miércoles, 29 de agosto de 2012

Campaigning on Circuits and Electronics (part III)

This week I have continued campaigning on Circuits and Electronics. I talked to two courses. Both courses are on  circuits analysis. The first one I talked to are the students who failed the very first course on circuit analysis (40%). The other course are made of students who could move ahead to the next course (60%). The electrical engineering degree at the University of El Salvador requires two courses on circuits analysis and three on analog electronics (the total curriculum is made of 48 courses).

During the last twenty years both circuit analysis and analog electronic have developed  a very bad reputation among our students. Students get stuck. Professors do not offer real help. Time-to-degree overpass nine years. And dropouts, seems the only way out.

I have started this effort in the hope this could change the way professors and students look at higher education. Students should learn to study; professor must learn to teach.

viernes, 24 de agosto de 2012

Sink or swim

As part of his presentation, one of the co-founders of udacity, Sebastian Thrun, read to the audience three emails. The first two said very positive things about the impact Sebastian's lecturing had on them. The third one, on the contrary, was a complain.The email was written by a father. He complained that his effort of getting his daughter to study technology using Sebastian's lectures was failing.The frustrated father said: "I had hoped that the class would be structured to engage the interest of the student first, so that they would have a motivational context for mastering some statistics. I was surprised to see the class structured much more like a 'weeder' class from my own days of school."

At the beginning, Sebastian Thrun structured his web lectures as he did over, during two decades, at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford. He recognized himself as a tough teacher:  "I always gave students really hard questions, I always let them fail and I would come to the rescue. [It] made myself really smart", he said. 

The strategy to give students hard material it is called "sink or swim".  In the middle of his epiphany moment, Thrun said: "We really empower the professor to make him look smart and we don't help the students to become smart".

miércoles, 22 de agosto de 2012

Campaigning on Circuits and Electronics (part II)

During the afternoon, We visited two more classes. The audience this time was different. These students are in their third year. In El Salvador, as in most latin american countries, engineering is a five and a half years long program.

As an average, students take 9 years to completion. More than half of these students are stuck in the third and fourth year of their major. Many of them, without exaggeration, are living under a kind of terrified situation.

Students wanted to know things like if they could earn any kind of credit by taking the course. I explained to them that there are some universities that have given credits by some MOOC courses. Also, I said to them that there are some other universities that are planing to give credits.

I ended with the impression that many of our students would be happier earning credits with EdX than with our regular courses. Sadly, I would admit that probably they could move ahead easily with EdX than with us.

Campaigning on Circuits and Electronics (part I)

Today we started visiting different classrooms. Fredy, Juan and Gabriel have joined this effort. As I posted previously, these three young guys took 6.002x last spring. They have already made their minds to work as instructors of 6.002x second generation. Three other students joined us. They came as representatives of the IEEE student branch.

Our very first audience was made of electrical engineering sophomores. They were the ones enrolled in a programming course. The programming professor told them to come to my talk. Probably, netxt year, as many as half of them, will be taking the first circuit analysis course. So we encourage them to do Circuits and Electronics thinking on their future as students.

All around me I saw enthusiasm. I perceived the smell of learning by learning sake. To see real guys who have had such a success, passing a MIT course with an A as a grade, was very encouraging for these sophomores.

I heard some question regarding the English language. But Gabriel told them that there are many tools that can help to overcome this difficulty.

martes, 21 de agosto de 2012

Your account for MITx's on-line 6.002

On march 1, 2012, I received an email with a subject like the one on this blog entry. After opening the email, I could read the following:  "Someone, hopefully you, signed up for an account for MITx's on-line offering of 6.002x using this email address."  It was me the very one who registered on 6.002x. So I was authorized by MIT's 6.002x to activate and to use the account. At that very moment I did not have any idea of the amount of effort that decision it would demand on me. But I was resolved to be a MIT student, to finish at the top, and to get the diploma.

I send several emails to fellow professors; telling them about this MIT web experiment. Some students, by their own, full of enthusiasm, decided to register. They kept that decision almost secret. They did not want to be bother by their peers with nerdy stigmas. I knew three of them were studying 6.002x. In the picture, from left to right, it is portrayed Fredy, Gabriel, Me and Juan. Gabriel did a perfect score. Only 340 got a perfect score on the final. So fewer than that number did completely perfect.

El Salvador Aerospace Institute (ESAI)

Last year, on march 2011, our  IEEE student branch called for a meeting. It was an open invitation to an inspirational talk given by a member of our diaspora. In 1980s, salvadorans emigrated by hundred of thousands. A few of them have had very successful careers in USA.

Jorge Enrique Zapparoli emigrated to America in the late 1980s. He did not find in El Salvador anything to believe In. He had very ambitious dreams. In America, he could graduate from college. Sooner than later, he found himself working in the aerospace industry. He has worked on very interesting jobs.

