domingo, 30 de diciembre de 2012

MOOC as a way to get self-regulatory skills (II)

In my last entries I have written about MOOC as a new learning environment. I have based my reflections using professor Paul Kim's ideas. Regarding the problem of extremely high dropouts in MOOC courses, he pointed out the problem of self discipline. Or as he called it: self regulation. He pointed out the problem on K-12 education: "Today, schools do not teach students how to learn better or manage own learning more effectively. Self-regulation is not an academic subject in today’s schools. I believe it is as equally important as literacy or numeracy." 

Spoon-fed style teaching.
According to professor Paul Kim: "Many students who are familiar with spoon-fed style teaching, they perform poorly in online or unregulated learning environments where self-regulated learning is crucial. Those who are so anchored in the passive learning style throughout the K-12 education experiences often want the same style of learning experiences when they face higher education and beyond. This is why many of those who sign up to go to online programs fail to complete courses in many cases." Students who lack self discipline will struggle in an online education program.

Professor Paul Kim encourages the need to teach self-regulatory skills: "If they [students] can prove that they are capable of managing unexpected daily events and Regulating their academic work successfully during the orientation period, they are probably more likely to stay enrolled when they move on to the regular online program."

The freedom paradox.
And here MOOC put us to face a new paradox: Freedom will take us to acquire more self-discipline. Paul Kim put it this way: Students must acquire "the strong iron-will coupled with effective self-regulatory skills to be successful in online or unregulated education programs that offer, ironically, a lot of freedom and convenience."

sábado, 29 de diciembre de 2012

MOOC as a way to get self-regulatory skills (I)

Why there is a high dropout rate in MOOC courses? Let us take for instance last spring 6.002x. Acording to statistics published by staff: "It had 154,763 registrants. Of these, 69,221 people looked at the first problem set, and 26,349 earned at least one point on it. 13,569 people looked at the midterm while it was still open, 10,547 people got at least one point on the midterm, and 9,318 people got a passing score on the midterm. 10,262 people looked at the final exam while it was still open, 8,240 people got at least one point on the final exam, and 5,800 people got a passing score on the final exam. Finally, after completing 14 weeks of study, 7,157 people have earned the first certificate awarded by MITx, proving that they successfully completed 6.002x."
Profesor Paul Kim from Stanford University has a very good answer to that question.  

Self-regulatory skills.
In one of his lectures, Paul Kim clearly explained: "One of the reasons why there is a high drop-out rate in unregulated learning environment such as online learning is because such learning requires much higher self-regulatory skills. Unlike face to face learning in fixed times and fixed environment, online learning often gives students ample freedom to set own schedules, learn at own pace, and most importantly at any convenient location without revealing much identity and in the absence of F2F social presence or direct peer observation or pressure. A slogan for one of for-profit universities was: convenience, convenience, convenience. Convenient location, convenient schedule, convenient pace…The freedom with convenience is great for those who can self-manage own resources and learning. Such freedom with convenience would be an ideal learning atmosphere and environment for those who can effectively prioritize tasks in short and long term timeframes."

New learning enviroment (II)

Last november a MIT magazine, Technology Review, published an article which made some comments about my effort to get students enroll in MOOC courses. I must admit I have not been able to get high officials to share my views. However, to enroll in a MOOC course does not involve high officials. So I have been able to get directly to students and persuade them to get enrolled. This is ok for a small scale. But to scale up it will need the support of high rank officials. Also, students, professors, deans, university presidents must be on the same boat. If they never give  value to MOOC courses, We will miss a wonderful opportunity to improve higher education.

A very sad experience.
In one of his lecture professor Paul Kim recalled a very sad story: "Once I was in one of the least developed regions around the world. I faced a community leader who told me not to do anything that would improve the schools in the region. He said most parents do not want their children to be educated. In fact, I found out that many parents I met did not want their children to be wasting time in schools that gave no value. Students were taught by teachers who barely finished high school and had no materials. Teachers showed up only once in a while, yet collected paychecks every month from the government. Also, for parents, children wasting time in such school meant they are losing the necessary labor force needed in the farms. I left the community and have not gone back."
For a passionate educator, I think, Paul Kim's experience was very disappointed. However, he is hard to defeat: "I am still struggling to figure out a way to get their children educated with quality learning programs. I would like to challenge those children. I would like to show them what they could achieve in their lives. I would like to see doctors, professors, engineers and astronauts out of them." 

To get that change society must change the value it gives to education.

