Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chromecast has landed

A neat little package arrived yesterday, Chromecast was on my doorstep.  The instructions for setup were very simple, though I originally thought the USB charger was optional. It does not work without that USB being plugged in, so be warned.  Luckily I did have a USB port on my tv and didn't have to mess with the power strip buried in the back of my entertainment center. Setup took all of 5 minutes, mostly finding out that the chromecast doesn't work with my 5G wifi, only the slower connection.  It could be my TV or the chromecast, who knows without me delving into the forums.  If you want decent sound, turn up TV volume  PRIOR  to casting. For some reason, this was the only way to get volume control, as my remote failed to work for me after I started casting. Netflix experienced a lot of lag, weird since I have great Internet and no trouble with iPad, surface or android tablets while streaming from that service. YouTube was better, but not by much.  Thank goodness I can get Netflix through Xbox.  I assume the limited amount of castability options will change, as more services integrate.  I do not have Apple TV, so I can only compare to Xbox at tis point. Xbox is a pain, so running chromecast from the iPad or laptop was so much easier, just wish the streaming was better. You absolutely can use other tabs and strema at the smae time, so that functionality is what they promised.  I am going to try it out in a classroom this week and update this review. Since I know I have strong Internet at home, I have no allusions that the streaming will be faster in a school, but there is always hope.  I also know that any new product has bugs that will be fixed. For the price, if it works it will be great value.  I also saw online chatter that I may be able to get netflix free for three months with the chromecast, so I will be checking into that.  I will update as I get information.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reflections on MOOCs

This is a guest post from Jen Lee, an aquaintence  of mine from South Jersey who agreed to share her elearning experiences with us:

I took two MOOC courses at Coursera.org in the Fall of 2012, and am currently enrolled in another right now during Spring 2013.
I took "Learn to Program: The Fundamentals" from the University of Toronto, which offered a certificate of accomplishment for those achieving a grade of 70 or higher.
I took "An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python" from Rice University, which did not offer a certificate at all.
Currently, I'm taking "Learn to Program: Crafting Quality Code" from the University of Toronto. This is a followup to the first Learn to Program class, with the same instructors, and also offers a certificate of accomplishment for those achieving a grade of 80 or higher.

In all of the classes, there were video lectures with the professors explaining things in a very clear way from start to finish.  There were no books required; all the learning was done through video lectures, exercises, and assignments.  There were lots of programming tasks to complete, and quizzes to take. The students took to the forums, talked about everything, asked for help, offered help, set up google and facebook study groups, and generally posted a LOT. The forums were constantly buzzing with activity. Since there were SO many people, types of people varied drastically. There were complainers, there were people who kept asking for extensions on dates, there were people who made fun of those people, there were people who helped everyone out, there were people who asked a ton of questions, there were people who answered a ton of questions. There were people who were obviously seasoned programmers, so much that we all wondered why they would take a beginner class.  There were people who just didn't understand the material who were struggling along the whole time. There were critics and supporters. People who loved the professors and people who hated them. People who thought the course was too easy and who thought it was too hard. The forums were a great source of information, and entertainment. Socially, it was comfortable and familiar. Especially because a good portion of people were taking both classes at the same time.

In the Rice University course, the team of professors (there were 5, though only 2 main ones) encouraged students to make their own videos explaining the course material for that week and post it to the forums. The student with the videos that were the most popular at the end of the course would win an iPad.  I can see that they didn't know quite how popular that contest would be. Lots of students made videos, and a few made videos several times a week for the duration of the 7 week course. In the end, it tied... between a 19 year old girl... and a 12 year old boy. All these adults trying to learn programming... and a 12 year old boy was teaching them how. He was truly an inspiration, even to my kids, who have now taken an interest.

The professors interacted more than I would have expected. In all cases they did have community TAs to help people who needed it. But the profs monitored the forums regularly and commented a LOT. The forums helpfully marked which threads had a professor response included, so that was a nice feature. 

Personally, I learned a lot in those classes. I enjoyed programming so much that I decided to enroll in the local community college to pursue a degree in it, purely because I like it and I would love to have those skills. Currently I am enrolled full time in the community college, with mostly online classes, and I'm still taking a MOOC from Coursera because I love it, and because that programming language (Python) is not offered at ACCC.

