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What Professors Can Learn From ‘Hard Core’ MOOC Students – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education

May 20, 2013

What Professors Can Learn From ‘Hard Core’ MOOC Students

What Professors Can Learn From 'Hard-Core' MOOC Students 1

M. Scott Brauer for The Chronicle

Jonathan Haber took a year off from work with the goal of completing four years’ worth of undergraduate study via massive open online courses.

By Jeffrey R. Young

If people who sit at their computers for tens of hours each week zapping virtual monsters are hard-core gamers, then massive open online courses have led to a similarly obsessed breed of online student: the hard-core learner.

Nearly 100 students using Coursera, the largest provider of MOOCs, have completed 20 or more courses. And more than 900 students have finished 10 or more courses, according to the company. That means taking several courses at a time, and racing through as many lecture videos and robot-graded assignments as possible to collect certificates that carry no official credit.

The term “MOOCs” is meant to parallel the video-game acronym “MMOGs,” or massively multiplayer online games—collaborative worlds, like World of Warcraft, that have attracted millions of devoted players around the world. So perhaps it is no surprise that some MOOC students are driven to win as many certificates as possible and treat online lectures as a consuming pastime that keeps them from going outside to hang out with friends.

I talked at length with a handful of hard-core MOOC students, with questions big and small about why, and how much, they felt they were learning.

Most are driven mainly by curiosity rather than the desire to show off their certificates to any potential employer, and none has paid for a verified certificate.

Consider Anna Nachesa, a 42-year-old single mother in a village near Amsterdam who logs on to MOOCs for several hours each night after dinner with her teenage kids. She has always found TV boring, she says, and for her, MOOCs replace reading books. She is a physicist by training, with a degree from Moscow State University, and she works as a software developer.

“This stuff is actually addictive,” she says. In some ways the lure is like Everest: Some want to climb it to see if they can. “The Dutch have the proverb ‘If you never shoot, you already missed,'” she says.

It’s unlikely that MOOC addiction will grow into a pressing social problem—after all, Coursera already claims more than 3.5 million students, so these junkies are a small minority. But most of the people I interviewed say that they are somewhat embarrassed about how much time they spend glued to their laptops watching professors lecture, and that they plan to cut down from, say, seven courses at time to more like four.

“I don’t think it’s very healthy” is the confession of Pavel Lepin, a 35-year-old in the Latvian city of Jelgava who has earned certificates in “about 30” MOOCs, some from Coursera, some from Udacity, and some from edX. “My friends and co-workers are already making fun of me for being a Coursera addict.”

One reason Mr. Lepin takes so many MOOCs at once is that he’s afraid they might not last—or might not remain free—a concern shared by other students as well. “It boils down to what feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “I’m just afraid this thing might end sometime soon.”

4 Tips From MOOC Veterans

Colleges and professors teaching MOOCs or thinking about jumping in can learn a few things from these students, who have spent more time in these new virtual classrooms than just about anyone else on the planet.

Among their observations:

Clarity and organization are key. All six of the students said the quality of the MOOCs they’ve taken has varied widely. But a sure way to botch a MOOC comes down to one word: “ambiguity.” When assignments, expectations, or the mechanics of the course are unclear, forum discussions erupt with frustration and misinformation.

“Every little glitch is multiplied a thousandfold or 10,000-fold,” says Rich Seiter, a 47-year-old software engineer in Santa Cruz, Calif., who has completed 35 MOOCs. In the classroom setting that professors and students are used to—Mr. Seiter attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—such logistical issues can be quickly resolved, and many professors are accustomed to making up or adjusting the syllabus as they go along rather than having the whole semester planned before they start.

But Mr. Lepin argues that in MOOCs, the amount of planning, or lack of it, by the professor really shows. “There needs to be quite a bit of preparation,” he says. “Some were not ready in time for release.”

Professors are the stars. When the students talked about the MOOCs they’ve taken, they usually mentioned the professor first. They sometimes couldn’t remember the name of the university offering the course.

“It makes professors a kind of celebrity, and I think they deserve it,” says Ms. Nachesa. “It’s much better than having actors or other kinds be celebrities.”

Helen Weidner, a retired management analyst in Bastrop, Tex., who has completed 18 MOOCs, says she has been surprised by the level of adoration that MOOC students express in course-discussion forums. “Some of them wanted to make a T-shirt with the professor’s face and one of his quotes,” she says. Others said they were willing to donate money on crowdfunding sites to get a professor to offer additional courses.

Text still matters. When the only materials are lecture videos, it can be hard to go back and study for quizzes or exams, several of the students say. Since the videos aren’t searchable in most MOOCs, students aren’t sure where in the video to look for a given concept they are reviewing.

“I would really love that every course have some comparative set of reading materials,” says Ms. Nachesa, who notes that it is faster to skim through text than video.

Mr. Seiter likes it when professors make copies of their slides available for download, so he can print them out and take notes on them while he watches the lecture videos.

Many professors who teach MOOCs have been reluctant to require a textbook that would cost students money, and most of the students I talked with have skipped buying optional textbooks. But even transcripts of lectures could help, they say.

Passion matters most. Not all the professors are great on camera, according to the students. But even those whose performances are occasionally cringeworthy end up winning students’ hearts if the professors are clearly excited about the subject matter.