New learning enviroment (I)

Stanford University has not tied itself to a one single MOOC platform. As far as I know,  Stanford is part of coursera and also it is offering courses in two more platforms: Class2go and Venture Lab.  Through venture lab, last fall Stanford offered five courses. Among them was one that called my attention. Professor Paul Kim,  chief technology officer and assistant dean at the Stanford University School of Education, opened a course called: Designing a New Learning Environment. It happened to be that professor Kim came to El Salvador in 2010. He met high rank officials from the new elected government. So I thought to myself it could be a good idea to tell them they could study his course. I wrote to them but never received an answer. However, months later I met them in the opening of a social project. I asked them if they were following the course and they said they weren't.
Paul Kim uses a four-stages diagram to illustrate his ideas about sustainable education environments. At the top of the diagram he places the concept of VALUE. For value he meant local society's views regarding education. Educational projects will fail if local societies do not give any value to the project. This idea has made me wonder if developing societies are willing to embrace new available online educational projects, e.g. MOOC, where three of the four-stages have been built up (Technology, Content and Pedagogy).

viernes, 21 de diciembre de 2012


It is a salvadoran tragedy. In Christmas time, We all watch news where people get burned and die because they suffered accidents with firecrackers and powder.

Last Sunday, December 16th, around four o'clock in the afternoon,  a small shanty blew up. The explotion was located on the slopes of Mount San Jacinto, south of San Salvador. In the humble home, a marriage was engaged in making firecrackers. Every year, during the month of December, they did so as an extra activity to their jobs. Every weekday during the nights and every weekend they worked very long hours. With their bare hands, They tamped down charges of white powder among joint-like old newspaper rolls.

Teresa Majano de Galvez died almost immediately by the explosion and the severe burns. Her husband, Pedro Galvez suffered third degree burns over 70% of his body. The burns penetrated through the skin, damaging, most likely, nerves, blood vessels and, almost certainly, destroying any regenerative capacity. Pedro's strenght kept him alive ​​four more days. However, he succumbed to the severity of the accident. Yesterday, on thursday, December 20th, physicians certified his death.

A third adult was another victim of the accident. Pedro's sister, Irma Galvez, who from Sonsonate had came to work for them, now is fighting between life and death.
San Francisco Community.
Here in El Salvador, very poor neighbourhoods are called communities. Normally they are located in ravines and very sloped hills. Getting to San Francisco community in San Jacinto was more complicated than we though. At the point where bus 22 got its last stop, I felt like if we had reached some kind of border. In San Jacinto neighborhood's side of the border, I perceived a decline of once thriving neighborhood. Each home has been isolated itself by barbed wire, iron gates and big walls. They are foreign to communities' marginal life. In the other hand, In the communities' side of the border, I felt a rural setting. People raise chickens, goes to the mill to grind corn, cook with firewood and also They struggle to survive.

A graffiti signed by a local gang warned us about who rules the neighborhood: "See, hear and be silent." The community has some minor overtones of prosperity. Electricity, drinking water and paved roads. However, you can not help noticing where this human settlement has been erected: on a steep hillside of the many that make up the slopes of Mount San Jacinto.

Three Electrical Engineering Students.
Pedro and Teresa had three of his kids studying electrical engineering at the University of El Salvador. Hernán, the senior, began in 2006, seven years ago. Two juniors, who are twins, enrolled in 2009. The only education these young guys have accessed has been in the public education system. Jorge and Edwin, the twins, studied at the Industrial Technical Institute (INTI). These two boys were tested for admission to enter the University in late 2008 and They approved without problems the entrance examination.

Soon they discovered that public education did not prepared them for a college education. However, the story of these young guys and their parents is the story of many Salvadoran families who are struggling to overcome adversity. On the one hand, fighting their academic deficiencies. The three students have been able to continue, enrolled as regular students. On the other hand, until the fateful December 16th, her parents fought against economic hardship. That struggle costed them their lives.

6.002x Final Exam (II)

I had planned to write several posts about 6.002x last spring final exam. I could write just one entry. A little bit of sickness slowed down my writing pace. So I decide to use my reduce energy to prepare myself for the exam. By the time the final exam was opened It was too late to write about that issue.

I opened the exam on thursday, December 20th, around six o'clock in the morning. It was a little embarrassing. I spent more than an hour trying to solve the very first question. When I though I was ready to submit I did it. However, here they came, everything was full of red crosses. I got scare!
I did not have too much time during the morning because the day before I was informed that I had to attend a meeting around 10 am.

So I jump to question number two, which took me an hour. Question number three was solved in 30 minutes. Question number four took me one hour but I had only half of the solution. At 9:30am, after three hours and a half, I only had two and a half questions solved. Quite disastrous timing!

I made a pause because I had to attend a meeting. The parents of three of our students passed away (I will write about this in next post). 

I retook the exam around four o'clock in the afternoon. I had to endure another three hours to have it completed. However I left some bugs to be solved after diner.

viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2012

6.002x Final Exam (I)

6.002x Final exam is very close. Last course Info, dated december 4, said: "The final exam will take place on December 20th, with full details below." Just one line below, they contradicted themself; quote:  "The final exam will be released on December 19th at 14:01 (2:01 pm) Boston time and will close on December 23rd at 23:59 (11:59 pm) Boston time." So you do not know if the exam is going to be opened on December 20th or 19th.

