Posts about Education

Reboot the university

In today’s NY Times, Mark Taylor of Columbia calls for the end of the university as we know. As I do in What Would Google Do?, he uses the new structure of our post-industrial age to rethink the structure and work of a university.

He argues for the end of departments — that is the end of taxonomy. He argues for collaboration — that is, specialization (do what you do best and link to the rest). He argues for the end of the centuries-old form of the dissertation — that is, taking advantage of the new forms of creation and information sharing we have at hand. And he argues for the end of tenure — that is, building around merit and value rather than protection.

At the same time, see this post from Mike Hamlyn of Staffordshire University trying to apply some of the precepts of WWGD? to his university.

Here is my entire chapter on remaking the university from WWGD?, in which I argue that we need to separate the functions a university now performs — teaching, certification, research, socialization — and use the power of the link to put together networks of learning, teaching, and knowledge sharing that cut across departmental and institutional — not to mention economic — boundaries.

A portfolio instead of a diploma

Teacher Mark Pullen wrote on his blog great thoughts on students leaving school with portfolios instead of just diplomas. The next day, he was reading What Would Google Do? and found that we agreed on this, I’m happy to say. Mark’s ideas:

After 13 years of work getting a K-12 education, why is it that all a student has to show for it is (if things go well) a diploma?

It seems to me like our goals should be so much different, such as:

In writing: students should have a very rich blog with hundreds of quality posts on it, as well as several major self-published pieces and several other items that were genuinely published by outside sources (editorials in the local paper, columns for a trade magazine, etc.)

In science: students should have at least one patent and/or at least one invention that they’ve actually created a prototype for (or, better, that has had copies of which have actually sold)

In math: students should be able to balance a checkbook, understand how to stay out of debt and avoid credit spending, and understand how to interpret biased statistics and advertisements correctly; they should also be able to solve any real-world math problem they may encounter in life (figuring out the reduced cost of having improved gas mileage, determining the amount of interest that would accrue on various home loans, figuring out which jar of peanut butter costs less per ounce, being able to make two-thirds of a batch of something, etc.).

In social studies: students should be able to read every article in the newspaper and understand (when applicable) the article’s significance and the historical events that have led up to the event being described. When applicable, students should also understand the geography of the location(s) being discussed, as well as the religious and political backgrounds of the people groups involved

Finally: students should be heading to their post-K-12 life with a plan for the future, rather than just heading to college because everyone is doing it. They should have an extensive understanding of a significant number of careers in their preferred field(s) of study as well.

Kind of cool: a patent instead of a sheepskin.

As a second 30 Days of WWGD? snippet for the day (because I’m a bit behind), here’s the bit from the book that Mark quoted:

* * *

Perhaps we need to separate youth from education. Education lasts forever. Youth is the time for exploration, maturation, socialization. We may want to create a preserve around youth—as Google does around its inventors—to nurture and challenge the young. What if we told students that, like Google engineers, they should take one day a week or one course a term or one year in college to create something: a company, a book, a song, a sculpture, an invention? School could act as an incubator, advising, pushing, and nurturing their ideas and effort. What would come of it? Great things and mediocre things. But it would force students to take greater responsibility for what they do and to break out of the straitjacket of uniformity. It would make them ask questions before they are told answers. It could reveal to them their own talents and needs. The skeptic will say that not every student is responsible enough or a self-starter. Perhaps. But how will we know students’ capabilities unless we put them in the position to try? And why structure education for everyone around the lowest denominator of the few? . . . .

The next role of the university is testing and certification: the granting of degrees and anointing of experts. The idea of a once-in-a-lifetime, one-size-fits-many certification of education—the diploma—looks more absurd as knowledge and needs change. Are there better measures of knowledge and thinking than a degree? Why should education stop at age 21? Diplomas become dated. Most of what I have done in my career has required me to learn new lessons—long past graduation—about technology, business, economics, sociology, science, education, law, and design. Lately I’ve learned many of these lessons in public, on my blog, with the help of my readers. That is why I urge other academics to blog and be challenged by their public. I believe that should count as publishing. Blog or perish, I say.

Our portfolios of work online, searchable by Google, become our new CVs. Neil McIntosh, an editor at the Guardian, blogged that when he interviews young candidates for online journalism jobs, he expects them to have a blog. “There’s no excuse for a student journalist who wants to work online not to have one,” he wrote. “Moreover, the quality of the blog really matters, because it lets me see how good someone is, unedited and entirely self-motivated.” Our work—our collection of creations, opinions, curiosities, and company—says volumes about us. Before a job interview, what employer doesn’t Google the candidate (a practice banned by law in Finland, by the way)? Our fear is that employers will find embarrassing, boozy pictures from spring break, but that’s all the more reason to make sure they also find our blogs and collected works. . . .

