by Stephen Downes
Feb 13, 2017
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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