Stealing the T

The Georgia Institute of Technology has a tradition of stealing the letter T. I first ran across this in a local news media story where the letter T was stolen from signage. The main tradition is stealing the T from Tech Tower which has “TECH” on each of the four sides. (They return it during halftime of the homecoming American football game.)

It occurred to me that it would be especially hilarious for some GT alumni to steal the Ts in Trump Tower in Manhattan. It would become Rump Ower.

Global Higher Education Trends

According to Trends in Global Higher Education (PDF), we should pay attention to globalization, massification,

Globalization is an interesting trend. As a college student, I enjoyed hanging out with international students and as an employer of student workers, half were international students. Exposure to different cultures, meaning values and perspectives and rituals and (the best) food was a great experience for me. It is harder to hate another culture when one has real friends among them. Such ties often become the basis of international diplomacy. But those students also mostly went home and are doing great things as part of the growing middle class.

Employers looking at post-secondary degrees as signals for middle class jobs drives massification. If this signal were terrible, then perhaps employers would seek an alternative. But I don’t think it means what most expect. The expectation is it means highly educated within the major. Instead, I see the bachelor’s degree as a demonstration of successfully navigating the world’s worst bureaucratic disasters. Having the tenacity, patience, and soft skills to deal with process failures all over the place. Secondarily, the degree means the ability to demonstrate some learning on demand to pass an evaluation.

Turning to look at how we here in Georgia compare to rest of the world, the crises facing least developed countries are constraints on research university budgets, constraints on student financial aid, increases in tuition, more part-time faculty, larger class sizes, a freeze on books & journals, construction, etc. This may not be solely a problem for least developed countries. Most of these are happening here in Georgia.

  • State funding was stagnant before the recession and been dropping since. Per student funding state funding has plummeted from about half to a quarter. The legislature and the governor have to make hard choices about what to fund. Higher education does not rank high enough compared to keeping people safe and healthy. Is there a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for government funding?
  • A big source of financial aid here, HOPE, used to pay for all tuition for students who maintain a B GPA. It is lottery funded, but revenues were not able to keep up with the 10%+ annual growth of students. So now the awards are reduced for all but the top most students and may continue to drop.
  • My librarian friends lament about their severely reduced budgets for purchasing journals. Combine this with skyrocketing costs for these same journals and maybe by 2030 the research universities should just sell their collections and close the libraries?
  • The one positive is construction has not stopped. Though buildings are not built fast enough. (Some schools schedule class days to happen on the online class system I help run because they lack the classroom space.)

Even when the Georgia economy fully recovers, the lost ground is unlikely to be regained. But there is also increasing pressure to improve graduation rates and the number of graduates. Interesting problems we get to solve.

Impressive Information Load

Last week I finished the Power Searching With Google MOOC. A month ago a coworker pointed out Google now offers the software used by this MOOC. As a Desire2Learn database and application administrator, I was curious. So I signed up. And actually finished!

On my emotional high, I signed up for Current/Future State of Education shortly before finishing Power Searching.

Boy are these two very different beasts completely different philosophies.

PS was what a coworker calls talking head videos, some self-quizzing activities, some forum posting, and taking the midterm and final tests.

CFHE12 is some articles, some forum postings, and posting artifacts.

CFHE12 is much more interesting. But unless taking this class is a full time job, where do people find the time? It is tempting to just scan articles, but then I would miss the deep knowledge they contain. Just now I resorted to searching by name in the forum for people I know to see what they said.

Here is to hoping how I think changes with this class.

Universities and SIS “Innovation”

Several years ago, while I worked at a medium-sized university, there was a very similar incident like what happened in Student Is Sanctioned for Creating Class-Registration Web Site. A student wanted into a full class. So he built an application to routinely check for whether a seat was available in the Student Information System. The database administrator for the SIS noticed too much traffic from this user while looking into why the system was working too hard. My impression was the level of traffic was not at the Denial of Service level, but still something that needed to be addressed to improve the experience of others.

The CIO had a chat with the student. At the time it amused me because years before I had been in the same chair as the kid. After, the CIO joked about wondering whether to hire the student, the same as he had joked about me and a friend.

