

We’re now adding an additional focus, Booting Up experienced technical folks who have never put together a web or mobile application, have not worked in an agile environment, and so may not have the right check boxes on their resume.

We think they may be interested in rapidly bring themselves up to speed, develop skills, knowledge, contacts, and importantly, a portfolio of designs and code, and actual working products. We think that with that they will be invigorated and more easily make the move into a new startup or innovative company. And they will stay in Boston!

In the New York Times today is an article: “A Sea of Job-Seekers, but Some Companies Aren’t Getting Any Bites”:

“Case in point: Gabriel Shaoolian, chief executive of Blue Fountain Media, a Web design and marketing company with 85 employees in New York, said he had 10 openings right now because his company could not find enough highly qualified people with technical backgrounds. “If you’re a professional developer, Web designer or online marketing specialist, you can pick the company you work for,” Mr. Shaoolian said. “There is a shortage where demand severely outstrips supply.” (from The New York Times)

[EDUCATION] Sign of change in the universe

I would love to see this trend accelerate:

“The five-year-old [Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship] program, [Wake Forest University’s]  most popular minor, requires students to learn the practical aspects of starting a business. It is a sign of change in liberal-arts colleges, which are grappling with the responsibility of preparing students for a tight and rapidly shifting job market while still providing the staples of academic inquiry.” (from Wall Street Journal)

This is really important in my opinion, and it’s a big part of what we cover in the course I am co-teaching at Brandeis this year, “Web and Social Apps”. The course starts next week and runs for 10 weeks, practically full time. During that course students go through the whole cycle of conceiving a product, designing, implementing and deploying it to the world. It’s an exciting experience. Fairly exhausting for everyone involved, but worth it.

I wish all college students, especially in my field, Computer Science, were thought learn theory and critical thinking, but also got exposed (and were even required) to learn what I like to call “critical doing”. Working in teams, inventing and creating things that others could benefit of, could touch and feel, and could have an impact in the real world. 

The truth is that in many Universities, this is not a priority today, but there is signs that the students and parents (the customers after all) are demanding this. Change is slow, but it is coming.

[EDUCATION] Crowd Sourcing your Strategy

The other day I referenced an article questioning the motivation and effectiveness of large scale strategic planning exercises in universities today. 

In this vein I was interested to see this article describing how certain organizations have totally thrown open the process of developing and communicating strategy by employing some good old crowd sourcing.

“In 2009, Wikimedia1 launched a special wiki—one dedicated to the organization’s own strategy. Over the next two years, more than 1,000 volunteers generated some 900 proposals for the company’s future direction and then categorized, rationalized, and formed task forces to elaborate on them.

The result was a coherent strategic plan detailing a set of beliefs, priorities, and related commitments that together engendered among participants a deep sense of dedication to Wikimedia’s future.

Through the launch of several special projects and the continued work of self-organizing teams dedicated to specific proposals, the vision laid out in the strategic plan is now unfolding.”  (from The Social Side of Strategy)

[EDUCATION] Strategic Plans – are they worth the paper they are written on?

I came across a very provocative article about why and how universities seem to often get buried in a time consuming and torturous process of strategic planning.

My experience in the private sector is that it is very easy to get sucked into a process that takes on a life of its own and sucks a massive amount of time out of the organization for very questionable outcomes.

Caveat: I don’t claim that I have a broad view on this, as my experience is quite limited but I’ll just say that for my money “Strategic Plans” are the management equivalent of “Big Design Up Front”, both of which I try to limit as much as possible.

Remember I am neither against planning nor design. I am against spending massive resources on the creation of massive documents which are out of date as soon they are written down, and are never ever looked at again.

Here’s the conclusion from the article:

“This interchangeability of visions for the future underscores the fact that the precise content of most colleges’ strategic plans is pretty much irrelevant. Plans are usually forgotten soon after they are promulgated.

My university has presented two systemwide strategic plans and one arts-and-sciences strategic plan in the past 15 years. No one can remember much about any of those plans, but another one is in the works.

The plan is not a blueprint for the future. It is, instead, a management tool for the present. The ubiquity of planning at America’s colleges and universities is another reflection and reinforcement of the continuing growth of administrative power.” (from The Strategic Plan: Neither Strategy Nor Plan…”