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)

lunes, 26 de noviembre de 2012

A gifted boy (I)

This afternoon I received an unexpected email which made my day very happy. As I posted in this blog, I campaigned about MOOC in several places. The very first place where I started given talks was for a special gifted teen program which is run by the University of El Salvador. It was the very first time I publicly introduced this new distance learning dynamic called MOOC.

I remember that at the end of my presentation two teenagers came to talk to me. They were really impressed about the possibility to study in a prestigious American university.

About a month ago, I wanted to know if any of the teens that attended my talk had been enrolled in any MOOC course. I wrote an email to a friend of mine who works as an instructor in the program. I asked him if by any chance teens were enrolling in MOOC courses. He answered me he did not know.

Today, one of the two boys wrote me an email. And he attached a picture he is really proud about. The picture was in fact a print screen of his Circuits and Electronics profile. I asked him permission to publish his results in my blog. I know he realize himself what he has achieved which is a lot for a High School students. I hope the best for him.

domingo, 25 de noviembre de 2012

One hundred years ago (I)

Several years ago, I started a historical research project. I wanted to know the origin of Salvadoran college of engineering. I dug in libraries. I interviewed people. I wrote to foreign libraries. And I went to several national archives. Our university archive had very little information. In an Annual university report, dated 1927, I found some names that helped me to start my research. Two of the names correspond to a couple of brothers. They were Federico and Julio Mejía.

 It was not an easy task to find information about this two former engineers. Who were they?  Where did they graduate? What major did they study? I was lucky to discover one the names in a biographical dictionary. There I found a very short biography of Julio Mejía. I learned that He studied Electrical  Engineering in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

I wrote some emails to RPI. At the same time I wrote several emails to other institutions around the world; trying to get information from engineers who graduated abroad. Nobody answered me but RPI. An efficient and very nice archivist helped me out. She was very kind. She found out that Julio Mejía's elder brother, Federico Mejía, also graduated from RPI.

Federico Mejía
The eldest Mejía started to study electrical engineering in RPI in 1912, one hundred years ago. He was the son of the salvadoran 19th century aristocracy. He and his junior brother came to America with his family, because his grandfather was a kind of ambassador in Washington.
I managed to contact his descendants. A daughter is still alive. She told me that his father, after graduation, had to leave America because he was drafted for The Great War.

Federico the womanizer?
I just would quote what they wrote on Federico's entry book: ' "Fred." Fred arrived in Troy rather inclined to solve questions by mediation than by corporal struggle. However, he soon realized the ferocity of the Sophs and soon determined to clean them up. Mejía, in his spare hours has an  inclination toward the weaker sex.'

The Devil Is in the Scheduling

I just have recently uploaded homework number 10th. Yesterday, I send my last laboratory. So I am enjoying an air of relief. Except for some points I lost in the midterm exam, I have earned every point 6.002x has allowed me to win.
6.002x lectures are posted two weeks in advance. I am not really sure if they did the same the first time. But, at least, they did it with one week in advance.

Scheduling a course
To organize an experimental online course it is not an easy task. Let us take for instance MITx course on introduction to computer sciences. 6.00x crew can say something about it. The course has had several bugs and delays. But they are doing the best they can in order to give us a learning environment.

This learning enviroment include a way people can manage their time. Activities must be advertise in advance. So, students can organized their life to leave time to study. Having finished my homeworks and laboratories, Now I can  focus my mind in the final exam.

There are two things I like about how 6.002x is organized. First, If you work hard since the beggining and you do what they tell you to do, you have the chance to need very few points at the end. If you want to excell yourself you just need to concentrate to do a good job in the final test. Second, I like the idea of not having to be thinking about delivering homeworks and laboratories and preparing for an exam at the same time. Not having to be delivering work beyond week 10th  is wonderful. Only, if you want to improve some low grade you are allowed to work until week 12th.

sábado, 24 de noviembre de 2012

Vaccum Tubes (III)

Last thursday we started to work on our radio restoration project. The first step was easy: to identify the tubes.We only had a doubt about the rectifier.  Eddystone 850 had as a full-wave rectifier a 5Z4G vacuum tube; and we got the 5Z4G. We plugged in and there you go! It matched the base perfectly.

