We have a guest blogger today. The author of this post is Andraea Campbell, free lance writer.

Making the decision to return to school is very heavy. Many people go back to school but they spend a long time considering every single point before making the leap into school. Besides having to take courses such as math classes or online english courses, the person returning to school might have other things in their life which makes a return to school more difficult.

backtoschool

Going back to school requires a number of different considerations, but after each consideration is drawn out, the potential student will be able to better make the decision.

Time

Consider what kind of time you have to go to school. Do you have free time during the day? Would night courses work better? Could you go to school on the weekends? Consider the long term as well. How long do you want to go to school? Is it okay to take one or two courses at a time and take longer to get your degree, or do you need it much sooner?

Support System

Does your family support your decision? There is nothing worse than trying to go to school, study, take care of the house and work a job if someone is trying to stop you in the process. Talk to your family and make sure they support your decision. If they don’t, you will need to talk over the decision with them to find out why they don’t agree. You will need their full support to be successful.

Family Structure

What is your family structure? Are you the breadwinner of a family with children? Are you the main source of transportation for the children? Do you have animals who need consistent care? All of these factors will matter when deciding how to structure a school schedule. You will need to make sure your at-home responsibilities are cared for while you go to school.

Brick and Mortar or Online

This is a very tough decision for those returning to school. Ample research must be completed to figure out whether a brick and mortar or online school works better for you. If you have a number of family or work obligations, you might choose to go to school online. If you have time in the evenings, you might attend some classes at a brick and mortar. The amount of brick and mortars who are offering courses online are growing, so taking some online classes through a brick and mortar school is quite possible. You might even consider taking some free online courses before you enroll in a program. Look into every option before making a solid decision on any school.

Know Better – Do Better

I read this quote by Maya Angelou: “When you know better you do better.” It sounds interesting because it can mean many things. Let’s see…

First, I think of learning. If you learn well, then you know better, and then you do better with your tests and exams. But what else “knowing better” may mean? What do you know better? Perhaps, a better way of doing something; a better method that you learned about, or that you discovered. And then of course you do better to achieve your goals.

When you have something to do, first you have to know well (to understand) what you have to do. And then, if you really know what you have to do, you do better and your results are better. First you have to know what you have to do , and only then you do it.

It may also mean that you know a better life. If you had been impoverished (perhaps you were born in a poor family) and at some point you succeeded to raise yourself up to a better life, then perhaps you tend to be willing to help people who experience similar difficulties. So you tend to do better. You tend to do good deeds. In general, if you experience yourself a certain thing, a certain situation, then you know it better than someone who only thinks about it. And if you know better, you can help better someone else who experiences the same situation.

College needs to know better how to impart education. If they know better how to educate young minds, then they do it better, the results are better.

It is a nice and thoughtful quote. I am still trying to find more meanings to it.

How about you? What does it mean to you?

College Needs Corner News

Long time no see. Dear College Needs Corner fans (if any) here are some exciting news I found out today:

  • From The Washington Post the article “Online college courses to grant credentials, for a fee” says:

    Providers of free online college courses are experimenting with academic security measures that will enable students who successfully complete the courses to obtain credentials, for a small fee, that convey some of the cachet of a premier university.

    The credentials, or certificates, won’t translate into course credit toward a degree — at least not at big-name schools — because questions persist about how much those schools are willing to grant students who don’t pay tuition, as well as about the potential for cheating online.

    The fees may range between $30 and $100.

  • From Computerworld the article Vint Cerf: Nobody’s too old for tech quotes:

    Vint Cerf, known as the father of the Internet, says technology has not only changed the way we communicate but it’s changing the way we live our lives. Speaking at the International CES show Tuesday, Cerf said one of the things he focuses on is telling people that they’re never too old to use technology.

    “As part of our interactions, machines have become integral,” said Cerf. “This is pretty powerful. It changes the way we discover things. It changes how we think about communications. It changes how we communicate and who we communicate with.”

    “Can you imagine if our clothes were Internet-enabled?” he asked. “Can you imagine if you lost a sock? You could send out a search and sock No. 3117 would respond that it’s under the couch in the living room. But maybe that’s not a good idea because you could tell your wife you’re at work but then she texts you to say your shirt says it’s down at the bar.”

  • From Networkworld an article titled US Library of Congress saving 500 million tweets per day in archives says:

    The U.S. Library of Congress is now storing 500 million tweets per day as part of its efforts to build a Twitter archive, and has added a total of about 170 billion tweets to its collection.