Hacking education

Educators – like musicians, journalists, carmakers, and bankers before them – won’t know what hit them. But as sure as change is overtaking every other sector of society, it will overtake education – as well it should. Our cookie-cutter, one-pace-fits-all, test-focused system is not up to the task of teaching the creators of the new Googles.

I’m one among many who believe that there are huge opportunities in education, not just to change and improve it but to find new business opportunities. That’s true especially now, as the economic crisis forces people to reconsider and change paths. Note the post below about increased applications at journalism schools. A friend of mine who works in a community college is seeing a surge of people coming back to school to finish degrees and buff up resumes.

I’ve seen this commercial a few times with its stirring call for change and expansion of education. It comes from for-profit Kaplan University (a division of Washington Post-Newsweek; indeed, the division that subsidizes the newsrooms there; as journalism becomes more educational, I believe the can find synergies beyond financial ones). Kaplan is arguing that its for-profit schools can give students more practical, more useful education in more ways:

Here’s another Kaplan ad:

Now see this statement of need by students at Kansas State in the digital ethnography class of the amazing Michael Wesch:

I put those up in the wrong order. The students show the need; Kaplan thinks it has a solution.

For today’s 30 days of WWGD?, here are snippets from the beginning and end of my chapter on education, Google U:

* * *

Who needs a university when we have Google? All the world’s digital knowledge is available at a search. We can connect those who want to know with those who know. We can link students to the best teachers for them (who may be fellow students). We can find experts on any topic. Textbooks need no longer be petrified on pages but can link to information and discussion; they can be the products of collaboration, updated and corrected, answering questions and giving quizzes, even singing and dancing. There’s no reason my children should be limited to the courses at one school; even now, they can get coursework online from no less than MIT and Stanford. And there’s no reason that I, long out of college, shouldn’t take those courses, too.

You may suspect that because I’m a professor, I’ll now come out of this litany of opportunities with a rhetorical flip and demonstrate why we must preserve universities as they are. But I won’t. Of course, I value the academy and its tradition and don’t wish to destroy it. But just as every other institution examined in this book is facing fundamental challenges to its essence and existence in the Google age, so is education. Indeed, education is one of the institutions most deserving of disruption—and with the greatest opportunities to come of it.

Call me a utopian but I imagine a new educational ecology where students may take courses from anywhere and instructors may select any students, where courses are collaborative and public, where creativity is nurtured as Google nurtures it, where making mistakes well is valued over sameness and safety, where education continues long past age 21, where tests and degrees matter less than one’s own portfolio of work, where the gift economy may turn anyone with knowledge into teachers, where the skills of research and reasoning and skepticism are valued over the skills of memorization and calculation, and where universities teach an abundance of knowledge to those who want it rather than manage a scarcity of seats in a class. . . .

On its official blog, Google gave advice to students, not about where they should learn but what they should learn. Jonathan Rosenberg, senior VP of product management, blogged that the company is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” His example: The routine way to solve the problem of checking spelling would be use a dictionary. The non-routine way is to watch all the corrections people make as they refine their queries and use that to suggest new spellings for words that aren’t in any dictionary. Rosenberg said Google looks for people with five skills: analytical reasoning (“we start with data; that means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know”); communication skills; willingness to experiment; playing in a team; passion and leadership. “In the real world,” he said, “the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market.”

Rosenberg’s best advice for students and universities: “It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.” Google sprung from seeing the novel. Is our educational system preparing students to work for or create Googles? I wonder.

[Thanks to Fred Wilson for the headline to this post]

Newspaper subsidy? Try this…

Want to subsidize news, newspapers, and journalism? I have an idea I could stand behind. But it’s not this: Nicolas Sarkozy has given France’s newspapers a €600million subsidy over three years—including a free subscription for every 18-year-old Frenchman—on top of the €280 per year it gives them now. The U.K. is dancing around the topic of government support for regional papers. And the argument over government bailout of papers is simmering in the U.S.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson. I don’t want government interfering with news and speech (he who giveth may taketh away). And I’m not at all sure that it’s newspapers that should be the beneficiaries of subsidy; they have not given journalism responsible stewardship in the last decade and a half.

But here’s a government subsidy I can get behind: broadband and technology development. An investment there will do more for the future of news than any dollar, euro, or pound given to keep presses rolling.

