Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed: MOOCs

MOOCs stands for “massive open online courses”.  According to the reference, more options for online courses are offered online. Like Coursera and edX, the nonprofit consortium led by Harvard and MIT, they have up to nearly 13 million users and offer more than 1,200 courses. For curious people who aren’t necessarily seeking a credential but knowledge, MOOCs is very easy way to access higher education.

It’s very interesting that Georgia Tech started their first MOOC master program in computer science in 2013. The cost of this degree is only $6,600, which is way much lower than the on-campus counterpart. This then shows that MOOCs can expand the access of higher education. However, note that whether the job market will reward people with this degree is not clear.

Another interesting fact in this article is that according to the experiences from faculties at MIT and Harvard, which are creators of edX. Providing students with those course materials online including notes and videos is actually beneficial for both on-campus and online students. But considering the tuition fee, the author of this article said it’s very hard to answer ‘How can I justify charging students $45,000 a year to attend large lectures when they can find better exemplars on the Internet?’”


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Higher Education in Taiwan

This week, we are going to discuss higher education in different countries. In previous classes, we have known that there are approximately 15 countries. As the only Taiwanese student, I would like to explain the educational system in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, we have 9-year compulsory education, including 6-year elementary school and 3-year middle school. At the 3rd year of middle school, students need to take national examination and use this score to apply for 3-year high\vocational schools. For high school students, students can choose their learning tracks based on their interest at the 2nd year, including  Group I consists of liberal arts students, Group II and Group III of science based students (the latter studies biology as an additional subject). The curriculum for each track is adjusted based on this classification.

There are over 100 institutions of higher education in Taiwan. Roughly 2/3 of the over 100,000 students taking the national university entrance exams are accepted to a higher educational institution. Higher education in Taiwan is similar to the American higher education system. But students have a specific major when they enter college. Unlike in the US, students can pick their major after the first year. Taiwan has many universities, both public and private. Public schools are supported by the government, and some private school are supported by the commercial groups or religious bodies. Like most countries, technician degree requires 2-year study, and the bachelor degree requires 4-year study. Graduate programs leading to a Master’s degree require one to four years; those for a doctorate, two to seven years.

The Unique Culture in Taiwan Regarding to Education

Most Taiwanese students have been suffering intensive pressure by their parents from middle schools, high schools to colleges. Many students enroll in private after-school classes to supplement their regular education, especially to help them get higher scores in the entrance exams. I was one of them. It was like a nightmare for me. I remember during high school, I needed to wake up at 6:30 going to the regular school. And after school, at around 5pm, I had to go to the cram school. When I went back home, it was like 10:30pm. After taking a shower, and you know what!? I still have to do the hw,or study for the quiz for the next day.  So, of course, there was barely no time for entertainment!! Also, these cram schools are an extremely large business in Taiwan and have been criticized as being the result of cultural overemphasis on academic achievement.

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The PhD Factory

Interesting read from Natureeeeee….

One of my professor in Taiwan has told me right before I was ready to come to the US.  “Don’t think it will be easier for you to get a job with a PhD degree. Actually it’s even harder!” ………..Oh~~ well~ He is right…..

As described in the article, because education is the key to economic growth, higher education system in  most countries has been building up and become more mature. As the number of PhD holders increase, unfortunately, the supply is much more than the demand; that is, there is not enough jobs either in academia or industry for them.  Additional, the quality of PhD becomes skeptical in some countries. Like in China, the author said the quality is a problem but due to their booming economy, it is a lot easier find an academic job as compared to the US.  However, this is based on the data from 1993-2007. I think that the situation in China changes now probably.

