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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.

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.

Ignorant and Free? No way!

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1861.

Today I stumbled upon an article posted by Eric Allen Bell on September 19, 2009 that says: “Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.” And that is (was) similar in Arizona public schools, and perhaps in other American states. I wonder whether the situation has improved since then.

Fortunately, it seems that the situation has improved a little, just a little. From an editorial published by New York Times in March 2011, I found out that in 2010 the Department of Education gave a civics test to 27,000 children in the 4th, 8th and 12th grades. “Basic” knowledge for an eighth grader meant being able to identify a right protected by the First Amendment. A “proficient” 12th grader could define “melting pot” and argue whether or not the United States is one. An “advanced” fourth grader could “explain two ways countries can deal with shared problems.”

Most students had basic proficiency. But only about one-fourth in each group were “proficient,” and the tiniest percentages were “advanced.” Charles Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, says “the results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline.”

Our ignorance could imperil the future of our country. This is true of other countries as well.

It is especially true about Romania, my birth country, where right these days the government hurriedly changes state institutions, gives ordinances that make it impossible for the Constitution to be respected and for the Justice system to work properly. It is a government that was formed recently as a result of a “no confidence vote” obtained in the Romanian Parliament. How was this “no confidence vote” obtained? Believe it or not, but several Parliament members changed their own party for the current powerful and dictatorial party. They were acts of treason, but almost nobody protested.

Is the Romanian people ignorant? I believe that an alarming percentage of them are. Their parents were “educated” by the totalitarian Communist Party between 1947 and 1989, while the young generation has no good public models to follow. Many people in power are corrupted, and only recently one of them (a former prime minister) was sentenced to a term in prison.

Fortunately, there are public voices in both the European Union and the US who condemned these acts that amount to a “coup d’etat”. I just hope it won’t succeed and that democracy will be restored.

My conclusion: college needs to teach civics as well.

Robot Teacher

Would you like a personal teacher? One that does not let you get bored while studying? College Needs Corner found out about a research project at University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is an automated system that detects when online students are distracted or snoozing and then uses tricks to keep them alert.

Adobe

So if you take online courses you might be interested to learn about this robot. The robot can read your mind and keep you focused. It mimics the technique used by human teachers. Would you like to find out how this can be achieved?

The researchers Bilge Mutlu and Dan Szafir at the University of Wisconsin-Madison started by looking at how learning is done in the real world. They asked themselves a question: “What do human teachers do and how can we draw on that to build an educational robot that achieves something similar?” The pair programmed a Wakamaru humanoid robot to tell students a story in a one-on-one situation and then tested them afterwards to see how much they had remembered.

A Wakamaru robot is being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan. They plan to release it in Japan sometime next year. The robot has a round yellow head and black eyes. It may have either a female or a male voice. Its primary goal for the Japanese market is to provide companionship, mainly for elderly people, like a health-care provider.

The Wakamaru robot at Madison-Wisconsin was programmed to monitor the students engagement levels, using a $200 EEG sensor to monitor the FP1 area of the brain, which manages learning and concentration. When a significant decrease in certain brain signals indicated that the student’s attention level had fallen, the system sent a signal to the robot to trigger a cue. Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp. The FP1 area of the brain roughly corresponds to the left frontal and prefrontal cortex regions. This region of the brain is involved in many areas of cognition, including short term memory storage and executive function.

In one experiment at Madison-Wisconsin, the robot teacher first told a short story about the animals that make up the Chinese zodiac, in order to get a baseline EEG reading. Next, the robot told a longer 10-minute story based on a little-known Japanese folk tale called My Lord Bag of Rice, which the student was unlikely to have heard before.

During this story the robot raised its voice or used arm gestures to regain the student’s attention if the EEG levels dipped. These included pointing at itself or towards the listener – or using its arms to indicate a high mountain, for example. Two other groups were tested but the robot either gave no cues, or sprinkled them randomly throughout the storytelling. Afterwards, the students were asked a few questions about the Chinese zodiac to distract them before being asked a series of questions about the folk tale.