* If the Obama Administration gets the entire country on broadband, news organizations will have a much larger public to serve online than they have now in print. They will be able to expand coverage through collaboration. They will be free to use rich media for compelling news experiences.

* Advertisers will have no excuse but to go online, when most everyone is there and when it can serve rich media beyond the banner.

* Investment in technology development and entrepreneurship in media—with tax breaks and direct subsidy—will also create rich new experiences and will create jobs, new wealth, and the potential for more export of media as well as demand for better education.

* Tax breaks for the poor to subsidize computer purchases—which are now inexpensive enough to contemplate—will end arguments about the digital divide and will create at least some jobs in the U.S. industry. A goal of 100-percent-connected youth will also improve educational opportunities and, in the long run, reduce the cost of textbooks and curricular materials, as a bonus.

* Providing media and internet literacy education—including not just the consumption but the creation of media—will do more than a year’s newspaper subscription to assure a next generation of discerning news users and citizens.

The net result will be a much healthier news industry built on a new platform in new ways for the future. This is a better investment in an informed society than bailouts, subscriptions—or, for that matter, pothole repairs.

Hacked U

Fred Wilson is right: This is a great PPT on hacking education:

I have a chapter in my book about hacked education. In the comments in this post, Bob Wyman was very helpful in extracting the functions of a university: teaching, testing, and research — to which I added a fourth, socialization. Separating those functions, one wonders which need to be part of a universityi and which don’t.

After writing it, I was talking with Bob Kerrey of the New School as he praised the quality of the lectures available online from MIT. I suggested that the aggregated university could be built around a distributed version of the Cambridge system with lecturers (the guys from MIT) and tutors (local teachers who guided students personally). Thus s learn from the world’s best while also getting the attention they need.

There are lots more models worth exploring: education by subscription, education as a club, learning networks, universities as incubators (with students following Google’s 20 percent rule and taking a fifth of their time to create something).

As the PowerPoint points out, every other industry and institution is facing upheaval — and opportunities — in the change of the internet age. Education above others should too.

Google U

I wonder what the distributed university will look like. For that matter, I wonder what the distributed education will look like. It’s not an idle curiosity. Like media and every industry and institution before it, the academe is waiting to be exploded by the internet.

Start here: Why should my son or daughter have to pick a single college and with it only the teachers and courses offered there? Online, they should be able to take most any course anywhere. Indeed, schools from MIT to Stanford are now offering their curricula the internet. Of course, these come without the benefit of the instructors’ attention — and without tuition — but it’s easy to add that interaction; there are lots of online courses taught by live faculty.

Similarly, why should a professor pick just from the students accepted at his or her school? Online, the best can pick from the best, cutting out the middleman of university admissions.

Now the next step: students teaching each other. My daughter and I have been playing with Livemocha, a language-learning social network that enables my exercises to be critiqued by native speakers in the language I’m learning; I do the same favor for people trying to learn English. It’s a great expression of the gift economy. (One complaint I have with them is that it was hard to shut off constant email alerts and there is no way to shut off invitations to chat I really wish my daughter did not get. I suggested they give more controls of this to users — and especially parents — and got back a snippy response from a customer-service rep who should have worked at Dell pre-hell. In any case, it’s a fascinating effort in collaborative education.)

Once you put all this together, students can self-organize with teachers and fellow students to learn what they want how and where they want. My hope is that this could finally lead to the lifelong education we keep nattering about but do little to actually support. And why don’t we? Because it doesn’t fit into the degree structure. And because self-organizing classes and education could cut academic institutions out of the their exclusive role in education.

So what if the degree structure is outmoded? What does a bachelor’s of arts really say you’re ready to do? Once you get a medical degree, if you practice, you’re required to take refreshers as the science changes. Shouldn’t we be offering journalists updates as new tools and opportunities emerge in their craft? (Short answer: yes.) And while on the example of journalists, what if it were easy for them to take a course in, say, accounting when they get assigned to the business section, or science when given the environmental beat? So rather than signing on for a one-time degree, what if I subscribe to education for life? Or what if the culture simply expects me to bone up because it’s so damned easy to (and I don’t have to go through tests and admissions and all that)?

The real problem with this for society is that it cuts out the core business of the university, which also produces research and scholarship. Professors don’t work as hard as, say, high-school teachers because they are expected to do that thinking and work that society needs. If education ends up handled by the Phoenix Universities of the web, then what happens to scholarship? The problem here is that the internet is unforgiving of needs to preserve old models and methods. It disaggregates ruthlessly.

