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Perl(Monks) University

by InfiniteSilence (Curate)
on Mar 24, 2011 at 16:17 UTC ( #895293=monkdiscuss: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Origins of this idea
----------------------

Today I ran across Oracle's 'university' and felt sticker shock at seeing some of the prices. So I asked myself, why doesn't Perl have this?

The Idea
---------

(Re)use the existing PerlMonks infrastructure to create an online Perl University where people pay small amounts for classes like the Oracle University with proceeds directed toward much-needed TPF projects.

Expanding Upon this Idea
------------------------

The University could charge something like $20 for a class and use the money (Perlmonks should take some money for hosting the solution; give some money to the instructor) to donate to the Perl Foundation for Perl projects and marketing.

Example curriculum: Classes could work backward from low-level C stuff in Perl 5-6 (400-500 level classes) then build everything back down to 100-200 level classes Which would be something like 'Perl 102: Migrating to Perl from Java/Smalltalk/C'.

How/Why Could This Work (and how is this not like certification)?
-------------------------

To me there are two kinds of people in IT -- self starters and the rest of us. Those who seem to have excelled very far in Perl are clearly self starters. They read Perl core source code, write XS modules, contribute to CPAN, etc. etc. This type of person does very well in an unstructured environment. Hand them books, source code, and editor and a computer and they will largely teach themselves.

After spanning the web for discussions on Perl by non-Perl developers I have found a common thread -- there is a general dislike of Perl by the more non-self-starter crowd. Most, if not all, complaints I read about Perl had to do with a strong sense of confusion about how some facet of the language worked. I saw this as primarily an education problem, not always necessarily a problem with the language. What I consistently saw was that developers had started learning Perl and then simply stopped when confronting something confusing about it. When I compared their complaints against those working actively in Perl-based projects or CPAN modules I found that there were suitable workarounds in almost every case.

All this taken together leaves an opportunity for an 'hourglass' learning structure that could first incorporate the tools that are needed for a developer to become a self starter, then move toward a structured curriculum, and then back to unstructured 'projects' which would be collaborative and useful to the community as a whole. This structure is like a combination of existing online universities which use grades, quizzes, and other structured learning tools for the structured portion *and* a program that does not use any of these things, just peer evaluation, in the unstructured portions.

Why with PerlMonks?
-------------------

From posted responses I can see that some people are clearly self-starters and can contribute in areas in which they are clearly experts.

I look forward to your idea/comments/rants about this

References
----------

1 A link on how to create an online school: http://www.ehow.com/how_5728361_create-online-school.html

1 Someone is apparently trying to do this but I have no clue who this is or how far along they are: http://theperluniversity.info/

Update 3/29

Thanks to everyone who posted a question or reply thus far. I am drafting a more formalized proposal for this concept meant to define the organization and operational structure of this proposed university. My draft, at the time of this writing, is about 1/3 done. I expect I'll need about a week to write, revise, and publish it. I'll update this post with the online location when it is ready.

Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

Comment on Perl(Monks) University
Re: Perl(Monks) University
by moritz (Cardinal) on Mar 24, 2011 at 19:36 UTC

    I like the idea, but I see some big caveats:

    • You mention that something could be done, but not who will be doing it. Big projects like this need somebody who is committed to organize things, and to chime in with the grunt work if nobody else is available, and things need to get done. Are you committed? If not, who is?
    • Perlmonks has people that answer questions, but there's still a big part missing for a University: the course materials. For an online course the teaching material should have book quality. Where will you take it from?
    • You'll need some submission system for solutions to exercises. Who will program it, set it up, maintain it?
    • With money comes envy. How would you deal with it?

    If you don't have any good answers to the first two questions, my answer is "nice idea, but ideas alone are not sufficient".

      Perlmonks has people that answer questions, but there's still a big part missing for a University: the course materials. For an online course the teaching material should have book quality. Where will you take it from?
      There's a lot of material at Perlmonks other than just questions and answers. There are also a lot of tutorials, examples and meditations. Someone might need to systematize it into coursework and add material, but there's a lot of good stuff on Perl available for free. The Perldoc is a treasure trove, for example.
        Yeah, someone needs to solve this and do that, surely
        There's a lot of material at Perlmonks other than just questions and answers.

