- Why The Banner Ad is Heroic — enough to make Dave Eggers cry. Advertising triumphalism rampant.
- Udacity/Thrun Profile — A student taking college algebra in person was 52% more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain. In which Udacity pivots to hiring-sponsored workforce training and the new educational revolution looks remarkably like sponsored content.
- Amazon is Building Substations (GigaOm) — the company even has firmware engineers whose job it is to rewrite the archaic code that normally runs on the switchgear designed to control the flow of power to electricity infrastructure. Pretty sure that wasn’t a line item in the pitch deck for “the first Internet bookstore”.
- Panoramic Images — throw the camera in the air, get a 360×360 image from 36 2-megapixel lenses. Not sure that throwing was previously a recognised UI gesture.
Bringing some of the benefits of face-to-face learning to millions of people without access to an in-person tutor.
Millions of people around the world — from aspiring software engineers to data scientists — now want to learn programming. One of the best ways to learn is by working side-by-side with a personal tutor. A good tutor can watch you as you code, help you debug, explain tricky concepts on demand, and provide encouragement to keep you motivated. However, very few of us are lucky enough to have a tutor by our side. If we take a class, there might be 25 to 50 students for every teacher. If we take a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), there might be 1,000 to 10,000 students for every professor or TA. And if we’re learning on our own from books or online tutorials, there’s no tutor or even fellow learners in sight. Given this reality, how can computer-based tools potentially bring some of the benefits of face-to-face learning to millions of people around the world who do not have access to an in-person tutor?
I’ve begun to address this question by building open-source tools to help people overcome a fundamental barrier to learning programming: understanding what happens as the computer runs each line of a program’s source code. Without this basic skill, it is impossible to start becoming fluent in any programming language. For example, if you’re learning Python, it might be hard to understand why running the code below produces the following three lines of output:
A tutor can explain why this code prints what it does by drawing the variables, data structures, and pointers at each execution step. However, what if you don’t have a personal tutor?
Ad Triumphalism, Education Not Transformed, Bookstore Infrastructure, and Tossable Camera
Organize solutions into clusters and “force multiply” feedback provided by instructors
One of the hardest things about teaching a large class is grading exams and homework assignments. In my teaching days a “large class” was only in the few hundreds (still a challenge for the TAs and instructor). But in the age of MOOCs, classes with a few (hundred) thousand students aren’t unusual.
Researchers at Stanford recently combed through over one million homework submissions from a large MOOC class offered in 2011. Students in the machine-learning course submitted programming code for assignments that consisted of several small programs (the typical submission was about 16 lines of code). While over 120,000 enrolled only about 10,000 students completed all homework assignments (about 25,000 submitted at least one assignment).
The researchers were interested in figuring out ways to ease the burden of grading the large volume of homework submissions. The premise was that by sufficiently organizing the “space of possible solutions”, instructors would provide feedback to a few submissions, and their feedback could then be propagated to the rest.
When a government shutdown renders government data websites useless, what’s a data journalist to do? This week, reporters hoping to gather data from sites like the US Census Bureau, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis were out of luck, as access to most online government data was blocked due to the government shutdown.
The Pew Research Center offered a mostly comprehensive list of the data casualties of the shutdown.
Insights and links from the data journalism beat
Data science in the public interest is en vogue, as collaborations between data scientists, nonprofits and human rights groups are springing up everywhere. Journalists at the Knight Foundation are following suit. This week, the foundation gave details about it’s $2 million Knight News Challenge for health-related data projects. The “inspiration phase” launching next month invites citizens, journalists, and community groups anywhere in the world to dream up ideas about how to turn public data sets into useful information that could improve the health of communities.
Over at the Neiman Journalism Lab, a journalism professor writes that we are now entering the age of the “Digital Media Data Guru,” a person with a hybrid of computer science and journalism skills who is able to “do it all” in the newsroom, and recommends that journalism schools prepare students for the data-centered work ahead of them.
Educational researcher Katy Jordan created an interactive visualization using completion and enrollment data from recent MOOCs.
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered through platforms such as Coursera, EdX and Udacity, are arguably helping to fill higher education needs around the world. Educational researcher Katy Jordan noted in a post, however, that “although thousands enroll for courses, a very small proportion actually complete the course.” To take a closer look, she pulled together an interactive visualization to show enrollment numbers and completion rates from recent MOOCs.
MOOCs get the attention, but DIY and peer-to-peer exchange are more fertile grounds for development
Somehow, recently, a lot of people have taken an interest in the broadcast of canned educational materials, and this practice — under a term that proponents and detractors have settled on, massive open online course (MOOC) — is getting a publicity surge. I know that the series of online classes offered by Stanford proved to be extraordinarily popular, leading to the foundation of Udacity and a number of other companies. But I wish people would stop getting so excited over this transitional technology. The attention drowns out two truly significant trends in progressive education: do-it-yourself labs and peer-to-peer exchanges.
In the current opinion torrent, Clay Shirky treats MOOCs in a recent article, and Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, writes (in a Boston Globe subscription-only article) that traditional colleges will have to deal with the MOOC challenge. Jon Bruner points out on Radar that non-elite American institutions could use a good scare (although I know a lot of people whose lives were dramatically improved by attending such colleges). The December issue of Communications of the ACM offers Professor Richard A. DeMillo from the Georgia Institute of Technology assessing the possible role of MOOCs in changing education, along with an editorial by editor-in-chief Moshe Y. Vardi culminating with, “If I had my wish, I would wave a wand and make MOOCs disappear.”
There’s a popular metaphor for this early stage of innovation: we look back to the time when film-makers made the first moving pictures with professional performers by setting up cameras before stages in theaters. This era didn’t last long before visionaries such as Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, and Luis Buñuel uncovered what the new medium could do for itself. How soon will colleges get tired of putting lectures online and offer courses that take advantage of new media? Read more…
Some parts of the American university system work well for their students. The rest are ready for disruption.
The American college system is staggeringly large: 2,421 four-year institutions enroll about 18.5 million college students. The proportion of Americans with a bachelor’s degree is at an all-time high — a social victory if they’re able to enjoy a positive return on their degrees, which the Pew Research Center estimates at about $550,000 on average.
And the very existence of that system is threatened, as we are to believe it, by the massive open online course, or MOOC, offered by new ventures from the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT. In an essay last week, Clay Shirky compared universities and MOOCs to record companies and Napster: in both cases, the incumbents operated by providing something inconveniently and locally that could be provided conveniently and universally on the web. I don’t agree with the entire essay, but Shirky is absolutely right to point out that the college industry is made up of several markets, and they’ll be disrupted in different ways.
American higher education is deeply divided: it’s outstanding for a relative small handful of students and pretty bad for everyone else. The disruption of MOOCs will likely start at the bottom and move up from there. The question on which we should meditate is: how far up will it move? Read more…