“There’s one thing that makes a great course—it’s passion,” says Mr. Lepin. It is a sentiment that most everyone I spoke with seems to share.

MOOC vs. Mainstream

Opinions are mixed on the biggest question: Are MOOC students learning as much as they would in traditional courses?

At least one hard-core learner is focused on that question. The student is Jonathan Haber, a 51-year-old who has taken a year off from his job in publishing to try to get an entire four years’ worth of college from MOOCs and other free online materials. He is blogging about his experience along the way.

Mr. Haber will have finished 16 MOOCs by June, out of his goal of 32, and he says he believes that in courses for which he does all the assignments and watches all the videos, he is learning as much as he remembers learning while he was earning his bachelor’s degree, at Wesleyan University.

Mr. Seiter agrees that it as possible to learn as much online as in a traditional course, but that to do so usually requires doing optional readings, which most MOOCers skip.

And he notes that the workload of MOOCs varies greatly, just as it does in in-person classes. He admits that he often does minimal work on the essays he submits in courses that require them, and that based on the essays he has seen in peer grading, other students seem to be doing the same.

“The commitment level is lower” in free classes, he says. “Work that’s submitted is not always the student’s best work.”

Markus Lauer, a 32-year-old Ph.D. student at Saarland University, in Germany, who has completed more than 28 MOOCs through Coursera, says the online courses have been a great way for him to get a quick introduction to new fields in a way books usually can’t provide.

But to really learn any of those subjects in depth, he says, he’d have to hit the books in a more traditional way.

“If you want to become an expert in the field,” he says, “I think you need the book.”

 What Professors Can Learn From ‘Hard Core’ MOOC Students – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.


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From 0 To 70 Computers With No Money And Open Source Software | Techdirt


From 0 To 70 Computers With No Money And Open Source Software

from the when-‘for-the-children’-actually-means-something dept



For today’s children, an education is not complete unless it comes with some form of computer interaction. In order to become fully functioning adults, these kids need to learn basic computer skills. Unfortunately for many schools, this goal runs in opposition to slashed budgets and bureaucratic apathy. What is an educator to do when he realizes that the computers that kids need are not going to be part of any budget the school has to offer?

Thanks to I Love Ubuntu, we have at least one answer answer. Robert Litt, a 6th grade teacher from Alameda County, faced just such a predicament. He needed to provide his students with computers but had no money and little support from the administration. So he set aboutbuilding the computer lab his students needed using donated computers and the UbuntuLinux operating system.

Why go with Ubuntu over the much more common Windows? Cost.

Most of the computers’ problems could be fixed by wiping the disks and reinstalling the operating system—but buying new software for every donated computer would be prohibitively expensive. So Robert began to research more affordable options. An acquaintance at the Alameda County Computer Recyclers suggested he use a free operating system, such as GNU/Linux.

This is one of the key issues of those hit with budget constraints. Computers can be expensive and having a proprietary operating system such as Windows can add to the cost. By going the Linux route, Robert was able to stick to his $0 budget and still provide the neccesary computers for the students. His early success in bringing in 18 computers led to additional excitement from both students and staff. He was then able to expand the computer lab to 70 computers through these means.

This success in building a quality lab has expanded the ability of the teachers at the school to teach meaningful computer skills to the students.

“The digital divide is growing in a hidden statistic,” Robert says, “the actual teaching of technology in a meaningful way.” He shows students how to do math on spreadsheets, how to make simple websites, how to put together slide presentations, all on free software. These are the computer skills that, students tell him, they are later expected simply to know.

By going this route, Robert was party to keeping the cost of education down, something that many people are trying to accomplish. It also brings in a fresh approach to teaching in the digital age. By stepping outside of his comfort zone when it comes to computers, Robert was able to expand his skill set. He now has an opportunity to share that new knowledge and skill with the students and hopefully expand the way in which they interact with technology. Something these kids and and future kids will be doing far more frequently.

From 0 To 70 Computers With No Money And Open Source Software | Techdirt.


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White House report says 300,000 education jobs lost since 2009 – The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room


The Hill Newspaper

White House report says 300,000 education jobs lost since 2009

By Meghashyam Mali


A new White House report released Saturday says budget cuts have forced state and local governments to cut 300,000 education jobs, a development the administration warns could set back American students.

The report which was prepared by the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, Domestic Policy Council, and the National Economic Council says that the 300,000 job losses have occurred since 2009, the end of the recession, supporting administration claims that education workers have yet to benefit from the economic recovery.

The study finds that the national student-teacher ratio has risen 4.6 percent over 2008 to 2010, eliminating gains made in the last decade.  

School districts across the country have taken steps to address their budget shortfalls including “laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, eliminating critical programs, shortening the school week or shortening the school year,” according to a White House statement announcing the report. 

The White House is using the report to bolster support for Obama’s call for $25 billion in spending to prevent teacher layoffs and invest in state education programs. 

“The difference between the President’s education budget proposals and those of Congressional Republicans highlights a choice between two fundamentally different visions for our country,” the report says.

The authors warn that House Republican budget cuts would “eliminate funding for 38,000 teachers and aides,” as well as a further loss of 27,000 special education teachers and fewer students in  programs such as Head Start, which provides education and health services to low-income children.

