This is my site about the future of education. In the spirit of DIY U, I made it myself–with help from friends, colleagues, and Twitterfolks.
You might also be interested in my new free ebook and website The Edupunks’ Guide full of resources for independent learners, my Fast Company column Life In Beta, my Tribune Media column The Savings Game, my Book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, my Twitter feed@Anya1anya, or in having me come speak at a campus or gathering near you.
I am going to start collecting all the pieces I publish on the future of education and related interesting topics, and sending them to interested people in a batch. I’m starting with once every two weeks so it doesn’t get too overwhelming for you or for me.
Sign up here:
Here’s a video of me on February 19 with the very intelligent Canadian Gabe Zicherman, Mr. Gamification.
Great conversation and connections. Impressive event. Wish I’d blocked out more time for it.
On the 22nd I was at Ashoka U Exchange’s TEDx event in San Diego speaking on “finding your place in the universe.” Here’s their coverage. Here’s what it sparked for me–reflection on the role of the university itself as a social enterprise.
I also spoke at Boston College on the 26th. Here’s an incredibly thoughtful response from from L.B. Carfagna who I met when she volunteered as a facilitator on the P2PU DIY U group. And who showed me a lot of kindness by waiting for me at the T stop and conveying me across the campus to the library.
This Saturday back in NYC I was at Enstitute’s Dreamers, Doers and Dropouts panel featuring Albert Wenger and Sasha Laundy (who I was personally really impressed by) and Tony Waggoner, who killed it as usual.
And today I hopped on Google Hangout with Alan Webb, Alison Jean Cole and the participants in the Open Masters Project, who have formed a community to pursue some truly fascinating research projects while also pushing forward the concept of community and DIY U.
And tomorrow I’m headed to SXSWEdu to put my arms around the highly caffeinated, venture funded world where learners are blending with consumers and everyone will be delivered into superinformed nirvana. Sample annoying question: if online learning and community building are so great why did you fly to Texas to stand in line for Shiner Bock?
So that’s literally the last two weeks in my life. My goal for March is to continue working on my new book proposal and send out my first monthly email newsletter.
A Florida high school student wrote to Diane Ravitch that her school’s computer lab is being used for taking standardized tests for 124 out of 180 days in the school year.
Why all this test madness in schools?
Somewhere along the way, as is human nature, the tests shifted from being a way to measure something important, to the ends in themselves.
Few argue that the millions of hours and millions of dollars devoted to preparing for and taking tests inside and outside of school is really improving our children’s learning. But no one seems to have figured out a way to move beyond the tyranny of the bubble test bubble.
The tests we choose will determine the kinds of educational outcomes we have. If we want to shift our purpose, the answer lies in an entirely different approach to testing: one that uses more information, not less. The way forward is suggested in educational theory, which speaks of “summative” and “formative” assessment.
Summative assessments are the kinds of tests we have far too many of right now. They are the same for every student. They are simply the bar you must clear to determine whether you get to move up or not. They are Procrustean: students who are far smarter and better prepared than the norm aren’t depicted adequately by their scores, and neither are students who are too far behind, are dyslexic, get nervous, have an undiagnosed learning disability, need glasses, arrived in the country four months ago, or didn’t get breakfast this morning. Students learn almost nothing from taking a summative assessment except that they are good enough or not good enough.
Formative assessments are different. They are given “for” the student not “to” the student. They are designed to help the student as well as the authority figures giving the tests. Diagnostic assessments, a type of formative assessment given before you start learning, create a picture of individual strengths and weaknesses: a map of what to do next. Formative assessments provide ongoing feedback that directs the course of learning. They work like the leaderboards and dashboards on video games: A social, fun, ongoing competition that tells you and others who you are, what you are good at, and how you are doing right now. Since formative assessments are ongoing, they are inherently more fluid. They always offer the chance to try again and do better next time, and there is a built-in assumption that you will have better days and worse days: failure is part of the process. But they are also more rich. They tell you the story of the semester and the school year and the student herself, not of six hours on one Saturday morning.
