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Friday, January 20, 2017

Aspiring actuarial scientist rises to the challenge | Independent Online

"Making light work of his schooling journey, a Limpopo pupil who oozed confidence ahead of the 2016 matric results expressed his excitement at being one of South Africa’s top pupils." continues news/matric results.

Duncan Xihlovo Mabasa who lost his home in Limpopo, managed to become one of the country's top matriculants.
Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha

Duncan Xihlovo Mabasa said he was overwhelmed at the recognition given to him.

“I didn’t expect to be here because I didn’t think I would be chosen as a top learner in the country,” he said.

Duncan, who is one of the top three pupils in Science said his key to a great performance was being smart in his approach to studying.

“I’ve always believed that hard work gets you far, but working smart will get you further,” he said.

The Risinga High School pupil said he cruised through his schooling journey, save for his matric year.

“Matric was a bit hectic because I had a problem with my English First Additional Language this year, but I hope the results will show how much effort I put in to improve my marks,” he said.

He hopes to study Actuarial Science at the University of Cape Town.

“I really love working with numbers and I think Actuarial Science will provide me with the challenge I need,” Duncan said. “Also it gives me the opportunity to bring a change to this country because South Africa has a huge shortage of actuaries in our country,” he said. 

Source: Independent Online

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Executive Success: Numbers add up to a top career | New Zealand Herald

Photo: Helen Twose
"Actuaries' work is no longer confined to the world of finance" inform Helen Twose, freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies.

PwC consulting actuary Andrea Gluyas. 
Photo / Mark Mitchell

Despite regularly being ranked as one of the most desirable jobs by US employment report Jobs Rated Almanac, becoming an actuary isn't usually on the radar of people setting off into the working world.

Fortunately for PwC consulting actuary Andrea Gluyas, her colleagues across the firm spot potential actuarial talent during graduate recruitment and send them her way.

Gluyas, 49, says once she has explained what an actuary is - in her words, a financial mathematician - it's not a hard sell.

"It's actually getting people to find out about the possibility of the job because it is so small that people don't come across it," she says.

"That is a real challenge for us."

The newly elected president of the New Zealand Society of Actuaries - the first woman in its 60-year history - made the call to become an actuary in her final years of secondary school.

A bright student with a real love of maths, she baulked at heading off to medical school, the preferred choice for top scholars at her secondary school, New Plymouth Girls' High.

A good friend's brother suggested becoming an actuary, and she's never looked back.

Being incredibly numerate is at the heart of actuarial work, but Gluyas says the path into an actuarial career can be through a commerce-focused degree, as well as one based around pure maths.

Why choose Victoria

Victoria University has also begun offering an actuarial science major, the only New Zealand university to do so, as part of either a commerce or science degree...

Actuaries have traditionally been part of the finance sector, particularly life insurance, where the work focuses on solving problems involving money and uncertain future events, she says.

It's still how most actuaries get their start, but increasingly there are opportunities to take that focus on the long-term and in-depth statistical analysis into the public sector as part of the Government's social investment approach.

"Rather than having programmes that are assessed after a year, or two or three years, actually looking at whether programmes make a difference to somebody's entire future lifetime," says Gluyas.

"It's about bringing the way actuaries use past data and analyse it and then bring in judgment and expectations about the future, then model future lifetimes to really try and make a difference, really try and work out what things that happen to someone early on in their life will affect their future outcomes for the rest of their adult life."

While the industry is changing to reflect new demands for its skills, it has been slow to attract women.

Source: New Zealand Herald

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Essay: Are colleges teaching students how to think? |

"A friend once told me that he thought the principal value of his college education was to find a job that would provide him with enough money to pay for his kids to have one."  commentary by David Woods. 

A Penn State University student walks across campus in front of Old Main on main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. 
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file

Today, roughly 40 percent of Americans of college age actually do go to college at an average annual cost of $31,000 for a private university and $9,000 for a public. This has placed such an education beyond the reach of many who might otherwise be eligible for it.  

As Bernie Sanders puts it, "the cost of college education today is so high that many young people are giving up their dream of going to college, while many others are graduating deeply in debt."

