by Stephen Downes
Feb 17, 2017
Two things have held up through decades of research on education and its impact. First, socio-economic background is the single best predictor of educational outcomes. And second, education is a necessary but not sufficient precursor to increased socio-economic outcomes. These are the findings that are rediscovered in the current study published in the journal Social Forces. But Facebook devotes a substantial portion of this article repeating criticism from an outlier study (more here) "finding that college is in fact the great equalizer." According to that outlier critics, "students who graduate from the same Ivy League college -- or any college -- tend to earn similar amounts of money in their adult lives." Well sure - if you ignore selection bias, graduation rates, and the fact that income at age 30 is not an educational outcome, you get similar results. I would caution against making this study the basis of criticism of future studies.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a manifesto yesterday afternoon stressing the importance of community and Facebook's role in developing it. It is worth noting that I quit Facebook last September because, in my view, Facebook was subverting community, and replacing it with advertising. Zuckerberg emphasizes, "the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us." I think, though, that there is am important distinction to be drawn between the concept of infrastructure that is owned by, and operated for, the benefit of a community, and a privately owned platform managed for private interests. Zuckerberg believes he is building society, without realizing that society can only be built by all of us.
It's no surprise to anybody that distance and online courses cost students more (a least, when they're offered by traditional educational institutions). But more controversial in this WECT report (79 page PDF) is the contention that they cost more to produce. This result is based on 197 responses (from an unknown number of institutions) to an email survey sent to WCET members. Reading the results, the main reason distance education costs more seems to be "distance education costs more" (p.48). Every category of expense was higher for distance education. The main costs are faculty support and development (52%), tech (37%), and student support (28%). The report also makes the point that lowering cost isn't seen as part of the mandate by many institutions. Via Inside Higher Ed.
The focus of this article is critical thinking in the South African context, and in particular the recent Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) and Thinking Schools South Africa (TSSA), "a non-profit organisation encouraging and resourcing the teaching of effective thinking in schools." One of the unsung advantages of critical thinking, writes Peter Ellerton, is that it creates resilience, promoting the development of "students who have an ability to think their way through problems, a confidence in their ability to do so, and who can apply critical thinking skills to understand their circumstances and explore options open to them."
Choose Science is a website recently created by the Government of Canada to encourage girls to pursue their interests (and may their careers) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - STEM. It was criticized by the National Post this week for perpetuating stereotypes (featuring fashion, music and kittens) but after a quick retrofit yesterday it is looking much better, though by no means perfect. The activities for parents and for teachers are drawn largely from Actua and Let's Talk Science, which are private foundations with a lot of federal and industry funding. The resources could be a lot deeper and could be drawn from a much richer repository of actual work by Canadian teachers and educators. And instead of talking down to girls interested in science, we should invite them to tell their own stories in their own voices. But hey - I'd rather see them do this work imperfectly than not at all.
Mobile applications that have merged transactions and services have become stables in China. "Hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers now depend on these all-in-one apps to do, well, everything: interact with friends; pay for cabs and utility bills; book hotels, flights, and even dentist appointments; find love; and read news." On the hardware side, innovation is similarly flurishing, with companies like Xiaomi, BBK and Huawei taking the lead. "Huawei recently announced its new Mate 9, the first smartphone embedded with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant... Xiaomi’s Mi Mix smartphone... features a stunning edge-to-edge screen.
Interesting discussion around the topic of internet-based computational services in industry. "Every form of large-scale machinery will be suffused with sensors and software controls, all more and more interoperable. Increasing productivity, raising profits, eliminating waste, ensuring environmental quality, and improving manufacturing processes will all be automated activities, functions of a kind of ghost in the machine." What makes the industrial market different from the consumer-based market is the addition of physics-based modeling. "With a cloud-based, physics-based model, you can run a million scenarios simultaneously and pick one that is optimized for what you’re trying to accomplish."
According to this article, "we know that large-scale progress, in both getting children into school and learning, is possible." It being Stanford, a certain amount of scepticism is warranted (83 page PDF). The 'secret sauce' is actually a combination of "14 core ingredients that appear to contribute to scaling quality learning, with the right combination depending on the context," grouped into four areas:
It's hard to disagree with any of these points, but the difficulty is always in the details. How do you determine what learners actually want? How do you deal with the scale of delivery problems? What are the mechanisms for stable finance? How do you convince increasingly reluctant governments to take responsibility for education?