The plan to help states avert teacher layoffs, which the president proposed earlier this year as part of his jobs agenda, has been opposed by congressional Republicans who say that additional stimulus measures will not help boost the lukewarm economic recovery. 

In his weekly address on Saturday, the president used the report to highlight the need for further investment in education and pressed lawmakers to pass his proposal. He called Republican efforts to oppose increased education spending “backwards” and “wrong.”

“That plan doesn’t invest in our future; it undercuts our future,” said Obama. 

The White House report received support from the American Federation of Teachers. In a statement released Saturday, President Randi Weingarten said Washington, “should be increasing our commitment to children and to the public schools that educate 90 percent of them.”

“President Obama’s American Jobs Act legislation would change this calculus and the trajectory of our children’s future by averting deeper cuts to education by keeping teachers in the classroom, keeping class sizes manageable and preserving programs like early childhood education,” she added.


White House report says 300,000 education jobs lost since 2009 – The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room.


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Obama: Republican approach to education funding is backward | Reuters


Obama: Republican approach to education funding is backward


U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive by bus to speak at a campaign event at the Alliant Energy Amphitheater in Dubuque, Iowa, August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON | Sat Aug 18, 2012 3:35pm IST

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama accused Republicans on Saturday of a backward approach to education funding that would mean further teacher layoffs, in a veiled swipe at Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, who has led a drive for domestic-spending cuts.

Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to press for increased investment in schools, as a new White House report showed more than 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the 2007-2009 recession and asserted that Republican budget proposals would call for cutting tens of thousands more.

Though Obama did not mention Ryan by name, the Wisconsin congressman – a fiscal hawk picked last week by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to be his running mate – authored the Republicans’ budget blueprint that passed the House of Representatives last March with no Democratic support.

The Ryan plan subsequently died in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but Obama’s campaign wants voters to identify Romney with Ryan’s austerity plan, especially with its potential impact on popular programs like Medicare and public education.

“This year, several thousand fewer educators will be going back to school,” Obama said. “Since 2009, we’ve lost more than 300,000 education jobs, in part, because of budget cuts at the state and local level.”

“At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America, these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms,” he said.

Obama earlier this year proposed $25 billion in funding for states to prevent teacher layoffs. But Republicans blocked the initiative because it was part of Obama’s broader jobs package that they considered mostly wasteful spending.

“The economic plan that almost every Republican in Congress voted for would make the situation even worse. It would actually cut funding for education,” he said. “All to pay for a massive new tax cut for millionaires and billionaires.”

“That’s backwards. That’s wrong,” he said.

Obama has focused on education as part of his strategy to paint himself as a champion of the middle class and cast Romney as out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.

The plan crafted by Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, calls for reductions of about 20 percent in non-defense discretionary spending.

If these cuts were distributed evenly across budget areas, the White House report said, it would mean reductions in federal grants that would eliminate funding for 38,000 teachers and aides and a further 27,000 special-education teachers.

Ryan’s budget plan attempts to slow the federal government’s deficit spending, largely by cutting social programs and restructuring the Medicare healthcare system for the elderly. At the same time, Ryan proposed expensive income tax cuts, including rate reductions for the wealthy.

 Obama: Republican approach to education funding is backward | Reuters.


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A Conversation With Bill Gates – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education

A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education

Bill Gates never finished college, but he is one of the single most powerful figures shaping higher education today. That influence comes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, perhaps the world’s richest philanthropy, which he co-chairs and which has made education one of its key missions.

The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Gates in an exclusive interview Monday to talk about his vision for how colleges can be transformed through technology. His approach is not simply to drop in tablet computers or other gadgets and hope change happens—a model he said has a “really horrible track record.” Instead, the foundation awards grants to reformers working to fix “inefficiencies” in the current model of higher education that keep many students from graduating on time, or at all. And he argues for radical reform of college teaching, advocating a move toward a “flipped” classroom, where students watch videos from superstar professors as homework and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities. As he put it, “having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing.”

The Microsoft founder doesn’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, he describes the foundation’s process as one of continual refinement: “to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners to do things.”

The interview comes on the eve of Mr. Gates’s keynote speech at an event Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the nationwide system of land-grant colleges. The “convocation” will be held in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.

Below: A complete transcript of the conversation. First: Three video excerpts from the chat. (We’ll post additional clips throughout the week.)

On Business’s Role in Higher Education

“If you’re engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that’s a bad thing.”

On Tablets in the Classroom

“Just giving people devices … has a really horrible track record.”

On the Meaning of MOOC’s

“Even though I only have a high-school degree, I’m a professional student.”

Q. You have been interested in education for quite a while. I was looking back at your 1995 book, The Road Ahead, and you laid out a vision of education and how it could be transformed with technology. It seems like some of that vision is still only just emerging, so many years later. Did it take longer than you thought it would?