Is all this worth the effort or the cost? Many would say that becoming a plumber would offer an equal fiscal reward over the span of a working life. But then one has to ask: Is the purpose of a college education to enhance one's earning prospects? Or is it more than that?

In the 1950s and '60s about three Britons in 100 actually attended a university. In fact, in those days there were only a dozen or so universities in the whole of the UK — and tuition was free. Today there are more than 100, and the percentage of the population in college is now roughly the same as that in the United States.

Much depends of course on what constitutes an education. Columbia College in Chicago offers a course in zombies in popular media; another, at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, offers one titled "What if Harry Potter is real?" and the athletics department of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, offers a course in which students "learn to juggle, starting with three balls."

I was spared much of that McSchooling at my Catholic boarding school in the UK. To begin with, there was no homework — because nobody went home; instead, after finishing one's assignments, one was held hostage in a large room whose walls contained the literary classics: Dickens, Scott, Shakespeare, etc. We had no choice but to read before we were set free, a habit that continues to give me great joy.

Moreover, this school engendered my first efforts at critical thinking — or, at least, critical questioning. The place was run by an order of priests of whom I would often ask what was their knowledge of such non-Catholic religions as Judaism, Hinduism, and even Presbyterianism. But I looked in vain for an answer. At university I joined the debating society, which was also a good way of putting a certain gloss on one's skepticism — critical thinking, possibly of the smart-aleck type.

That university, situated in Ireland, afforded the curious ample opportunity for critical appraisal of the rival claims of the Catholic South and the Protestant North.
Read more... 


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Faking History To Make The Black Kids Feel Good | The Liberty Conservative

"A known quantity in the faking department is Rev. Al Sharpton. In a video that gets considerable play on TV, Sharpton informs a rapt audience that “white folks” were cave dwellers when blacks were building empires and pyramids; teaching philosophy, astrology, and mathematics. “Socrates and them Greek homos” were mere copycats, aping black civilization." argues Ilana Mercer, paleolibertarian author, columnist (since 1999), blogger and thinker.

Photo: The Liberty Conservative

As revealed in “Helping The Sharpton and Obama Afrocentrism ‘Fade to Black,’” this mythistory has a presence in America’s schools, tertiary and secondary.
By now we know that mass media and government under both national parties routinely generate fake news to achieve political ends. That our progressive pedagogues propagandize the youth: That’s well-known and passively accepted, too. Less known is the extent to which fabricated history has been incorporated into curricula.

In “Black Athena,” Martin Gardiner Bernal of Cambridge, England, suggested that “Ancient Greece” had been “fabricated,” and that chroniclers of “classical civilization” had concealed its “Afroasiatic roots.”

Ditto historian George G. M. James, whose “Stolen Legacy: The Egyptian Origins of Western Philosophy” claims that a rather large chunk of ancient civilization is fraudulent. 

The Greeks stole it from the Egyptians. The Egyptians were as black as Al Sharpton and Idi Amin.

The school tracts known as the “Portland African-American Baseline Essays” are another counterfactual abomination to have percolated into America’s anti-intellectual schooling system.

The Science Baseline Essay, in particular, claims that thousands of years ago, Egyptians-cum-blacks “flew in electroplated gold gliders, knew accurately the distance to the sun, and discovered the Theory of Evolution.”
According to Afrocentric academic Cheikh Anta Diop—a Senegalese with considerable celebrity in the US—Africans invented everything from Judaism to engineering, to astronomy, including dialectical materialism (apparently Marxism is cause for inventor’s pride).

It’s easy to dismiss this mythistory as too ridiculous to swallow. However, mythical thinking thrives in a culture that eschews objective truth: ours.

Where once there was an understanding that a reality independent of the human observer exists; students are now taught that truth is a social construction, a function of the power and position—or lack thereof—of persons or groups in society.
Read more... 