The student went on to develop a student organization site and other good things. He found the right outlet for him to express in code things to scratch his itches. Personally, I think this is good for the students and good for the university. However, a close eye needs to be kept on these students to ensure they make secure, stable, and long-term viable products. When the student graduates, there needs to be a plan for someone taking over the upkeep.

Since then, I have run across even professionals making these students’ mistakes of slamming a system with traffic. One administrator wanted to check whether we were up, so he wrote a JavaScript web page that would hit the development site we provided. It had one two machines, so when five people had that page open at the same time, they somehow got 4 on the same machine which croaked at that kind of load. Weblogic, in my experience, does not handle the same transaction for the same session when the first has not yet completed. Each subsequent transaction takes even longer than the first until it builds up to the point it is taking minutes to complete what should take a fraction of a second.

In general, developers will contact us about developing something to work against our system. We try to be helpful and advise what are likely successful directions. There are still mavericks, who will write something that causes a problem and we try to track down who it is slamming our systems. I consider it part of the job of running a system people want to use. Someone will try to accomplish things outside the normal enter a URL, type in a username, type in a password, click, click, click…. Heck, we write scripts to get around this.

These events are all opportunities to meeting and educating developers.

Should CS Be Required?

Each of the nearly 2,000 freshmen entering Georgia Institute of Technology each year must take a computer science course regardless of their major, says Charles Isbell, associate dean for academic affairs at the school’s College of Computing… Similar to traditional general education requirements such as philosophy or world history, the purpose of each courses is to turn out well-rounded graduates, Isbell says.

“Why you need to take a CS1 … is the same reason why you need to take humanities, why you need to take a science, why you need to take a math,” he says. “It’s not because you’re going to be programming …. it’s because each of those represents a different way of thinking.”

Computer science was not a requirement at my alma mater (not GT). Introduction to Computers was an easy core class lots of students took. The class offered by Mathematics and Computer Science was about the components of a desktop, using Microsoft Office, and making a web page. The College of Education and the College of Business offered their own versions tailored to their disciplines.

At first, I did not want to go through a class on “This is a mouse. This is a keyboard.” At the time I was looking at upgrading from an AT form factor to ATX. Microsoft Word 95 was my fifth word processor. Plus I had made the web site for African American Studies for the university. In the end I took the class because it would improve my GPA. Like, I thought, it was an easy A, but the instructor did challenge me by making me available to help the others in the class.

This was not a real CS class though. I had already taken one, FORTRAN, which apparently did not count towards my core to graduate, oddly enough. I took another, Introduction to Programming, where I picked up some Java. Both programming classes gave me novel practice at the time for how I solve problems, plan, and researched. They were good for me.

Despite not graduating with a computer degree, I did have a strong computer background and ended up in a computer profession. So my perspective pretty much is skewed in a positive direction for all college students taking computer science classes.

Georgians Lottery Suckers

A CNN article on the $640 million lottery jackpot tonight revealed something interesting.

According to data crunched by Bloomberg, Georgia residents are the biggest “suckers.” They spend an average of $471 per year on the lottery, or 1% of their average income, while receiving a payout of 63 cents on the dollar.

Yeah, but I got some of the 15-25 cents on the dollar in the form of the HOPE scholarship paid for my (and millions of other kids’) college education. Pell helped as well. So did family and working.

Probably I could have achieved it without the scholarship. Then again I probably would still be paying off my student loans.

Curiosity

In Curiosity Is Critical to Academic Performance, curiosity was measured as a strong factor like conscientiousness and intelligence for academic success. Capacity and speed acquiring information, staying on task, and motivation to work with information are all good things. At the end of article, I found this interesting.

Employers may also want to take note: a curious person who likes to read books, travel the world, and go to museums may also enjoy and engage in learning new tasks on the job. “It’s easy to hire someone who has the done the job before and hence, knows how to work the role,” von Stumm says. “But it’s far more interesting to identify those people who have the greatest potential for development, i.e. the curious ones.”

For the members of my team curiosity is critical. We get the escalations of problems several layers of tiers below. Every problem we get should be something others found too challenging to solve or requiring information not available to them. Plus every problem requires informed decisions, meaning gathering data and determining that results are accurate. Expectations of the near impossible become the new normal every time we succeed. Plus delivering the near impossible usually means learning something new. These same academic performance factors help solving challenging problems.

