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.


domingo, 3 de febrero de 2013

Waiting for superman.

Last week a student sent me an email. He wanted to share his views with me. I quote him in spanish:

"Hace unos años escuche que MIT era la universidad que producía los mejor ingenieros del planeta yo no estaba conforme con [esa] idea; pero al llevar el curso 6.002x me pude dar cuenta que todo se basa en su sistema de enseñanza y la motivación para aprender."

What the student told me was that he heard MIT graduates were the best of the world.   He said he did not like the idea of consigning MIT that honor. But after taking 6.002x he has realized what make MIT one of the best: "It is about its education system and the passion they put on learning."

Waiting for "Superman"

I think It was last year that while reading the newspaper I found a critique on the documentary Waiting for "Superman". I have to say in my favor that I do not like pirating movies, books or anything from the Internet. But I was so curious about that work  that I did not care about violating the documentary's copy right. I watched the documentary and it was a very shocking experience.

There is something universal in the film, however the documentary analyze the failures of the American public education, that touches deep in the heart. As an educator, I think, It has to do with a hidden guilt of not doing enough to help our youth. Waiting for superman touched me very deeply. And my student email has made me recall my debt with my job.

jueves, 31 de enero de 2013

Internet-based Talk radio

Today we visited La Prensa Gráfica, a national newspaper which has started to run a internet-base radio service.  Every Thursday they have a college section. We came to talk about our experience with 6.002x and Edx. Talk radio shows have been associated with AM/FM.  Internet-based talk-radio shows have become a low-cost solution. La Prensa Gráfica is trying to make his way through this technology.

From left to right, Lester, Jaime, Roosemberth, Fredy, Carlos, Flori, Jorge and Gabriel.

 By chance, The Honduran students IEEE branch's president came with us. To have her with us was very important because she is going to back MOOC initiatives in Honduras. Flori is a nice girl who has highly social skills. I have no doubts She can achieve similar ideas in Honduras.

Mauricio, Flori, Gabirel, Roosemberth, Lester and Fredy

The program has been recorded as a podcast. I don't know how big our audience was. However, I have no doubt we are going to work for trying a bigger audience.

martes, 29 de enero de 2013

Revolution Hits the Universities (II)

I have earned a little bit of knowledge regarding college unrest. I have carried out a little research regarding students revolts at the University of El Salvador. I have also submitted a book on that issue. That is why I found Thomas Friedman's headline very provocative: "Revolution Hits the Universities"

But fortunately this time, revolution is of another kind.

MOOC as a kind of foreign aid?
Thomas Friedman gives a hint of how to focus American foreign aid: "Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic."

Revolution Hits the Universities (I)

Luis Alberto Sanchez, president of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru, wrote one of his experiences, lived in one of his many trips around the world: "In April 22, 1968, I arrived in Paris from Dakar. I tried to meet with my friends Jean Roche, president of Sorbonne, and Monbeing Pierre, chairman of Institute of Latin American Studies. With Roche I could not even communicate by phone; Monbeig explained that he was subjected to an unavoidable schedule visits, discussions and negotiations."

Alberto Sanchez could not meet his friends. Paris was in the midst of a rebellion. The multiple epicentres were in college, in high school and in French unions. Having nothing to do in Paris, He decided to continue with his world trip schedule and flew to New York. He arrived on  April 26th. He had to meet Grayson Kirk, University of Columbia's president. To his amazement, Columbia University was in the middle of a student revolt. He did not even dare to contact Columbia officials. The press put him abreast of what was happening.

David Shapiro, taken from The Terror of the Poet.

For several days activist students, linked to groups whose radicalism was in crescendo, seized several university buildings. The news in the print media reported a disturbing picture. David Shapiro, a scruffy student, was photographed  sitting in the president's chair, very relaxed, wearing sunglasses and smoking one of the president's cigars he found in the broken office.

A few months after his coming back, Alberto Sánchez had to deal with a homegrown student rebellion.

miércoles, 23 de enero de 2013

A group picture

I had the idea of having a group picture. I got very surprised to see that almost everybody attended the call. Around thirty people got their diploma; among them the electrical engineering chairman (firs line at the left). He also took the fall 6.002x course; and got a perfect score. To get him enrolled was very important because he could serve as a good role model.
Picture courtesy of Wilber Calderón.

In general the experience was very rewarding. We just can hope other majors at our university could follow our path. I guess our new goal will be Electricity and Magnetism by professor Walter Lewin.

I am also willing to give new talks about our experience. Perhaps with a little bit of luck we could magnify this effort to a bigger scale.

What's next? (I)

Today Wednesday January 23, Salvadoran 6.002x-ers had a meeting. I called them for having a kind of graduation picture. But almost spontaneously came out a need to talk about what we had achieved. Also the question What's next? came to the table. We discussed several proposals. I will mention just two of them; which require to add no new bureaucracy. One proposal was to ask our department a MOOC course as a four credit elective course. Electrical Engineering Students are required to take eight elective four credit courses. Because the department has only 12 full time professors and 2 part-timers, elective course list is very short.
 The other proposal was to use a mandatory course which was originally designed to do small research. The course has to be taken in the last year, as a research course under a professor supervision. A carefully chosen MOOC course could be replaced instead. The course could help to carry on later an undergraduate Thesis. 