        I know, but it's not in a form that could be readily used for a course. It's also mostly "bits and pieces", there's no common thread across the tutorials and meditations.

        My point remains that turning the available material into high quality course material would be a lot of work, and it won't happy all by itself - somebody needs to do it.

        (Oh, and just because stuff is on perlmonks doesn't mean you're free to reuse it in any way, you'd still need permission from the author.)

      Let's see if I can answer any of these questions:
      • "...who will be doing it.." -- Yeah, I've heard many a wild idea before and asked much the same question. The answer is a multi-faceted one since, as others have noted, this is no small idea. Making this happen requires technical and administrative skills. I'm happy to volunteer my services to help, but the more critical approval would need to come form those who run/manage this site. If they don't like the idea I'll have to take it elsewhere.
      • "... the course materials..." - I'm glad you brought this up. I was in my library the other day and I noticed that I had an entire shelf of Perl books. I quickly realized that materials to use for classes are not in short supply, at least preliminarily. I've been to classes that do not use a single book either, the professor collects URLs from online resources or distributes PDFs collected from various sources to teach the class. Also, there is no reason why an instructor could not make up his or her own materials so long as this is clear to the prospective students beforehand.
      • "..You'll need some submission system ..." - Yes, these kinds of things require programming and enhancements to this website. Additions to database tables, sizing, perhaps server bandwidth, etc. This falls under the technical aspects of the implementation. It isn't necessary to define these aspects up front, only to take note of them. Right now I would say this idea is in the pre-requirements stage.
      • "With money comes envy. How would you deal with it? " - Considering that we are not really talking about a great deal of money I would think envy would be rather easy to deal with :)

      Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

Re: Perl(Monks) University
by Limbic~Region (Chancellor) on Mar 25, 2011 at 01:17 UTC
    InfiniteSilence,
    Have you seen http://www.oreillyschool.com/certificates/perl-programming.php from the online School Of Technology? If not, you should read this thread.

    Regarding using money raised for PerlMonks hosting - I am fairly sure money has never been an issue there. I won't go into particulars because I am not in the know.

    PerlMonks already has a way for users to contribute training material to one another (see Tutorials). I like the idea of a tool that would allow anyone to create an online class which goes way beyond a tutorial. The author could set the price with a free preview. If the price is set wrong, they just won't make any money because no one would subscribe. Personally, I would set the price to be free but with paypal donations accepted.

    Cheers - L~R

      Here's my brief personal story of certification: Once upon a time I had a job with a company building VB applications. The company wanted more business so they talked me into pursuing a cerfication offered by a very large corporation whose name I will not mention. While taking the exam I ran across a question that basically, outright, asked me if their company's product was better than a competitors (it actually listed the competitor by name). I answered 'no', because their product clearly was not as good. I can't imagine that I got that answer correct and I did not get the certification. I still do not have any certifications to this day and I cannot say that I am unhappy about it.

      I don't propose that this university system becomes a certification mill and I would, without hesitation, invite Randal and anybody from Stonehenge to teach such classes without any kind of grade submitted at the end (remember the unstructured part of the idea?) which is kind of what they already do at Perl conferences.

      Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

Re: Perl(Monks) University
by JavaFan (Canon) on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:00 UTC
    I'll be looking forward to an actual plan to implement this. The Perl community is great at coming up with all kinds of ideas, but it's actually piss-poor when it comes to turning ideas into actual services, and it has an even poorer record in maintaining them.

    Since you bring up the idea, what are you going to do to implement this?

    (Re)use the existing PerlMonks infrastructure to create an online Perl University where people pay small amounts for classes like the Oracle University with proceeds directed toward much-needed TPF projects.
    Hmmm. TPF's problems aren't restricted to "shortage of money". I don't expect a flurry of output from TPF if there would be an influx of money (although I do expect some Perl trainers asking for a share of that money to further promote their busin^W^W"Perl"). TPF doesn't have a track record on actual spending money that's donated to them. Remember a few years ago when TPF got donated a large sum of money from Bookings? They sat on it for more than a year before they started spending it (Dave Mitchell's grant).

