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ACM SIGMOD/PODS 2003 Conference

San Diego, California
June 9-12, 2003

SIGMOD Keynote Speech

The Database Course Qua Poster Child For More Efficient Education
Jeffrey D. Ullman Stanford University
Chair: Alon Halevy


The education industry has a dismal record of productivity gains --- five times worse than even the US Post Office since I went to college. With a team of friends and colleagues, I have been taking some steps to reduce the cost of teaching a database course, as an example of what might be done to improve efficiency of college education. The key elements we would like to put in place are:
  1. Prepackaged lectures that serve for part of a class.
  2. A global help desk that allows students to get immediate answers to questions 24/7.
  3. Automated homeworks and exams.
  4. Automated SQL lab, and perhaps labs in other languages like XQUERY
Our efforts so far center around a system called OTC (On-line Testing Center) that supports (3) and (4) and has been used both at Stanford and at several other places around the world. For homeworks, we use a technique called "root questions." These encourage the student to work a "long-answer" question (e.g., "find the join of these two relations"), after which, we sample their understanding by randomly chosen multiple choice questions (e.g., "which of these tuples is in the join of these relations?"). OTC's SQL lab similarly helps students master SQL, even giving them hints when their query is wrong.

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