Peterson makes Institute Address

Photo by Eric Mansfield

On Thursday, President Peterson gave his 2013 Institute Address, his fifth such address to the Tech community since being named President.

Among the topics of discussion were the progress that Tech has made towards the academic and research goals outlined in Tech’s Strategic Plan as well as other strides Tech has made in the past year. Peterson additionally remarked on the improvements needed for Tech to advance its strategic goals and the progress made so far.

He also touted the Institute’s accomplishments: the increasing quality of entering freshman, the popularity of sophomore Nick Selby’s convocation speech of “You can do that” fame and the launch of Tech’s online CS master’s degree making the front page of the New York Times.

The program is the “first accredited Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS)… exclusively through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) delivery format” according to the official website. The degree was praised by President Obama in his two-day bus tour on college affordability in Buffalo, NY last week.

“These MOOCs are going to change the way we think about higher education in several ways,” Peterson said.

One way it will change according to Peterson with the timing of education. He joked that we hold classes from August until May “so we can plant the crops and get them harvested.”

“It’s also going to cause us to rethink the definition of success,” Peterson said.

As an example, he mentioned the Psychology online course taught by Professor Andy Smith which had 1,250 students complete class out of the original 426,000.

“There’re still… 18,000 students that took some portion of that course and learned something about psychology,” Peterson noted. “[MOOCs] will cause us to rethink [our] definition of success.”

It wasn’t all about triumphs, however. On several topics, Peterson discussed how Tech did not meet expectations and would have to improve. Of particular note was the student to faculty ratio.

“When I came and we stared the strategic plan our student faculty ration was 21 to 1,” said Peterson in response to a student question. “Our goal stated at that time was to reduce that to 18 to 1. We’ve gone 23 to 1. It’s the wrong direction; we’re trying to control that.”

Peterson cited increased enrollment and the difficulty of trying to predict how many students would accept offers from Tech. He also pointed to the 70 new faculty hires as part of the effort to improve the ratio. Additionally, MOOCs and the concept of “flipped classrooms” were mentioned as possible solutions to the problem.