As the team had expected, the students who were given a cue by the robot when their attention was waning were much better at recalling the story than the other two groups, answering an average of 9 out of 14 questions correctly, as compared with just 6.3 when the robot gave no cues at all.

VioSoftware.com

The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison expect to make one-on-one tutoring possible for every student.

This blog post contains excerpts from the article “Mind-reading robot teachers keep students focused” published by Niall Firth in the NewScientist.

College Needs Links

This time I am going to post several links to education articles that I found interesting.

First, for those of you who are thinking of admission to college, here’s a link to an infograph, called College Admissions: What Really Matters?. Another reading material about admission can be found here.

Then, if you are about to become a software engineer, you might be happy to read that in 2012 this is going to be the top job, according to a CareerCast.com survey.

It is known that the percentage of young girls who choose careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is still very low. Some people in Delaware try to change this situation. Read here what they’ve done recently. Moreover, a national science fair aims to breathe new life into science and math for kids. Several Washington, D.C.-area technology companies have launched initiatives designed to improve the region’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Find some info here.

It is actually a global and very serious issue. Tech needs girls: world leaders draw up roadmap for female tech education and careers push. Hey girls, read this press release.

Find an answer to the question “why more women aren’t computer scientists, engineers” in this article that features an interview with Maria Klawe. She’s president of Harvey Mudd College in California.

For those who are already STEM students, Microsoft organized a contest at University of Nevada in Reno, and internships.

Have you taken so far online courses? How do you like them compared to the traditional in class courses? Some think they might be disruptive, but in a good sense. Like Stanford University, Harvard and M.I.T. have teamed up to offer more free online courses. You can find information about them in this article. And if you missed them this time, they will repeat in the near future. Stay tuned!

Now, how often do you read your e-mail? Read this article to find out how your stress can decrease and your concentration can increase.

Find out about 25 napping facts every college student should know — yes, it’s about napping!

Have you heard about open education? Read this article if you want to find out what it is.

Now that the summer is coming near, would you like to find out how to create an awesome summer reading list? Find some advice here. Would you rather travel this summer? Here are some amazing places to experience around the globe.

I think that’s quite a lot of reading material. I only hope that some of you will find some of it interesting.

College Needs

Today I am writing about several treats of character you need to show up every day (or almost every day). You might still need to learn some of them. You might already master them. I believe they are some of your college needs (although it is true of any adult, not only of college students.) In any case, I am also waiting for your comments to this post.

Every day (or almost) you should be each one of these:

Be seen –you have to be seen by your peers, by your professors, by your friends.

Be emotional — it is good to have emotions, positive ones; it is even better to be able to share your emotions with some friend.

Be interested — if you are not interested in something every day, then your life is boring; it has no meaning.

Be helpful — well, yes, try to help whenever you have an opportunity.

Be sociable — man is a sociable being by nature; some are less sociable than others. It helps to be sociable, to be connected, to chat, to share. It helps you to be successful.

Be selective — you often have to choose among several possibilities. Choose according to your preset goals.

Be prepared — be prepared for the unknown, for the unexpected; be prepared for your tests, exams, challenges …

Be individual — you have your own goals and interests; don’t let the others (friends or not) hamper you from reaching those goals.

 

 

Be a team player — you are not (or should not be) alone; you often find yourself in a position to be a member of a team, so learn how to be a good team player.

Be imaginative — yes, we need to have imagination; we often need to imagine ways of reaching our goals.

 

 

Be yourself — it is good to have a role model; it is good to want to be like a (some) certain distinctive individual(s) you admire most. But finally, and basically, you need to learn from those individual and apply what you learn to your own personality; you need to be yourself. There are never two identical individuals; it would be bothering to be a copy of someone. (By the way, you might have some fun reading “The Double” by Jose Saramago.)

So, can you add something else to this list of things you should be (almost) every day? What are your comments to my comments?

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