Category: BU News
BU has joined edX, the Harvard-and-MIT-led online learning platform that shares the University’s commitment to using technology’s benefits for students on campus as well as off. The partnership will give BU professors more flexibility in designing their courses and discerning which educational methods work best with students.
Membership obligates BU to offer five MOOCs (massive open online courses) via edX, says Jean Morrison, University provost. MOOCs typically enable people around the world to take a university class for free, sans credit. But BU and edX also espouse blended, or hybrid, courses: for-credit classes that mingle face-to-face instruction with online work, says Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and cochair of the University’s Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation (CETLI).
Dan O’Connell, edX spokesperson, says hybrid courses allow professors to shift time normally spent on lectures to one-on-one or small-group teaching, to field trips, or to additional lectures delving more deeply into topics. O’Connell says early results from a pilot project edX is running in California show decreased failure rates in a hybrid course, compared to the traditional classroom version.
“The hybrid model provides the best of both worlds,” says Loizeaux, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English. “It promotes the face-to-face nature of…classroom interactions,” both students-to-teacher and between students. It simultaneously offers students “the flexibility to access content online at their own pace,” she says, while allowing faculty to use technology for “presenting information and assessing learning outcomes in ways that are not possible in a traditional classroom setting.”
BU President Robert A. Brown says he is delighted that the University is joining the edX consortium. “I am pleased to help pioneer the development of digital learning environments,” says Brown. “And I’m excited about the opportunity to use these enhanced learning tools for our residential students, and to invent new hybrid educational platforms as the next step in our ongoing significant commitment to online learning, especially for our students in graduate professional programs.”
EdX will also extend BU’s significant global reach, both by making BU professors and courses accessible to a global audience, and by increasing global connections for BU students. For example, study abroad might be enhanced by online minicourses before, during, and after the main course; online modules or courses could connect BU students with other students around the world; and online courses might even enable students whose schedules currently keep them at home to study abroad.
EdX’s ability to help professors evaluate how well students are learning course material was a big factor in BU’s choosing it over other platforms, Loizeaux says. The edX platform is designed to capture data on how students learn, she says, a capability that put it head and shoulders above other platforms BU considered, because it will aid professors in understanding which pedagogical approaches best advance student learning.
What kind of data? “We are talking about ‘big data’ from hundreds of thousands of learners,” O’Connell says. (According to edX, 700,000 students currently use its platform.) “EdX collects every click, and also, along with collaborating universities, conducts surveys throughout each course.”
The data dig deep into the digital weeds, he says. For example, says Azer Bestavros, CETLI cochair and a CAS professor of computer science, “Course evaluators can see how often a student rewinds to review parts of lectures—possibly indicating that clarifications are necessary—and also factors affecting students’ completion of courses. Such data goes beyond that available from courses offered by BU and taken by BU students.” Bestavros notes that for any hybrid courses the University develops on edX, “we will have full control regarding what we measure and how we analyze it, and…that data will not be shared with other institutions.” Only aggregated data from all edX members is shared, he says.
As a nonprofit in a field filled with for-profit competitors, edX “aligns with CETLI’s sense of values and what we believe to be BU’s best interest,” says Bestavros, who is also director of the Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.
The first hybrid courses on edX likely will be available “within the next couple of years,” Loizeaux says, while the MOOCs will be available in one year. EdX will complement, not replace, BU’s Blackboard e-learning system.
With more than 200 universities worldwide hoping for admission to edX—and with several elite institutions already in—“we are extraordinarily excited to be joining edX,” Morrison says. “It gives us the opportunity to collaborate with the consortium members on using their experience to better understand online learning.…We can learn from each other and develop best practices around higher education.”
Along with BU, edX welcomes several other institutions, including Cornell University, Davidson College, Berklee College of Music, Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium), Munich’s Technical University, the University of Washington, China’s Tsinghua University, Peking University, Japan’s Kyoto University, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Seoul National University, Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), and the University of Queensland (Australia).
They join the founders plus the University of California, Berkeley, Rice University, the University of Texas, Wellesley College, Georgetown University, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland), Australian National University, Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands), and Canada’s McGill University and the University of Toronto.
“EdX is thrilled to welcome Boston University,” O’Connell says. Calling the University “a world-class institution with top faculty and courses,” he says the partnership will benefit both: edX will help BU “incorporate sophisticated online course work into its on-campus curriculum,” while BU “will help us extend our range” of courses reflecting “the diversity of the people on our platform.”
President Robert A. Brown created CETLI to examine developments in online education and recommend a plan for extending BU’s current technology use to enhance instruction for tuition-paying residential students. It also is to recommend ways to reach new audiences off campus who wanted to sample the University’s offerings. As part of its work, CETLI sponsored a symposium and forums this spring to discuss the issues it was considering. Through the CETLI Seed Grant program, it will also make grants to faculty to develop innovative approaches over the next year.