    So, I would expect any plan that collects money to also include plans on actually getting the money spend.

      TPF doesn't have a track record on actual spending money that's donated to them.

      Agreed. Of the donation by Ian Hague, 100k USD are available for improving TPF infrastructure, finding more donors and so on. There have been two applications for parts of the money, but reading the TPF blog I haven't seen any results from either (I think the first one has been approved, but Richard lost interested. It galls me that we've never seen a decision from TPF on the second one).

        The second one, mine, was not approved (nor rejected) by TPF but it is coming along. Though slower then I was hoping and as a separate organization but it is happening.
      "...I'll be looking forward to an actual plan to implement this..."

      Feasibility studies come before plans unless you like rewriting plans a lot. First I need to know if it can be done and if it meets projected needs. For instance, maybe there's a technical reason why it simply could not be done at this site and with this site's engine. I can help write a comprehensive plan but I need the warm bodies, attention spans, and midnight oil generation desire to make something like this happen and work.

      Since you bring up the idea, what are you going to do to implement this?

      That's a fair question. Here's what I'm planning:

      • Post the idea on Perlmonks and illicit feedback.
      • Ask PerlMonks Gods to comment
      • Process responses
      • Reformulate concept and create go/no-go criteria
      • If concept is a go formulate team (board of directors, system architect, developers, testers, documenters)
      • Publish roadmap and release schedule
      • Build system prototype
      • Beta release prototype
      • Process user reviews/bug fixes
      • Beta release
      • Rinse and repeat

      Update: Regarding TPF's spending habits...I think the solution here is to use targeted micropayments for specific TPF proposals rather than simply hand TPF money if they are not doing a very good job with it. I suppose that should be the subject of a different thread entirely. What I do know is that with money you can hire developers to solve problems and build systems in Perl that will be publicly released and free for everyone to use if they can afford to do so. Doing so means taking time away from other, more profitable, activities so funds can offset these losses and make developing enhancements for Perl an easier pill to swallow.

      Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

Re: Perl Monks University (Write Posts With Level Specific Roadmaps)
by luis.roca (Deacon) on Mar 26, 2011 at 01:49 UTC

    I think there may be a more realistic middle ground. I do feel that a few visitors/Monks (myself included) would benefit from having several structured learning paths layed out. * This probably could be done with a few well written posts in the Tutorials and/or SoPW section.

    Have posts detailing roadmaps for Monks/visitors learning Perl at different levels:

    0. New To Perl and Programming
    1. Beginner
    2. Intermediate
    3. Advanced

    If we can imagine an 'RFC:' post for each of these which layed out a learning path, what would it look like? What existing tutorials and posts on Perl Monks would we include for readers to study? Other Monks, of course could post replies with advice and possibly additional references books (and corresponding chapters) for that particular level.

    I think this would keep the free form community feel we have here and still provide something more 'structured' for those looking for a clear path(s). Of course someone would still actually have to write the posts ;-) but I think it's a little more realistic task than running an online university. Just a suggestion from someone learning Perl through this site, books and some of the online courses out there. Personally I like learning here better than courses I've taken but that doesn't mean some additional structure wouldn't help. :)

    * (I know there are some examples of these posts throughout the years but not necessarily formalized into the Tutorials section. at least not that I've found.)


    "...the adversities born of well-placed thoughts should be considered mercies rather than misfortunes." Don Quixote
Re: Perl(Monks) University
by raybies (Chaplain) on Mar 28, 2011 at 18:11 UTC

    I worry about the money-injection element of something like this. I get it--that's Oracle's thing, but Perl's never been about that.

    And if I'm paying for schooling, I think I'd also expect some sort of certification and ranking of some sort (a GPA?) or some way to verify that I'm getting the materials and staying current. What would I be buying that I couldn't get by asking a question here? How do you add value from a profitability perspective?

    Also mightn't there be troubles profiting off of modules you didn't create? And if any level of prestige is warranted by a university of sorts, will it cheese-off developers who create modules and are ignored by the "academics" of this university?

    Also who's your target audience? I have a couple kids that know nothing about programming. I've tossed around the idea of teaching them Perl, just because the language supports SO MANY programming concepts and paradigms--many I don't use nor have I really any experience in. It'd be fun to go at Perl from those angles too, but in many cases those courses don't focus on the language as much as the computer science concept.