Our interviews were designed to get a sense that candidates have enough relevant knowledge to be a foundation we can build upon and maybe some expertise the fill in our own gaps. Also, we ask questions about how someone worked on problems to get a sense that the candidate learned from past experiences and can find the information necessary to solve issues.

The technology landscape is constantly changing. Software upgrades mean things break or work in a new way. Leadership makes decisions which pull the rugs out from under us. Adapt or die. Curiosity is the only way to stay sane in such a world where what I know today may be irrelevant in a week.

Hack Education has a good post on the frustration of learning to code even with education startup Code Academy. Pretty sure I never would have learned to code without needing to accomplish something + curiosity. Of course, that is often the description of a geek.

College ROI

I found this PayScale College Return On Investment (ROI) calculation in Businessweek interesting. (Bold areas added by me.)

The PayScale calculation differs in two other respects as well. Like many ROI models, to calculate the cost of a college degree it includes all college expenses—tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies. But instead of assuming students all graduate in the standard four years, it multiplies those expenses for however long it took 2010 graduates of each school to obtain their degrees, whether in four years, six years, or something in between. Unlike many ROI calculations that reckon the value of a degree, the PayScale analysis tots up the return on a college investment, over and above what a high school graduate would earn during the same period. When someone attends college but fails to graduate, there’s an investment but little or no financial return, so the PayScale analysis incorporates graduation rates, in effect adjusting the return for the risk of not graduating. How big is that risk? On average, two of every five students who entered the colleges in the ranking never participated in commencement.

I am surprised student loans are not included. If a student who attends one school makes $5,000 more a year than a student who attended another school but has to pay $5,000 a year for the first fifteen years (of the 30 in the calculation) on student loans, then it seems like a major contributor to the Return on Investment.

Research in Higher Ed

SC lawmakers want to professors at universities to teach more instead of doing research. An Associated Press article “SC budget would make professors teach more classes”:

College professors should be in the classroom teaching at least nine credit hours each semester because the state is having a tough time paying for college budgets, said state Rep. Murrell Smith, a Republican from Sumter.

“I think we need to have professors in the classroom and not on sabbatical and out researching and doing things to that effect,” Smith said.

The committee adopts temporary law changes that would be part of the state’s $5.2 billion budget. The full Ways and Means Committee will vote on those next week.

This is exactly the kind of thing I try to explain to my mom. Lawmakers are responding to the desires of parents. Parents hear the stories from their kids about being taught by teaching assistants. The parents feel like to get their money’s worth their kids should be taught by the professors instead. After all, the professors are the true content experts. (No one tells stories about the good teaching assistants unless they are better than the professor at teaching the class.) I agree interacting with professors is likely the best way for students to get access to most current and useful knowledge.

The thing which seems to be neglected is doing the research makes professors the experts students should know. Take away the research and over time one really ought to go back to the teaching assistants.

Good research will also bring in money to the university. Especially in sciences and technology, this money would go into updating research labs which exposes the students to stuff which makes them marketable to employers.

Dorm, Major, or Race

“College freshmen are more likely to make friends with peers they share a dorm room or major with than they are to befriend those from similar racial backgrounds…”

I barely remember my roommate from living in the dorm freshman year. He was as much a stranger to me as the person you routinely run into at the store. I felt trapped living on campus when I wanted to be a few miles away in my own bed. His leaving town on weekends to go see his girlfriend was good for me.

My initial declared major was pre-engineering. None of my true friends were also pre-engineering, but then again my true friends were mostly met in high school. The few friends I made in college were all over the place major-wise: pre-law, biology, chemistry, philosophy, english, education, business. They were people I met either in class or at work.

The researchers used Facebook as the measure of who are friends. Given most friendships on Facebook are weak ties rather than strong. The people we know well, trust, and hold great affection reflect our strong ties. The people we barely know, but on whom we depend for the information social networks convey are our weak ties. Facebook is excellent for this. From this perspective, if I were a freshman in college today, I probably would be getting as many people in my classes as I could. (This is why so many of my coworkers are in my list of friends. Don’t worry, Glenn, you are more than just an acquaintance. :))