Until now, formative assessments have been too unwieldy to inform big decisions in education. But for the first time in the history of education, technologies being developed and tested right now provide the means to continuously collect and usefully read the records that students leave of their learning every day, whether they are engaged in traditional subjects, project-based collaborations, experiential learning, or anything else. This means we no longer need to spend millions of dollars and millions of hours pushing students toward artificial summative test experiences.
Changing the tests changes everything, because the test is how we know how we are doing.
I’m in this weird space right now where it seems like there’s a lot of public conversations going on around topics I’ve been immersed in for years, like student loan debt, college access and quality, and educational innovation. I’m trying to stay fresh by moving into the world of K-12 but of course I also want to be part of these conversations, without feeling like I’m repeating myself.
I’ve also been working a ton, because I’ve finally been released to freelance on education topics and at the same time shifted to contributing a lot more to Fast Company’s website. Here’s my cover story on charter schools in the Village Voice. Here’s two pieces in the American Prospect on higher education aid and student loans. Here’s an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed. Here’s my last ten pieces in Fast Company. All of that in the last month. And I have three feature stories going on right now. Whew.
But I have something to say about MOOCs. Specifically about the quality of pedagogy in MOOCs as offered by platforms like Coursera and Udacity and edX. David Wiley, who has taught me a lot of stuff, said this at least five years ago, actually. MOOCs are content. Content is infrastructure. Infrastructure is just the first step.
MOOCs are content = a MOOC is not a course. A sage-on-stage lecture-based course is not particularly innovative, I know. But take those same lectures, chop them up into short segments, make them fastforwardable, pausable, allow people to add comments, ask a question in the forums, start and stop any time they want, work examples in realtime alongside the instructor, go to Wikipedia to look something up–
–you have changed the fundamental nature of the experience. The power relationship is different. The talking head is shrunk to the size of a thumbnail. She speaks at the whim of the student. And her truth is represented as one among many hundreds of options, all of which are accessible for free.
Content is infrastructure = If you look at it this way, a MOOC is really more like a glorified (really glorified) textbook. It’s not an end-to-end solution. It’s the basis of an experience that people have individually and collectively. Interaction with other people around the ideas is always going to be the important part of what happens to people when they are engaged with any kind of educational content.
Infrastructure is just the first step = People give MOOCs too much credit and too much blame. Obviously there are better and worse ways to design them. But more important to look at the system they’re a part of.
What’s the most important thing about MOOCs? The people who are engaging in them. The numbers — the volume– the scale–the impact. This is what blows peoples’ minds. It’s not what is in the MOOC, it is who is in the MOOC that matters. It’s the way that they engage with each other and the ideas. And it’s what they do with it next.
There’s a lot of ways to describe the education debate, and it just occurred to me that one of them is to examine the different understandings of the word failure.
Some people like failure and some people hate it. Let me explain:
Failure : the cons.
Success IS the American dream. it’s a tautology. Failure, the opposite of success, is to be avoided at all costs.
With centralized planning (large bureaucracy, large corporation, large governments) failure is a disaster. You have cascading failures. Network failure. Too big to fail. It’s hard to turn big enterprises around. Risks are too high. Consequences are disastrous and visited on successive generations. Our school system is failing children: it’s not living up to its promises. Families are failing. Marriages fail. Children fail tests, they fail out of school, then they fail in their lives.
Failing is humiliating. It’s unjust. “Failure is not an option.” Reject any excuses for failure.
Success means going from success to success, thus avoiding failure along the way.
Avoid failure=achieve success.
Failure: The pros.
In the most successful, innovative areas of our economy, “Fail fast” is the mantra. How can that be? Iteration. Big risk means big reward. Move quickly and slaughter the ideas that don’t work before they grow up into big, unwieldy bad ideas.