    Twitter signed an agreement in April 2010 to provide the library with an archive of every public tweet since the company went live in 2006, and the Library of Congress recently provided an update on its progress. The initial stage of the project, which includes a complete copy of all tweets covering that four-year span, will be finished by the end of the month.

    “It is clear that technology to allow for scholarship access to large data sets is lagging behind technology for creating and distributing such data,” the library noted in a public document about its progress.

    The library said it already maintains similar collections, such as an archive of web sites related to government and policy matters that is over 300 terabytes in size.

    The government library’s collection includes over 34.5 million books and 66.6 million manuscripts. It is officially the working library of the U.S. Congress, but also serves as a national archive of written works for the country.

So we really live in a computerized world where information is king (or queen).

Lecturing Is Still One of the College Needs

Hello again! A month has passed and no blogging took place here at the College Needs Corner… Today is the day I want to blog again.

An article by Dan Berrett that was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on October 25, 2012, and titled “Lectures Still Dominate Science and Math Teaching, Sometimes Hampering Student Success” stirred my curiosity.

I had taught Computer Science (one of the STEM fields) for more than 6 years, in different places, both in USA and abroad. Students who don’t succeed in Computer Science or students who just get low grades are those who came to college with a background missing certain learning skills or certain basic knowledge one should acquire in high school. Also, those who don’t succeed may also be unaware or unwilling to make the intellectual effort required by such a rigorous discipline. This has been my personal experience. Others may have different experiences. I would be glad to hear from them.


Following is some information about the article I read, quoted from ACM TechNews. I inserted my own thoughts.

“Efforts to boost graduates from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs may be impeded by the continued reliance on lecturing. Fewer than 40 percent of students entering college intending to be a STEM major complete a degree in a STEM field, according the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. However, an institutional survey in 1997 revealed poor teaching to be the main concern among both STEM graduates and those who had left those majors, and STEM teaching at that time consisted of lecturing.”

Well this is quite an old survey, and I would very much want to find out how did it reveal that lecturing is poor teaching. Certainly, lecturing should be combined with questions for students during lecture, with problem solving in class during lecture, with many examples, and maybe other teaching methods. But then what is a class, if not lecturing?

“A more recent UCLA poll found that STEM faculty tend to grade on a curve at twice the rate of non-STEM faculty.”

Does the article not mention the date of this more recent survey? I did not grade on a curve…

“University of British Columbia professor Carl E. Wieman reports that grading on a curve signifies STEM educators’ unfamiliarity with educationally effective practices. He also says faculty are seldom trained in creating valid learning measures, and they lack feedback on the quality of their examinations.”

Why is it so? Why don’t teach STEM faculty educationally effective practices?

“Wieman emphasizes that faculty design practice tasks for students that are suitable to their levels of comprehension, but still rigorous enough to require intense intellectual effort. Work assigned inside and outside class should link patterns of expert thinking in the field to students’ already acquired knowledge, and motivate them appropriately.”

Sure, I agree with this. Although, it seems that the article complains that this does not happen, and that the assigned work is inappropriate. I doubt this is a general trend. I recently took an online Computer Science course from Stanford University. The course was quite well prepared, there were both lectures and examples discussed by the professor. (He recorded his talks and the students could listen and see the professor talking.) Besides, the assigned work was very much appropriate, a little challenging but nevertheless was linked to the knowledge acquired from lectures.

You may not agree with me, but I like lectures, I mean good lectures.

Every College Needs to Know: Turing Test Passed!

College Needs Corner is happy to announce that the Turing test was passed by a robot built by computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin. This recent piece of news from September 26, 2012 reads: “Artificially Intelligent Game Bots Pass the Turing Test on Turing’s Centenary”.

First of all, what is the Turing test and what is significant about it?


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In Artificial Intelligence (a branch of Computer Science) the Turing test << was introduced by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," which opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Since "thinking" is difficult to define, Turing chooses to "replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words." Turing's new question is: "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?" This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered. In the remainder of the paper, he argued against all the major objections to the proposition that "machines can think". >> (Cited from Wikipedia.)

The imitation game is a game played by robots and humans as well. A judge, who does not know the identity of the players (hence, does not know who is human and who is not human) is supposed to decide with reasonable reliability who is human and who is not. The judge asks questions through a computer program, using only the keyboard. The robots are supposed to try to imitate human behavior. (Whether the answers are correct or not is irrelevant.)

This is in essence the Turing test. Besides, this year happens to be Alan Turing Centenary, which is a nice and interesting coincidence.