We plugged the other ten tubes in but we didn't get anything. And here I started to learn many thing from our technician (I have would liked to learn more). He needed to heard audio sound. That was his method and it marked the way to analyze the whole system. From the last  (the output stage) the whole circuit was analyzed. This procedure took us to identify a damaged capacitor. Later we discover the need to short link an outside jumpers. By the end of that day I was very tired. I went home. But Juan, our technician, decided to stay a little bit more.

Next day, I came early to work in other stuffs. When Juan showed up in my laboratory he came with a big smile. For the first time, in more than forty years it has been with us, it started to work.
Because we have been working in a main hall students have been watching us. We have woken up the curiosity of many people. And this has given me the oportunity to talk to student in a friendly enviroment about how did I happen to be interested in vacuum tubes. It was in 6.002x where I first started to learn about mankind greatest achievement in electronic.

jueves, 22 de noviembre de 2012

Vaccum Tube (II)

As I posted a month ago we started experiments with vacuum tubes. We decided to restore an old radio that has been part of our department since its foundation, back in the late sixties.  We had this radio with us and nobody knows when or where it came from. Our most senior technician, who join the department in 1972, says that when he started to work at the university the radio was already there. The radio is a 1960's vacuum tube receptor.
Eddystone 850-2
Our project was to restore this English brand radio. Wrongly, the first thing we did was to try to power it. Rapidly, we realized vacuum tubes were mess up. Along the years people had played with the tubes and they were located in wrong positions. Also, the radio lacked several tubes.

So, we tried another approach. We surfed the web and download its manual. We spend more than two days studying the manual. Also, we did a trip to visit people we thought they could keep vacuum tubes. We had no luck. The vacuum tubes were not possible to be found here in El Salvador.

The tube center
I decided that the only way to continue with our project was to buy them. I was lucky. A quick search took me to an American company located in Orlando, Florida. They had all of them but one. However they offered me an equivalent. So I purchase all of them (eleven tubes). In less than an hour I knew how much I had to pay; US$49.00 plus shipment. Below, I show the list:
  1.   6BA6 (CV454)       @ 4.00 = 12.00
  2.  6AJ8 (CV2128)           5.00
  3.  6AL5 (CV140)            3.00
  4.  6AU6 (CV2524)          3.00
  5.  6AT6 (CV452)            3.00
  6.  6AM5 (CV136)         10.00
  7.  6BE6 (CV453)             3.00
  8.  VR150/30(CV216)      4.00
  9.  5Z4G (CV1863) NOT AVAILABLE, ONLY 5Z4 METAL  6.00
It took three weeks to arrive. Last Friday I got them. However, the final price almost doubled. US$16.00 shipment, US$11.00 local taxes, and US$5.00 for a taxi trip.

Twenty years ago (II)

Twenty years ago I took my first college course on circuit analysis. I barely can remember who my professor was. I only have a fuzzy image of him. At the moment we were ready to start the exam, he gave us some silly recommendations about how to write clearly our answers. If I think about my former circuit analysis classmates, as a group it was a very traumatized group. They were very frustrated about how they were treated by the department.

More than ninety percent of my classmates had been more than five years at the electrical engineering department. And there they were. All of them stuck, still taking and retaking the very first course on circuit analysis. Some of those students wanted me to believe some of their urban legends. They liked to tell stories about an evil, malicious, and wicked professor who always did bad to students.  I do not know how those stories affected me. If they did affect me they  just made me to study harder.

However, in retrospect I have to say that exams were far beyond of what was given in the lectures. Some of the intellectual exercises we were asked to solve were presented just to show how smart the professor was.

Urban legend
Years later I learned that I was not mistaken. Fellow senior professors were very proud about how hard they were with those exams. They also created their own urban myths. One of those myths said that an Italian delegation that came to our department, as part of an international aid program, got scared the shit out of them. It happen because at the moment they got into the building the circuit analysis exam solution was posted in the front wall. The exam was the prove how clever the lecturer was.

miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2012

Twenty years ago (I)

Some  personal recollections.
My college years were very hard ones. I grew up in a coffee plantation at the west side of San Salvador's volcano. I was raised up by my father's older sister, a humble illiterate campesino woman who always thought I could achieve something in life.