The EdTech Ideas Fest, organized by the Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation (CETLI), was held at the Hariri Institute on April 22, 2013. The Fest featured presentations by 30 faculty members on envisioned novel uses of educational technology.
Approval to proceed with the plan for the new building to house the Institute (at 645 Commonwealth Avenue, site of the former Burger King) comes after 18 months of review. One of the first orders of business will be commissioning architects’ designs for the building which will also house the College of Arts & Sciences departments of computer science and of mathematics and statistics.
An undergraduate team from BU took first place in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Americas East competition, leading to a presentation at the World Championship last month across the river in Cambridge, MA. The iGEM Foundation focuses on advancing the field of synthetic biology. Team members Monique De Freitas (MET ’13) and Shawn Jin (SAR ’15) worked over the summer and into the fall on methods to track data about genetic circuits.
The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) opened in Holyoke on November 16, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour attended by Governor Deval Patrick, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, local politicians, and representatives of the five universities in the consortium, including BU. The facility has 10 megawatts of power available for computing, and will include systems from Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and the University of Massachusetts. In addition, some of the space is set aside for other research institutions and companies to help spur economic development enabled by computational power, including “big data” analytics.
More information about using the BU systems at the MGHPCC can be found on the IS&T blog.
The Hariri Institute for Computing at Boston University is pleased to announce its second cohort of Junior Faculty Fellows. They are:
- Jason Bohland, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Sciences
- Luis Carvalho, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
- Dino Christenson, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
- Douglas Densmore, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Sharon Goldberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science
- Nachiketa Sahoo, Assistant Professor, Department of Information Systems
The Junior Faculty Fellows Program
The Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellows program was established both to recognize outstanding junior faculty at Boston University working in diverse areas of the computational sciences, as well as to provide focal points for supporting broader collaborative research in these areas at BU and beyond. Junior Fellows are selected by the Hariri Institute Executive Steering Committee based on nominations received each spring, and are appointed for a two-year term.
“We are delighted by the level of energy and collaboration that the first cohort of Junior Faculty Fellows have brought to the Institute, and look forward to even more interactions as we welcome into the program the impressive cohort selected for 2012/13. It is heartening to see the positive reception and the significant interest that the entire university community has expressed in the program,” says Prof. Azer Bestavros, Founding Director of the Hariri Institute.
Meeting the Fellows
Over the next several months, each of the Junior Faculty Fellows will be giving a Hariri Institute Distinguished Lecture. For more information and to receive notices about this and other Hariri Institute activities, please join the Institute mailing lists by becoming an affiliate member. For more information, please visit the Institute’s web site.
About the Fellows
Professor Jason Bohland, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Health Sciences and Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences in the College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, joined the BU faculty in 2009. His research focuses on understanding the circuits in the brain, using a variety of methods to gather large-scale data about signaling among neurons in both mouse and human brains. He also serves as the Director of the Quantitative Neuroscience Laboratory. Prof. Bohland received his Ph.D. at Boston University specializing in cognitive and neural systems.
Prof. Kathleen Morgan, chair of the Department of Health Sciences, notes, “Jason’s creative and innovative research approach that integrates large data sets describing the brain’s underlying architecture (such as brainwide gene expression profiles and connectivity atlases) with functional data (such as fMRI measured in humans) has an exceedingly high probability of leading to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the brain. The outcome of integrating these quantitative data with behaviorally relevant brain maps will not only provide new insights into the brain’s basic architecture but also inform possible approaches to treat a wide range of disorders.”
Professor Luis Carvalho joined BU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics after receiving his Ph.D. from Brown University in 2008. He began his education in Civil Engineering, with a focus on transportation engineering. As he learned more about operations research, he became more interested in the theory, leading to his work in statistical applications. His work has found applications in diverse areas, including unsupervised land cover classification from satellite images, assessing interaction among genes in genome-wide association studies, and identifying communities in social networks. Prof. Carvalho specializes in Bayesian statistics, computational biology, and statistical inference.
Prof. Tasso Kaper, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics says, “Our department is proud that Prof. Luis Carvalho has been named as a Junior Fellow of the Hariri Institute for Computing in recognition of his pioneering research in computational statistics and computational biology. He has developed new Bayesian statistical methods for analyzing high-dimensional data arising in sequence analysis, RNA secondary structure prediction and classification, and phylogenetic analysis. In addition, he has begun to address the problem of extending genome-wide association analysis methods to detect gene-gene interactions, among new collaborations with colleagues in the Bioinformatics Program. Outside of biology, Luis has made contributions to statistical aspects of land-cover classification data with colleagues in Earth Sciences at Boston University and to transportation engineering.”