Many years have passed and a lot of people tried to either refute, or prove that a machine can think. It was decided that the answer depends sufficiently (but not totally) on whether the Turing test can be passed.

This year “An artificially intelligent virtual gamer created by computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against.” Risto Miikkulainen, professor of computer science in the College of Natural Sciences, created the bot, called the UT^2 game bot, with doctoral students Jacob Schrum and Igor Karpov.

Their result, I believe, shows that there are chances that machines can be built that behave like humans, hence machines can be built that can think, at least partially. What “partially” means here it is hard to describe. It is just hard for me to believe that a machine can really think like a human all the time, that a machine can replace a human without us being ever able to detect the change.

Second, how does Risto Miikkulainen describe the importance and the consequences of this piece of news?

Following are some excerpts from the article:

<< The victory comes 100 years after the birth of mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose “Turing test” stands as one of the foundational definitions of what constitutes true machine intelligence. Turing argued that we will never be able to see inside a machine’s hypothetical consciousness, so the best measure of machine sentience is whether it can fool us into believing it is human. “When this ‘Turing test for game bots’ competition was started, the goal was 50 percent humanness,” said Miikkulainen. “It took us five years to get there, but that level was finally reached last week, and it’s not a fluke.” The complex gameplay and 3-D environments of “Unreal Tournament 2004” require that bots mimic humans in a number of ways, including moving around in 3-D space, engaging in chaotic combat against multiple opponents and reasoning about the best strategy at any given point in the game. Even displays of distinctively human irrational behavior can, in some cases, be emulated. >>

Miikkulainen said that methods developed for the BotPrize competition should eventually be useful not just in developing games that are more entertaining, but also in creating virtual training environments that are more realistic, and even in building robots that interact with humans in more pleasant and effective ways. >>

Computer scientists like to play many games, and some of them are very serious and important games.

College Needs Corner about FinSpy and Democracy

Hello College Needs Corner visitors! It has been some time since I started writing less for my own blog. I don’t know whether what I write is of interest or help to you. There’s no feedback available to me. I would be interested to read your comments or your own opinions.

I use this opportunity to let you know that I post some more links on the College Needs Corner Facebook page. So check this page too!


Rent the Book........Own the Knowledge!!!!!!

Recently I read some news article that I hope you also find interesting.

The New York Times article Software Meant to Fight Crime Is Used to Spy on Dissidents reveals that FinSpy, a software made by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations, is in fact used by several governments with questionable records on human rights. This was discovered this summer by Morgan Marquis-Boire who works as a Google engineer and by Bill Marczak who is earning a Ph.D. in computer science. Their research now links FinSpy to servers in more than a dozen countries, including Turkmenistan, Brunei and Bahrain, although no government acknowledges using the software for surveillance purposes.

A second set of researchers from Rapid7, of Boston, scoured the Internet for links to the software and discovered it running in ten more countries. Indeed, the spyware was running off EC2, an Amazon.com cloud storage service.

Unfortunately it is not for the first time that companies in US, Great Britain and other developed and democratic countries help some foreign governments to restrain the civil liberties of their politically abused citizens. Sometimes software and technology is used to physically abuse citizens by their own governments, which is very unfortunate. Those companies care only about their only profit, and not about the life of totalitarian countries citizens.

But Democracy in my country is not enough for the peace of the world. During the course of history several totalitarian countries made war (Germany under Hitler, Italy under Mussolini) or just made inflammatory public declarations (Iran these days).

I ask myself: is USA really, still, a democratic country? Such a question may be surprising to you. But I do have serious reasons to ask the question. I believe there are chances that our country is in danger of becoming a financial oligarchy.

In other words, it is the very rich people who are deciding the future of our country, and they do not care about democracy. Is it democratic that a rich multimillionaire like Mitt Romney pays only 14% taxes on his investment money? Why should salaried people be taxed more, much more? Do I want a very rich President in our country? No, I don’t. And this is in part because the President should care for everybody alike, whether they are rich or poor.

I don’t want anymore a president like George W. Bush who helped pay the big banks to survive the financial crisis using people’s tax money. I do want the universal health care program promoted by Barack Obama. I am not afraid of it, and I don’t think it is going to become bankrupt. There will always be choices for rich people to pay more for a better healthcare. There are and will always be private clinics for a second doctor’s opinion if my health is in big danger.

I do hope that our country will remain a real democracy, in spite of pessimistic thoughts by John Adams: “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

I rather prefer to be optimistic like Franklin D. Roosevelt and believe that we, educated people, can help democracy survive: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

College Needs New Ranking Criteria

An article in The Wall Street Journal, Time to Upend College Rankings? weighs in on various criteria to rank colleges and universities. In short, it says that college needs new and better ranking criteria.