To study at the university of El Salvador I had a very small scholarship, less than US$50.00 a month. That money helped me for transportation and a little food. During 1991 I lived with my father in Santa Tecla, a city located 12 kilometers west of San Salvador. By the end of that year he decided not to host me in his house. I had no place to live. I visited my mother and she offered me some help. During 1992, I lived as a guest of an old man who was a friend of my mother. He offered me a room in his house in a place called Ilopango, about 10 kilometers south east of San Salvador.
I remember the day my mother and I traveled together to my new house. It was a day in January or February of 1992. We had to cross by walking downtown San Salvador. That very same day, there was a mass of people coming from the east of the city to downtown. They were heading toward a central square, which is in front of the cathedral. Occupying the whole street, I guess was Avenida España, we met a  bunch of former guerrilla leaders.  They were followed by hundreds of people. We had to step a side to let the masses move toward the cathedral.

Years later I learned that day was a historical day. That day was the very first time the former guerilla enter to San Salvador peacefully. Peace accords were signed just days before.

During that day, my world was foreign to what was happening in downtown San Salvador. My main preoccupations were of another kind. Of course, I saw the horror of war. But that day, with no home, and nothing more than two books on my backpack I couldn't see nothing but my only survival.

Twenty years ago I took my first course on circuits analysis.
One of the two books I was carrying on my backpack was: Engineering Circuit Analysis by William Hayt. I guess, I paid a fifth of my monthly scholarship. I bought that book because was subsidized by a US aid program called RTAC-II.
I studied that book before the semester started. I remember by first day of class I had resolved the exercises of the first three chapters. I barely can remember the professor who gave that class. But I remember having as classmates students who started their engineering studies in middle 1980's.

Traffic Lights

I think, It was Douglas Barclay, a former American ambassador to El Salvador, who once said: "In El Salvador not even traffic law is enforced". By that he meant that as a general rule the rule of law is not applied.

One important thing MOOC is putting on evidence is the importance to schedule a course, to organize its content and to manage load distribution. Let us take as an example 6.002x. Before starting the course, everybody knew how many laboratories, homeworks and exams were required to take. Everybody knew 6.002x was a twelve weeks course with two exams. Those were the basic rules everybody had to respect. Also I like the idea of not having to deliver homework and laboratories two weeks before the final exam.

Besides 6.002x, I am enrolled in 6.00x, Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. Scheduling has been a nightmare for 6.00x. There have been too many problems in that course. But I am witness the tremendous effort the staff has done to keep up with the initial planning.

Here at the University of El Salvador, at the beginning of every semester professors are supposed to organize their lectures. Each professor has to present a "programa de asignatura" where he schedules every activity he himself compromises to fulfil. In practice, like the problem we have with traffic lights, there is anybody to enforce those basic compromises.

This is our last lecture week for this semester. Next week, students are supposed to take final exams. But, as the case with traffic lights, course scheduling does not work. It shocked me to see on walls an announcement calling to start the very first laboratory on power systems (See picture below). It says something like this: "Wednesday, November 21th, begins Power System Laboratory. Week A and B. " That means some students (Week B) have to start laboratory the very week they are supposed to start taking final exams.
As a rule regular courses like power systems require six to eight laboratories. That means students are going to be cheated by this professor. There will be no laboratory learning. Cynically, at the end of each semester,  students pretend they have learned and professors pretend they have taught.

The lack of organization is very similar to a chaotic traffic jam. It is impossible to create a learning environment with all that lack of organization.

viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2012

The Fiscal (semester) cliff

  It has been reported that Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, coined the term fiscal cliff. He meant to mark a dangerous date where American economy could get into troubles. 
 In a nutshell The New York Times defined it: "The term refers to more than $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect after Jan. 1 — for fiscal year 2013 alone — unless Mr. Obama and Republicans reach an alternative deficit-reduction deal." 
  Several voices have demanded an agreement between democrats and republicans.  A possible agreement has been nicknamed the grand bargain.

  Here at the University of El Salvador a semester last 18 weeks. 16 lecture weeks, 1 week for finals  and 1 week for extra exams. Lectures end next week. We are very close to our semester cliff. By that I mean what it is very typical every semester: disaster and chaos. The disaster has its origin in a completely lack of organization, no scheduling policy, and the mañana mentality.