Some interesting statistics in the reference. In the US, the number of Physical sciences PhD actually didn’t change from 1993-2007.  The number of tenured-track faculty was gradually decreasing and seems to affect the PhD holders in the life sciences. In German, most of PhD holders want to go to the industry. They consider PhD degree is nothing but an advanced training not only for academia but also for the wider workforce! I think it’s pretty opposite with my country. Additionally, as compared to Europe and the US, the difference of salary between PhD and Non-PhD in Asia is the largest! Probably this study wasn’t done for people in academia, because based on what I know in Taiwan, the professor position is a stable job with just-okay salary.

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Not an easy job afterall: Are You Scared of Your Students?

Just saw this interesting article today.  I thought being a teaching faculty might be a little bit easier than being a research faculty. But it seems like tons of small things that we’ve never thought of may make them feel helpless and even scared when facing with their students.

In class, I remember we have discussed about different types of faculty in the university. As we know in the US, some universities have both teaching and research professors and some may only have research professors. At graduate school, in my opinion, PhD students got a lot of training on research but no one teaches us how to teach, or give us opportunity to really teach the whole course as an instructor (at least in some department). Fortunately, VT has an organization like Academy of Teaching Excellence which provides seminar and workshops for students who are interested in teaching. However, for those PhD students who spend most of his time on research as a RA and aim to becoming a research faculty, they may not be able to spend extra time at graduate school to participate teaching related activities.  Once they really become a professor, they might not be able to teach well due to lack of experiences.  Many issues mentioned in the reference may much easily happen as well.

Based on my experience, a good scholar might not be a good teacher. For grad students who wants to become a professor, I hope the university should provide more opportunities and pay more attention on improving students’ teaching skill. In addition, as educational environment becomes more and more culturally diverse, more in-depth understanding for each culture and its influence is essential for everyone in higher education.


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As an engineer and a scientist, it is critical for us to pay attention to research ethics when writing scientific papers. Because of this reason, research ethics is also one of the first things that the head of our department emphasized during the orientation when I entered VT. After reading the above article, I want to share a few thoughts on ethics based on my experiences in this post:

First of all, how to define “plagiarism”? In a paper, when does it easily happen?

Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.  In my opinion, considering writing an scientific paper,  plagiarism mostly occurs in the “introduction” section where authors describe the history (or related literature) of the topic. Except the case that the topic of the papers has never been widely studied before, we always can find some related references and provide an objective view for the papers before presenting our results. We can even find a review paper which contains all the important references and was usually written by an expert of the field. Thus, we might not need to read the original paper and simply “rephrase” what other people said in their paper and more importantly, put these paper in the references. Usually, in this way, it won’t be regarded as plagiarism; however, I believe that reading the original paper is very important if you want to become not only a good researcher but also a good writer. This is because those review papers or articles might ignore some aspects which are significant to the readers of our paper.

Furthermore, plagiarism also easily happens in the figures of the paper. But I think it’s very hard to find. This type of ethical issue has happened to me in these two years. After publishing my first paper, there have been a few people who cited my publications. I noticed that there is one  paper which copied one of my figure, same style and same expression and even similar description in the critical.  I was so angry!!!! They should have at least put a reference!!! or at least change the style or replot the figure!!!

Secondly, research ethics also involves Falsification which means the act of disproving a proposition, hypothesis, or theory. I think usually it occurs when researchers published papers based on falsified the data. I would say the motivation for them to do is simply to generate more papers and get more reputation in their field of study. However, this is never acceptable in science. Their falsified data will impede the advance of science and technology and mislead the future research in the wrong direction. Moreover, I’ve known that sometimes it is possible that the students falsified  the data but their professor didn’t know about that. In this case, I believe both sides have responsibilities. Come to think about it, it’s difficult to become a professor. Of course, professors would like to believe their students and give them confidence, but sometimes it is still necessary to know more details and check if they are doing the right things.

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Mission Statement from a University and a College

This is the first blog post for pfp 2017.  Let’ start with a brief introduction of myself.