Professor Dino Christenson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 2010, and came to the BU faculty later that year. He studies American political behavior with a focus on the context in which individuals and organizations seek out, receive and process political information. His recent work concerns campaign dynamics in the early stages of presidential primary elections and interest group networks. Prof. Christenson also serves as the Director of the Honors and BA/MA programs for his department and is the co-Organizer of the Research in American and Comparative Politics Workshop.
Prof. Graham Wilson, chair of the Department of Political Science, notes that “Dino is a dynamic engaging teacher and scholar who has already made a big impact on our department. He brings skills and perspectives to the department that we have long needed. We are so fortunate to have him.”
Professor Douglas Densmore was awarded his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007. Originally interested in programming video games, Prof. Densmore discovered an interest in microprocessor design, leading to his expertise in computer-aided design (CAD) tools. A postdoctoral fellowship enabled him to start applying this expertise to the design of CAD tools for synthetic biology, opening up an exciting new area in life sciences. In addition to working in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Densmore also serves as Affiliated Investigator for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.
Regarding Densmore’s work, Prof. David Castañón, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says, “Prof. Densmore’s research merges ideas from electronic design automation with synthetic biology. Specifically, he examines how to create design automation tools that allow for the high level specification, design, and assembly of new biological systems. His work will increase the complexity of feasible designs, reduce design time, and allow for truly engineered biological systems. His efforts have attracted significant funding from various agencies, as well as prestigious awards such as the Richard and and Minda Reidy Professorship and Gold Medals from the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition. His interactions with the Hariri Institute will aid the development of computational sciences to enable the design of complex biological organisms with the rigor and precision that is associated with modern design of integrated electronics.”
Professor Sharon Goldberg joined BU’s Department of Computer Science in 2010. Her research focuses on the security and privacy of computer networks, by combining formal techniques from cryptography and game theory with empirical network data and large-scale simulations. She has served on working groups of the advisory council to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the security and reliability of telecommunications systems. Prof. Goldberg received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in July of 2009. Before coming to BU, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, New England.
Prof. Stan Sclaroff, chair of the Department of Computer Science, says, “Sharon is a rising star in the critical area of Internet security. Her interdisciplinary work leverages ideas from economic game theory to devise incentives that will make the Internet infrastructure more secure. Her work gets noticed by network operators, Internet standards bodies, and even the Federal Communications Commission, which has convened a working group in response to Sharon’s groundbreaking research findings. We are delighted that Sharon has been selected as a Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow.”
Professor Nachiketa Sahoo joined the Information Systems Department in the School of Management in July of 2011. His research includes applying machine learning techniques to problems in social science. For example, how should recommendation systems (such as for books or movies) handle changing preferences among the customers? In another arena, how can publications, blog posts, and comments be used to identify individuals with particular areas of expertise? Before working at Boston University, Prof. Sahoo earned his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.
Prof. Chris Dellarocas, chair of Information Systems, notes, “Nachi does cross disciplinary research on managing information overload. He has brought together ideas from social science and methods from statistical machine learning to design novel personalized information filtering techniques. I see a lot of potential for him as he expands his research into the phenomena of social/human information filtering over online social networks. His exposure to the Hariri Institute has already led to a collaboration with members of BU’s Computer Science department so I am thrilled to see him recognized as a Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow.”
About the Hariri Institute
The mission of the Hariri Institute for Computing is to initiate, catalyze, and propel collaborative, interdisciplinary research and training initiatives for the betterment of society by promoting discovery and innovations through the use of computational and data-driven approaches, as well as advances in the science of computing inspired by challenges in the arts, sciences, engineering, and management. Endowed by a generous gift from Bahaa R. Hariri, the Institute strives to create and sustain a community of scholars who believe in the transformative potential of computational perspectives in research and education. This vision is realized through the support of a portfolio of ambitious computational research projects, and forward-looking educational and outreach initiatives at Boston University.
For more information, contact:
BU Today published an article summarizing the work of the newly established Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation. The article by Rich Barlow, entitled “A Lecture Heard ‘Round The World“, examines a number of ways that BU might leverage and contribute to emerging on-line educational technologies and services, and to the increased connectedness. Quoting Azer Bestavros, Director of the Hariri Institute and the Council’s co-chair: “educational technology can open up opportunities to those for whom education was not readily available before, and it can expand the options for lifelong learning. Creative thinking begets creative thinking: new educational technologies enable new pedagogical innovations in the residential classroom as well as in the blended and the online environment.”
Should the three Rs be four Rs, as in reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic, and ’rogramming? That’s the argument made by Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Jeannette Wing and increasingly by academics from a broad spectrum of disciplines. They insist American education is shorting students, even those who’ll be poets and philosophers, by failing to equip them with the basics of “computational thinking,” the general ideas undergirding computing.