  In practice we have a general schedule given by the University; but we also have traffic lights and hardly anybody respect them. The way a course is managed is up to the professor. Nobody supervises how many activities are going to be carry out. Neither if activities declared to be fulfilled were actually completed. Every semester we have cases where week 16 ends and exams have not been passed; homeworks have not been graded; laboratories have not been given. Chaos erupts because what has not been done during the semester has to be done during the last three weeks. Or, at least, to fiction things are done.

  The very first time I heard about the term isomorphic mimicry applied to social sciences was on a video recorded by a program called cambridge nights. The scientist Lant Pritchett was interviewed and he introduced the issue. Isomorphic mimicry is a term that comes from the natural evolution world; where things camouflage themselves. They do that to protect themselves.

  Lant Pritchett commented about a MIT study carried out in India. During the study they discover nurse attendance in a hospital was just 30%. He used the example to show up the difference between what is the legal norm and reality. In the record books nurses attendance was 100% but in reality It was not true.  Nurses and probably the whole health care personal can claim to be working (because the books show that) but in practice what you had was a charade.

  In the book The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union, I read a phrase that blew up my mind. The book's author quoted somebody else's phrase to describe workers behaviour to their state-run companies. The proletarians, the supposed beneficiaries of communism,  expressed their feelings in the cynical observation "we pretend  to work as they pretend to pay us ". 

  Sometimes, cynically, I use it to describe student-professor realtionship. But this will be the subject of a new post.

domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

The next four years

Cover of Bloomberg Businessweek portrayed what President Obama may look like after 4 more years in the White House. The image is very shocking. As a middle-aged man It made me feel fear about aging. 
But not everybody ages the same way. If you want to see the way you are going to look like as an old man you can find plenty of software in the Internet. I googled how to age faces. One link took me to a university in the united kingdom.  I dared to experiment with  professor Anant Agarwal's photo. After processing a photo one could think it has done its job. But not. After watching the results very carefully, It may appear results are based on just photo distortion.

In the future, 2012 will be remembered as The Year of the MOOC. This year, in a way, Edx's development could be portrayed as a fibonacci serie. First, 6.002x was born. By september, Edx started with 6.002x. By October new courses were incorporated. We can say that its evolution is almost comparable to a fibonacci series. But it is true this pattern can not continue for ever.

I am fearing MOOC will have a very little impact in developing countries. First, Internet is available at the house of a tiny fraction of the population. Second, university professor prove to have very little interest on studying MOOC courses. Third, Policy university makers are very disconected with what it is happening in the academic world. Last, if MOOC enterprises start charging money and testing in places like Pearson I think enrollment numbers will drop heavily. In the electrical engineering department we have managed to motivate some students to study MOOC courses. One of the reason why We have had some success is  because they see some of us (professors) becoming students.

I have not seen students enrolling in MOOC courses in the other places where I have had the opportunity to talk about MOOC. Here in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of El Salvador, by the end of the year 2012, more than two dozens of students and professor will hold one or more EdX diploma.

jueves, 8 de noviembre de 2012

Causes of failure (V). No Class Today. Mañana mentality

English is a very open language. I always surprise myself finding Spanish words in written and spoken English. Easily, English incorporates words from any language.

An American co-worker used to talk about the "mañana mentality". He meant to describe the way of life of doing nothing; using the excuse that things will be done tomorrow. I always thought that term was his personal invention. However, a few months ago It surprised me to find a New York Times headline where they used the word mañana. I googled mañana in two English online dictionaries. Webster did not include the word on its database. However, Oxford dictionary had it.

Also, I searched for the word through the New York Times. I found a critique about Jorge Castañeda's book: Mañana Forever? Alexandra Starr, the article author said: 'In “Mañana Forever?” Castañeda contends that the behavior of the cardenistas in Tepoztlán is reflected in broader Mexican culture. Mexicans don’t believe in the efficacy of collective action. They shy away from confrontation and are too accepting of a corrupt status quo.'  The article recall how Jorge Castañeda was urging the local cardenistas to put up a fight against 70 years old incumbent party, the almighty PRI. Feeling defeated by his fellow citizens' attitude, Jorge Castañeda decamped to Mexico City the very next day.

