The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

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Open source practitioners weigh in on new three-course professional specialization

This January, Brandeis University will launch the first phase of a three-course online professional specialization in Open Source Technology Management. The January course, The Business of Open Source, will cover the successful deployment of an engagement with open source production. 

OpenSource.com’s Don Watkins recently sat down with a cohort of practitioners behind the specialization, including Patrick Masson, general manager and board director of the Open Source Initiative; Carol Damm, director of programs and assessments at Brandeis University; Ken Udas, program chair of the Open Source Technology Management specialization; and James Vasile, Brandeis faculty.

An excerpt of that conversation is below. You can read the full article here.

Don Watkins: How will the course prepare students to successfully deploy open source software and effectively engage in open source production?

Patrick Masson, OSI general manager and board director: The OSI receives many questions from all sorts of organizations—companies, governments, non-profits—and individuals who are just beginning to explore open source software. Many of these inquiries share a few common themes around acquisition, implementation, support, and development, such as: How do we “buy” open source software, and where do we send the RFP? Do we need to hire a programmer if we use open source software? Will the open source project provide end-user or technical support?

The OSI hopes the courses can prepare students by introducing the business case for open source, including business models, the value proposition, organizational practices, and operational and community processes. There are actually three courses: The Business of Open SourceOpen Source Community Development, and Open Source Development Fundamentals.

DW: How will students be challenged to assess traditional organizational practices and measure their capacity to manage reform in light of the differences presented by open source? Can you teach open source? How do you assess community building? Can it be assessed?

James Vasile, Open Source Technology Management faculty: I don’t want to frame these classes as presenting an approach in opposition to traditional development models. Free and open source software (FOSS) is its own way of fostering technical collaboration. To think of it as “reform” or to define it in terms of other models is to miss the point. Open source strategies are useful, and they often appear right alongside other approaches.

Open source is a range of practices, a set of licenses, a diverse community, a strategic approach, and even an ethos. There’s no one thing to teach. Rather, it’s a whole field. Engaging that field can be useful if you know what you’re doing. Right now, the primary way people learn the field is by spending a decade contributing to open source efforts. We are distilling the lessons learned by many experienced practitioners and trying to help people climb the learning curve quicker.

Metrics are, of course, a huge topic in the FOSS world right now. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to measure or assess community health and growth. What we do have is a set of context-specific indicators that can fit narratives. These indicators tell you where to dig. You don’t know whether you’ve struck truth or not until you get below the surface.

Click here to register for the online course in the Business of Open Source

Meet the newest GPS student advisor

Paris Mansoor, student advisorParis Mansoor, our newest student advisor, recently joined Brandeis GPS from Wellesley College, where she served as Assistant Registrar. She brings a wealth of knowledge in higher education to the role, as well as a deep commitment to supporting students.

Read below to hear more about Paris’ professional background and personal interests, as well as the best piece of advice she received as a student.

Q: What led you to becoming a student advisor at Brandeis GPS?
A: When I graduated college, my first full-time job was as a financial advisor at Boston University (BU). Getting a taste of helping students made me realize very quickly that my life passion was in higher education. I really enjoyed advising students about policies and procedures and helping them navigate the system. My love of advising and assisting students continued throughout my career with most of my time spent as an assistant registrar at BU Dental School and at Wellesley College. I wanted to be a student advisor at Brandeis because I knew the role would allow me to have more direct involvement with students in working with them from the start of their program all the way to the end.

Q:  What is the best piece of advice that you received as a student?
A: The best advice I have ever received as a student was to take a challenging project/task and break it down into smaller tasks or pieces. Map it all out and work on each different piece on a set schedule. Continue working on each piece while still keeping in mind how it all fits together. Sometimes grouping similar tasks together is best and other times working on one piece at a time from start to end is the way to go. It’s like planting seeds all over your garden, but then watering and tending to each section as needed until you have a complete garden. I still use this advice everyday in my personal life and work.

Q: What would your ideal Saturday or Sunday look like?
A: My ideal Saturday would consist of having french pastries and yummy iced coffee in the early part of the day while spending time with my husband and son on a sandy beach. In the afternoon, I would watch my 9-year-old son play town/club soccer and then close out the day with a game of Monopoly with friends and family.

Q: What’s the most important thing that you want students to know about you?
A: I absolutely love advising and helping students. I am here for you, so don’t hesitate to reach out, ask questions or just simply say hello. I am looking forward to working with you and to being a part of your team to make your journey at GPS a success.