A few days ago University Ventures authored a piece in response to a post from the New America Foundation comparing Republicans who defend for-profit colleges to climate change deniers. The unattributed University Ventures article argues "this piece re-fights yesterday’s war... the many challenges and opportunities facing higher education lend themselves to bipartisan consensus – perhaps more than any other area of public policy."
Bipartisanship is of course a U.S. phenomenon. But it is worth noting that there are many things U.S. lawmakers agree upon that are opposed in corners around the world. I find myself frequently occupying those corners, and today is no exception. So, setting aside the for-profit colleges debate for another day, I'd like to take the time to point to the points where I disagree with what is taken to the the emerging consensus.
"Winter is here," writes Phil Hill as Ellucian ends support for Brainstorm, the competency-based education platform it acquired two years ago. This signals a permanent shift in the market, he says. "The business of Ed Tech is changing, and more decisions will be based on whether product lines have a real chance to become self-sustaining based on near-term revenue." We also reasd that " Ellucian is also putting Banner 8 into sustaining support mode and that customers need to be off that version by the end of 2018."
This is an interesting statistic: "Chromebook's share of the U.S. education market was 49 percent last year, up from 40 percent in 2015 and 9 percent in 2013, according to IDC figures released this week." Who would have thought it? But the Chromebook has several advantages: it's cheap, it's lightweight, and it provides access to a full set of tools. That said, "Macs and Windows laptops are still dominant on college campuses." But will this change? And could it go international? The answer to the latter question might be "no" - for example, "Chromebooks are useless in China because the device depends on Google services that aren't available there." But the concept would work, wouldn't it?
I can think of all sorts of policical questions that might be asked in the U.S. following this announcement (especially if the British import succeeds where the US-based alternatives failed). On the other hand, there is the global trade argument: "The partnership with FutureLearn will allow the universities to extend their reach internationally and tap into new communities of potential learners, according to a statement from the company."
As a counter to yesterday's post celebrating Apple, a couple of articles are out today with the opposite view. One of these points to the longstanding issue of Apple's software (where 'upgrade' is defined as 'removing features people use'). "Take the iPod," writes Ian Bogost. "It made listening to a whole music library easy, but iTunes always made managing that library difficult and confusing—even destructive. The other article asks Is Apple Over? Longtime Mac Shelly Palmer writes, "To be incompatible with the competition is expected. But for Apple's products to be incompatible with thousands of dollars' worth of equipment that Apple forced you to purchase borders on insane."
Amazon has launched a new video-chat and conference service called Chime. I can't say I'm a fan of the name. I downloaded the software and it seems slick if simple - note the nifty URL it give me, http://chime.aws/Downes - and I'll probably run some tests this week (so watch my Twitter account for announcements of ad hoc conferences) (note that the URL won't be useful unless I'm actually hosting a meeting).
Tony Bates reports on a project that sees him criss-crossing the country talking to education and technology innovators. He is "developing a comprehensive national survey of online learning and distance education in Canadian public post-secondary education" and working on "a project for Contact North, identifying pockets of innovation in online learning in Canadian post-secondary institutions outside Ontario." Both of these respond to oft-stated needs for more data on learning techn ology in Canada. He writes, "there seems to be a widening gap between what is actually happening on the ground and what we read or hear about in the literature and at conferences on innovation in online learning." That disconnect has always existed; it's why I report here on blogs and projects as well as on companies and academic literature.
I found this item while doing some background reading related to the IEEE-LTSC's approval today of a new proposal to look at standards for the ethical sharing of child and student data. The main point of the analysis - and indeed, the main reason for the IEEE project - is that the responsibility for the management of student data is shifting from the school to the technology company. We've seen how that can turn out badly. There's the risk of "disclosing sensitive information about children, like data about learning disabilities, disciplinary problems or family trauma." There's also a concern that "monitoring of students’ online activities may overly limit creativity, free speech and free thought, by creating a 'surveillance effect'." There are "concerns big data techniques prematurely and permanently labeling students as underperformers." And there are worries that "decision-making based on algorithmic models will exacerbate bias and create new forms of discrimination." Image: JISC, The future of data-driven decision-making.
