Why Harvard and Yale Students Can Skip This Computer Science Class—Data Sheet

September 3, 2019, 12:58 PM UTC

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MOOCs, or massive open online course providers, were a big thing a few years ago as startups like Coursera and Udacity were supposed to revolutionize the education business. They didn’t. But MOOCs themselves have changed how learners can learn remotely.

As Geoff Colvin reports in the current issue of Fortune, the new approach to teaching has altered the course of students who don’t have to dial in from afar, undergraduates at the elite American universities Harvard and Yale. Colvin writes about the introductory computer science course taught jointly at the two schools—apparently a first—by David Malan, a casually dressed and charismatic professor. Malan’s course is slick in that it is professionally produced online. Students tend to watch remotely and then dive into time-consuming problem sets. They work, in person, with teaching assistants when necessary.

It’s not hard to see how this is the future. Traditionalists will say that nothing replaces the discipline of dragging one’s lazy butt off the dorm couch and to the lecture hall. But if kids of all ages prefer to learn this way, then that’s how educational institutions that plan to be around will teach them.

Incidentally, Malan’s course is available for free on edX, the non-profit MOOC operated by Harvard and other top schools. (edX charges $90 for a “verified certificate” when students complete the course and it also offers training programs to businesses for a fee.) More than a million students have taken the introductory computer science course at edX. Now that’s revolutionary change.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@Fortune.com


What you don't know. Following the experiment by Instagram in hiding "like" counts, parent company Facebook may do the same. Noted software spelunker Jane Manchun Wong found bits in Facebook's Android app to allow hidden "like" counts. Facebook says it's considering testing the idea.

Not exactly on lockdown. The Twitter account of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was hacked on Friday, resulting in a stream of racist, offensive posts. The company said the hack happened after Dorsey's wireless carrier improperly transferred his phone number to an unauthorized party.

Dream a little dream. The upcoming update to Apple's smartwatch may include built-in sleeptracking for the first time, website 9to5Mac reports. The new capability, codenamed “Burrito,” will track a user's quality of sleep via multiple sensors on the Apple Watch. In other gadget rumor news, Samsung may introduce a phone next year that folds into a pocketable, square shape.

Fuzzy reception. Federal prosecutors in Virginia last week issued a 19-count criminal indictment against a group of people who ran the mega-piracy streaming video site Jetflicks. Kristopher Dallmann is charged with allegedly running the site, which offered subscribers shows from a variety of networks ranging from HBO to Netflix to Hulu, from servers in his home in Las Vegas.

Up where the air is clear. Some controversy in space, as the European Space Agency had to alter the course of one of its Earth observation satellites to avoid a possible collusion with a craft from SpaceX's Starlink service. A little further out, India's Chandrayaan-2 split off its moon lander, which will circle the moon on its own before attempting to touch down on Sept. 6.

In the crosshairs. That massive hack attack program against iPhones revealed by Google last week apparently had a specific target: the Uighur Muslim community in China's Xinjiang province. The Chinese government appears to be behind the attack, which also involved penetrating Android and Windows devices. Also in the hacking headlines, China's Huawei Technologies on Tuesday charged that U.S. forces were conducting cyberattacks and menacing its employees. Huawei also says U.S. efforts to limit its sales are having only limited effect, as it has signed up 50 customers for 5G gear, exceeding the publicly disclosed customer totals of rivals Nokia and Ericsson.

Tallying the ledger. Swiss banking software developer Temenos is acquiring Texas cloud banking software startup Kony for $559 million. Kony chair and CEO Thomas Hogan will become president of Temenos North America.

Machine learning. If you want more in-depth coverage of artificial intelligence, don't forget to subscribe to our weekly Eye on A.I. newsletter. The newest issue comes out later today.


After five years running browser developer Mozilla, CEO Chris Beard is stepping down at year-end. Mozilla hopes to complete a search for a replacement by then...Prince Harry and Meghan Markle already had a highly-followed Instagram account called Sussex Royal. Now they have hired a digital communications lead, David Watkins, the former global social media coordinator at Burberry...In Washington, Facebook is contracting with lobbyist John Collins of FS Vector to handle matters involving "blockchain policy,” likely including its Libra digital currency plan. Collins was the top lobbyist for Coinbase from 2014 to 2016.


As so-called big data proliferates and analyzing that data becomes more critical, we don't seem to have educated the populace very well to address the task. Data literacy is low, according to several surveys. Writer Gwen Moran has a piece on Fortune's web site with a possible answer for closing the data literacy gap: librarians. She spoke with Tasha Berson-Michelson, an instructional and programming librarian at the Castilleja School.

Before taking on her latest teaching role, Berson-Michelson was a search educator at Google—essentially, a corporate librarian. There, she helped the information giant teach people, including students, search more effectively. But those who work at places with corporate librarians often have a rich resource to tap, she says. “They're not just data-driven, but they know how evidence that data mixes with expert testimony, with personal narrative, secondary research, how these pieces work together,” she says. “And well personally, my dream would be that every human being on earth would have a deep understanding of these things because I think it would benefit us as society in a build-versus-buy world of corporation. You can buy that in a librarian.”


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Remember the classic 1990 sci-fi movie Total Recall, where a character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger has the memories of an exciting adventure planted in his brain (inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"). Now scientists are starting actually to gain the ability to plant false memories in the brain, at least the brain of a mouse and the memory of the smell of cherry blossoms. No need to visit D.C. this spring, at least for one mouse.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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