I do not know if any of this two proposals will materialize. But I got the feeling we had achieved something we did not have before. We had expanded our vision of the world. I can not image myself, twenty years ago, when I was an engineering student, having this kind of conversation. MIT, Harvard, Berkeley was foreign to us. The only american college images I could think of were the ones portrayed by cheap Hollywood movies (Porky's, Revenge of the Nerds and so on).

Picture courtesy of Ovidio Medrano.
I can not help avoid to say something about some students who felt cheated by our system. They managed to succeed in 6.002x but fail our basic circuit analysis and analog electronic courses.

After our little brainstorming we decided to take the pictures. Below I was portrayed with a very clever teenager.  Roossenberth, a sixteen years old boy, took the course. He approved 6.002x and, following my advice, he will take it again. But this time he will arm himself with a calculus course, served by coursera.

sábado, 19 de enero de 2013

The need to have a role model

In past posts I have quoted professor Paul Kim's opinions, given in his MOOC course. In his seventh lecture he talked about some of his educational projects. But also he introduced a very key issue: the need to have a role model.
Cameron Diaz in the movie Bad Teacher.
Role model
Focusing on early education, Professor Kim talked about his 1001 stories project. Also he recalled his personal child experiences: "When I was growing up, I remember reading about Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, Einstein and inventors and great heroes of nations. I was inspired by their stories. Their stories shaped my role model. The children in the developing region don’t have access to stories that can inspired them."

6.002x produced some results
As I have said before, two professors and five of our best students enrolled and passed with success the very first 6.002x course. In a way we served as a model for students who enrolled during 6.002x second edition. During the fall  edition, two more professors enrolled. One of them was our chairman. Both of them got a perfect score. Totally, during 2012, four out of twelve professors passed 6.002x. That is to say, 33% of the electrical engineering department full-time faculties took the course.

In addition the students who took the spring course served as a model for their peers; who enrolled by fall.

lunes, 14 de enero de 2013

Is MIT ready for the next Aaron Swartz?

As I posted before, I grew up in the west hills of San Salvador's Volcano. At school we did not have a library. At home there were very few books, if any. At 13 I remember myself eagerly studying the Bible. It affected me so much that I ended up that year being part of a rural profetic speaking-in-tongues evangelical sect. Fortunately that experience lasted a little more than a year.

By the late eighties my father became an assistant librarian in a kind of two-year technical community college. Every time I passed by visiting him, I spent many hours checking book after book and shelf after shelf. It was a kind of epiphany that I recall with joy. Later on, while being a PhD student, I remember having again that feeling. The sensation came this time not from my walkings through bookshelves but from surfing ScienceDirect, JSTOR, IEEE digital library and so many online libraries my abroad university had subscribed.
After finishing my PhD studies I came back to El Salvador. It was hard to realize I had lost my access to online libraries. Every now and then, when I desperately needed a technical article, I shamelessly begged to my friends who I knew had access to those libraries. Sometimes they responded my calls but warned me not to share the information with anybody because I could get them into troubles.
Aaron Swartz (wikipedia)
Aaron Swartz
It was through the New York times that I happened to know that somebody was criminally charged for downloading almost the whole JSTOR library. At that moment, for me, It was no more than another story of extreme government punishment over activism. The New York Times reported JSTOR's role in Mr. Swartz's prosecution: "Asked if it was pleased that someone misusing the service could be brought to justice, a spokeswoman for Jstor wrote in an e-mail response: 'We wanted the content back, and we were able to secure it and ensure it wasn’t distributed. We were not interested in further legal action around this incident. We have no comment on the prosecution or how they have chosen to characterize it.' ”

A believer
Aaron was a believer. I know what is to be one. I experienced that myself with my evangelical speaking-in-tongues mates. Even JSTOR gave Aaron recognition. The death of Aaron has troubled MIT community. MIT’s president has appointed a prominent professor, Hal Abelson, to lead an investigation.

Is MIT ready for the next Aaron?
MOOC is creating new believers. Is anybody listening? A new young generation is interpreting the message of the apostles of the new MOOC gospel in different ways.

domingo, 6 de enero de 2013

A Retrospect

A guinea pig student.
Last February 2012, an alumni sent to me an email telling me that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would start a web course on Circuits and Electronics. For a week or two  I was very skeptical about enrolling; after all I was not a Circuit Analysis professor neither an Analog Electronics lecturer. However, To become a MIT student, even an online guinea pig student, was very challenging. By the beginning of March, I had already signed up. At that very moment I did not have any idea of the amount of effort that decision would demand on me. But I was resolved to be a MIT 6.002x student, to finish at the top, and to get the diploma.

I sent several emails to fellow professors. I told them about MIT web experiment. Only one of them signed up. By their own, some students,  full of enthusiasm, decided to enrolled. They kept that decision almost secret. They did not want to be bother by their peers with nerdy stigmas. At the end of the course five students and two professors finished it, all of them got A's.  One of our students got a perfect score.

MOOC's Advocate.
By May 2012 6.002x became EdX. I transformed myself in a kind of MOOC advocate. If 6.002x enriched my life it could do the same to others. So I started campaigning to take advantage of this new distance education initiative. I visited different classrooms. I talked with fellow professors. I visited several campuses. I traveled several cities. I talked to a physician friend (regarding PH207x). I gave a talk to a program for gifted students; where the viceminister of science and technology was present. Even I proposed, without success, to our local IEEE branch chairman to have a contest; and to award a prize to the university that enrolled and managed to get more students approved on Circuits and Electronics.