    There's certainly a lot of possibilities for exploration here... Good luck... :)

      I've only got a few minutes so I'll try and answer these quickly. I apologize in advance if my answers appear brief:
      • Perl's never been about that -- I have several hundred dollars worth of Perl books on my bookshelf that disagree with you. I took a class with a very popular Perl training outfit for $100 (yes, a single class) at a Perl conference. I would personally gladly pay more if I could learn things like Perl internals, better faster ways of profiling/debugging; etc. etc. Maybe it is not what you are used to, but, like anything in computing, there is some money involved. Remember, in free software/open source money is not the evil -- dousing people's freedoms is.
      • "...I think I'd also expect some sort of certification and ranking of some sort ..." -- I agree with you, and this proposal takes that into consideration. I'm proposing a system that allows for every class to be audited by anyone in the same way you can audit normal brick-and-mortar university classes except no one will boot you after a certain number of weeks. Here you can complete the course for the same low price as the actual participant (perhaps less) but your assignments will not be graded and quesitons will probably go down in the priority order. 'Grades' should look more like pass/fail with each class grading on a point scale which accumulates points for various aspects of things we equate to good Perl programming like style, terseness, creativity, readability, and, of course, functionality of the class project. Grades should be conferred for projects and not for question/answers since being good at answering questions does not necessarily translate into requisite skill.
      • "...to verify that I'm getting the materials and staying current..." - I would audit the course before I take it or ask a friend. The courses could have publicized student rankings as well.
      • "...How do you add value from a profitability perspective..." - On the part of the participant they get value by learning a new skill; from the university's perspective it gets value by producing students that are proficient and produce quality things for others to use which leads more people back to the university. it is all kind of like a cycle.
      • "...profiting off of modules you didn't create..." - I can't imagine a CPAN author would be unhappy to learn that one of his/her modules was being used in a class somewhere in a university or referenced in a book. In both cases the author will likely not be compensated but will benefit because the popularity of their work will be enhanced. When I hear the name 'Lincoln Stein' I am inclined to want to know if he will be speaking somewhere or if he has written a book/article/course. I don't known Lincoln from anywhere other than the modules he has written.
      • "...ignored by the "academics" of this university..." - There's always that risk of a school being pompous and only exhibiting certain works, this is true and happens quite a bit. Think of H.S. English classes -- you were not reading authors who were interesting but rather authors that the academics found interesting. No wonder so many people hate to read. I think here, thanks to crowdsourcing and other aspects of the web, we can be much more proactive and weed out classes and modules that are by a chosen few in exchange for those that meet current and future needs of actual students. It all comes down to transparency in the course selection process as well as honest feedback from participants. If there is a better module out there to utilize in a class than students should bring it up, discuss it, and get the attention of the instructors and those who oversee them. My plan is to have a tiered evaluation system for grading anyway so this would undoubtedly come up.
      • "...Also who's your target audience..." - I'll have to outline that in a different post but thus far it is looking like 2nd year H.S. students to the adult education crowd which can be roughly segmented between those with a technical education and those without. Those with advanced education/experience in programming and CS topics would have to be advanced to a graduate-style, semi-independent research type of program which I am also envisioning.
      • "...It'd be fun to go at Perl from those angles too, but in many cases those courses don't focus on the language as much as the computer science concept..." -- Oddly enough I spent some time today thinking of ways to provide classes to high schoolers who have at least completed some basic computing skills course, are saavy at working with social networking tools, and want to expand upon this. Injecting Perl along with necessary computing topics is necessary for a well-rounded class unless you already have this knowledge gained from elsewhere. Younger students are easily impressed and you only get so many chances to educate them before they become discouraged and give up math/science altogether for a career elsewhere. I was cooking up a course specifically geared for younger students today that incorporates social networking along with elementary data structures, file storage, and other necessary goodies. I'll try to post that when it is ready.
      Thanks for your reponses!

      Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

Re: Perl(Monks) University
by hermida (Scribe) on Mar 29, 2011 at 22:13 UTC
    To me there are two kinds of people in IT -- self starters and the rest of us. Those who seem to have excelled very far in Perl are clearly self starters. They read Perl core source code, write XS modules, contribute to CPAN, etc. etc. This type of person does very well in an unstructured environment. Hand them books, source code, and editor and a computer and they will largely teach themselves.

    Just to add to your nice analysis I think there are also people who are self-starters but would still appreciate some advanced coursework for example on certain CPAN distributions. When I started with Perl over 10 years ago I was in a work and life environment where I could spend the time to learn the core language and important CPAN distributions (e.g. DBI, LWP, CGI, etc.) by myself using the Camel, other O'Reilly books and online info and at my job started with many interesting and diverse small projects where I could implement what I learned. Over time I was doing more and more complex projects and learning more and more aspects of the language and delving more deeply into CPAN. I think some people who are indeed self-starters are in situations where they cannot spend the time to go through all this effort, I feel I was very lucky. In summary, self starting takes lots of time and the right environment to apply what you are learning. The thing with a structured class led by a great instructor is that you can accelerate all of this and be taught very quickly to an advanced level on the core language or a CPAN distribution of interest. Even self-starters would appreciate having this shortcut :)

    After spanning the web for discussions on Perl by non-Perl developers I have found a common thread -- there is a general dislike of Perl by the more non-self-starter crowd. Most, if not all, complaints I read about Perl had to do with a strong sense of confusion about how some facet of the language worked. I saw this as primarily an education problem, not always necessarily a problem with the language. What I consistently saw was that developers had started learning Perl and then simply stopped when confronting something confusing about it. When I compared their complaints against those working actively in Perl-based projects or CPAN modules I found that there were suitable workarounds in almost every case.

    Totally agree here, most if not all problems that non-Perl people have with the language is just lack of proper education about a certain aspect or negative false perception coming from totally false posts by haters on the web. One question I always have is why is Perl not taught in undergraduate school? I've taught it as part of the bioinformatics curriculum in graduate school where it is definitely appropriate but I think in general it's a great teaching language for beginners as it's very easy to start with and use as a tool to understand algorithms, data structures, etc.

      Let’s face it:   certifications are a product, and a damned profitable one, at that.   Plenty of folks, and plenty of companies too, have been suckered into believing that persuaded that “if only” they can hang such-and-such certificate on their wall (and, if they like, tack on such-and-such letters after their last names), that the gates of Nirvana will magically open before their eyes.   A perfectly unreasonable expectation, of course, but the grass is always greener on the other side of any fence.

      I find, though, that experience is what people really want.   It doesn’t really matter so much if you are building applications “in Perl,” or “in VB,” or “in Ruby.”   What matters is that you are building applications, and servicing existing ones, in real business environments and for real people.   You showed yourself to be competent, easy to work with, professional, trustworthy and reliable.   You have amassed a group of people who will speak well of you for what you have done.   You do not try to “know it all,” because you have mastered the art of finding out “what you need to know at a particular time,” at that particular time.   If a new language system appears to be the right tool for a new engagement, well, by now you only need a single weekend to adequately prepare.   (And no, you’re not bluffing anyone.)

      There is no “certification” that can equal that.

      The “language haters,” quite frankly, I ignore.   I ignore them because they are demonstrating that they don’t have anything useful to say.   If they want to pick a fight with me, to thrust a burning torch in my face, I merely decline to catch fire, and move on about my business.   The peddlers of certificates receive a polite but firm decline.   Their mailings go into the recycle bin.

      The people who tell me that, in order to improve an existing system, I must re-write that system in “trendy new language Blah” ... I also am reasonably polite to these people, but I ignore them completely.   (I do, always, allocate a block of time to at least cursorily familiarize myself with the latest newcomer.   There’s always room for one more good idea, and “latest languages” are usually where you’ll find them.)   Every language that is in use today, at least from PL/1 forward, was somebody’s silver bullet that was going to make the application backlog disappear and allow you to reduce your programming staff count by two-thirds.   Another unrealistic expectation.   Some spectacularly good work has been made in all of them, and some spectacularly bad work, and a whole lot of pure-mediocrity.   But the language in question, whatever it was, was neither cause nor cure.