So I think that education has a rude shocking coming unless it gets ahead of this change and figures out how to become less of an institution and more of a platform. I hear a lot of universities talking proudly these days about their going interdisciplinary within their own institutions — that is, enabling two departments to finally start working together offering courses. But that’s not nearly far enough; that’s like a media company talking about synergy. What they need to do instead is start thinking past their ivied walls to work with other universities and with networks of teachers and students, not to mention alumni who leave with knowledge and gain more knowledge they could and should share.

So what does the distributed university look like?

A good oops

Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, accidentally sent his class his self-evaluation intended for the university provost. No harm done, though. It’s an impressive document — it helps to hire New Yorker writers to pen memos — that sets out Lemman’s accomplishments and worldview. Here’s the bit, toward the end, that interested me:

I cannot be sure how long our school can continue to thrive if the profession it serves is not thriving. We have many advantages, including our financial resources, our location, our worldwide reputation, our strong relationships with employers, and the quality of our faculty and curriculum. We do not have the advantages almost all other journalism schools have: a large and not very job market-sensitive undergraduate student body and low tuition. In the short run, we are benefiting from journalism’s replacing older reporters with younger ones, but in the long run we must be as attentive to recruiting and to placement as possible, and we must teach our students to be journalists in ways that are as broadly applicable as possible geographically and across the different media.

I certainly agree that students must learn to apply journalism broadly — across all media, in other words.

But the larger question raised here is whether journalism schools should serve just professional journalists (that is, those who work, full-time, for journalistic institutions) — and, for that matter, whether schools can afford to do just that.

I haven’t blogged about this yet but I am coming to think that if, as I believe, N percent of journalistic effort will be undertaken by amateurs, then shouldn’t it be the mission of journalism schools to devote N percent of their education to helping those new practitioners do what they want to do better?

This is just my opinion — I’m by no means speaking for my school — and I haven’t thought through what this means. But I believe that like every other institution and industry in the Google Age, education will become more distributed, more open, less of a product and more of a process. More on that soon.

Lemann continues:

I don’t think I have been nearly effective enough in persuading either our own Journalism School community, or other journalism schools, or the wider world of the profession, that the professional education of a journalist should include intellectual content. The primary orientation of journalism schools, including ours, is toward conferring skills associated with entry-level practice; almost the entire discourse in journalism education is internal to journalism and concerned with professional norms and practices, rather than with how to understand the world we are supposed to cover.

This has been Lemann’s crusade: to bring professionalism — which I now read more as intellectualism — to the craft. I don’t disagree that this can be a worthy goal. What’s fascinating about Lemann’s memo is the glimpse it provides into his ambition: He wishes he could have transformed the Columbia program along these lines — changing the existing master of science program rather than adding a master of arts program — and that he could do likewise to America’s journalism schools.

It’s a proper question that I’ll oversimply, as is my blogger’s habit: How do we make reporters smarter about what they cover? Putting aside debates about which should dominate journalism education — skills or intellectual rigor — here, too, I wonder whether the coming distributed architecture of education will make a difference for journalism students and practicing journalists. What should specialized and continuing education look like in a period of more rapid change and broader opportunity? What should our ethic of education be? Should we expect that reporters covering, say, business learn the fundamentals of accounting and make it easy for them to do so?

These are the sorts of issues raised in Lemman’s memo and so I’m glad he sent the wrong file.

: Lemann and I had a distributed dialogue about some of this, which started with his New Yorker essay, about which I blogged; he and I then wrote about this at Comment is Free (links to both here).

Davos07: Voices of the future

Next session: a panel of six of 60 young people from around the world who gathered in Greenwich to come up with a message from the future for the machers here. They set their priorities as education and “active global citizens.” They push the leaders to start a global fund for education, saying that the global funds to fight AIDS and malaria have made great impact. The fund would be focused on quality teacher training, decreasing absenteeism, and class size. I wonder how large such a fund would need to be to have an impact. Gordon Brown says the total cost of educating all the world’s children is about $10 billion — not much (because we pay teachers so poorly), so he argues that a fund can make a difference. The fund’s second focus would be on creating curriculum to nuture global citizens, arguing that this will save lives lost not to disease but to ignorance. Brown argues that if we do not support education, others may and we will see more extremist madrases teaching hatred and terrorism.

At Web 2.0, John Battelle brings in a panel of young people every year to talk about their media usage; it’s a feature that other confabs, such as the Online News Association, has added and it’s educational and eye-opening to hear directly from them. Unfortunately, this is not what WEF has done with this panel; once the young people are done reading their prepared spiels, we end up hearing only from the old guys on the panel. Next time, I hope they hand over the control of the stage to the young.