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“Student-faculty ratios, graduation rates and cost of attendance all are valid measures of a school’s quality – and are central criteria used in many popular college rankings.

But as families grow more concerned about high tuition costs and low job-placement rates, a new ranking system is betting they’ll be more interested in alumni outcomes. That is, the school’s success in graduating men and women who are prepared to meet the demands of today’s job market and workplace.”

I always thought that some of the criteria used to rank top research universities and other higher education institutions are rather strange, to say the least.

The article in the Wall Street Journal announces the launching of a new website called The Alumni Factor.

“The Alumni Factor research listened to the people who’ve been overlooked in popular college rankings–THE ALUMNI. Tens of thousands of college graduates reported their actual outcomes–career success, financial success, and happiness. The Alumni Factor ranks and compares 177 top schools.”

“For the first time evaluate a college based on its graduates!”

According to The Alumni Factor, the top five winners are Washington & Lee University, Yale University, Princeton University, Rice University and College of the Holy Cross. They based their research on data from 42,000 alumni and they found these alumni without the schools’ help. Some top Ivy League universities, e.g. University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, don’t even make the top 50. Harvard University lands the 37th spot. (Harvard is a perennial pick on other lists. Except, the recent scandal with over 150 students cheating on their exams, may move Harvard lower on other lists too.)

The article from the Wall Street Journal mentions also the issue of quality control. And they give as an example the administrators at Claremont McKenna College and Emory University who “were found to have fudged admissions data, such as SAT scores, GPAs and the like, which resulted in higher rankings for those schools.”

An interesting article, which may predict that some needed changes in the way higher education schools are ranked, will soon take place.

This is the weekly College Needs News.

  • From Purdue University News article New design tool nixes mouse; users create shapes with hands only we find out about a design tool that enables people to create three-dimensional objects with their bare hands. The tool is designed by researcher at Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering. It uses a depth-sensing camera and advanced software algorithms to interpret hand movements and gestures.

    “It allows people to express their ideas rapidly and quickly using hand motions alone,” said Karthik Ramani, Purdue University’s Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “We’re democratizing the design process. You don’t have to be an engineer or an accomplished potter to use this. You can be a kid.”

    The tool is called Handy-Potter and I guess I would enjoy playing with it. The shapes shown in the picture were produced using Handy-Potter.

  • An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education relates about the online courses offered through Coursera and another company, Udacity. The title of the article is Coursera Hits 1 Million Students, With Udacity Close Behind


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    Udacity’s founder, Sebastian Thrun, said in an e-mail interview that his company planned to remain focused on computer science and related fields. “We are not doing humanities,” he said. Coursera, however, is now expanding into a variety of disciplines. Another start-up offering free online courses is edX which also has courses in several disciplines.

  • The Wasington Post writes about a strange book: Researchers write book using DNA. Researchers have encoded a full book in DNA, the largest amount of information stored on the biological medium yet.

    DNA (short for Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a nucleic acid containing the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms (with the exception of viruses, which contain another kind of nucleic acid called RNA).
    Nucleic acids are biological molecules essential for known forms of life on Earth. Together with proteins, nucleic acids are the most important biological macromolecules; each is found in abundance in all living things, where they function in encoding, transmitting and expressing genetic information.

    The scientists argue that DNA has unique advantages for data storage. They calculated that their method has by far the highest data density of any medium until now, beating flash media or even quantum holography by orders of magnitude. This is partly because DNA is three dimensional while other storage techniques are restricted to two dimensions.

    Yet the main advantage of DNA storage may be durability. DNA can survive millennia unharmed, as demonstrated by the sequencing of genetic information from ancient fossils. At the same time, the tools and techniques necessary for reading out the information will be present in future generations, because they are ubiquitous in nature.

    The main disadvantage at this time is expense. The cost and time needed to encode the information make it largely impractical at the moment, except for highly specific applications, like century-scale archiving.

    I wonder how one can read such a book. The scientist have done it and when reading out the information, the data was recovered with but 10 errors overall. Amazing!

  • From the blog at The College Puzzle we learn that public pressure leads to tuition freeze. The blog post cites an article published in the Hechinger Report. “After three decades of tuition hikes that have outpaced inflation and increases in family income, students, families, legislators, and governing boards are demanding a halt. Officials in several states — including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and Texas — are moving to limit tuition increases or feeling intense pressure to do so.” It is about tuition for undergraduate studies. This is really good news!