A. Oh sure. Education has not been changed. That is, institutional education, whether it’s K-12 or higher education, has not been substantially changed by the Internet. And we’ve seen that with other waves of technology. Where we had broadcast TV people thought would change things. We had early time-sharing computing—so-called CAI, computer-assisted instruction—where people could do these drills, and people thought that would change things. So it’s easy to say that people have been overoptimistic in the past. But I think this wave is quite different. I think it’s more fundamental. And we can say that individual education has changed. That is, for the highly-motivated student, the ability to go online and find lectures of various length—to see class materials—there’s a lot of people who are learning far better because of those materials. But it’s much harder to then take it for the broad set of students in the institutional framework and decide, OK, where is technology the best and where is the face-to-face the best. And they don’t have very good metrics of what is their value-added. If you try and compare two universities, you’ll find out a lot more about the inputs—this university has high SAT scores compared to this one. And it’s sort of the opposite of what you’d think. You’d think people would say, “We take people with low SATs and make them really good lawyers.” Instead they say, “We take people with very high SATs and we don’t really know what we create, but at least they’re smart when they show up here so maybe they still are when we’re done with them.” So it’s a field without a kind of clear metric that then you can experiment and see if you’re still continuing to achieve it.

Q. So who’s to blame? Are there things like the U.S. News rankings or other pressures that give colleges the wrong incentives?

A. Well there certainly is a perverse set of incentives to a lot of universities to compete for the best students. And whether that comes out in terms of being more selective or investing in sort of the living experience, it’s probably not where you’d like the innovation and energy to go. You’d like it to go into the completion rates, the quality of the employees that get generated by the learning experience. The various rankings have focused on the input side of the equation, not the output.

Q. There’s a moving moment in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs that describes a time when you visited Mr. Jobs at his house not long before his passing, and the two you reflected on the innovations you both led in technology. I understand that one thing Steve Jobs asked you that day was about how technology could change education. What did you tell him?

A. Well, I’d been involved in the education space because of my full-time foundation work. And so I’d been able to get out to various charter schools, to inner-city high schools, to community colleges, different universities, and learn about the financial situation about what discourages kids. And based on that, you get more of a sense of, OK where can technology come in? If the kids don’t have to come to the campus quite as often, that would be good. But then what’s the element that technology can’t deliver? And it’s through that that I really have developed a lot of optimism that we can build a hybrid. Something that’s not purely digital but also that the efficiency of the face-to-face time is much greater. Where you take the kid who’s demotivated or confused, or where something needs to be a group collaboration as opposed to the lecture. So I talked about the vision and what type of innovators we should draw in.

Q. Getting to some of those ideas, you’re famously not a college graduate, since you left Harvard early to start Microsoft. So I’m curious what you think of EdXout of Harvard and MIT. What do you think of that model of certificates or badges for taking free online courses?

A. Well at the end of the day you’ve got to have something that employers really believe in. And today what they believe in by and large are degrees. And if you have a great degree then you’re considered for jobs, and if you don’t have that degree there’s a lot of jobs you won’t get consideration for. And so the question is, Can we transform this credentialing process? And in fact the ideal would be to separate out the idea of proving your knowledge from the way you acquire that knowledge. So even though I only have a high-school degree, I am a professional student. That is, I like to watch courses and do things online. So things like OpenCourseWare, the various lectures that have been put online, I consume a lot of those because I’m very interested.

Q. That’s interesting. I’m hearing a lot about that idea in the tech industry—such as companies like Microsoft trying to hire programmers—but do you think this could work as well in things like humanities fields where it’s harder to measure mastery?

A. Well, there are a lot of fields where things are fairly objective. If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, there are various exams that are given for those things. There are softer areas, like you want to be a salesman or something, but it’s not even clear what college degree is appropriate for that. Employers have decided that having the breadth of knowledge that’s associated with a four-year degree is often something they want to see in the people they give that job to. So instead of testing for that different profession, they’ll be testing that you have that broader exposure.

Q. The Gates Foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to traditional universities and to some new upstart players in higher education. But with that amount it would be possible to build a new campus of your own—have you considered starting your own university?

A. Well, we have a couple of people who are starting new universities that we’re getting behind. They’re looking at low-cost models where they figure out the right student pool, where they use technology the right way.

For us, our role is different than that. Our role is to make sure that the universities that are out there that already have a lot of professors, a lot of real estate, a lot of reputation, that if there’s ways that they can do things better, like looking at their completion rates and saying, OK, what are the best-practices? And seeing a student who seems to be disengaged, what do you to do to get them re-engaged?

Even these top universities often only have a 60-percent completion rate. And the average university will have something like a 30-percent completion rate. So you have an immense amount of wasted resource, and students who end up with a big loan and sort of a negative experience in terms of their own self-confidence. And so that failing student is a disaster for everyone. And yet there’s been surprisingly little put into finding out who does it well. Even universities knowing their completion rates. It’s only been recently with some things we and others have gotten behind that there have been standard metrics and a willingness to share what is actually a fairly embarrassing statistic for these universities and be able to say if somebody’s got 80 percent, what are they doing? Is it the pool of people they bring in or what they’re doing when they get there?

Q. The role of business in higher education is a hot topic these days. Many new online-education efforts are run by companies, and in some ways the controversy at the University of Virginia over the forced resignation of the president there was partly about how fast the institution should move online and adopt a more business-style approach. What would you say to those who worry that businesses, and in some cases even foundations like yours, are becoming too influential at traditional colleges?

A. Well, if you’re against completion and measuring completion then, yeah, we’re a real problem. Because we’re saying, Hey, maybe we ought to look at that. Because budgets are so tight we’re going to have to find best practices there, and if you’re engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that’s a bad thing.