Source: The Liberty Conservative

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Everything Depends on the Data | EDUCAUSE Review

Key Takeaways
  • Trends in education promise to improve how institutions support students by providing the student, instructor, or institution the ability to make more informed decisions using student-created data.
  • Unfortunately, as our reliance on data increases, our ability — especially students' ability — to access the data seems to diminish.
  • Whereas learning analytics gives a small number of users access to a single large data set, personalized learning requires that a large number of users — students — have access to their own relatively small portion of data within various systems.
  • While no solutions come without a cost, enormous potential benefits to institutions, educators, and students arise if we adopt systems that provide access to data produced by students.
Photo: Todd Bryant

Here's another interesting article from EDUCAUSE Review, published by Todd Bryant, Language Technology Specialist below.

The rise of big data accompanies a diverse number of trends in education that promise to improve how our institutions support students. While these trends may vary in scope, they all provide the student, instructor, or institution the ability to make more informed decisions. To do so, they rely on our ability to access and synthesize student-created data. This includes structured data such as attendance, completion rates, and grades, along with the unstructured data of student assignments, discussion posts, and any content created by students. I therefore find it concerning that as our reliance on data increases, our ability to access the data seems to be diminishing.

Learning Analytics and Personalized Learning 
When it comes to the intersection of data and education, most of us think first of learning analytics. The data for learning analytics relies largely on structured data mined from the institutional learning management system (LMS). Currently it primarily provides educators with early warnings of students who might be falling behind. While these data points might seem rather simple, putting them together and in the hand of educators has shown significant results in terms of student retention and graduation rates (for an example, see figure 1 from Valdosta State University1).2 In the future, improvements in teaching could go even further by finding specific moments of success and failure within a course. To do so requires a more detailed view of a course that would allow us to see when students engage in a discussion, where they become stuck or disinterested in a topic, and which activities result in meeting their learning goals. This in turn requires a more detailed and less structured data set, including the clickstream within the LMS, discussion board posts, and essays.3...

Artificial Intelligence 
Artificial intelligence also shows promise as a way for students to receive feedback outside of class. Current examples of artificial intelligence–generated feedback in education are limited to simple questions using information found in the syllabus or feedback from multiple choice questions.4 However, given the capabilities AI has shown in other areas, in the future we can expect helpful AI assistants for students outside of regular class time. In some areas, it's already here. DuoLingo recently released a chat bot capable of carrying on simple conversations in Spanish, French, and German for foreign language learners.5 These bots should get better with time as they learn from users pushing for more complicated discussion. Another possibility not far off is for bots to lead asynchronous discussions outside of class. Google is already working on a conversation AI to limit the worst aspects of online discussion by recognizing conflict and abuse.6 A bot designed for education could lead a discussion if it could complete tasks such as starting with open-ended questions to guide the discussion, recognize themes or arguments presented, and then offer counterarguments. An AI can learn these tasks, but only if it has data from which to model, in this case a discussion led by an instructor.7
Read more... 

Source: EDUCAUSE Review

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Top 10 IT Issues, 2017: Foundations for Student Success | EDUCAUSE Review

Photo: Susan Grajek
"The 2017 Top 10 IT Issues support higher education's focus on student success through four key themes: IT foundations, data foundations, effective leadership, and successful students." notes

Photo: EDUCAUSE Review

The 2017 EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues are all about student success.1 Information technology in higher education continues to have many priorities and serve numerous constituents. IT service catalogs comprise hundreds of services to meet the many needs of faculty, students, and staff in various fields: the humanities; social, biological, and physical sciences; law; music; theater; art; business; and healthcare and allied professions. You name it, higher education offers it, and the IT organization supports it. Every academic and administrative area makes its own, separate demands on the IT organization, at any time and from any place. Despite the many and disparate requirements of each user and each technology, a predominant focus has risen to the top for higher education information technology in 2017, and that focus is student success. Colleges and universities are concentrating on student success to address concerns about the costs, value, and outcomes of higher education. Student success initiatives are making use of every available resource and opportunity and are involving every relevant stakeholder. Institutional technology is all three: resource, opportunity, and stakeholder.
  • Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) launched a predictive analytics platform two years ago. By February of this year, the institution had seen a 3 percentage point increase in first-year student retention, achieving the highest retention rate for new freshmen in fifteen years. MTSU has been selected as one of five institutions to be profiled by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) for best practices in implementing student success programs. Technology has a major role in MTSU's efforts, but does not predominate. As Richard Sluder, vice provost for student success, wrote: "70 percent of success involves getting the people side of the equation correct, 15 percent involves technology, and 15 percent involves process."2