The benefits of meditation and mindfulness

Meditation — or mindfulness — is a practice centered around being fully present and paying attention to the current moment without judgement. While a regular meditation practice is known to alleviate stress, it can also lead to successes in the classroom, the workplace, and beyond. Here are four reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine:

  1. Boost your academic performance. Meditation can improve one’s ability to process and recall information; an essential skill to any student or professional. This increase in brain efficiency is due to growth of grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and problem solving.
  2. Reduce stress and anxiety. Adult learners are skilled at balancing competing priorities, and while there’s a certain thrill in the simultanrous accomplishment of both professional and academic goals, that doesn’t mean that the additional projects and deadlines don’t create stress and anxiety. Although you may not realize it, stress can lead to physical symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even physical aches and pains. are all symptoms of this type of response. Meditation is an effective tool in combating these symptoms by encouraging your body to slow down. By taking the time to meditate, the body is able to recognize that it is no longer in “flight or fight” mode.
  3. Strengthen your emotional resilience. The occasional failure is a crucial part of professional development. Without failure, and the ability to control the negative emotions associated with failure, there is no room for growth and improvement. Frequent meditation is proven to strengthen the emotional resiliency necessary to process and overcome negative experiences.
  4. Improve your overall health and wellness. Meditation has even been linked to a stronger immune system. A recent study found that meditation can potentially impact inflammation, cell-mediated immunity and biological aging.

Starting a meditation practice may seem overwhelming, but thanks to technology, mindfulness resources are more available than ever before. Stay tuned for a roundup of our favorite easy-access meditation tools.

What is Learning Experience Design and why is it the next frontier in learning and development?

By Brian Salerno

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of instructional design, learning and development, and educational technology, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard a lot of new terminology over the last five or so years. Learning architecture, learning engineering, and learning experience design are just a few of the newest word combinations being used to describe the field of practice that was once primarily encapsulated by the term instructional design.

These are not just buzzwords, but a sign that the field is rapidly changing in ways that are transforming the way learners experience education and training, and the impact that learning has on their careers, personal lives, and pursuit of lifelong learning.

So, what does it all mean?

If you consider how education and professional training have evolved over the last decade and a half, it’s clear that learning has undergone (and continues to undergo) a massive digital transformation. Technology and mobile connectivity have given life to a whole new way of learning – on demand, on-the-go, and wrapped around and between all the other aspects of our busy lives – this digital transformation has also transformed the way educators approach the design of trainings, courses, and academic programs.

With the rise of online learning and other digitally-enabled approaches, providers of education and training are increasingly coming to the realization that effective and impactful learning isn’t simply a transactional experience that starts and ends with a final grade or with a student’s successful completion of a certification test, but instead is a holistic and integrated approach that considers the entire learning experience.

This is where the field of Learning Experience Design comes into the picture. Learning Experience Design (also known as LX or LxD) is an interdisciplinary approach to the design of learning and training that is grounded in human-centered approaches adapted from user-experience design (UX), user-interface design (UI), design thinking, cognitive psychology, learning science, and instructional systems design with the goal of creating learning experiences that converge curriculum and technology in a manner that creates powerful, contextualized, and transformative education and training experiences.

Learning Experience Designers don’t simply design educational resources and assessments, but instead they use learner research techniques to understand the ‘persona’ of the intended learner audience and map a learning journey that will ensure learners meet their goals, they curate and create learning content that is flexible and adaptive, they evaluate and adopt learning technologies that help the learners apply their learning in a real-world content, they develop highly applied and experiential activities that help learners meet outcomes and demonstrate competencies, and they leverage learning analytics and data to continuously improve the learning experience.

Learning Experience Designers will often leverage design thinking and rapid prototyping techniques to guide the creative process of developing impactful, memorable, and transformative learning experiences. Learner-centered approaches to designing education and training frequently require subject matter experts to break out from traditional approaches to educating and assessing student learning, and Learning Experience Designers use these techniques to help to understand and empathize with the learners, define the learning goals or competencies, guide the ideation process to come up with the most learner-centered approaches, protype and test those ideas, and implement learning solutions that engage learners in new and powerful ways.

For many years, companies have understood that experience design is a valuable and even necessary approach to making their products and services accessible, desirable, and enjoyable to use for their customers. In the field of education and training, we don’t often like to think of our learners as customers, but we know that our learners’ ability to access and use learning technologies, their desire to learn and engage with educational content, and the level to which they enjoy learning has a significant impact on their levels of engagement and even the level to which the learning content ‘sticks’ and can be applied later on…

This is why Learning Experience Design has emerged as the next frontier in learning and development, because positive and relevant learning experiences that keep the learner and their needs at the center help to ensure that our learners become engaged experts, lifelong learners, and powerful contributors to their fields.