Our goal is pretty simple: Seeing the U.S. education system as a real gem. As the thing that’s provided broad opportunity and made the country do very well. And so the question is how do we renew that when others have looked at what we do well and copied a lot of those things. And so their universities are getting a lot better. Their completion rates are better than ours. Their efficiency rates are better than ours. The number of students who go into science and math are better than ours. What is it that we need to do to strengthen this fundamental part of our country that both in a broad sort of economic level and an individual-rights level is the key enabler. And it’s amazing how little effort’s been put into this. Of saying, OK, why are some teachers at any different level way better than others? You’ve got universities in this country with a 7-percent completion rate. Why is it that they don’t come under pressure to change what they’re doing to come up with a better way of doing things? So if casting light on the current state of the system is a good thing, then we’re a positive change. And if not, then people could feel differently.

Q. In blunter terms, some have asked what makes successful business people—even if they are successful at business—qualified to weigh in on the operation of universities?

A. Well, obviously anything that has to do with the universities is going to be figured out by people who’ve worked in universities, and it’s going to be piloted in universities. I don’t think there’s any business people who are just walking out of their office door and walking over to a university and saying, Hey, reorganize your university this way. I’ve never heard of that. What we do is we fund universities who are on the cutting edge. And so it’s people from universities who apply and say, Hey, I want to do this next-generation learning. Because you need the people doing the neat content, and the people who actually sit with the students and motivate the students and help them when they’re confused, help them with the labs, you need those elements to come together.

Take remedial math, which is an absolute disaster. What destroys more self-confidence than any other educational thing in America is being assigned to some remedial math when you get into some college, and then it’s not taught very well and you end up with this sense of, Hey, I can’t really figure those things out. If we can take and bring the right technical things and people things to that, then that would make a huge difference.

So all the grants are to people in universities, and, yes, some people in universities disagree with other people in universities. But if you have a sense that completion is a good thing, then you’re all eventually going to come to a consensus that yes, we can improve.

Q. Still, these grants do create an incentive—and it’s not just your foundation, it’s all foundations—to work toward the goals that the foundation has set out. It sounds like your argument is that you’re placing a variety of bets, in a way, rather than telling universities that this is the way that it should be done with your grant money, which is pretty powerful.

A. We bet on the change agents within the universities. And so, various universities come to us and say, We have some ideas about completion rates, here are some things we want to try out, it’s actually budget that holds us back from being able to do that. People come to us and say, We want to try a hybrid course where some piece is online, some piece is not, and we’re aiming this at the students that are in the most need, not just the most elite. So that’s who we’re giving grants to, people who are trying out new things in universities. Now the idea that if you have a few universities that figure out how to do things well. how do you spread these best practices, that’s a tough challenge. It’s not the quite same way as in the private sector that if somebody’s doing something better, the price signals force that to be adopted broadly. Here, things move very slowly even if they are an improvement.

Q. Some of what you’ve been talking about is getting people to completion by weeding out extraneous courses. There’s a concern by some that that might create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without the citizenship focus of that broad liberal-arts degree.

A. Right now, a lot of the institutions that are all-access are essentially overloaded. That is, if you’re trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time you’ll find yourself constantly not able to get into various required courses. And so if you’re taking more years and more courses simply because you’re being held out of the ones that are required for your degree, that’s a real problem. And there’s not very good metrics about that. Costs are being constrained because the state money is going down. They can only raise tuition a certain amount, and what happens is the federal support for tuition is really very up in the air, like so many elements of the federal budget right now. And so yes, it is important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus, versus they’re just marking time because they’re being held up because the capacity doesn’t exist in the system to let them do what they want to do. As you go through the student survey data, it’s mostly the latter. But I’m the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things. And hopefully, if these courses are appealing enough, we can get people even after they’ve finished a college degree to want to go online and take these courses.

Q. At a conference in 2010, your said that in five years, “placed-based colleges,” would be less important because of the rise of some of these video-based options and credentials. Should traditional college leaders be worried about their place-based model?

A. If they want to innovate, they should be worried about whether they’re going to pick the right things and innovate in the right way. If the point is, can you just stay the same, I think the answer is no. Other countries are sending more kids to college. They’re getting higher completion rates. They’ve moved ahead of us. The cost of an education just keeps going up. So you’ve go to see if you can change the way the system works. Having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing. On the other hand, having a bunch of kids come into a small study group where peers help each other, where you can explain why you’re learning these various topics, that will be even more important. And so the skill sets that you want on the university campus and that you’re really valuing and measuring and giving feedback to, I think those are shifting somewhat because we can take the lecture piece versus that study-group piece and make the lecture piece more of a shared element, and not have to have that duplicated again and again.

Yes, universities are somewhat reluctant to give up a piece. So it’s not clear who those innovators will be. But I think its time is coming.

Q. Tablet computers are big these days. The Surface tablet was just released by Microsoft last week, and iPads are all over campuses, but it doesn’t sound like your approach has been to give devices to students and hope things change that way. What do you think needs to happen for factors like tablets to really make a difference? Or is that not even part of the equation?

A. Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.

But the device is not the key limiting factor at this point, at least in most countries. If we ever get the curriculum to be super, super good, then the access piece, which is the most expensive part, will be challenging, requiring special policies to let people get access. The device, you’ll be able to check out of the library a portable PC, so I don’t see that as the key thing right now.

