domingo, 17 de marzo de 2013

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)

I have been studying 8.02x during the whole weekend. I have been preparing myself to take this week first exam. Sunday afternoon, around 5 o'clock, I decided it was time to rest. I came down stairs to the living room and turned on the TV. My wife had been very busy preparing a party and helping a friend of us. So, I guess, She could ignore my self exclusion of society.

On TV they were playing South Park. South Park debuted in August 1997 but I know of its existence two years ago. I can not say I really like it but I can say that there is something in its crude language and dark, surreal humor that make me laugh.

This South Park's episode was called:  "Make Love, Not Warcraft". It is the eighth episode of the tenth season, the 147th episode overall. In the episode, Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny enjoy playing the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft. They got so obsessed with the game that they end up in isolation from society.

Got a Computer? Get a Degree.
I wonder how my wife sees me. Isolated in my room, auto excluded, what is all this? Is this the new way of learning? What about our college youths?

Last year, The new york times opened a discussion about web-based distance online education. Is only needed a computer and an Internet connection to get a college degree? Professor Walter Lewin was one of the debaters. He wrote something very important: "Campus culture with the discussions with faculty and peers is a key part of becoming an academic of the caliber worthy of an M.I.T. or Harvard degree."

MOOC is not the end of campus life. It is only going to improve it. College education has many things that can not be done in isolation. Like the lab work, as it was pointed out by professor Walter Lewin. We need to interact face to face with other human beings.

martes, 12 de marzo de 2013

edX's impact in developing countries' universities

What is the impact edX has had in the university of El Salvador?
In the  electrical engineering department, at the University of El Salvador, I encouraged to study online courses given by edX. We focused on one single course: Circuits and Electronics. This proved to be successful. Below I am going to speak out some of my own personal reflections.

1/ Knowledge updating. Professors in developing countries do not have the same academic pressure their peers in developed countries have. The saying: "publish or perish" do not apply here. In general, there is no tenure track. Professors have a very limited scope on their fields. edX has helped professors  to improve  electrical engineering basic background. In our department four out twelve full-time professors took 6.002x (2 spring + 2 fall). Right now, at least, four of us are taking 8.02x. So, in my opinion, professors are improving their basic knowledge (Basic circuits and electronics and basic electricity and magnetism).

2/ Baccalaureate. Our department was born in 1966. Since then the bachelor degree program has suffered very little change. MITx has given us ideas about how  electrical degree programs have evolved in the last four decades. This will be important to renew our baccalaureate.

3/ Professors are learning how to schedule a course. edX has made us to reflect on the questions about how students learn? how to organize academic material? how to schedule a course work load?

4/ Professors feel challenged. I would like to comment something that happened to me:  A colleague came to my laboratory. He saw me doing a 8.02x homework. He could not help to tell me how much he was upset for the way Walter Lewin advertised 8.02x. In his two minutes video, Walter Lewin said: "If you are one of those students who hate physics, it is not your fault. It was just bad luck that you had a poor teacher." This pressure could lead to have improvements in teaching.

5/ Students are realizing what is to be a student of a high quality professor. Students are starting to understand how elite universities work. They are finding out how much those universities care about students. Professors don't improvise their lectures. Lectures are the product of a very carefully planning.

6/ Students are realizing that failure is not only their fault. Failure is not just a student fault. It is a shared responsibility among students, professors, administration, K-12 education and the state. To identify each one is key to help improve students' performance.

sábado, 9 de marzo de 2013

Barge Haulers on the Volga

Art of Russia
Yesterday night my wife and I watched on TV the second episode of a BBC documentary. It was about Russian art. And was presented by the well known English art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon. In the first episode, He explores the origins of the Russian art from its roots in Byzantium. Last night episode, Roads to Revolution, was about how Russia changed from a feudal nation to a country on the verge of revolution.

Barge Haulers on the Volga
In the second episode, Andrew presented the work of Ilya Repin, a late nineteenth century and early twentieth century artist. Many of his paint showed tensions within the nineteenth century Russian society. But it was the paint Barge Haulers on the Volga the one that struck my mind. Far away, deep into the Volga river, a steam boat was portrayed. That meant technology to replace manpower was ready. However, It  was cheaper and easier to use men in hard labor.

