Thursday, August 29, 2013

San Jose State and Udacity release results for summer pilot courses

San Jose State University (SJSU) and Udacity have run two rounds of trial online courses. The pass rates in the first round were poor, but a press release from SJSU and a blog post from Udacity report improvement in the second trial, which was run this summer.

As you see, the pass rates were better in the summer than the spring for every class and the online students in two of the summer classes had higher pass rates than on-campus students.

Both Udacity and SJSU say they are "encouraged" by these results, but there were differences between the terms that confound the data and make it difficult to explain, say, the improvement in elementary statistics or the poor results in entry level math. The three courses that had been offered in the spring were revised, but the numbers of students in the classes and their backgrounds and motivations were also substantially different.

For example, the spring classes were relatively small and the students were all trying to earn credit. In the summer, there were more students and their motivations varied, as shown here:

This is not surprising. I have noted earlier that college credit motivates relatively few MOOC students and, in fact, non-credit students may turn out to be the most important audience for and customers of online classes.

The results of this trial are far from definitive, but this is a time of rapid innovation and such experiments are to be encouraged.

Speaking of innovation, I cannot bring myself to conclude this note without pointing out that "passing with a grade of C" seems like a poor metric for "success" in a course. That is the traditional university criteria, but the Internet gives us the ability to break courses into fine-grained modules and to provide more precise, informative measures of success.

Update 9/12/2013

San Jose State has released a report on the Udacity experiment entitled "Preliminary Summary SJSU+ Augmented Online Learning Environment." The report author is not the preliminary investigator for the study, Elaine D. Collins, but was written "for" her by consultants at the RP Group.

It is reviewed in two posts:

1. Chronicle of Higher Education, "Few Surprises in NSF Report on San Jose State U. Test of Udacity Courses article"

2. Inside Higher Ed, "After weeks of delays, San Jose State U. releases research report on online courses"

Update 11/18/2013

The academic senate at San Jose State is considering a resolution to restrict the power of the administration to unilaterally enter into course contracts -- to keep control with the academic departments.
The Academic Senate is expected to vote on Monday on a proposed policy that would forbid the university to sign contracts with outside technology providers without the approval of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in whatever department would be affected.

Update 11/25/2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed two leaders on opposite sides of the MOOC debate at San Jose State and they discover common ground. Anti-MOOC professor Peter Hadreas learned that pro-MOOC professor Khosrow Ghadiri has been using MOOC material to run a flipped class -- not merely having students enroll in a MOOC -- and that it is very labor intensive, taking 80 hours per week. They agree that pedagogical innovation and experiments are good things.

I also noted that one of the professors is an engineer and one is a philosopher. Can you guess which is which? Which do you think spends 80 hours per week on his teaching?


Update 12/13/2013

Georgia Tech designs its Udacity pilot to avoid failure. They distance the themselves from Udacity's debacle at San Jose State University.

Update 12/18/2013

San Jose State will resume their testing of the material developed for three online courses -- Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology in the spring semester. Enrollment will be capped at 70 students for the statistics class, 150 students for the programming course and 35 students for the general psychology class. At least half of the seats for programming and statistics will go to SJSU students and the rest will go to CSU students on other campuses. The course will use SJSU's LMS, Canvas. This sounds like a traditional online class using the material that was developed for the Udacity trial.

Update 2/2/2014

In the fall of 2012, students in two traditional sections of an introductory electrical-engineering course earned passing grades at rates of 57 percent and 74 percent, respectively. In an experimental third section, which was “flipped” to incorporate the MIT videos, the pass rate was 95 percent, but they did not adhere strictly to the MIT material.

In the spring of 2013 they also ran three sections, one of which used edX content. In the traditional sections, students passed at rates of 79 percent and 82 percent. In the experimental section, the pass rate was 87 percent.

The spring experimental section followed the MIT curriculum than did the fall 2012 section -- they covered more material.

The professor, Khosrow Ghadiri (mentioned above), said the pass rates of the spring-2013 trial should not be compared with those of the fall-2012 trial because the students learned different material and took different examinations. In the fall, he used the MIT content to help teach his own syllabus. In the spring, he used the MIT professor’s content and learning objectives.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Al Jazeera bucks the IPTV cord-cutting trend

We hear criticism of US TV news. Local news tends to feature a lot of "if it bleeds, it leads" stories about crime and police chases. National cable news is highly partisan. Network news is redundant and sound-bite driven.

Al Jazeera has started a new cable offering, Al Jazeera America, which they say will present serious, in-depth news from a global perspective. That sounds pretty good to me. (For more on their coverage philosophy, plans and staff, check this recent OnTheMedia podcast and transcript).

But, it turns out that the cable/satellite companies strong-armed them into dropping their Internet-streaming news service in return for being carried:

So, folks who want Al Jazeera news are now forced to get it as part of an expensive bundle on satellite or cable. As a cord cutter, I am out of luck.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Technology imitates art -- why Google switched to Web encryption (https)

I was struck by a cool exchange while listening to a This Week in Google podcast. The topic was security and privacy and the exchange was between hosts Jeff Jarvis and Leo Laporte and their guest Matt Cutts, a Google engineer.

The exchange (1 min, 10 sec) began with Jarvis asking Cutts what led to Google's deciding to use encryption (HTTPS) for Web requests.

It turns out that Cutts had the authority to pursue the change on his own. He decided to switch to HTPPS after reading Cory Doctrow's Little Brother. He was also influenced by Chinese hackers having attacked Google in 2009.