Same is true in education. Our brains can’t learn properly if we never fail. If I hold my baby daughter up and never let her fall, she then has no idea how gravity works and she can’t walk. You can’t learn to ski if you don’t fall. Children who are overparented never fail, they then lose all internal motivation and stop trying. Our schools aren’t failing enough children: they are too safe, too structured, and there’s grade inflation at the college levels–not enough Fs.
Never fail=never succeed.
What we have in the US is a misallocation of chances. A few people get a million chances and most people barely get one. IF you get one chance or no chances, failure is not an option. If you get too many chances, you can’t learn from failure.
I’ve been busy writing as much as possible for FastCompany.com and Co.exist, both excellent websites. Here’s a post on the emails back and forth from the City of Newark over the Mark Zuckerberg $100 million donation. Here’s one on brain scans of entrepreneurs. I’ve also been freelancing and some exciting stories will appear soon, in new places!
I had a chance to chat quite a bit with Mimi Ito this past Thursday and Friday on her important new report on Connected Learning. This report pretty much lays down the gauntlet on what 21st century learning is, could and should be: something that hooks in with young people’s interests, meets them where they are at, gets them involved with peers and mentors, draws them deeper into academic (and civic) engagement and forward into a professional calling, and uses digital skills and media to make it all possible.
I heard the term “self-authoring” yesterday in the context of adult education. I think this is really beautiful. It’s used in developmental psychology to denote an advanced stage of social and emotional development, when individuals are able to stop identifying completely with their own needs, emotions, or interests, or with the prevailing culture, emotional demands or assumptions made by the people around us, and able instead to take a step back and make judgements from a systemic perspective.
Lesley Scanlon, at the University of Sydney, writes about “self-authoring” as something that adults are seeking when they return to courses of study. Not just to qualify for a new job but to get perspective on their lives and tell a better story about their own identities. This satisfies a higher-order need. It makes me think of Emerson’s writing about the ship tacking back and forth : you may set your course steadily but the wind and waves force you to diverge and the overall pattern and path may not be clear to anyone else.
I think there are a lot of innovative enterprises that are doing a great job educating adults efficiently and affordably and effectively connecting them to the world of work in all kinds of ways: the DevBootCamps and the SNHUs and the WGUs and the Straighterlines. and the But what about connecting adults to each other, themselves and the universe?
Some of this work goes on under the radar. I think transformative moments are happening in all kinds of settings but the trick is to honor them, surface them, make time for them. In part by asking participants to take on more responsibility to each other. How else could this be done?
What I need now is a research intern or two! If you have some time to research the landscape of educational innovation and make this graphic as up-to-date and comprehensive as possible, please holler at me. I promise useful and interesting work.
The Edupunks’ Atlas. This is an extension of the Edupunks’ Guide, supported by the Gates Foundation.
Higher education is a vast and complex enterprise comprising varying missions, models and types of participants. Time and again, discussions over the future of the enterprise between, say, Ivy League classics professors and for-profit purveyors of online community college courses get bogged down in mutual incomprehension. In numerous presentations over the past two years, I have presented as a framework, adapted from my book DIY U, three major buckets of benefits that higher education provides to students: Content, Socialization, and Accreditation; and three major challenges to traditional models: Cost, Access, and Quality/Relevance.
The Edupunks’ Atlas of Lifelong Learning will use this framework as a starting point to create a beautiful full-color graphic map of the current landscape of higher education innovations, and variations on the theme. The Atlas will be made public at edupunksguide.org and as a free shareable graphic. The field is moving fast so I hope to create a framework that can be updated.
This is a speculative description of how I’d like it to work:
Each spot on the map will have a name and link to an organization and thick or thin lines will connect
related organizations. The overall effect will be a graphic way to understand where a given
innovation falls within the universe of options in further education. Over 200 organizations will
be represented on the atlas.