MOOC could help to easy the hard work involved within earning a degree. Right now, at our department, graduation rate is around five percent. Completion is above nine years. That is a heavy load for students, for parents, for the state and, in general, for Salvadorean society. It is a lose-lose game.

jueves, 28 de febrero de 2013

India-El Salvador: sharing experiences

Normally I do not like to attend seminars, workshops and congresses. In my opinion, it is a waste of time. Only the ones with high social skills can take advantage of that. But I was invited to give a talk. And I decided to talk about electronics.

The Salvadoran Ministry of Education organized a workshop between a high bureaucrat Indian government delegation and Salvadoran academic representatives. The idea was to put India as a country to imitate. The whole workshop lasted two days. I had to endure many boring government official presentations.

After my presentation a highschool teacher came to me. He teaches in my former high school. I met him the next day and he and his group invited me to have a lunch with them. It was a very happy moment. I ate with three highschool teachers and about a dozen highschool students.
Educational Robotic in my former High School.
Those teachers were passionate educators. They are doing a tremendous effort to motivate students. To keep their enthusiasm alive they use educational robotic. This team made of three teachers and a dozen students were the sensation of the expositions.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

There is a group of young Salvadoreans who run a website called Medio Lleno. It is a news web program for young people. In general they give priority to local politic news. But to keep youth entertained they introduce issues for young people. The name plays with the rethoric question: Is the glass half empty or half full? The expression could be interpreted as a cause for optimism (half full) or pessimism (half empty). Medio Lleno tries to put things in a positive perspective.

Sharing MOOC experiences.
Last week we visited them. We came to promote the study of online courses under MOOC framework. We share our experience with them. It was a very nice experience. The young journalist that interviewed us decided to join one Edx MOOC. She registered in Michael Sandel's course on Justice.

Medio Lleno's president sent me an email. He was so pleased with our story. He told us that he himself is an alumni of Penn State. And he felt pleased to see his former alma mater being part of this MOOC initiative.

sábado, 23 de febrero de 2013

Conversations at a Supermarket

As almost every weekend my wife and I went to the supermarket. We are very lucky. We have one very close to our house. So we can keep with our not-having-a-car life style. To keep our plastic consumption low, We take a backpack with us. So we do not need to use the supermarket's plastic bags.

The supermarket is inside of a small mall, called Centro Comercial San Luis. Today was a crazy day. It was as if half of the city decided to come here for shopping. In the mall, We decided not to cash money from the ATM. The long line scared us. We decided to use our plastic money. And there We were at the supermarket, not knowing what to take for lunch.
 Centro Comercial San Luis, San Salvador, El Salvador (Panoramio).

Electricity and Magnetism in the supermarket
As we were in the line, I watched toward my back and there I saw a colleague from a neighbor department.  As we were waiting our turn we had a small conversation about 8.02x and professor Walter Lewin's lectures.

It was a small conversation. I told him that before coming to the supermarket I had been studying 8.02x first week lectures. He told me he was also a 8.02x student. In his face I could see how much he had been enjoying this first week material. It was a natural conversation as if we had been talking about tomato's high price or meat low quality.

At home I started to reflect about how EdX--and all this MOOC dynamic---is affecting people's daily life. It is very astonishing to have a conversation on physics in a supermarket line.

miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2013

What's next ? (II)

Two weeks ago, I sent an email to my colleagues. I told them about our new challenge: Electricity and Magnetism (8.02x) by Professor Walter Lewin. 8.02x is an experimental online adaptation of MIT's second semester of introductory physics sequence.  The course is about Electricity and Magnetism.

Walter Lewin's message
Professor Walter Lewin's two-minutes video is very impressive. I was so touched by his message that I decided to translate it to spanish and share it with my colleagues:
"Si tomas este curso tu vida ya no será la misma. Haré que veas el mundo de una manera diferente, nunca antes visto. Ampliaré tus horizontes y enriqueceré tu vida. Sin la electricidad no existirían las estrellas ni los planetas. Tú mismo no existirías: tu corazón no latiría y no serías capaz de pensar. Si eres uno de esos estudiantes que odian la Física no es tu culpa, fue muy mala suerte que en tu vida te encontraras con un pobre profesor. Te guste o no, haré que ames la física."

My email has been well received. The electrical engineering department chairman will support our initiative to get students enrolled. Also, IEEE students branch has started campaigning for registration.