Q. Is there a professor or teacher who inspired you to get into education? And of all the things that your foundation could invest in, why higher education, and where does that passion come from?

A. For the United States, I think the main area that will determine whether we retain our traditional strength or not is what we do in the education system, and I put K-12 and higher ed into that.

In higher ed, there’s a part of it that has been extremely strong in the U.S.—the best in the world. You know it hasn’t been easy for other people to do what we’ve done well. But for the first time now, we see them doing some of those things. The top universities in China, like Tsinghua, is a world-class university, absolutely in the top 50 universities in the world. So we have to double-down, particularly when there’s new opportunity, which technology is bringing, and when there’s a challenge, which all these budget issues are pretty dramatic in that regard. So there’s nothing more catalytic. There’s nothing that was more important to me in terms of the kind of opportunity I had personally. I went to a great high school. I went to a great university. I only went three years, but it doesn’t matter; it was still extremely valuable to me to be in that environment. And I had fantastic professors throughout that whole thing. And so, if every kid could have that kind of education, we’d achieve a lot of goals both at the individual and country level.

Q. As a foundation, what’s next? Do you see new areas, maybe domestic health care, say, or are there other new sectors that the foundation might get into?

A. Basically no, because until we achieve our goals in the areas we picked—globally, it’s really health, agriculture, things having to do with helping poor people, and here in the U.S. it’s education—because these are tough-enough problems. We want to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners. And so until we’ve done something quite dramatic, which in the best case would be in 10 to 20 years, we’re not going to move on and do something else. So we’ve really picked our areas and hopefully every year we get a little bit better in how we pursue them.

Q. What did you learn from K-12 that you’re bringing to higher ed?

A. In K-12 you learn a lot about the motivational aspects. Why should somebody learn algebra? It’s so far away in terms of connecting that with a job or any life outcome. And how to make things interesting. K-12 has been more homogenized in terms of how it’s done: what the standards are, what the personnel system looks like. One of the strengths of higher ed is the variety. But the variety has also meant that if somebody is doing something particularly well, it’s hard to map that across a lot of different institutions. There aren’t very many good metrics. At least in high schools we can talk about dropout rates. Completion rate was really opaque, and not talked about a lot. The quality-measure things are equally different. We don’t have a gold standard like SAT scores or No Child Left Behind up at the collegiate level. And of course, kids are more dispersed in terms of what their career goals are at that point. So it’s got some things that make it particularly challenging, but it has a lot in common, and I’d say it’s equally important to get it right.

 A Conversation With Bill Gates – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Try Finding a Job Without a G.E.D. –


Try Finding a Job Without a G.E.D.

Published: June 24, 2012


The General Educational Development test, which provides the equivalent of a high school diploma, is being revised to conform with the rigorous new standards proposed by the National Governors Association, along with state school superintendents. New York State and New York City will have to do more to prepare people for an exam that could help them get a leg up in the job market.

Far too many of the 50,000 New Yorkers who take the G.E.D. each year do so without preparation. The state pays only for the test and a $20 subsidy per test taker to help run the nonprofit centers that offer the exam, and the pass rate is a low 59 percent. The rate for Iowa, where students take a diagnostic test and receive remedial help at little or no cost, is 98 percent.

The New York City Council has a pilot project that funnels unskilled job seekers into test preparation programs. The results have been good — a pass rate of 83 percent — but with only a thousand people enrolled, the programs will need to be greatly expanded. The Bloomberg administration, with a grant from the MetLife Foundation, is trying to develop a model for educating more adult learners more quickly. At the same time, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed zeroing out a program that, for the modest cost of $5.2 million, served an estimated 6,000 people who participated in adult education classes in 2010.

In addition to becoming more rigorous, the G.E.D. is moving from a paper-and-pencil format to an online system that state officials say will raise the state’s cost from about $58 per person for the current exam to $120 for the new test, which comes online in 2014.

The state is looking into the option of developing a less expensive exam in collaboration with other states.

These are the numbers that matter most: 2.3 million people in New York State without a high school diploma — 1.3 million in the city. The economy needs educated workers. Anyone willing to study for the G.E.D. deserves help.

 Try Finding a Job Without a G.E.D. –

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A Broken System: Einstein Wouldn’t Have Been ‘Qualified’ To Teach High School Physics | Techdirt

A Broken System: Einstein Wouldn’t Have Been ‘Qualified’ To Teach High School Physics

from the time-to-fix-things dept


We’ve argued for years that many professions that require certain forms of “licensing” are often more about restricting supply. That’s not to say those who set up the licensing effort didn’t have the best of intentions, but the end effect often doesn’t actually do much to benefit the public. I’m reminded of this after reading economist Charles Wheelen explaining why Albert Einstein technically wouldn’t have been “qualified” to teach high school physics after retiring from a distinguished career at Princeton. And, for Wheelen, it’s not just hypothetical:

When my wife tried to make a mid-career switch to teaching math in the Chicago Public Schools, I no longer needed a hypothetical example. I realized that licensing had the potential to be every bit as harmful in practice as I’d been saying it was in theory.

