by Stephen Downes
Jul 27, 2015
The Trouble with Pinker's Argument about 'The Trouble With Harvard'
What does elite education provide, and why do the rich do whatever it takes to gain entrance into top tier institutions? If we don't understand this, we don't understand what we need to provide for everyone else. Here's the full study.
Here's a key point: it's not content knowledge. It's not even academic skills nor critical thinking. If we focus only on these, the elite institutions offer no advantage. Why then are they elite? Kevin Carey suggests that the elites "select the best and the brightest", but this isn't true either. They select the richest. They then turn these very average intelligences into social and economic successes.
The focus on quality, as I argue, is a distraction. We need to provide people not only with learning, but with the social network, tools and empowerment that a proper education produces. As Cathy Davidson says, "What if the issue isn't what Harvard can and does do brilliantly but what, for the students who do not go to elite schools, they must do for themselves: ensure their own success.
Memory is more than Ebbinghaus
Donald H Taylor,
Good post which to me shows why we can't simply rely on mechanical generalizations to understand learning. Donald Taylor writes on Herman Ebbinghaus's 'forgetting curve', which basically shows how memories decline over time (and can be extended by being refreshed at increasingly long intervals). But as Taylor points out, "in memory experiments, the content you learn is meaningless." Indeed, they deliberately use nonsense syllables in order to control for the effect of meaning and context. All very fine, but learning is all about meaning and context. It's how what we are remembering fits into a pattern. Taylor points to another well-known investigation, in which Chase and Simon (1973) shows that expert chess players remember the positions of players much better than novices, simply because they recognize patterns. If you're not testing for pattern recognition, you're not testing for knowledge and learning.
Open teaching and learning
Learning, Open teaching,
It can be more difficult to teach in an open environment. Janny Mackness observes, "being ‘in the open’ raises security alarm bells for some tutors. What if their students post the less than perfect (in their eyes) videos they have made on Facebook? What if synchronous sessions with students, which are not intended to be viewed by anyone other than the student group involved, suddenly find their way onto the open web?"
Higher Education: Access Denied
This is a small thing, but illustrative: the correct expression is "struck a chord", not "struck a cord". Why does that even matter? The former shows that you understand what the words mean, while the latter shows that you are parroting by rote. And this - not "a vested interest in maintaining an intellectual hegemony" - is what the three or four years of an undergraduate education is intended to produce. These minor differences in expression and presentation (citing people by their first name, use of generalizations like, "no interest in transformation", out-of-place employment of clichés like "wax lyrical") are very obvious to a person with a formal education and invisible to a person without one. The result is the difference between learning on one's own, and learning through immersion in a knowing community, the difference between remembering what words mean and being able to speak a language. I have nothing but sympathy for Graham Brown-Martin, but it's hard, especially if it wasn't part of your early life, and you can't learn to speak a language by reading books. This - and not just a bunch of stuff to remember - is what needs to be produced by online learning.
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