Sunday, November 4, 2012

practical education for everyone; enough with MOOCs and enough with college

Sometimes, I despair that anyone really cares about educating students apart from the people who actually need them to be educated. Colleges simply have never cared about educating students. I was reminded of this yet again when I received this in an email referring to the problems software companies are having when they hire recent college graduates:

What the guy is saying is that they (and others) hire a bunch of bright young CS and ECE graduates whose educations have left them completely unprepared for real-world professional software development. Helping graduates through the school to work transition is a critical problem. (Some people have said that new grads aren't useful to a company for the first year.) 

Really? No Computer Science graduate is prepared to go to work? Isn’t software one of the few thriving businesses we have left in this country? How could this be?

That is an easy question to answer for a former Computer Science professor and really for any professor. Professors do not consider it their job to prepare students for work. They like teaching theories and their latest research.

What is interesting in this context is all the noise about MOOCs. These are just lectures on line interrupted by quizzes and discussion groups for the most part. There are no actual teachers and there is no one to help you get better at something. (A lot like an actual college course, in fact.)

Students taking MOOCs (apart from those who are really just trying to seeing what these things are) have eschewed the notion of education as a credential, which is actually an important change whose time is coming. But, and this is the big unspoken “but,” the real issue is that the companies offering these MOOCs see themselves as a kind of employment agency. They will give the names of successful students to possible employers and make money in that way. But what will the students know how to do? Not much, or at least not much more than you could ever learn from lectures and exercises. So, for computer science at least, not much will have changed with the exception that employers in the US can now find the names of people in other countries who will work cheaply.

Actually educating students to do something that will get them to be useful in the real world is still an odd notion to professors and school systems.

In the meantime, my team and I have been building practical computer science masters degree programs that are being piloted now and will launch in January.

Of course not everyone needs a degree. Some people just need how to learn how to do something useful. They may already have a degree or two or they may have none. They might just want to learn. To that end my company is also about to offer a series of short courses, all learn by doing, all experiential, and all on line, with mentors, in the following broad areas:

  1. New graduate to software professional
  2. Experienced developer to technical lead
  3. Senior developer to architect
  4. Senior developer to manager
  5. Various job roles to product manager

In addition we will be offering short courses in data analytics, search engine optimization, requirements analysis, user experience, mobile development, big data essentials, web and network security, web page authoring and many others.

We will be launching some of these in the next weeks. It is time to change education from a meaningless credential to a practical experience. Enough with the domination of theories and research.

Anyone interested in any of these can simply write to me for more information.


  1. Hi Roger,

    Great ideas as usual. I am 100% on your side and I am following your work closely.

    Currently, I am teaching in a First Nations school in BC, Canada. I face some extra challenges due to social factors, but I refuse to teach in anyway other than at the highest level possible.

    On the positive, I have carte blanche to do whatever I want being the director of digital integration K - 12. I am focussed on basically everything that you believe in. Combined with Sugata Mitra's work, I feel that I am moving my students very fast into the future of education.

    We are working on practicality. I am about to move some of my elementary students into using Scratch by MIT. I look forward to seeing what they can build.

    I am not overly focussed on the programming side of it, but what I am mostly trying to give them is the ability to produce content. We will work with HTML and some CSS in the high school, but I am not trying to turn them into programmers per se, I am more about teaching them the cognitive abilities that you speak of through building their own content that they can display in portfolios that proves to organizations that they are capable of doing the practical work required for the 21st century (idea creation).

    I am very interested in your computer programs that you are developing for high school. Could you let me know how much a program like this would cost and if there needs to be minimum numbers?

    Thank you for your perspective. I absolutely hated school myself which is why I am there now. It has to change! I am working on it!

    With respect.

  2. How "practical" are your courses? By doing some exercises? Do you mix other subjects into the courses? Will be projects to create, for example, an entire web site from scratch or something like that?

  3. the course are entirely projects; you build software (including web sites) from scratch