My wife Leah graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth. She was a computer science major with an emphasis on math. She worked in the software industry, built a company, and then sold it. She seemed, in every respect, perfectly qualified to teach middle-school math.

She found a job at a school adjacent to a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. On about day three of that job—after she had met the students, decorated the classroom, and started teaching—the principal informed Leah that she did not have a “middle-school math endorsement,” which the State of Illinois requires.

Amazingly, this happened a second time as well. She did get the “math endorsement,” but then lost a job teaching algebra because she didn’t have a special “algebra endorsement.” And yet, she’s clearly qualified to teach those subjects. And, even more importantly, Wheelen points to research showing that students with “certified” teachers don’t do any better than those with “uncertified” teachers — suggesting the whole process has little to do with making sure students get the best education.

A Broken System: Einstein Wouldn’t Have Been ‘Qualified’ To Teach High School Physics | Techdirt.

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Wiping out for-profit schools – Student Loan Debt –


Wiping out for-profit schools

A bill banning career schools from using student loan money for recruitment could doom predatory colleges


Wiping out for-profit schools

Kay Hagan(Credit: AP/Harry Hamburg)

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., promoted a bill she has introduced that would prohibit for-profit colleges from using taxpayer-funded financial aid for marketing, recruiting or advertising purposes.

Make no mistake, Hagan’s bill, if it becomes law, would cut for-profit schools off at their knees. The top 15 publicly traded for-profit colleges derive 85 percent of their revenue from federal financial aid. If they can’t spend that money on marketing, recruiting and advertising, then they effectively can’t market, recruit or advertise — or at least not at anywhere near the scale they currently do.

I reported last month that Corinthian, one of the biggest for-profit colleges, spends a quarter of its $1 billion-plus revenue on marketing and recruiting. But in the course of answering a question I asked Sen. Hagan about the assertion by for-profit school lobbyists that more regulation would decrease educational opportunities for low-income Americans, minorities and military veterans, the senator delivered an even more eye-popping statistic. Hagan serves on the Senate Health, Education and Labor and Pension Committee that has been leading the government’s investigation into the for-profit sector. One of the schools the committee looked at, said Hagan, had 1,700 recruiters and only one counselor.

A little follow-up research reveals that school to be Bridgepoint Inc., a relatively recent, but very fast-growing entry into the for-profit sector. According to HELP committee analysis of data provided by Bridgepoint, as of March 2011, Bridgepoint employed 1,703recruitment sales staff, and only one job placement counselor. Bridgepoint spends 30 percent of its revenue on marketing and recruitment. (The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in February that Bridgepoint did not contest the numbers in a press release.)

Why would a school with a total, at the time, of 77,892 students, need 1,703 recruiters? An extraordinary withdrawal rate of 84 percent from its two-year associate degree program might go some way toward explaining that. To keep generating new revenue from federal loans, Bridgepoint must keep enrolling new students.

Bridgepoint would not exist in its current form if Sen. Hagan’s bill becomes law. Technically speaking, that might be construed to support the argument that the type of student that enrolls at Bridgepoint — low-income, minority, military veteran — would have fewer opportunities for an education. But given those withdrawal rates, as well as the very high student loan default rates that plague the for-profit sector, one has to ask, is that such a bad thing?

 Wiping out for-profit schools – Student Loan Debt –

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End student loans, don’t make them cheaper |

End student loans, don’t make them cheaper

 RICHARD VEDDER , Bloomberg News 

Updated: June 18, 2012

We have millions of under-qualified college students borrowing or getting Pell Grants to finance college.

Paul Tong illustration on student debt.

Photo: Paul Tong, Tribune Media Services

·         93

U.S. employers complain that they can’t find enough skilled employees. Then how do we explain why almost 54 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed, even in scientific and technical fields, according to a study conducted for the Associated Press by Northeastern University researchers?

The cause is more fundamental than the cycles of the economy: The country is turning out far more college graduates than jobs exist in the areas traditionally reserved for them: the managerial, technical and professional occupations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that we now have 115,000 janitors, 83,000 bartenders, 323,000 restaurant servers, and 80,000 heavy-duty truck drivers with bachelor’s degrees – a number exceeding that of uniformed personnel in the U.S. Army.

Was college worth it? A huge part of the problem relates to federal financial-aid programs. Annual student loans, Pell Grants, tax credits and other federal assistance totaled some $169 billion a year in 2010-11 – more than 1 percent of national output. These programs are based on two erroneous premises: that almost everyone needs higher education for vocational success, and that they reduce student costs.

More than 25 years ago, Education Secretary William Bennett argued that federal aid programs benefited colleges more than students. Recent studies by Stephanie Riegg Cellini of George Washington University and Claudia Goldin of Harvard University, as well as by Andrew Gillen for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, support that hypothesis.

A new study by Nicholas Turner of the Office of Tax Analysis in the U.S. Treasury Department argues that when tax-based aid goes up, institutional scholarships go down, dollar for dollar.

Consequently, we have millions of underqualified college students borrowing or getting Pell Grants to finance college.

More than 40 percent of them don’t even graduate within six years, and many who do have marginal academic records. Because the average college student spends fewer than 30 hours a week on all academic activities, for about 30 weeks a year, never have so many dollars gone to teach so many students for so little vocational gain.