        As I am writing this proposal (and still continuing to gather resources/information from online resources to support the assertions it will contain) I keep butting up against that awful word, 'certification.' Let me briefly describe what certification is (in my view) and how this proposal is not certification and how it would be difficult (but certainly not impossible) for hiring organizations/etc. to use any status conferred by it whilst simultaneously making it valuable.

        Briefly, certification essentially is much like a small wooden bar my grammar school gym teacher used to hold while he would make us to run in a circle around the gym. While running he would shove out the bar in front of us and say, 'jump over it.' Simple enough, I'd say, and leap over the little thing before doing another easy lap. When I came 'round again however that mean teacher raised the bar. Suddenly I had to jump much higher to get across it. Other kids stumbled, fell, or simply refused to jump.

        So certification in IT is an attempt to verify or validate knowledge by setting a particular bar -- one that involves question/answer style proficiency. I find that the main problem most people have with certification is not that they are expected to meet some expectation but rather whether the particular bar chosen is adequate to actually prepare them for the work ahead.

        Since the most common bar used is the question/answer format a common complaint about certification is that there are people who are brilliant at passing tests but cannot actually solve IT problems who obtain certification. I had never really met a person like this until about two years ago. A young fellow talked his way onto a large implementation I was working on purely by exhibiting his impressive 'knowledge.' Very soon afterward I was stuck working late nights fixing his errors and trying to help him through the numerous mistakes he was making.

        Having learned from experiences like this one my proposal is to do away with the question/answer style bar. In this proposed system the bar will consist of targeted project work that will be graded on a scale that is openly described. This is actually the method used for the written portion of a law school examination. In an examination of this type a given scenario is offered and the student must use the rules of law to come up with an answer. In law school this is typically done in IRAC (issue, rule, application, conclusion) format, but in a computer science course you would simply write your code at the level expected of you given the target audience. For instance, if you were a 100 level student or lower (meaning you were doing remedial work) you could write a very C-looking style Perl solution to a given problem and it would be graded (forgivingly) on style, execution -- it has to actually work, and other aspects I have not yet come up with. Students will not actually ever get a grade either. They will receive a recommndation to move onward to the next course or a recommendation that they repeat the existing one. Scores on projects could be appealed to reviewers at a higher level if the original grader is unfair, but only if the grading violated the published grading rules (similar to law school exams).

        So, it would be hard for a third party to assess your skill level by any certification given by such a university because no certification is ever actually conferred. Instead, you either get a recommendation to move to the next level or not. This model more closely matches how adults learn computer science topics because they will start learning something, get distracted, and often need to take a particular course multiple times before being ready to progress to the next level. So long as the courses are really inexpensive this can be done affordably.

        Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

      Thank you very much for your post. Regarding your question, 'why is Perl not taught in undergraduate school?' I cannot speak for most universities but at my college most of the textbooks were written with examples written in C/C++. Colleges that achieve accreditation for their CS programs must use books that go far in helping their programs meet standard requirements. The books we are using for Perl are excellent and popular but most do not cover many aspects in the abstract/standard/generic terms that are certain to meet the requirements.

      Let me give you a quick example. I once attended a OO Perl class at a conference that came with a small course guide. It was a good class; very informative and I enjoyed it a lot. The course guide is on my shelf along with Perl books even though it doesn't fit very well. That being said, the course simply would not have met a college course's requirements or standards for object oriented education. The main problem would have involved the terminology. Encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism were simply not described in abstract terms or in-depth.

      So this brings to light another important goal for this proposed university -- academic writing should be encouraged by instructors. I'm not thinking of meeting the same kind of rigorous requirements that accredited programs must meet, but there is room to coordinate course material with standard, accepted, and even emerging computer science trends when applicable. This falls under one of the main principles of this proposed university's mission: academic honesty (read my update in the main post ... I plan to write up a more comprehensive/formal proposal for this school describing, among other things, the university's mission). A 'university press' is normally a must for most institutions because, if you have brilliant instructors, the books are quickly outmoded. Perhaps striking a deal with a preferred publisher is the ticket (O'Reilly comes immediately to mind but there are others and even micro-publishing can work).

      Celebrate Intellectual Diversity

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