In this blog I have commented many of the reasons why our electrical engineering students failed to succeed.

I have not introduced very basic things like punctuality and responsibility. Two basic concept which are not taken in consideration in the search to improving student performance, professor's teaching or institution quality. 

Let us take, for instance, professors responsibility and accountability. At our department It is so easy for a professor not to give his lecture. He only has to hung up a misspelled add to a wall saying: No Class Today, and that's it. Chairman, fellow professors, and everybody else take the same attitude Jorge Castañeda saw on his trip inland Mexico. In Mexico Cardenadistas were afraid: "The local PRI guys would have made their lives hell." By the contrary, here there is no fear; we all are PRI.

MOOC is teaching us more than academic knowledge. It has lectured us on key issues like: Honor Code. We are witnessing the way a class is organized. We are learning how to distribute knowledge and the importance of scheduling things.

lunes, 29 de octubre de 2012

Midterm Exam (IV)

Since 6.002x started, on September 5, I am writing a blog. Now that midterm exam is over, I would comment some measures I took during examination period. I decided to title some entries with the names: midterm exam and midterm exam solutions. I wanted to measure the impact those names had on our 6.002x community. The blog has had a very modest impact. However it has been constant along the weeks. Last entries attracted the attention of many people. Below, I would show some results. The numbers of visitors increase twentyfold.
 India, USA, Spain and El Salvador were the top four. If we consider population ratio, It is surprising that a tiny country like El Salvador (6M) could follow behind India (1200M), USA(300M) and Spain(46M). As I understand a round two dozen of our students are taking 6.002x. I know that very few students in three other universities are following the course. Also I am aware that some alumni are studying 6.002x.

But what were they looking for during the last weekend? Google's blogspot statistic gives a little hint. We see that searched words were related with finding the exam solutions. Some people even wanted specific solution to a given problem.

I understand cheating is stronger in some societies than others. I wonder if this experiment could stimulate values given in MIT honor-code. I would put some extra effort to explain students why it is important to be honest. MIT 6.002x could give us the pleasure to feel better about ourselves.

viernes, 26 de octubre de 2012

6.002x Midterm Exam (III)

Midterm exam was designed to take two hours. I did it in five hours. Before summiting, I double checked all the answers. I have to say I did not prepare myself an exam environment. I had several interruptions and my computer crash once. Below I will describe my timing.

Q1 took me 20 minutes. Rapidly, I jumped over Q2. Then I stopped for dinner with my wife. We watch TV and a friend of us came to the house. So I could only put an hour more, just for solving Q3 (51 minutes). I was so tired, my computer had a severe crash. So I decided to continue the exam next day. 

During this morning, I got stuck with Q4. It took me 1:43 minutes! In Q5 I found my first bug and I decided not to spend much time on it (15 minutes). I continued with Q6 and got my second bug (25 minutes). I had 94% of the exam completed in almost 4 hours. (Q1: 20';Q2: 33';Q3: 51';Q4: 1:43;Q5: 15';Q6: 25'). I spent one more hour chasing two small bugs; But could manage to get just one.

6.002x Midterm Exam (II)

Just a few minutes ago, I  finished midterm exam. I have to say, as I have already said in this blog, that I am retaking 6.002x. Last spring I got 94% in this exam. Today I could barely improve it by 3 points.  I left to the end two bugs to solve with only one chance on each one. But I could only get through one. So I missed my chance to get 100%.

To make a computer grading student exams will be challenging. This whole MOOC experience I have self imposed upon me is making me think about the way I grade students. I am a professor. Along my years of experience I have graded students differently. Let's take for instance the small bug that didn't allow me to get 100%. Probably, In my first years as a teacher I had not given 100% for not having a perfect answer. But now I am getting old, and a little bit wiser, I hope. Looking the way the way the solution has been approached, identifying the bug, I think I should had graded better.

Computeres can not take in consideration all those things professor take in consideration when they are grading exams, papers, and so on. But, wait a minute. Computers, after all, are programmed by professors. So It is just to find the way, to make the grader system better.