Doing something about discouraging data

I blogged earlier about some discouraging data on the involvement of women in professional CS. I also bemoaned the eye roll-inducing culture of computer geeks that I encountered at university. And I wondered (offline) about how and why the tiny minority of women programmers was holding up.

A few months later,  I’m thinking very seriously about joining their ranks.

What got me thinking this way?

Meeting, learning from, and learning with a ton of cool female developers, courtesy of Girl Develop It Boulder. Through GDI workshops I’ve re-discovering the fact that I love creating things with code. I love it so much that I can get lost in it for hours without noticing the time.

Don’t get me wrong; working in communications has been fun and challenging in its own ways. I’m deeply grateful to have picked up a lot of experience in project planning and people management. But I’ve been feeling for months that it’s high time to put those very deliberately earn “soft” skills to use on more complex technical and social challenges with a dedicated team. I’ve spent my entire career at academic/nonprofit/government institutions with old-fashioned management – it’s time to leap into the modern business world and find a place that adequately exploits my combination of technical savvy and immersion in people, culture and connection.

Fortunately, living in the heart of the Boulder tech community, I don’t have to leap too far (at least not in a geographic sense).

At this point, I’ve taken classes in HTML5/CSS3, Javascript, Git, Python and UNIX  server management, and I’m about to start a comprehensive bootcamp in web development. I’ll use what I learn to rebuild and streamlined this site. This WordPress theme has served me well for a long time, but it is time to move on and up!

MOOCs are not the end of education; they are a game changer

Some teachers are brilliant and talented coaches and mentors. But there’s still way too much focus on information delivery in higher education that just doesn’t make sense in an era when so much information is already freely available. The Powerpoint lecture generation is long overdue to move on and acquire different skills, and MOOCs are an important disruptive innovation that I hope will hammer that point home.

Many traditional professors could easily be replaced by a recording, a la Real Genius. As the author points out, MOOCs are good for information delivery, and many professors do little or no more than deliver information – the “real” learning happens in the problem sets and the projects and essay drafts, in the performance, feedback, revision cycle, which many universities and professors relegate to lowly paid graduate or even senior undergraduate students and to which they devote token attention.

MOOCs, then, are cost-effective substitutes for lecturers. Why pay someone every year to deliver the same lecture to a limited-capacity room when you can simply pay the same person once to record the lecture and distribute it to a zillion more paying students almost anywhere in the world?

With the cost of higher education rising as rapidly as it has as of late, students and parents are demanding more value in the education services provided by universities and college. Many educators are going to have to change the way they teach to demonstrate their relevance and value in the rapidly changing education marketplace, just like folks trained decades ago in other professions are now facing the need to retrain and modernize their skills to stay gainfully employed.

In the Internet era, when information is so cheap and easy to get, many teachers still maintain an antiquated focus on information delivery. Think of information like open source software. The raw materials are free, but you need a lot of training or practice or both to get them to work for you. So teaching with the Internet ought to be more like delivering a value-added service for free and abundant information resources.

I, like many others, would expect education to shift away from information delivery and more toward coaching students in finding, evaluating, using and generating information.

Is the attrition rate for online courses appallingly high? Yes. But that’s not the point. If you take the savings you reap from not having to pay the lecturer to deliver the same lecture every semester and invest it in a rich layer of coaching and mentorship on top of that online course, you might find that that course does more of what we in the real world need and expect it to do: prepare students for a world where information is cheap, and judgment, creative insight, analytical and collaborative skills are the real prizes.