Not the best headline (I thought it referred to a new U.S. government policy). But Michael Caulfield has released a new eBook (127 page PDF) on web literacy for students who are fact-checkers. There's some really useful and relatively novel content here: "how to use date filters to find the source of viral content, how to assess the reputation of a scientific journal in less than five seconds, and how to see if a tweet is really from the famous person... how to find pages that have been deleted, figure out who paid for the web site you’re looking at..." and a lot more. These are things I do on a daily basis to make sure I don't pass along junk in this newsletter. I'm glad Caulfield has rolled these techniques up into a single document and explained them for everyone.
As the website says, this "is a list of 50+ social media research tools curated by researchers at the Social Media Lab at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. The kit features tools that have been used in peer-reviewed academic studies. Many tools are free to use and require little or no programming. Some are simple data collectors such as tweepy, a Python library for collecting tweets and others are a bit more robust such as Netlytic, a multi-platform (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) data collector and analyzer, developed by our lab. All of the tools are confirmed available and operational."
An agreement between the Association of African Universities and eLearnAfrica "will enable 10 million students to access higher education through online services provided to AAU member universities," according to this report. As eLearnAfrica CEO Brook Negussie says, "Africa cannot afford to keep building multi-million dollar physical universities. The continent would have to open a few every week for years just to meet existing demand."
When we talk about education and human development we often overlook the fact that success is driven by a lot of factors that have nothing to do with learning. This article makes the point as clearly as any I've seen. Being well-nourished as a child, being safe, getting a good education, being debt-free, getting good introductions, eliminating the risk of failure, getting capital from the family, and having the right physical appearance - if you have all of these, you might be successful. Miss any of them (have a learning deficiency, lack confidence, be uneducated, be in debt, be unconnected, have no safety net, have no capital, be female or black or whatever) and your chances of success drop dramatically.
At a certain point, writes James Clay, "the problem is not the lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation." At what point, he asks, is there enough evidence? With some existing academics, "Despite years of “evidence” published in a range of journals, can studies from Jisc and others, you will find that what ever evidence you “provide” it won’t be good enough, to justify that academic to start embedding that technology into their practice." We need sometimes to understand what is motivating the question, rather than simply reaching for the answer.
This is a good article even if the writing gets excessively syrupy and sycophantic at times. The author identifies three major themes of "toxic innovation advice" and talks about how Apple has avoided them. Now I won't even touch an Apple device any more, but the three themes are nonetheless resonant. The first involves acquisitions: why doesn't Apple buy Dropbox, Uber, etc.? But buying the already successful isn't a good investment strategy. The second is advice to innovate incrementally, eg., to build better Windows-based systems, rather than abandoning windows entirely. But doing what was already successful isn't a good development strategy. Finally, there's the advice that Apple should target existing commodity markets. But building technology that was already successful isn't a good device strategy. You get the idea. The point here is that Apple isn't alone in getting this sort of advice. I get it all the time (and it often drives policy). The key to success is being able to resist it.
This post from University Ventures Exchange, people who "invests in entrepreneurs and institutions that are reimagining the future of higher education", seeks to find common ground where "the many challenges and opportunities facing higher education lend themselves to bipartisan consensus." From my reading these points are not "agreed on" at all, and of course the world consists or much more than the "bipartisan consensus" the VCs refer to. The fact is, they are seeing higher education institutions as they are - big engines of revenue that could be profitable investment centres - rather than what they could be for students and the public as a whole.
This is a really interesting report looking into issues related to school lunches in the United States by focusing on schools in Huntington, West Virginia, which had been labeled "the most unhealthy in the country" and had suffered the attentions of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. While the authors no doubt expected a disaster what they found was a local food services manager who was reforming the system from within. In the course of the article we read of the conflicts of interest that result in pizza being called a vegetable and the food industry dumping surplus cheese and butter on the system. And we read about the challenges posed by the idea that schools might refuse a poor child anything to eat because their parents didn't pay.
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