The online classes I'm taking at an actual college are jolting, coming out of Coursera. The online classes in programming at ACCC are more like self-taught courses. Here's the book, those are your assignments, these are tests and quizzes, here are the due dates for everything, now GO. It's nothing like Coursera. At Coursera, the video lectures and programming assignments are not released all at the beginning; they are slowly released as the course progresses. So, even advanced programmers can't move ahead and finish the course in the first two weeks. They have to stick around with the rest of us and do what we're doing... which is great, because the forums wouldn't work if only the slowest students were there posting and the faster students had already moved on. The faster students are the ones who have the patience and the knowledge to help the rest of us through the problems that we don't understand.  At ACCC, you ask a question, and there's no one really checking the forums anymore to even answer.

I realize that online classes will likely never fully replace traditional classrooms. However, the model used at Coursera is very efficient, very conducive to learning, and well liked by many. The do-it-yourself model probably doesn't work well for students who are not self-motivated or who do not learn well by reading a textbook alone.

I don't have full statistics for the courses. At the end of the first Learn To Program class, though, the professors did post a summary, which gives some interesting data. Here it is:

The number of people who earned a certificate: 8243

The number of people who submitted each piece of coursework:

E1    38502

E2    25368

A1    18222

E3    17104

E4    14991

A2    13236

E5    12657

E6    10658

A3     9336

E7     9283

Exam   8938

The next two sections count the results only for people who wrote the final exam.

coursemark  how many earned that mark

[0-10)        44

[10-20)       59

[20-30)       92

[30-40)      106

[40-50)      114

[50-60)      167

[60-70)      331

[70-80)      747

[80-90)     1840

[90-100)    4592

=100:        766

exammark      #    # earned cert    # did not earn cert

(0-1)         0             0             0

[1-2)         0             0             0

[2-3)        58             7            51

[3-4)        39             3            36

[4-5)        64             8            56

[5-6)       103            15            88

[6-7)        79            29            50

[7-8)       109            49            60

[8-9)       168            98            70

[9-10)      233           180            53

[10-11)     409           357            52

[11-12)     735           661            74

[12-13)    1360          1278            82

[13-14)    2349          2247           102

14         3152          3055            97

We correlated the Week 3 Workload survey responses with course completion by category. The categories were:

   "I had never programmed before.",

   "I had written a few small programs or tried to take another programming course but didn't complete it."

   "I had completed an introductory programming course."

   "I have significant programming experience."

In the following table, we list:

* the category

* how many people in that category who wrote the survey

* how many people in that category still in the course

* how many people in that category still in the course (as a percentage)

* how many people in that category who earned a certificate

* how many people in that category who earned a certificate (as a percentage)

   category    survey  # done  %       cert    cert %

  beginners     4167    3596   86.3     1386   33.26

     novice     3335    3067   92.0     1666   49.96

       some     2681    2434   90.8     1431   53.38

experienced     1806    1683   93.2     1136   62.90

   everyone    11989   10780   89.9     5619   46.87

We are impressed be everyone who earned a certificate, especially the beginners and novices. You should be proud of yourselves. Well done!

Update on Blog Post

Just wanted to update you on some MOOC info...
I finished my third MOOC this semester. Still loved it. This one was shorter (5 weeks as opposed to but it was still full of great information.
I was just browsing upcoming classes on Coursera and I discovered that they are now offering something called "Signature Track". It's a paid option for a MOOC that will run right alongside the regular MOOC offerings on Coursera, but they will be using typing patterns plus a webcam to actually determine that the person that is doing the coursework is in fact the person who has registered for the course. I'm guessing it's one step closer to actually getting MOOCs to be recognized and accepted as credit at brick and mortar institutions.
What I find strange about this much security is that the classes I'm taking online at ACCC don't require any sort of validation like that. It's pretty much "Go buy the book, here's a list of your assignments and due dates, email someone if you need any help." So, to me, the Signature Track at Coursera seems like complete overkill.
But, it is what it is. If it gets us closer to MOOCs being accepted as credit, I'm all for it.
Here's the information on the Signature Track:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

STEM in Journalism

Not every student who pursues a science degree winds up as a scientist, in this lively google hangout, deSTEMber In the Field Friday Roundtable Science & Journalism, you will get a chance to meet Science majors who became Journalists. As a group they have taken an unexpected path to sharing their passion for science with others.

Watching high school students try to make decisions about their futures becomes a little easier when one realizes that even though they have to choose a major in college, they are not necessarily locked into traditional careers.