Besides leading to more underemployed college students of increasingly dubious academic quality, the dysfunctional federal student financial assistance programs have other pathologies:

First, universities, unlike the taxpayers, suffer no financial consequences when the underqualified students they have lured into their academic programs ultimately default on their loans.

Second, students who study six years but ultimately drop out receive more financial aid than the diligent “A” student graduating in three years: We reward mediocrity and punish excellence.

Third, there is no adjustment of student-loan interest-rate terms to meet market conditions or differing risk factors relating to individual repayment prospects. That means too much money is lent, especially to high-risk individuals with little prospect for academic success.

Fourth, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, associated with these programs, aside from being unbearably complex, gives colleges private information about family finances that allows them to gouge students more.

Fifth, colleges’ tuition and fee policies drive the amount of loan volume, rather than the other way around, thus contributing to the college-cost explosion and the subsequent academic arms race.

Sixth, intended partly to promote greater opportunities for the poor, these federal-aid programs have been accompanied both by rising income inequality in the United States, and a decline in the proportion of recent college graduates from poor families.

Proponents of federal student-loan programs argue that private student-loan markets are underdeveloped, that banks are afraid to lend to students, largely because of their lack of credit history. This argument is vastly overblown. It is amazing how students have no trouble getting credit cards and racking up debt, or little difficulty borrowing to buy a car. Why would college be any different?

Yes, the goal of providing educational opportunity for all seems commendable. Any revamping of the federal student- assistance program would have to be phased in to avoid severe hardship and enrollment disruptions. But here are some better policies:

— The federal government should get out of the student loan business.

— It should provide educational vouchers (similar to Pell Grants) directly to students (not schools), and make those vouchers progressive (very low-income students receive the most, fairly low-income students a little, and middle- and upper- income children nothing).

— Add performance incentives, rewarding timely degree completion and good performance.

— Remove the tuition tax credit that largely assists relatively affluent students and their families; perhaps use savings from all of the above to reduce the budget deficit.

— Eliminate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form and require that applicants give the Internal Revenue Service permission to provide family-income data.

My guess is that the total number of students attending four-year programs would fall modestly, a good thing given the disconnect between the labor market and college enrollment; that the proportion of students from lower-income families would probably increase (also good) both because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is a barrier for lower-income families, and the burden of aid reductions would fall mainly on the colleges and more affluent students.

Also, the total cost to the federal government would drop significantly.

More radical solutions might involve rolling many government-income security programs into compulsory tax- sheltered 401(k)-like lifetime individual security and investment accounts, allowing withdrawals for college costs. However it is done, the current system needs replacing.

 End student loans, don’t make them cheaper |

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U.S. Students Know What, But Not Why – ScienceInsider

ScienceInsider - breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

U.S. Students Know What, But Not Why

by Cathy Tran on 19 June 2012


Cyber challenge. Interactive computer testing offers a better way of measuring students’ science skills.

The first-ever use of interactive computer tasks on a national science assessment suggests that most U.S. students struggle with the reasoning skills needed to investigate multiple variables, make strategic decisions, and explain experimental results.

Paper-and-pencil exams measure how well students can critique and analyze studies. But interactive tasks also require students to design investigations and test assumptions by conducting an experiment, analyzing results, and making tweaks for a new experiment. Those real-world skills were measured for the first time on the science component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that was given in 2009 to a representative sample of students in grades four, eight, and 12.

“Before this, we’ve never been able to know if students really could do this or not,” says Alan Friedman, a member of National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. The overall scores on the 2009 science test were released in January 2011, and today’s announcement focuses on the results from the portion of the test involving interactive computer tasks.

What the vast majority of students can do, the data show, is make straightforward analyses. More than three-quarters of fourth grade students, for example, could determine which plants were sun-loving and which preferred the shade when using a simulated greenhouse to determine the ideal amount of sunlight for the growth of mystery plants. When asked about the ideal fertilizer levels for plant growth, however, only one-third of the students were able to perform the required experiment, which featured nine possible fertilizer levels and only six trays. Fewer than half the students were able to use supporting evidence to write an accurate explanation of the results. Similar patterns emerged for students in grades 8 and 12.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” says Friedman, who is also a consultant in museum development and science communication.

The computer simulations offer NAEP a much better way to measure skills used by real scientists than do multiple-choice questions, says Chris Dede, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Scientists don’t see the right answer. They see confusing situations and use methods like inquiry to get meaning from complexity. Science is a domain where paper and pencil is a poor match.”

The more the test matches the domain, Dede adds, the less problematic teaching to the test becomes. Interactive computer tasks also allow examiners to speed up processes and eliminate safety concerns raised by having students perform actual hands-on tasks.

Computer simulations will continue to evolve at NAEP, which likes to call itself the nation’s report card. Friedman says that so-called embedded assessments—which can provide the ability to track when students make a mistake and what they do to correct it—would be “dynamite information” to have. Keystroke data, for instance, have the potential to provide insight about the reasoning skills that students use to solve problems.

“It may give us a way to reward students who don’t necessarily jump to the answer right away but show a deliberate process to get to the answer,” says Friedman. It could also identify those students who have learned material without really understanding it. “There is no way to memorize for this test,” says Friedman. “You really have to think on your feet.”

 U.S. Students Know What, But Not Why – ScienceInsider.

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