This is a cool example fiction influencing the real world -- reminiscent of the role the StarTrek communicator played in the development of the flip phone.

Of course the Star Trek communicator is not the only example of life imitating life -- Star Trek also featured touch screen tablets long before the iPad came out.

I don't know if the iPad designers were thinking about Star Trek tablets, but they certainly had seen Knowledge Navigator a widely viewed concept video produced by Apple's higher education group. (The Knowledge Navigator video is preceded by a one-minute introduction).

As you see, this video depicts a tablet with voice recognition and considerable "intelligence." What will Siri and Google Now be like in twenty years?

Going back to the early 1800s, the Jaquard loom, which was controlled by punch cards, was capable of automatically weaving intricate tapestries like the one shown here:

Charles Babbage was familiar with the Jaquard loom and owned one of the Jaquard portraits. That led to his automating of computation in his Analytical Engine -- the precursor to our programmable computers.

Can you think of other examples where art has inspired invention or scientific discovery?

Sixty Minutes segment -- say goodbye to anonymity

Scott McNealy (1999), then Sun Microsystems CEO: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

Eric Schmidt (2009), then Google CEO: “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

CBS Sixty Minutes (8/25/2013): "Say goodbye to anonymity."

With all the security flap surrounding Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, I posted a note on face recognition. I have updated that post several times, and the latest update seems worth an independent blog post:

Last night CBS Sixty Minutes broadcasted this segment on face recognition.

The video and a transcript are online and the segment tag line, "say goodbye to anonymity," reveals the editorial slant.

Think of all the people you have identified and who have identified you in Facebook or Google Plus photographs. They are a database against which to run a facial recognition algorithm and once they have recognized a face, they can match it to the profile of interests, demographic data, likes and dislikes of that person.

Sixty Minutes emphasized commercial applications -- receiving a discount coupon for your favorite beverage seconds after you walk into a restaurant or seeing personalized ads at the mall.

They also mentioned the database of photographs of criminals the FBI is ammassing. By next year they expect to be able to search by face as well as fingerprint and DNA.

The Web site includes a video segment titled "Facebook and the FBI," which was not broadcast.

The FBI representative says all the right things, but these days government credibility is not all that high. As Bruce Schneier points out in this Atlantic Monthly article, the government is relying on industry to do its surveillance.

Does any of this worry you? How long until Google or Facebook gets a court order demanding to know where you were yesterday afternoon?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Apple patents the ability to disable mobile cameras and connectivity

Apple has a patent that would let police or others turn off mobile cameras and wireless communication.

I am not a constitutional scholar, but don't we have a right to record the acts of police in public places? To capture images like these:

The photos show police using dogs and fire hoses during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, beating Rodney King, killing of Kelly Thomas and using pepper spray at Occupy Wall Street.

While the patent does use "covert police or government operations" as an example of an application, it also mentions legitimate applications, for example, stopping cameras in a locker room or other place where one has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

As is the case with many technologies, we should control its use, not its existence.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

ACLU summary of NSA surveillance actiivty

I have not posted anything on Edward Snowden or the activity of the NSA, because so many others are doing so; however, I have found a relatively concise summary of the NSA surveillance activity with links to many supporting resources. It is a good way to catch up with the story.

Note that it was published by the American Civil Liberties Union, so focuses on violation of privacy guarantees. I would love to see a similar summary with supporting resources that is focused on positive outcomes as a result of NSA surveillance.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Google Chromecast delay -- production or legal or hardball?

It may have been a data input error or perhaps Amazon has been hacked, but I received an email on August 8 saying the Google Chromecast I had ordered on July 27 would be delivered in mid October.

I checked the Amazon Web site, and, sure enough they were now saying it "usually ships in 2-3 months:"

As we noted last week, the first production run sold out in a few days, and, at the time I placed my order, they said it would ship in 3-4 weeks:

On August 3, they seemed to be on schedule:

This is a simple electronic device -- why are they having so much trouble?  Why did the shipping date slip?  Are they poor production planners?  Having trouble getting parts?  Having legal problems? Playing hardball with Amazon?

If it is legal problems, it may be a trademark conflict with, a Web development company.  Here is their Web site:

Note the link to legal information near the bottom of the screen.  Follow the link and you will see a lot of legal information.  There is also some very faint black-on-blue text at the bottom of the page.  It is illegible on my display, but here is what it says:
© 2013 Chromecast Inc. All rights reserved. Chromecast, Chromecast Digital Media, chromeTone, The rADium LDAP suite, and project|aurora, are trademarks of Chromecast Inc. and may not be used without written permission.
Did Google forget to get that written permission? If so, the can always change the name to "Metro."

Perhaps they are just playing hardball with Amazon.  It turns out the Google Play Web site still says the Chromecast ships in 2-3 weeks.  If they cut Amazon's quota to induce people like me to cancel their Amazon orders and order from the Google Play Store, they may gain a few sales, but, as a Google customer, that strikes me as doing evil.


Update 8/9/2013

At first I thought my Amazon delivery date may have been an error, but a day later, Google is still promising 2-3 weeks for shipping, Amazon 2-3 months and Best Buy is just out of stock period:

This pisses me off a bit and must also rankle Amazon.  At $35, there cannot be much (any?) profit in a Chromecast, so it seems foolish.  I guess Google wants me to cancel my Amazon order, but I'll wait till Amazon ships it in October.


Update 8/10/2013

Amazon sent out an email saying "customers who placed orders prior to August 7 should receive their orders in the coming weeks and into mid-September." The expected ship date for new orders remains 2-3 months.