College Needs an Intelligent Textbook

I just found out about the so called “intelligent textbook”. It is in fact a software system called Inquire, writes Michael Reilly in the New Scientist article The Intelligent Textbook that Helps Students Learn.

“The aim of Inquire is to provide students with the world’s first intelligent textbook, says its creator David Gunning of Seattle-based Vulcan. At first glance, the system just looks like an electronic version of Campbell Biology, the tome that forms the bedrock of biology classes for first-year university and advanced high school students in the US. But behind the scenes is a machine-readable concept map of the 5000 or so ideas covered in the book, along with information on how they are all related.”

The system is able to answer questions about concepts not well understood. If you highlight some text then the system asks questions about the highlighted text. There were experiments done that showed that students who used the full Inquire system scored better on quizzes than their peers who used the paper textbook.

“While such results are promising, perhaps it’s a little soon to crown Inquire the future of textbooks. For starters, after two years of work the system is still only half-finished. The team plans to encode the rest of the 1400-page Campbell Biology by the end of 2013, but they expect a team of 18 biologists will be needed to do so. This raises concerns about whether the project could be expanded to cover other areas of science, let alone other subjects.”

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I thought I would really like to learn using such an intelligent textbook. Certainly, college needs good textbooks for the students to learn.

After all, what do I expect from a good textbook, whether it is written on paper or not?

A good textbook should be clearly written, without mistakes (unfortunately this almost never happens). It should have both a table of contents and an index, such that one could easily find the concepts they are looking for. There should be self-test exercises and interesting assignments that help you understand the new concepts and the methods. Some of the assignments should be easy, but some should be difficult and challenging. Chapters summaries are useful to have too. Also, it helps to have the same concepts explained more than once, using different words and examples.

If you want to master a certain subject it is good to read several books on that particular subject. Even if you have one good textbook, it is always useful to read the same “story” told by different authors.

Moreover, as the musician Stan Getz used to say:

You can read all the textbooks and listen to all the records, but you have to play with musicians that are better than you.

One should discuss the subject with people that are more knowledgeable in order to learn more and better.

College News for College Needs

With the start of the new academic year, College Needs Corner wishes Good Luck to all of its blog readers. Following are some news that might interest you, current and future college students, and the first is about textbooks online.

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  • An article from Inside Higher Ed discusses some news about renting textbooks (for college but also for K-12 education) from the well-known Amazon and Kno, and also getting free digital textbooks from Boundless, which is a new start-up. Textbooks, especially those bought on campus, are very expensive. How come Boundless offers free textbooks? First of all the textbooks are in only several fields (Writing, Sociology, Economics, Psychology, Business, Biology, History and Physiology); secondly, the author of the above mentioned article says their textbooks lack in quality and that they are “mostly just a bunch of Wikipedia entries.”
  • A Battery That Folds! An Article from EE Times India appeared on 08/08/12
    and writes: “Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have developed a super-thin, flexible, all-solid-state battery that could one day lead to phones and gadgets that can be folded.” That would be really cool!
  • A report by Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization advocating Latino educational success is cited by The Next America online publication. The report says that of the top higher education institutions that have granted the most STEM degrees to Latino graduates in the 2009-2010 school year, more than half are concentrated in just six states, according to a new report. These states are Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Texas. As I mentioned in my previous post College Needs and the STEM Fields US needs more students in the STEM fields. And indeed, the report mentioned above also says that “Given the relative youth of the Latino population relative to the aging of the U.S. population overall, supporting the increased growth of Latinos with postsecondary credentials in STEM is critical to meeting the projected workforce needs of the nation by 2020.” I just wish more Us students become interested in the STEM fields, whether they are Latinos or not.
  • Another minority in the STEM fields, in particular in Computer Science, consists of women. I often come across articles writing about this aspect of college life. A new article in Chicago Tribune writes: “Although computer science is one of the fields poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field.”

    Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, and today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female. Accordingly, top jobs in the field are male-dominated. A recent study by technology outsourcing and recruiting firm Harvey Nash Group found that out of 166 U.S.-based technology firms that replaced their CEOs last year, only six appointed a woman for the position.

    How to bridge the gap? The article suggests to start educating young girls from an early age (primary school already) to become interested in computers and computer programming.

    “From a very young age, we need to give girls the confidence to take risks and make a few mistakes,” Julie Gill, a recent Pace University computer science graduate, adds. “As a programmer your whole day is pretty much fixing your own mistakes, so we need to teach girls they don’t have to be perfect, and just outright encouragement for girls who are good at problem-solving.”

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