Last spring 6.002x final exam
I would like to write several post dedicated to last spring final exam. Our university closes its doors today. It will be reopened by January 16th. So this blog would be a way to help students who are willing to take the final exam. This first post is dedicated to the very first problem; which has been rewriten below. The solution of the problem attracted my attention a lot. Recently the civil engineering department acquired a new machine which is based on the same principle.

One way to measure the deformation of an object is with strain gauges. A strain gauge is a resistor whose resistance varies with the amount it is stretched or compressed. For example, an Omega SG-13/1000-LY11 has a nominal undeformed resistance of RX=1000Ω. The change in resistance is very small: if the piece of steel the gauge is bonded to stretches by Δll=0.001 the gauge increases resistance by only 2Ω.. To measure the strain we need to get a voltage proportional to the change in resistance from the nominal resistance of the gauge. This is arranged with a circuit like this:
Let's start by assuming that RA=1800Ω, RB=3600Ω, RC=1500Ω, and VS=26V. Note: In this problem it is necessary to compute your answers to within 1% of the correct value.

Q1: What is the output voltage v_o , in Volts, if the gauge is not deformed? 

The circuit is know as bridge circuit. The problem is quite tricky. You can not use tension division directly to calculate v_o. Instead, one solution could be to calculate tension among all resistors. Then you have to figure out how to subtract the correct tensions. It would be ok to write a formula, because it would be helpful for solving next questions.
Q2: Now suppose the gauge stretches so its resistance changes to R_X=1002.0Ω. What is the change in the output voltage, in milliVolts? 

Tension in R_C has changed. It must be recalculated. Then you must subtract this value from the one calculated in Q1.
Q3: We would really like the output voltage to be zero when the gauge is not deformed. Keeping the other resistors the same, what should we make the resistance RB to accomplish this? Express your answer in Ohms. 

Solving Q1, we must concluded that v_o is the difference between two tensions. we are required v_o=0. So the only unknown value is the value of R_B.

Q4/Q5: Now we want to choose some resistances to get the maximum sensitivity: we want the biggest change in output voltage for a change in the gauge resistance. We also want the output voltage to be zero when the gauge is not deformed.

Assume that we are given RA=3000.0Ω, and remember that the nominal undeformed resistance of the gauge RX=1000Ω.  

What value should we choose for RC, in Ohms?  
What value should we choose for RB, in Ohms? 
To find when it is maximized, we find the derivative of dv_o / dR_x  and set it to zero. It is quite tricky. From Q1, if you got a formula for v_o just derive it with respect to R_x. You are going to get an expresion like dv_o/dR_x = R_C V_S / (R_x+R_C)^2. It is the expression you have to derive and set to zero.

jueves, 13 de diciembre de 2012

It's the economy, stupid

The phrase "The economy, stupid" or "It is the economy, stupid" was coined by James Carville, Bill Clinton's campaign strategist. James Carville  made his reputation in the 1992 presidential campaign. He successfully got Bill Clinton elected, defeating an incumbent president. "It is the economy, stupid" became the slogan for Democrats 1992 campaign. Now the phrase it is used as a cliché.

It has been reported that Mr. James Carville based his strategy on polls. Through surveys he could identify "gut issues".

6.002x has allowed us to make comparison between the way lead universities handled their courses and how courses are handled in developing countries.

It is undeniable that developing countries universities lack high educated professors. But also comparison showed a lack of respect for basic norms.

Let's take for instance grading. Our written norms establish that grades must be return during the two weeks that follow the turning in of a paper, a homework or an exam. In general, that basic rule it is not followed.

Semester last 16 weeks. Final exams are supposed to be handled in week 17. Grades must be published in week 18. This is week 19, the EE department is responsible of 29 courses. Only in 9 courses grades have been submitted.

6.002x students know in real time their grades. Also I guess, regular MIT students do not have to wait until the very end for knowing their grades.
The picture shows that only 9 out 29 courses have submitted grades (yellow). Among the ones that have not been submitted are Circuit Analysis and Analog Electronics (red rectangle).

It is accountability, stupid.
Trying to figure out ways to improve things in developing countries universities, I think, a lot could be done through respecting basic norms. In general, to enforce the respect for basic norms is not an easy task. But those countries must realize the tremendous harm they are causing to their own.

sábado, 8 de diciembre de 2012

One hundred years ago (III)

Researching for information about the Mejía brothers, I found out they were the children of Sara Duke and Federico Mejía. It was in a local newspaper that I found out a name related with that family. The news was about a Salvadoran high society lady who said she was raised by Sara Duke. I looked in the phone book and I found her daughter's phone number. She gave me her mother's number.