This month, Jorge came to El Salvador. Like last year, he started a new round of inspirational talks. But this optimistic guy not only wanted to share his experiences with us, down here in El Salvador. Since the last time I saw him, He has considered the idea to launch a small CubeSat—low-cost satellites no bigger than a shoe box—. So, combining family business with work, he took his time to give a chain of several talks in half a dozen colleges and several salvadoran institutions.

I wish Jorge luck. I hope we can help him to achieve his dream: to put in orbit a small satellite.

sábado, 18 de agosto de 2012

An email from Priotr Mitros

As I said in my last post, I contacted Tony, a PhD student from Stanford. Tony successfully used 6.002 to teach teens. He also told me, this fall, he will use new edition of 6.002x to teach at the National University of Mongolia.

I noticed, In each email, Tony always copied Priotr Mitros. Priotr is a Chief Scientist of edX and Research Scientist at MIT.  Without knowing Tony's work in Mongolia, I asked Tony if Priotr was aware of his work. To this question, I received an answer from Priotr: "I am extremely interested in this initiative; it's very much aligned with the long-term goals of edX, and exciting to myself personally", He said.

I said to Priotr, we are going to use our experience, as former 6.002x students, to help students who are going to take 6.002x. At the University of El Salvador (the only public university in the country) we are going to make 4 groups. Target student will be the one one who is studying  second or third year. For each group we are going to have an instructor. Instructors have already approved 6.002x, so they can give support. Groups have been chosen according progress in the major. For example, one group still does not have any background on circuit analysis neither on electronic. Actually, these group will be studying basic electromagnetism at the time they will be taking 6.002x.

Last month, I emailed the idea to our national IEEE president. He liked it. So we are going to incentive the study of 6.002x.  IEEE student branches are going to play a key roll. I have contacted each IEEE student branch mentor. I have received very enthusiastic responses. So I expect that four salvadoran universities are going to be competing for trying to get more students enrolled.

I got an email

I regularly visit 6.002x web site. I do not know, probably I got addicted to it. From march to june I was a MIT student. Precisely, I was an online student. Few weeks ago, I found an entry with the title: edX in Developing Countries: Replicating the case of Mongolia. This title called somebody's attention. A former 6.002x-student left an email address, trying to contact the person who wrote the entry. I wrote to him.  Briefly I told him I was starting an initiative which involve salvadorean universities. Tony, as he introduced himself, responded  immediatly.  He said,  he was " very hopeful about the impact of edX on developing countries."

First I thought, he was a social science PhD student trying to discover the impact of web education. Later, I discovered he was a PhD stanford student, a former MIT undergraduate, who made something nice with 6.002x. His case has been used by EdX. He used MIT-6.002x to teach high schools students basic electronic. He carried out this experience in Mongolia.

I told Tony that for this new edition of 6.002x we are planning something bigger. We want to register more than 100 electrical engineering students. The number is very big if you consider it represents 20% our total student enrollment. In addition, trough the IEEE, I proposed the same idea to other universities which have IEEE student branch. So we are going to be on a kind of competition. Four electrical engineering deparments from four universities.

Wireless networks and the smart grid

Last thursday, I gave a talk to students at Universidad de Sonsonate. Sonsonate is a city which is 60 kilometers west from San Salvador. I went as a volunteer of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE). The trip was very caotic. I had to bear this custom of taxi drivers of refueling gasoline with passengers inside; wasting precious time. The taxi driver got lost several times and we arrived very late.

However, There it was Manuel. Manuel is the IEEE student branch mentor at Universidad de Sonsonate. He had everything ready. So, I could start my presentation immediatly . Acording to Manuel, 130 people (students and professors) attended the called. I was bombarded with questions. Students showed a lot of interest in our measuring electrical consumption project.

Before my arrival to Sonsonate, I had already emailed Manuel about my idea to let students know the potential of MOOC. At the end of my presentation, I asked Manuel permission to talk about this new way to study american college level courses.

Most of them were electrical engineering and computer engineering students. I told them about my experience with MITx 6.002x. I encouraged them to take it this fall. I hope they will.

Massive Open Online Course

The concept of Massive Open Online Course was introduced at the University of El Salvador. I was invited to give a talk to a gifted teen program. Programa Jóvenes Talento or gifted young program is a proyect supported by the Science and Mathematic Faculty and the Ministry of Education.Some of these students are strong candidates to study abroad. So, for them, I hope, this could be very helpful.

Besides my presentation, there were half a dozen more. The talks were given by young students who are studying abroad, mostly in the United States. The purpose of the meeting was to stimulate the love for science. But as I could see on the very faces of these youth and their fathers was a desire to go abroad to study. At the end of my presentation a couple of very anxious teens came to me; as if I were the very one who was awarding scholarships.