My name is Armani Chien.  I am a 3rd yeard PhD student in Engineering, Science and Mechanics (ESM) program in Dept. of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at VT. Over the past few years, I have noticed a lot of interesting cultural differences between US and my country, Taiwan.  Through this course, I anticipate I can gain a deeper insight on higher education in global perspective.

The very first question I have regarding to higher education is what is the difference between a university and a community college.  So, to answer this question, the following are mission statements from San Jose State University (SJSU) and from College of San Mateo (CSM). The former one is a comprehensive public university located in San Jose, California, United States. The latter one is  is a community college in San Mateo, California.  As far as I am concerned, SJSU is more clear on their mission statement, especially accentuating helping students to develop skills and techniques for lifelong learning besides specialized knowledge.

San Jose State University

In collaboration with nearby industries and communities, SJSU faculty and staff are dedicated to achieving the university’s mission as a responsive institution of the state of California: To enrich the lives of its students, to transmit knowledge to its students along with the necessary skills for applying it in the service of our society, and to expand the base of knowledge through research and scholarship.

University Learning Goals

San Jose State University graduates will have developed:

  • Specialized Knowledge
    • Depth of knowledge required for a degree, as identified by its program learning outcomes.
  • Broad Integrative Knowledge
    • Mastery in each step of an investigative, creative or practical project (e.g. brainstorming, planning, formulating hypotheses or complex questions, designing, creating, completing and communicating).
    • An understanding of the implications of results or findings from a particular work in a societal context (e.g. social or economic implications of a scientific finding).
    • Students graduating with a baccalaureate degree will have demonstrated an understanding of critical components of broad academic areas, the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences and their integration.
  • Intellectual Skills
    • Fluency in the use of specific theories, tools, technology and graphical representation.
    • Skills and abilities necessary for lifelong learning: critical and creative thinking, effective communication, conscientious information gathering and processing, mastery of quantitative methodologies and the ability to engage effectively in collaborative activities.
  • Applied Knowledge
    • The ability to integrate theory, practice and problem solving to address practical issues.
    • The ability to apply their knowledge and skills to new settings or in addressing complex problems.
    • The ability to work productively as individuals and in groups.
  • Social and Global Responsibilities
    • The ability to act intentionally and ethically to address a global or local problem in an informed manner with a multicultural and historical perspective and a clear understanding of societal and civic responsibilities.
    • Diverse and global perspectives through engagement with the multidimensional SJSU community.

Character and Commitment

San Jose State University is a major, comprehensive public university located in the center of San Jose and in the heart of Silicon Valley. SJSU is the oldest state university in California. Its distinctive character has been forged by its long history, by its location, and by its vision — a blend of the old and the new, of the traditional and the innovative. Among its most prized traditions is an uncompromising commitment to offer access to higher education to all persons who meet the criteria for admission, yielding a stimulating mix of age groups, cultures, and economic backgrounds for teaching, learning and research. SJSU takes pride in and is firmly committed to teaching and learning, with a faculty that is active in scholarship, research, technological innovation, community service and the arts.


College of San Mateo

College of San Mateo provides an exceptional educational opportunity to residents of San Mateo County and the Greater Bay Area Region. The college is an open-access, student-centered institution that serves the diverse educational, economic, social, and cultural needs of its students and the community. College of San Mateo fosters a culture of excellence and success that engages and challenges students through a comprehensive curriculum of basic skills, career and technical programs, and transfer preparation. It uses analysis of quantitative and qualitative data and information, collaborative integrated institutional planning, and assessment to inform decision-making and ensure continuous improvement. Its programs and services are structured, delivered, and evaluated to prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens in an increasingly global community. To achieve this mission, the college has adopted the following Strategic Goals:

  1. Improve Student Success
  2. Promote Academic Excellence
  3. Develop Responsive, High-Quality Programs and Services
  4. Support Professional Development
  5. Implement the Integrated Planning Cycle and Ensure Fiscal Stability and the Efficient Use of Resources
  6. Enhance Institutional Dialog



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