Brian Salerno is the chair of the MS in Learning Experience Design program at Brandeis GPS.

Tips for building relationships with virtual classmates

All learning —even digital learning — is a collaborative experience. Online students have the unique opportunity to connect with peers from all over the country and the world. Thanks to constant advances in instructional design, social networking and UX/UI, students pursuing online graduate degrees have the same opportunities to build meaningful relationships with their classmates as their on-campus counterparts. Read on for our guidelines on how to maximize these virtual relationships.

1) Practice empathetic communication

Empathetic communication, or empathetic listening, refers to the practice of listening with the intent to understand the speaker’s frame of reference for how they experience the world. Thanks to the nature of online learning, you may find yourself in a classroom full of people with different communication styles, norms and cultural values. Common slang that you’re used to may not resonate with a peer from a different country. When it comes to scheduling, be mindful of different time zones. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of needing to complete a group project on a deadline, try being mindful of varying professional or personal commitments your classmates may have outside of school.

2) Choose a program that prioritizes learning experience design and peer engagement.

Not all online programs are created equally. As you evaluate your options for an online master’s degree, make sure you are considering programs that provide an optimal digital learning experience that prioritizes student-to-student interaction. Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies uses the latest best practices in online course design to foster peer engagement, and has offered online courses for more than a decade. Additionally, unlike MOOCs and other online education providers, Brandeis GPS caps courses at 20 students.

3) Make time for social interaction.

Connecting with your classmates on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Slack will allow you to engage on a more informal level. Many people use these tools to share career insights and interesting articles and trends, so you’ll be able to expand your professional network and learn a bit more about your industry. You may even learn about an interesting conference opportunity or a new position to apply to.

In addition to social media, make sure you take advantage of your program’s online learning module. Students at Brandeis GPS use a special social forum to chat about non-course-related events, such as current affairs, sports, or regional networking opportunities.

4) Write with clarity

When it comes to any online interaction, clear and concise writing is critical for optimal communication. But writing with clarity involves more than writing with brevity. Being intentional with the words you choose, how you format your writing, and the tone you mean to convey is essential for fostering strong virtual relationships. Here are some examples of how to write with clarity:

  • Don’t over-complicate things: why use fancy words when simple ones will do? If you do use words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the bulk of your audience, make sure you define them. This relates back to empathetic communication.
  • Keep your paragraphs short in discussion posts or emails – try for one or two sentences per paragraph, if possible.
  • Keep your sentences short.
  • Leverage writing tools like Microsoft Word’s readability stats or the Hemingway App.
  • Avoid passive voice.

5) Take advantage of technology

Today’s technology makes it easy to collaborate. Make your group projects a more seamless experience with tools like:

  • Zoom, which allows for cloud-based video and audio conferencing
  • User-friendly project management apps for virtual teams like Asana or Trello
  • Google Drive, which provides free cloud storage for online documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Drive also has a chat feature, which allows teams to easily collaborate while all working on a document.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps

 

Student Spotlight: Charlie D’Angelo

Student spotlight on Charlie D'Angelo from Northborough, Massachusetts. He is part of the Digital Marketing and Design Program and is a digital marketing manager at Boston Scientific. He has taken seven class. Movie theater or Netflix? Netflix. Favorite ice cream flavor? Chocolate almond chip. If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you use that extra hour? Learn to play the piano. Mr D'Angelo says, "Digital marketing expertise is so important in today's business world, and my goals include being the most knowledgeable digital professional I can be to help Boston Scientific continue to grow."

How to balance sunshine and studying

To many graduate students who follow a more traditional academic schedule, summer means pressing pause on their journeys toward an advanced degree. For part-time, online graduate students in programs designed to run all year, summer provides students an opportunity to continue the momentum and complete a degree in less time than they would if their program followed a conventional dual-semester model.

Students enrolled in these types of programs may wonder how their course commitments will impact summer travel and vacation. But taking a summer course does not need to mean the end of your summer fun. Here are some tips for balancing your course load while still enjoying your family, friends, or solo beach time.

Create a realistic plan

As soon as your summer course syllabus is available, read through it. Make note of any big assignments, exams, and final projects. If you know that you are going to be vacationing or having a busy week, then plan to complete your assignments ahead of schedule. Be honest with yourself about how much time you are going to need for your course. One of the worst things you can do when trying to be efficient with coursework is not planning enough time for your assignments; it creates more stress and can lead to work that is not up to par with your abilities. Make time for your assignments by creating a weekly routine that is practical for you. Here are some time management apps that can help you do just that.

