Posts about Education

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).