  • At Montgomery County Community College, focused work on student success has been under way since 2013. The institution implemented a Student Success Network that includes an early alert system, an educational planning tool that allows each student to map out his or her degree or certificate program, and a student dashboard that integrates financial aid, the learning management system, and early alert and education planning information. Both advisors and students have access to the dashboard. Student persistence3 has increased steadily as students have gained greater access to planning resources and as they have received more feedback on their progress. The faculty are enthusiastically adopting the new tools and processes: their participation in midterm reporting increased from 73 percent to 90 percent, and in a change faculty asked for, class attendance reporting by the deadline required for financial aid disbursement increased 30 percentage points, to 93 percent of faculty. Celeste Schwartz, vice president for information technology and chief digital officer, emphasized: "The technology is not driving this work, but it is a tool that can help us better serve our students on their path to earning their degree or certificate."4

  • Colorado State University (CSU) incorporates a student success focus into many areas of institutional life, including the institutional research office. Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness (IRP&E) at CSU has restructured its work to move beyond accountability reporting: data review and reporting now enables more effective use of financial aid, more appropriate placement of students in foundational courses, and fuller information, shared with advisors, about at-risk students. Technology is a foundational component of the work. Laura Jensen, associate provost of planning and effectiveness, relies on technology to "automate as much of the reporting, both internal and external, as possible," and to "explore new tools . . . as technology improves, adopt it."5
These examples characterize the changing role of information technology in higher education. Technology is an enabler, not a primary driver, of institutional strategies and IT investments. Information technology provides the traction to move hard-to-move needles.

The theme of student success is not immediately apparent when scanning the 2017 Top 10 IT Issues list. In many ways, the list differs from previous years only on the margins. But in interviews with panel members—a new part of our methodology this year—we learned that the summative motivation for addressing today's digital challenges is student success and, accordingly, institutional success.

Source: EDUCAUSE Review

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Brandman University Ranked Among Best Online Programs by U.S. News & World Report | Brandman University

"Brandman University has been named among leading U.S. public and private educational institutions on the 2017 Best Online Programs Rankings by U.S. News & World Report – a distinction that spans the history of U.S. News providing numerical rankings of online programs." says Krystin Williamson.

Photo: Brandman University

Brandman University, a private and nonprofit university providing programs for adults online and at 27 campuses throughout California and Washington, was ranked in four 2017 categories – Online Bachelor’s Program, Online Business (non-MBA) Program, Online MBA Program, Online Education Program.

“With the positive disruption distance education models are having on the higher education landscape, we know students place high value on the U.S. News annual rankings to seriously evaluate the different programs offered by education institutions,” said Gary Brahm, chancellor, Brandman University. “For six years, Brandman University has been recognized for our online education programs, a distinction that we take pride in as we continue to offer diverse programs and clear pathways to high-value degrees.”...

For more information on the 2017 U.S. News Best Online Education Program, please visit

Source: Brandman University

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Germanna helps convert military skills into college credits |

"As a Marine, Jasmine Quiroz-Pele went from Japan to Afghanistan and back again, getting a thorough training in supply chain logistics." notes Katrina Dix | The Free Lance–Star.


But once out of the service, as a civilian in her mid-20s and a single mom who relocated to Fredericksburg after retiring from active duty, she was just another college student, with a long list of prerequisites and general studies requirements between her and a degree.

“I think for me, because I’m in what is considered the professional environment for my industry, a lot of that stuff I was already aware of,” said Quiroz-Pele, who is working full time as a federal employee for the Department of Defense. “A lot of the concepts and procedures were already built into my experiences.”

Proving her proficiency, however, was another story.

That’s because it’s difficult for colleges such as Germanna Community College, where Quiroz-Pele finished an associate’s degree in December, or the University of Mary Washington, where she transferred credits and started classes this month, to measure knowledge and skills acquired outside the classroom.