Andrea Berlin, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of archaeology, who specializes in Middle Eastern pottery made during the period from five centuries before Christ to 640 C.E., is one of them. Berlin says archaeological digs and other historical research have uncovered such a mountain of data that “most archaeologists cannot wrap their arms around it.” She’s hoping to develop a website and app that would allow scholars who aren’t computer scientists to gather, mix, and match that information—by time period, region, and other traits. Then a political scientist, for instance, could “compare the patterns, intensity, and direction of trade under earlier political regimes as revealed by archaeological evidence, and gain hard data and real insight into the relationship between economies and various imperial systems,” she says. Currently, no one can do that, because “there’s no venue by which somebody could access the data.”
Computers and computational thinking have revolutionized the way she regards information and its uses. “I used to think of archaeological data as a great mass comprised of many separate items—whole things,” she says. But like an atom, each individual datum can be split into different attributes, and “different users might want to deploy selections of those attributes for different and various questions,” like that hypothetical political scientist mapping ancient trade routes.
She’s seeking a grant for her project from the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. The vision of BU trustee Bahaa Hariri (SMG’90) in launching the institute with a $15 million gift was exactly what Berlin wants: the marriage of computational techniques and all fields of knowledge. The Hariri institute’s founding director, Azer Bestavros, says computational thinking encourages scholars to ask questions they wouldn’t ask without it. All academicians, he says, will ask more and better questions if they know those questions can be answered.
Bestavros, a CAS professor of computer science, argues for mandatory instruction in computational thinking in high schools and colleges, insisting that there are ways to teach it without plunging nonscientists into a flummoxed coma. “Computational thinking is not programming,” he says.
Leonid Reyzin, a CAS associate professor of computer science, seconds that. “Computation simply means working with information. And because we are in the information age, you can’t fully participate in society without such understanding.” For example, says Reyzin, understanding the current debate over congressional legislation to combat online copyright infringement overseas requires rudimentary knowledge of how people get information today, and how the legislation would change that.
A College Board commission currently devising a new high school Advanced Placement course in computer science has flagged general practices defining computational thinking. They include “analyzing the effects of computation,” “creating computational artifacts” (apps), using abstractions and models, and working effectively in teams.
Some universities already include programming in their computational-thinking-for-dummies courses. Carnegie Mellon, admittedly a techie school, teaches the programming language Ruby, Wheaton College offers Computing for Poets, which requires learning the programming language Python, and the University of Maryland uses Scratch, a visual animation language developed for children.
At BU, CAS requires all students to do course work in mathematics/computer science, not computational thinking per se. For a humanities major seeking an introduction, Dean of Arts & Sciences Virginia Sapiro suggests MA/CS 109, The Art and Science of Quantitative Reasoning, taught jointly by the math and computer science departments. The course description reads: “Buying music online, making phone calls, predicting the weather, or controlling disease outbreaks would be impossible without mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Focuses on methods of reasoning common to these disciplines, and how they enable the modern world.”
Bestavros assures students that there isn’t a minute of programming instruction in the course—just as “you don’t have to use a telescope to appreciate” astronomy, he says.
“We thought that there were more important topics given our limited time,” says Reyzin, who codeveloped and teaches the class. Given his druthers, though, he’d teach programming, because “it is learning by doing.” In Bestavros’ ideal university curriculum, MA/CS 109 would be part of a menu of approaches, with students electing whether to learn programming as part of computational thinking.
There are skeptics of the importance of teaching computational thinking, and some of them are computer scientists. The Yale Daily News reports hostility from the school’s computer science department, whose professors frown on such instruction as “trade school.”
Bestavros thinks they’re wrong about that. “Computational thinking is a big idea,” he says, “and 20, 30 years from now, there may be a standard way of teaching it. We are nowhere close to that. But I think society is going through this transformation, and if you want to be competitive 20 years from now, in whatever profession, you really have to get on that bandwagon.”
Eric E. Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, will deliver the commencement address at Boston University’s 139th graduation ceremonies at BU’s Nickerson Field at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 20. Mr. Schmidt will speak before more than 5,000 graduates and 20,000 guests at New England’s largest graduation ceremony. Schmidt will receive an honorary Doctor of Science. In addition to Schmidt, the prestigious list of honorary degree recipients also includes chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals First Circuit, the Honorable Sandra Lynch; former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Norman Augustine (Doctor of Science); Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas G. Kelley (Doctor of Laws); and noted actor, Leonard Nimoy (Doctor of Humane Letters). [More]
In its coverage of the Simon Foundation’s choice of UC Berkeley as the home of its computing center, the NY Times singled out the Hariri Institute as an earlier example of expanding support for the “computational lens” in research.
Tuesday’s announcement is part of a broader trend toward expanding support for research in computational theory. The Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering was created last fall at Boston University to turn a computational lens on an array of disciplines. (It is named for the former Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated in 2005; he was also a former trustee of the university.)