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.