The attempt to award credit for material learned non-traditionally is often referred to as competency-based education, a phrase whose definition has changed over decades as its popularity has waxed and waned.

Lately, programs that describe themselves as competency-based are likely to offer courses students can complete at their own pace. Some institutions charge by the year or semester rather than the credit, making them a cheaper option for students who can sprint through the courses.

But with the cost of post-secondary education snowballing and the number of students over 25 rising — reaching almost 41 percent of college students in the 2014-15 school year, according to information from the National Center for Education Statistics — schools are more interested than ever in some version of competency-based education, or CBE.

In a 2016 study including a survey of 251 higher education institutions, 37 percent of respondents reported some use of CBE, but about two-thirds hadn’t yet introduced any related programs or were still in the planning stage.

The study, which was conducted by the American Council on Education and partner companies, found that despite high interest, institutions struggled with “competing definitions, confused terminology, and narrow perceptions of what CBE really is.”

“I think it’s just good use of people’s time and people’s money,” said Sarah Somerville, the dean of student development at Germanna.
Read more... 


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Machine Learning and Fashion: The New Fashion of the Times | Huffington Post

"We owe an overdue acknowledgment to a transformation in technology, as well as a revolution (more about below) in fashion, where the former makes the latter the new fashion of the times, so to speak." according to Michael D. Shaw, executive vice president and director of marketing for Interscan Corporation. 
Photo: Huffington Post

I refer, specifically, to the rise of machine learning and its ongoing influence—for the good of businesses and consumers alike—across a multitude of industries. It is this intuitive-like sense of wisdom, because we are beyond mere matters of intelligence (artificial or otherwise), which will create a more intimate relationship on behalf of users, shoppers and executives, among others.

According to Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google:

“Before Internet technologies, if you worked in computer science, networking was some weird thing that weirdos did. And now everyone, regardless of whether they’re an engineer or a software developer or a product designer or a CEO understands how Internet connectivity shapes their product, shapes the market, what they could possibly build.”

It is that potential—it is this reality—that marks a major milestone in the personalization of technology because the subject itself is impersonal and abstract. Those scientists and entrepreneurs who manage to showcase the practical benefits of this shift, among those who convey this point to the public at large, will make all manner of software and customized search more accurate and exhaustive.

As Mike Yeomans, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, explains in this article in the Harvard Business Review:

“Consider an online retailer’s database of customers in a spreadsheet. Each customer gets a row, and if there are lots of customers then the dataset will be long. However, every variable in the data gets its own column, too, and we can now collect so much data on every customer—purchase history, browser history, mouse clicks, text from reviews—that the data are usually wide as well, to the point where there are even more columns than rows. Most of the tools in machine learning are designed to make better use of wide data.”

Source: Huffington Post

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Monday, January 16, 2017

What is Machine Learning? | Oxford Sparks

"Machine learning is all around us; on our phones, powering social networks, helping the police and doctors, scientists and mayors. But how does it work? writes Hyunjik Kim, Machine learning researcher, Seth Flaxman, Computer scientist and Yee Whye Teh, Machine Learning Researcher.

Photo: Oxford Sparks

In this animation we take a look at how statistics and computer science can be used to make machines that learn.

What is machine learning? 
Machine learning is the field of computer science dedicated to teaching computers how to learn from big datasets. An algorithm is a set of rules, a recipe, for a computer to follow. What makes machine learning algorithms special is that they rely on data to work, not a programmer telling it what the rules are; and the more data the better. That means a machine learning algorithm is only as good as its data, so, for example, an image recognition algorithm is going to be very accurate at identifying Big Ben, because there are so many pictures of it on the Internet for it to learn from, but it won’t be as good at identifying your cat Ben, unless of course you happen to post lots of pictures of Ben on the Internet. 

When you combine statistics, which is all about understanding data, with computer science, which is about telling computers how to process data in the most efficient way possible you get machine learning; efficient algorithms that automatically learn from data, improving as they get more data. 

Source: Oxford Sparks and OxfordSparks Channel (YouTube)

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