[edtech] Who knew there was “university in a box” software!

I stumbled across this web site. I can’t say anything about their status or quality but I was suprised that someone developed what looks like a complete “university admin in a box” cloud based software. Maybe I can use it for Bootup Academy!

Get a Feature tour of Fedena – Management Information System:

Fedena provides user-friendly dashboards with login access to all the teachers, non-teaching staff, students, parents and management body of your institution. The various modules available in Fedena takes care of all the processes in your institution, right from admission of new students to generating transfer certificate, when the student completes the studies.


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)


What do you learn in college?

As you know the topic of the future of the university, the role of MOOCs, and online learning, is highly topical these days. I happen to be interested in it too so I refer you to this David Brooks Article, called, The Practical University. It’s an interesting angle.

However I want to pull a single quote out of that:

“Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.” (from New York Times – The Practical University)

I don’t know if that’s David Brooks or Sheryl Sandberg speaking, but it does make we want to read her book. Anyway, watch how I turn this post into something about Olin College of Engineering 🙂

Why is it so important (in my opinion) that college students get lots of experience working in teams from the start? Because indeed it teaches them exactly those skills in italics above. And they are indeed very important skills. And don’t assume that these skills and experiences are commonplace across colleges. In my experience this is one of the major differences of how Olin approaches its mission.

[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…”

[education] Creative Monopoly

An interesting article by David Brooks in the New York Times commenting on the views of the always controversial Peter Thiel.

[Why is he controversial? Because he has a grant program for students who are so passionate about their startup idea that they are willing to drop out of college to get the grant. Which is ironic because in the article, Brooks is citing what Thiel is teaching in his Stanford COURSE!]

The article is about Thiel’s views on what and how students get taught in college:

“First, students have to jump through ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they’€™re rewarded for becoming professional students, getting great grades across all subjects, regardless of their intrinsic interests.

Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.” (from The Creative Monopoly)

Why would that be bad? Read on:

“… We live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills. And they are necessary: discipline, rigor and reliability. But it’s probably a good idea to try to supplement them with the skills of the creative monopolist: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions.” (from The Creative Monopoly)

Interesting approach to teaching computer science

Fun article about Ben Hescott who has some unique – and impressive – approaches to teaching an abstract topic:

Q. Did you experience an “aha’’ teaching moment?

A. My first time teaching, I was using PowerPoint slides. One student kept saying, “I don’t see it.’’ So I turned off the computer, grabbed a piece of chalk, and went through the material slowly on the blackboard, without notes. Afterward, the kid said, “You’re a really good teacher when you’re not using PowerPoint.’’ That changed everything.” (from The Boston Globe)

You have to read the whole interview!

University Teaching – homework, tests and grades?

I am about a week from beginning teaching my course at Brandeis University. The curriculum is a little different from last year, focusing on mobile software engineering and game development. This is different from last year, where we focused both on web and mobile software engineering.

The structure is that we teach during june and july, 4 days a week, and the students end up with 3 courses worth of credits. The students are both graduate and undergraduate. Given the time frame you can see that it’s an intensive boot camp-like experience. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun.

So with my mind on teaching, curriculum, homework assignments and grading, I made note of “The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education“, an article about higher ed in the New York Times:

“In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester.

The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks. (from The New York Times)

There are serious questions about how much homework is enough or too much. There are also serious questions about grading. I ponder these, from a newbie’s perspective – after all this is only my second year teaching at Brandeis.

I happen to think that the greatest learning happens when a student is struggling to solve a difficult problem or trying to formulate and defend a subtle opinion.

I also think that while I work hard at preparing a good lecture, that the most I can expect is to get the student excited about learning a topic, help them find perhaps the key concepts that they need to try and understand and give them excellent feedback on the work they are doing.

So we grade on homework and class participation/performance. There are no tests. However, many argue that grading itself is not a useful tool. If the student is motivated and works hard they learn, and if not they don’t. After all, in the real world you don’t have tests and you don’t get grades, right?

I kind of agree with that. For me, grading is not about the final grade, when all is said and done. It is about the daily ‘marks’ on homework and other deliverables – they act as a motivator and a focuser of student effort to spend time on things that seem to lead to the greatest learning.

(remember, I’m a newbie 🙂 )