August 26, 2013


Volume 8, Issue 3 – August 26, 2013


Another Anniversary

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that my parents had just celebrated their 60th anniversary.  On Saturday, my father’s brother Nathan and his wife Shirley celebrated their emerald (55th­­) anniversary.  My Uncle Nate is the only other surviving member of my father’s family, with the two of them having been in the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz together.  Since my uncle was the older of the two, he was too old to get in to Palestine (the British only allowed children under 18) and came to the United States instead.  He joined the military, and was stationed in Germany as part of the occupation force during the early 1950’s, when my father was there learning to maintain heavy machinery.

He settled in Syracuse, NY (I have no idea why), and my father and our family joined him there in 1959.  For many years, we lived two houses apart—them at 208 Hazelwood Avenue, and us at 212.  The children were evenly spaced too—I was born in 1955, my sister Drorit in 1957, and their children Karen and Barry in 1959 and 1961, respectively.  We all grew up together, and Karen and Barry were more like brother and sister to Drorit and me than cousins.  My uncle worked for many years as a house painter, and I worked for him in the summers to earn money for college.  After he retired, my uncle and aunt moved to Las Vegas.  It was no surprise that a few years after that, my parents moved there too.

You may have guessed that my uncle and my father are inseparable, and that’s absolutely correct.  They see each other every day, arguing about politics, arguing about the stock market, going for walks, and eating out.  No two people could love each other more.  My uncle and aunt celebrated their anniversary in Poland, where he goes every summer to connect with his youth.  Daughter Karen is visiting there too, and I Skyped them Saturday to wish them a happy anniversary.  Sto lat! Uncle Nate and Aunt Shirley.



Good Stuff Lately

Congratulations to Don Ariail (Accounting) on being chosen as SPSU’s Teacher of the Year.  Don is a great teacher and an excellent faculty member in general, and it has been my pleasure to have served on several committees with him.  His research is in the areas of behavioral accounting, accounting ethics, forensic accounting, taxation and accounting education. He is also an author. His latest book, “Ansley Park (Images of America)” was published in June, and is a history of Atlanta’s first northside suburb and the area in which he grew up.  He has co-authored two educational novels about accounting: “The Ultimate Rip-Off–A Taxing Tale” (2012) and “Costly Reflections in a Midas Mirror” (2011).

Congratulations to Khalid Siddiqi (Chair, Construction Management) on being selected as an Accelerated Leadership Academy (ALA) Scholar for 2013. The ALA is a leadership academy sponsored by the University System of Georgia.  The purpose of the ALA is to provide a high level of structured, continuous, executive leadership development that builds upon the ELI (Executive Leadership Institute) experience.  Khalid was one of SPSU’s ELI participants in 2009-10.

Congratulations to Dan Ferreira (Chemistry) on winning the Emil Truog Soil Science Award from the Soil Science Society of America and the Agronomic Science Foundation for his dissertation, “The Nanopore Inner-Sphere Enhancement (NISE) Effect and Its Role in Sodium Retention”.  Hey Dan—the rest of us are trying to get rid of sodium, and here you’re trying to retain it.  What’s up with that?

Road Trip to KIA

Last Thursday, Tom Currin (Dean, Engineering), Austin Asgill (Chair, ECET), John Sweigart (Chair, MET), Ronny Richardson (Chair, Business Administration), Raj Sashti (Director of International Program Development), Cheryl Martinez (Advancement) and I took a trip down to see the new KIA Motors plant.  This was a follow-up to the visit from He Beom Kim, the Korean Consul-General, and Randy Jackson, KIA’s vice president for human resources, to our campus last spring.


Unlike every other day this month, the weather was actually beautiful throughout the trip, and we reached West Point, GA without a hitch.  The plant is huge and very modern, operating in three shifts a day.   After seeing the whole thing, I’ll certainly consider getting a KIA as my next car when the time comes.

The operation is extremely impressive: the process begins with large rolls of steel, from which the various body parts (fenders, hood, trunk, roof) are stamped by 5,400 ton presses.  The parts are then polished, washed, and painted in a three-step procedure that uses an ionic adhesion process as the last step.

After drying, the parts move into the main assembly portion of the plant, where giant robot “pushers” hold the parts and push them together, whereupon several robotic arms pivot and weld them together, forming the car’s body.  This was the most impressive step of the overall KIA operation to me, as these giant robots had well more than 10,000 moving parts each.  This got me thinking—what does the reliability have to be to keep the line moving?  If only 99.99% of the parts worked effectively, the robots would constantly break down.  I asked if there was a back-up line to switch to in the event the pushers failed.  The answer was no—the robots were kept working mostly through a system of preventative maintenance, and if there was a breakdown, the rest of the line was slowed down until repairs could be made.

In a multiple-mile long conveyer system, the various components of the car are then added, with most steps still done by hand, resulting in a car being driven off the end of the line every 56 seconds.  There are pull-cords that can stop the entire line every 15 feet or so.  Workers are encouraged to stop the line if they see a problem, since it is much more difficult to fix a problem five steps later than to fix it when it occurs.  Considering how complex the operation is, it was remarkable to see car after car start up with the first turn of the key as it came off the line, headed to the test track.  Even more complex is the issue of logistics—large quantities of parts are not stored on site (for example, only a 4-hour supply of seats are present at any time), making just-in-time delivery and worker punctuality critical.