Make use of technology

Make use of Wi-Fi and the portability/mobility that comes with an internet connection. Brandeis GPS is an example of a school that allows you to take online classes from any location. You can download course materials directly to your mobile device or laptop while traveling, and also access your classroom while on the go (or by the pool).

Utilize the small moments

Whether you are hanging by the beach or travelling to Japan, there are always small moments when you are on the move but can find a break. There may be no Wi-Fi on a plane or in a car, but you can use the travel time to prep your next discussion response, read through feedback from your instructor, or jot down ideas for your final project. By taking advantage of these spare moments, you may not even realize you’ve chipped away at school-related deadlines.

Find a program that sets you up for success

Brandeis GPS’s upcoming 10-week session runs from July 17 to Sept. 24. Courses are fully online and designed with a learning experience that supports adults working full-time.

Students interested in a Brandeis GPS graduate program can take courses before starting the application process. View the July course schedule here. To speak with an enrollment advisor, contact gps@brandeis.edu or 781-736-8787.

The Power of Learning Experience Design

By Carol Damm

Carol DammHow would you like to go on a week-long retreat to Hawaii, all expenses paid, with your colleagues to put together a framework to enable programmatic changes to how you offer your courses? This was what we termed an outrageous solution presented by a team of instructional designers and instructional technologists at a recent workshop I organized on Learning Experience Design in Higher Ed. We challenged the attendees to move outside of their comfort zone and to not let existing practice within higher ed to frame their thinking.

Featuring Brandeis University’s Brian Salerno, Gary David from Bentley University, and Melissa Kane at Brown University, the NERCOMP workshop’s goal was to show participants why and how they should be integrating learning experience design as a practice in higher ed.

Learning experience design applies user-centered design methodologies along with a deep understanding of cognitive psychology and learning sciences to creating impactful and transformative solutions for learners and the wider ecosystem within which learning happens. User-centered design methods have been adopted across industries because the approach effectively enables out-of-box thinking to identify problems and generate new solutions. At the same time, the approach remains grounded by keeping primary stakeholders — whether users or learners — at the center of the process.

So, while an all-expense paid trip to Maui would not be happening, these creative minds hit on an essential component of bringing about mandated change within a department: the faculty would need to work together to determine how to meet the mandate and the university would need to provide support for this effort by contributing to an attractive experience or focused time frame within which they can shape how they will meet this challenge. In order to improve the learning experience, those who construct that experience will need support.

The solution that the team provided incorporated other innovative practice as did all of the presentations made that day; whether supporting a faculty member who needed to revise a course based on student feedback, creating a professional development course for a diverse population of working professionals, or creating an IT solution to improve the student experience in a learning management system.

If you are interested in reviewing the slides of the presentation or reviewing some of the resources, you can find out more here.

 

Carol Damm is the Director of Programs and Assessment at Brandeis GPS and an adjunct faculty in the MS in Learning Experience Design program.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

Hiring in an Ever-Changing Landscape

By Jesse Mazur

The New Hotness

You can’t go a month without hearing about the latest new framework or language that will solve all of your coding problems. In the mobile and front-end worlds it feels like last year’s state-of-the-art project is next year’s crufty legacy code. In this ever-changing landscape, engineers are always trying to learn the latest technique, attend a new bootcamp, or crank out a new personal project in order to keep up. The result can be piles of resumes that contain every new buzz word under the sun, and applicants painting themselves as the best candidate for just about any engineering position. How can hiring managers ensure that they find the right person? How can aspiring engineers land the right job?

The answer: fundamentals.

Back to Basics

There will always be a new way to do things. In the iOS world we saw a major shift from Objective C to Swift. In the Android world we are seeing a shift from Java to Kotlin. In the web world, we saw jQuery take the JavaScript world by storm, then Google’s Angular was the only way anyone wanted to write web apps. Now, it seems like Facebook’s React is leading the pack. What has not changed are the basic building blocks of software: data structures and algorithms. Minor differences aside, an array is always an array and a for loop is always a for loop. What many new engineers are missing when they go after “the new hotness” are those fundamentals. It’s not just about knowing how to set up an Action/Reducer in React that makes someone a good engineer. That skill will make them relevant right now, in the world where React is king, but in a few years there will be a new player in the game and that skill will be yesterday’s news. The engineers that will continue to shine will be those who understand the fundamentals of programming so that they can adapt to the next wave of short-lived must-have tech stacks.