I remember my conversation with this old lady because I happened to call her around eight o'clock, at night. Apparently, I interrupted her favourite TV program. It was a interview program ran by a journalist that months later would become president of El Salvador. I understood she follow that program with eager. So She told me to call her next day.

I called her and she bombarded me with information. But when I tried to make an appointment for a personal interview with her, she said it would be better to talk to her cousin. Her cousin happened to be Federico Mejía's daughter.

I made an appointment with Federico's daughter. I visited her at her house. In the living room she had a mandolin which belonged to her father.
I took the detail of carrying with me her father's pictures. RPI's archivist had sent to me a picture where the Mejía brothers were portrayed as part of a mandolin club.

Electrical engineering has changed tremendously in the past one hundred years. RPI sent me the electrical engineering program that they had back in the 1910s.
We still do not know how this two electrical engineers, educated in New York, influenced the development of the Salvadoran college of engineering. I have collected some information but still it is small and sparce.

One hundred years ago (II)

As I said in a former post, I did a small historical research about the origin of Salvadoran college of engineering. I discovered that two of the very first Salvadoran electrical engineers graduated from RPI, in New York. They were two brothers. Federico, the elder Mejía, started in 1912. His junior brother, Julio started a year later.

As I said, I emailed RPI trying to get information about these two alumni. Amy Rupert, an assistant archivist, from the Institute Archives and Special Collections in the Folsom Library (RPI), sent to me two short bios. Those biographies  were in something she called entry books. I think, that was a kind of Facebook.

I have spent a lot of time trying to decipher what they wrote about Julio Mejía.

First I would like to know who was in charge of writing the entry book, the college's president?  The very first sentence gives me a hint about the purpose of this work. They tried to portray each student: "When we intend to say in few words all about any particular human being it is necessary to mention only his essential characteristics. This fact can't be better illustrated than by Mejía." 

Then the author of the biography says things with a hint of irony: "His life is full of striking events. We can see him visiting hospitals although he is not sick; just because * * * *. Then he will undoubtedly, with the medicine he needs, take a stroll through parks so as to breathe the fresh pure air, having always with him what we are calling medicine."

Why did Julio like to visit hospitals if he was not sick? After all, in general, hospitals are not pleasant places to visit. Almost nobody can find entertainment in a Hospital, and not even at the beginning of the twenty century.

Julio Mejía the nurses chaser?
What was Julio's medicine? Can somebody take a stroll through parks with a medicine in hand? I think the answer is in the very last sentence, where the author wrote about Julio: "I mean those fair lasses from Troy [New York], and for them he partially neglects his studies."

miércoles, 5 de diciembre de 2012


Every now and then (It is quite narcissist to say every day), I take a look at this blog's statistics. It never stops to surprise me how interconnected the world is. This blog has been visited by people from many different places. But today, the blog's statistics showed three unexpected visits. Three visits from, what google defined as, the Palestine Territories.
I do not know if the persons who happened to visit the blog live in Gaza or in the West Bank. Life has been pretty hard recently in Gaza. I don't know if gazans have managed to recover their daily life. It is hard to believe that somebody could be thinking about taking 6.002x final exam when all around is sorrow. But that is life. A kind of show. We humans are part of the plot. And as somebody said: the show must go on.

martes, 4 de diciembre de 2012

A gifted boy (II)

As I posted in my last entry, I received an email from a teenager who happened to be in my very first MOOC talk. I mentioned that at the end of the talk two boys came to me and wanted to know more about how they could be enrolled. I also wrote that one of them enrolled in 6.002x this fall. He is doing a pretty good job in the course.

It happened I met this boy once before. He came to my laboratory with his mother. He was looking for somebody to help him with a microcontroller project. At that moment I could not help him. I put him in contact with one of my students who was developing a microcontroller application. That was the only thing I could do for him.

A gifted boy from Armenia Sonsonate
Roosemberth, the boy of this story, is from Armenia, Sonsonate (I recalled this from our meeting in my laboratory), a small town, about 35kms west of San Salvador.  I have some relatives  in a rural area close to the town. When visiting them, I have no need to go to the town of Armenia.  Downtown is located at the top of a steepy hill. When walking the hill you can have a wonderfull view of Santa Ana's Volcanic Complex.
Roosemberth sent to me a picture of the view he has from his room. At the end you can see the Santa Ana's volcanic complex, which is made of four volcanoes: Lamatepec (Santa Ana), Izalco, Cerro Verde, and San Marcelino (a very small one almost nobody count it).
The Santa Ana Volcano, as seen from a United States Air Force C-130 Hercules flying above Salvador in humanitarian aid. Photo courtesy of 1LT José Fernández, USAF. (wikipedia)