Myths about MOOCs and Software Engineering Education


Monday, October 7, 2013, 4:00pm to 5:00pm


Speaker: David Patterson, UC Berkeley

While the media's infatuation with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continues unabated, a recent opinion piece expresses grave concerns about their role ("Will MOOCs Destroy Academia?," Moshe Vardi, CACM 55(11), Nov. 2012).  In the first part of this talk, I will try to bust a few MOOC myths by presenting provocative, if anecdotal, evidence that appropriate use of MOOC technology can improve on-campus teaching, increase student throughput while actually increasing course quality, and help instructors reinvigorate their teaching.

The second part of the talk is about teaching Software Engineering. Industry has long complained that academia ignores vital software topics leaving students unprepared upon graduation. Traditional approaches to software development are often neither supported by tools that students could afford to use, nor appropriate for projects whose scope matched a college course. Hence, instructors lecture about software engineering topics, while students continue to build software more or less the way they always had; thus, software engineering course in practice is often no more than a project course.  This conventional state of affairs is frustrating to instructors, boring to students, and disappointing to industry.

Cloud computing and the shift in the software industry towards software as a service has led to highly-productive tools and techniques that are a much better match to the classroom than earlier software development methods.  That is, not only has the future of software been revolutionized, it has changed in a way that makes it easier to teach.

UC Berkeley’s revised Software Engineering course leverages this productivity to allow students to both enhance a legacy application and to develop a new app that matches requirements of non-technical customers.  By experiencing whole software life cycle repeatedly within a single college course, students actually use the skills that industry has long encouraged and learn to appreciate them.  The course is now heartening to faculty, popular with students, and praised by industry.

I'll also explain the role of MOOCs in improving this on-campus course and in enabling other instructors to replicate and build upon our work via a low cost ebook and Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) from EdX.

Joint work with Armando Fox, UC Berkeley