Dimensions shown on the map could include any or all of the following:
Size/share of market
Benefit Mix e.g.; Content-Socialization-Accreditation (ASU Online); Content (Open Courseware);
Content-Socialization (MOOC, P2PU); Socialization (OpenStudy, CityYear); Socialization-Accreditation
(Github); Accreditation (LearningCounts.org)
Unit of Study e.g.; (Lesson–>Course–>Certification–>Degree)
Traditional, Nontraditional (Badge, Portfolio), Informal
Funding model e.g.; Nonprofit-within existing university, Nonprofit-state-funded, nonprofit-
mixed, For-profit-publicly traded, For-profit-venture, Nonprofit-venture
Audience e.g.; High-Schoolers Transitioning; Elite-Grad; Elite-Undergrad; Mass-Traditional Age; Mass-Adult Learner; Mass-
Returning; Mass-Educated Adult
Business model e.g.; Tuition&Philanthropic; Tuition-only; Free-philanthropic; Freemium;
Platform (data-advertising); Vendor
Content policy e.g.; (CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, Traditional copyright)
Pedagogical model e.g.; (One to many; many to many; Independent learning; Experiential;project based)
And maybe a few more I’m not thinking of.
I need to find an awesome designer with interest in this field to help me think through and realize this graphic. You will be paid of course and get exposure as well. If interested please contact me at email@example.com with samples of your work.
My to-do list now extends through the end of the year. Isn’t that a weird feeling? I haven’t been updating this blog as regularly because I’ve been covering educational innovation at Fast Company, along with other topics, about once a week. A link to all my pieces is found here.
While writing for the magazine, I have contributed chapters to two 2013 upcoming books on the future of higher ed, one to be published by Harvard Education Press and the other by Stanford. Both have been wonderful collaborative processes.
I’m also slowly collecting research for a new book, which will extend some of what I’ve learned from DIY U into the K-12 space. More on that as it develops!
I have another small project coming up that I’ll post on shortly.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the accountability movement in K-12. Results have been mixed, at best, but the impact has been so huge and is still growing.
Well at long last it seems to be coming to higher ed now.
[The GOP Governors of TX, FL and WI are] Mandating low-cost options like the $10,000 degree; holding down tuition prices, particularly at flagship institutions; tying funding to degree completion, particularly in fields deemed to be in “high demand”; paying faculty on the basis of performance, including how they fare on student evaluations; and likely asking the institutions to do it all with less state money.
I can’t see much wrong, no matter how you look at it, with the mandate to offer radically low cost degrees and to hold down tuition even at flagship institutions. Students and families need this; our society desperately needs affordable higher education. I think it is political leaders’ jobs to use the lever they have, which is funding, to push the changes they want; and it is educational leaders’ jobs to push back by defending and articulating what is most important in their institutions and what needs to be preserved at all costs. I believe that real innovation requires cost pressures. Resources are not infinite and choices have to be made.
There are HUGE questions, however, about how to actually measure performance in higher education. Tying funding to degree completion seems straightforward, but in reality it is anything but. Students transfer between institutions. They change their educational plans and goals. They drop out to start billion-dollar companies sometimes.
Measuring the performance of professors by how well-liked they are by students is, frankly, a fool’s game as well. My best professors in college inspired awe and trepidation, not smiley faces.
So how should we judge the value of education provided by institutions?
One model is the federal “gainful employment” rule, which was created to judge for-profit institutions by whether or not their former students are making enough money to pay their loans back. A measurement of income just a year or so after graduation is simple, although it’s also one-dimensional. It discounts the kid who is maxing out his credit cards to start a business, the one who is waiting tables while getting her PhD or MBA, and the brilliant musician sleeping in his grandma’s basement (although that guy may never make that much money.)
But money is not the only good thing in life. There’s a ton of social science research on the non-financial returns to education. People with more years of education have better health. Happier relationships. Longer marriages. They vote more, are more established members of communities, are more engaged in volunteer work. Their kids reap the benefits of more education as well. The effects ripple across a society.
In the age of big data, why not build a multidimensional longitudinal study of all of these returns on education for students at specific universities? Numbers counts. What we measure, we manage.