We had a chance to have a long conversation with vice president Jackson about the plant’s operations.  When asked what he wished engineering graduates would know who came to work for him, he noted that new engineers were very good technically, but tended to believe that there was one “black and white” correct answer in what was really a “grey” world of constant change and competitive challenge.  He said that many fine engineers don’t necessarily make good managers, because this “black and white” thinking causes problems when supervising others.  The KIA company strongly believes in a team approach, and only hires people (for any level of job) who they feel will operate well within their corporate culture.  Thus, only 3% of applicants are actually hired after going through a 40-hour (unpaid!) battery of testing (physical and mental) and training.

Are there lessons at KIA for a university, in terms of how to operate?  For the most part, no.  Obviously, there are massive differences—KIA can choose its own specifications for its raw materials, and there is far, far, more uniformity in the various steps of its processes.  Universities have far less control over the students they take in, and the students exhibit far greater variability than any car part.  No one, faculty, staff, or student, would sit still for the kind of regimentation necessary at an assembly plant.  Still, one has to wonder what our success, retention, and graduation rates would look like if we took similar care with thinking through each logistical step of the educational process and trying to design each so that it had a very high probability of success.  Or perhaps we don’t have to wonder—that’s what our Complete College Georgia effort is all about.



MOOCs Redux

Lots of people have been making a big deal about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), saying that they are going to disrupt higher education, replace the classroom, and other such things.  In previous issues of the BLAB, I’ve taken a more moderate view, saying:

  • Most of what has been written is pure hype.  Even the large universities that have developed MOOCs through Udacity and other such platforms don’t award their own credit for them.
  • Offering online courses to tens of thousands at a time (especially in introductory courses) is not going to go anywhere—the non-completion rates are above 90%, and little real testing of learning is going on.
  • There may be a place for using the MOOC alongside a normal-sized live or online class as course supplementation (view it as a big ol’ electronic textbook).

If you’re interested, you can read the more recent of these previous articles here and here.

So which view is correct?  It’s still too early to tell, but there was an article in the Chronicle last week entitled “The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be As Disruptive As Some Have Imagined” by Steve Kolowich (available here) that gives some updates in what is happening MOOC-wise.  The changes are both interesting and instructive.

One of the biggest pushes for MOOCs had come from the state of California.  There, a member of the state Senate, Darrell Steinberg, had introduced a bill (SB 520) to require California universities to grant credit to students who had successfully completed MOOCs. Florida had passed a similar bill.  Steinberg has now decided to shelve the bill, because California universities are now offering more online courses.

Are there lots of students who have gotten MOOC completion certificates out there and are trying to get credit for them?  To this point, the answer is no.  Colorado State University’s Global Campus had offered a path for students to get credit for a Udacity Computer Science course and found it had no takers.  Perhaps part of the reason is that students wanting credit would have had to pay $89 to take a proctored exam to determine they had really learned the material.  Similarly, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has not seen any students trying to convert their MOOC certificates into credit.  With some understatement, Chari Leader Kelley, vice president of LearningCounts, said “It’s not happening as quickly as we had hoped.”

Coursera, Udacity, and edX are continuing to grow and add courses, but they are now shifting their strategy to providing a platform on which colleges can offer their own online courses—working with colleges instead of trying to disrupt them.  One such course was Udacity’s MOOC on Introductory Statistics taught by a San Jose State University professor.  Some 20,000 people signed up for the MOOC and 3,000 completed it, earning a certificate (but no credit).  Perhaps more importantly, 82 students from San Jose State took the course for credit, using his Udacity MOOC as a platform.  One problem was that only half earned a passing grade, a lower fraction than in the traditional face-to-face version of the class.

Udacity expects that this platform supplementation kind of use will become more common than a straight MOOC, with their president, Sebastian Thrun, saying: “A medium where only self-motivated, Web-savvy people sign up, and the success rate is 10 percent, doesn’t strike me quite yet as a solution to the problems of higher education… Are we going a step backwards? Perhaps, but, then again, we really want to solve the problem.”  Coursera is creating similar platforms for online courses, which it will offer to universities at $3,000 “development fee” plus a fee per student, thus moving closer to what companies like Desire2Learn do.

It’s a little early to say “I told you so”, but thus far, MOOCs seem to be moving in the predicted direction.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia challenge focused on Georgia.  Our winner was Bob Harbort (Computer Science) with a fabulous five correct in less than five minutes from posting. Here are the answers:

  1. Mascot of the University of Georgia.  Bulldog.
  2. Official song for the state, written by Hoagy Carmichael.  Georgia on My Mind.
  3. Baseball player known as the “Georgia Peach”.  Ty Cobb.
  4. Chartered in 1833, it goes from Augusta to Atlanta, with a branch to Athens.  The Georgia Railroad.
  5. Artist known as the “Mother of American Modernism”, ironically born in Wisconsin.  Georgia O’keefe (yes, the small “k” is correct).



This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Today’s trivia challenge focuses on children’s movies.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. His nose grew longer if he told a lie.
  2. She is practically perfect in every way.
  3. Japanese animated movie directed by Hazao Miyazaki about a girl trying to rescue her parents and keep her identity, it’s the most financially successful Japanese film of all time.
  4. Movie about Sara Crewe, left penniless when her father is missing in battle and declared dead.  The three versions star Mary Pickford (1917), Shirley Temple (1939), and Liesel Matthews (1995).  All are great, but the last is best.
  5. Its license plate number is GEN-11.
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One Response to August 26, 2013

  1. Bri Morrison says:

    Sebastian Thrun now indicates he has the “magic formula” to make MOOCs succeed, and interestingly enough, it seems to require the same approach that the Open University (UK) has known for years: boots on the ground.

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