The Current Process

There are certainly valid criticisms of common tech hiring practices. Long interview loops with difficult coding problems written primarily on a whiteboard inevitably leave something to be desired. The reason for this process is often misunderstood and can lead to dissatisfied candidates complaining about unfair, puzzle-like questions. “When was the last time anyone actually used a red black tree on the job anyway?!” Not all of those complaints are unwarranted. An engineer, at her core, is a problem solver. The programming language is simply one of many tools she uses to solve the problem. The spirit of these questions is to reveal the candidate’s problem solving skills in order to understand if she will be able to solve similar problems on the job. Coding interviews shouldn’t be vocabulary tests or mind bending trick questions. A well-worded question will challenge the candidate, but it will also be practical and relevant to the work they will be doing on the job. It will have several possible solutions, each of which may leverage different data structures and algorithms. Its difficulty will also scale, so that a more seasoned engineer will solve it more elegantly, while handling more edge cases right off the bat. An experienced interviewer should be able to gauge that skill early on and know what curve balls to throw the candidate to calibrate the questions to the candidate’s level.

Talent vs Skill

A final piece of the puzzle is the ability to recognize and balance the difference between talent and skill. In this context, talent is defined as an innate ability or trait the candidate possesses— something that cannot necessarily be taught. A skill, on the other hand, can be defined as something that can be mastered with practice over time. Finding the correct engineer should start with identifying which talents she needs to embody in order to be successful in the role, then defining the ideal skillset. For example, a candidate with a natural drive to deliver results, who is a quick learner with good fundamentals, might not need to be 100% familiar with the bleeding-edge framework being used on a given project. She can probably join the team, learn quickly, and get a project to the finish line on time.

Conclusion

The engineering world is always changing and there will always be some new way to solve the same old problems. Finding candidates with innate talents that are necessary for the role, who also have a strong grasp of the fundamentals, will set up any dev team for longer term success. Trying to hire a team of engineers who only know the latest and greatest means having a staff that will not outlast the ever-shortening lifespan of tech stacks. What’s more, trying to find that unicorn-ninja-coder may actually take longer than simply finding a solid engineer who can learn on the job.

Jesse Mazur is a Senior Director of Engineering at Meredith Corporation, the largest US media conglomerate (People, Sports Illustrated, Real Simple, etc.), and a member of the Brandeis GPS Master of Software Engineering advisory board.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

Rabb School 2019 commencement ceremony celebrates commitment to having it all

The Rabb School of Continuing Studies awarded diplomas to 117 Graduate Professional Studies (GPS) students at its 2019 commencement ceremony this morning. Approximately one-third of the graduating class attended the event, which took place from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Faculty Club on campus.

One of four schools at Brandeis University, the Rabb School is dedicated to developing innovative ways to deliver a Brandeis education to non-traditional communities. The GPS students graduating today have earned their masters of science degrees fully online, often while holding down full-time jobs and balancing other professional and personal obligations.

“You embody the larger mission of Brandeis, which is distinguished by academic excellence and the pursuit of truth and knowledge,” said Karen Muncaster, Vice President of the Rabb School, in her opening address. “The entire University community has great respect for what you have accomplished and how you have done it.”

Keishalee Shaw, a graduate of the Strategic Analytics program and this year’s student speaker, encouraged 2019 graduates to embrace life’s curveballs.

“Today we celebrate our success … and remind ourselves that our desire to learn was and will always be greater than any obstacle we have faced along this journey or will face in the future,” said Shaw.

Commencement speaker Michael Figueroa, president and executive director of the Advanced Cyber Security Center, challenged the graduating class to consider the value their advanced degrees can bring to situations beyond individual professional accomplishments.

“Go ahead, dream big,” Figueroa said. “Perhaps your dream is about literacy, providing people with the education they need to overcome poverty. Or, perhaps you’re concerned about global health, preventing the spread of virulent diseases and providing basic healthcare services to underprivileged peoples. Maybe climate change drives you. Whatever it is, hold on to it.You have already invested in your degree. Now, put that investment to good use.”

The full breakdown of diplomas awarded this morning is as follows:

  • Master of Software Engineering (11 graduates)
  • MS in Bioinformatics (7 graduates)
  • MS in Digital Marketing and Design (8 graduates)
  • MS in Health and Medical Informatics (12 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security (6 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security Leadership (2 graduates)
  • MS in Information Technology Management (5 graduates)
  • MS in Instructional Design & Technology (6 graduates)
  • MS in Project and Program Management (31 graduates)
  • MS in Technology Management ( 2 graduates)
  • MS in Strategic Analytics (26 graduates)
  • MS in User-Centered Design (1 graduate)

View a recording of the commencement ceremony here. Congratulations to our graduates!

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