Georgia Tech’s Starter: Crowdfunding for Science Research

Starter is an independent crowdfunding site based out of Georgia Tech. think backing cool science projects à la Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. The projects that appear on Starter must be submitted by a faculty member. They’re also vetted by a department chair, who looks for conflicts of interest. Projects will be posted on the site for 60 days, and donors will only be charged if the funding goals are reached (similar to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo).

Here is a description of one project that caught my eye, The Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project:

Wiring our beehives will not only allow students to collect large amounts of data about the impact of urban environments on bees, but will also allow us to share this information with the public and to easily participate in other ongoing research like NASA’s Honey Bee Net, which uses beehive data to track the effects of climate and land use change. We also plan to live-stream video from inside and outside the hive on our website, bees.gatech.edu.

We will use the RFID system to determine whether urban bees require longer foraging flights to find nectar and pollen than bees in suburban or rural settings. RFID detectors will be set at the entrances to the hives. Tiny RFID tags will be attached to bees and we will then be able to measure the foraging flight times of individual bees.

This concept isn’t unique to Georgia Tech. As Fast Company notes:

Automatic government spending cuts that went into effect this year have made grants harder to come by, and Georgia Tech isn’t the only research institution that has sought to fund its researchers through crowdfunding. Arizona State University and the University of Virginia have both partnered with a crowdfunding site called Useed. The University of Vermont has partnered with another called Launcht. And the University of Utah has partnered with still another called RocketHub.

One of my concerns is that the funded projects will take a large percentage (35%) as a fee for running the review process, site administration, and lab facility upkeep. But Starter appears to be promising and a great way for people to “invest” in science projects which they think are interesting.

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Read more:

1) Georgia Tech’s press release in May 2013, before the site went live.

2) Stephen Fleming’s blog post on Starter and crowdfunding.

Georgia Tech Announces an Online Masters Degree in Computer Science

Major news from my alma mater, Georgia Tech, today: the university is offering an Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) for less than $7,000. The collaboration is among Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T.

From the official announcement:

All OMS CS course content will be delivered via the massive open online course (MOOC) format, with enhanced support services for students enrolled in the degree program. Those students also will pay a fraction of the cost of traditional on-campus master’s programs; total tuition for the program is initially expected to be below $7,000. A pilot program, partly supported by a generous gift from AT&T, will begin in the next academic year. Initial enrollment will be limited to a few hundred students recruited from AT&T and Georgia Tech corporate affiliates. Enrollment is expected to expand gradually over the next three years.

Here is Sebastian Thrun, c0-founder of Udacity, on how this degree will revolutionize education:

I co-founded Udacity to bring the very best of higher education to everyone worldwide. With Georgia Tech, we have a partner whose computer science program is among the best in the world! And equally importantly, with AT&T, we partner with a Fortune-500 company which is relentlessly innovating in the space of digital access to information. This triumvirate of industry and academia is now teaming up to use 21st Century MOOC technology to level the playing field in computer science education. And while the degree rightfully comes with a tuition fee — after all, to achieve the very best in online education we will provide support services — the bare content will be available free of charge, available for anyone eager to learn. We are also launching non-credit certificates at a much reduced price point, to give a path to those who don’t care about Georgia Tech credit or degrees, but still want their learning results certified.

Thrun is enthusiastic about this opportunity and likes this launch to the day he proposed to his wife.

As for why CS is the first to be the first degree of its kind as a MOOC? Per the FAQs:

Computer science is defined by the ability to train and test students within a rubric of discrete, quantifiable problems and solutions. This makes computer science much more amenable to the massive-online format.

Only a matter of time until physics, math, and other STEM fields get added. Welcome to the future!

Georgia Tech Joins Coursera

My alma mater, Georgia Tech, is one of twelve new universities that has joined the Coursera team. Coursera is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. In their own words: “We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.”

Take a look at the course offerings from Georgia Tech. The Computational Photography course taught by Professor Irfan Essa looks intriguing:

This course is aimed at teaching you the basics of how computation has impacted the entire workflow of photography, from how images are captured, manipulated and collaborated on and shared.  At the core of it photography means, drawing with light and how light can be captured to form images/videos. In this class you will learn about how the optics, and the sensor within a camera are generalized, as well as the lighting and other aspects of the environment are generalized to capture novel images. We will also cover post and pre processing techniques to manipulate and improve images. Finally, we will consider the power of the web and the Internet for both analyzing and sharing images, as well as the impact of mobile smart phone cameras. This class builds on concepts from well known disciplines like computer vision, computer graphics, and image processing. Look forward to participate in this class.

Sign me up!