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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Future of Higher Education: Free Courses?!

A few years ago, several big-name colleges (MIT was a leader in this) began putting their courses online, where anyone would be able to 'take' them for free.  Now, you won't be able to get a free degree or even credit for the course, but for self-education, perhaps a course that can help you with your job or just something that you've always wanted to take but did not have the time or money to pursue, well, you can likely find it for free.

Take a look at Coursera, which is the latest, very popular site with numerous colleges adding courses to the list (including my alma mater, U. of Illinois).  If you are interested in a particular school, you may want to check out what their courses look like.  Some others that are out there include MIT's course site, and Oxford's courses. The future may be here, at least for many students, simply because the top schools may be pricing themselves out of many students' affordability range.  How much longer will families take out massive amounts of loans (which = debt) for a college degree?  It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out over the next few years, as more courses are offered online and more people take those courses.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Top Physics and Engineering Undergraduate Programs

Check out one set of rankings for the top ten undergraduate physics programs.  This is put out by Bright Hub, and is consistent with just about any rankings you find.  As they point out, many people consider a physics major at these types of schools to be among the most difficult of any major, and I can attest to that (UIUC Ph.D., class of 1995).  The order generally does not matter, as any of these schools will challenge you as far as you wish to go, and will prepare you for a diverse set of careers built around physics and problem solving.  The schools included on the list are:

MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Princeton, Cornell, Berkeley, U. of Illinois, Santa Barbara, and U. of Chicago.

None of these should be surprising, with the possible exception of Santa Barbara - not many people realize the work they do.  The others are all usual top names for powerhouse science and engineering schools.  All provide wonderful research opportunities for undergrads, and are also on lists for top graduate schools.

For Engineering, check out many of the same schools for the rankings:

MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, U. of Illinois, Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Princeton.

Cannot go wrong with any of these!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Teach 1st Graders to Program?

Here's an interesting idea being in tried in the small country of Estonia - getting the principles and concepts related to computer programming to first graders.  One does not need to learn an actual language like Python, Java, or C++, but certainly the concepts can be picked up, even by six year olds.  There are so many ways of doing this, to teach them about how a computer does not think and instead needs to be told every small instruction.  Teachers can make a variety of games for young children to play, and the way young minds work, they will begin to learn to think like a programmer, and over time as they progress through elementary school simple commands and syntax can be added slowly but surely.  At some point visual programming languages such as Scratch and Starlogo can be used, then move them into a simple language like Netlogo, and eventually to more advanced languages if they choose.  The point is this is a powerful way to teach 21st century skills, remove the fear from computers, programming and technology in general, learn logical thinking and improve problem solving skills over an extended time.  Just like learning a foreign language is easiest when young, I am fairly certain the same is true for a computer language.