I really appreciate Mike Konczal’s remarks in the Washington Post–and also the defenses printed elsewhere, and the commentary on Twitter of course. MY TITLE IS A SPONTANEOUS HASHTAG, Y’ALL! That’s totally the status symbol for all authors in the know these days.

Konczal’s given me an opportunity to clarify my vision in a way I did not do strongly enough before. I didn’t write DIY U to predict the future but to help set out the motivators for change and some of the possible paths of change. Still, I could have been clearer about what I would like to see happen.

I think what could help is something akin to a charter school movement for the people today found in community colleges, if they’re lucky, and in prison, if they’re not so lucky (Los Ni Ni, I hear they call them in Mexico). They need communities that offer several different kinds of support (Child care. Fix a flat tire. Resume writing), they need some form of job that provides both valuable experience and pay, and they need to form relationships with people, both peers and mentors, who can help them develop a bigger, brighter sense of themselves and their futures. And of course, they need access to knowledge resources and basic literacies, so they can pursue their directions in life as they start to find them.

I talked to Paul Schmitz at Public Allies about this. I’ve talked extensively to Dennis Littky at College Unbound, and Wick Sloane at Bunker Hill Community College (who should be the next president of the American Association of Community Colleges), and more recently Mike Marriner at Roadtrip Nation, who’s implementing a unique curriculum around, literally, finding your path. I’ve even heard the guy from CVS talk about a rare effort on the employer side of things. All of them are working feverishly on some independent version of this idea.

Some community colleges are already trying to do all these things, but to really get it going you’d need to shake up the funding in some way so that a Pell-eligible student could capture the same full subsidy by attending one of these charter-communities as they would if they were headed to the flagship state university.

Which brings me to the question of cost-shifting. I don’t know if zunguzungu missed the parts in the book (pp 59-61 and 73) where I talk to Jane Wellman of the Delta Cost Project and point out cost-shifting as the main reason that tuition has increased in public higher education. But the question is, what are you going to do about that? How do you move higher education up from the 5th or 6th state priority?

I don’t know. It seems really tough. What I was trying to show with the part about Chancellor Kirwan is that it could help if, instead of calling people “Thatcherites” and “Reaganites” if they try to talk to you about efficiency and productivity in higher education, you say, you know what? We can be proactive about cutting costs in a way that actually serves our students, and we’ll work together with the state legislatures to achieve our common goals.

And I’ll quote from an email I received yesterday:

“I am running for Assembly here in [state]. We have cut 30% from our higher education budget in the past 3 years and are looking at a 50% state budget deficit in 2011.  I would love to talk with you about some of your ideas so that I can offer solutions without further cutting access or quality from our higher university system.”

On the casualization of academic labor: I’m agin’ it. I’ve been telling people for 6 years not to go to grad school, and spelling out the plight of the adjunct as the reason why.  The fewer people get PhDs, the less competition for PhD-level teaching appointments, and therefore, in theory, the better the jobs will be. What’s that called? Oh yeah, supply and demand. Do grad students need a union? Yes, but let’s be honest. They need one a hell of a lot less than millions of far less educated people with fewer options in life, and if you’re that smart and that good of an organizer, why not do like Daniel Gross did and organize Starbucks workers and others.

ON HARVARD and YALE: For crying out loud, this is the last time I’m going to say this. This book is not about the Ivy League. It’s like complaining Michael Pollan didn’t take on the menu at Le Bernadin.

I didn’t spend a lot of time taking a piss out of the Ivy League because I think those schools are going to be fine, and they’ll probably continue to contribute just as much to the world as they always have, and to charge as much or more money for it. Making their course materials available online, as MIT has done, only strengthens the brand. But I believe we will see increasing recognition that there are other ways without passing through their filters to be just as successful and–this is key–other ways to find successful people.

Old forms of elitism die hard. Some people, no doubt, still get off on the Masons, but plenty of others would rather hobnob with dropouts like Bill Gates, Sergey and Larry.

New Yorker cover by Daniel Clowes "Boomerang Generation."

via Laughing Squid.

In the past week or so DIY U has become the subject of a lot of really interesting conversations in various online media. There’s a conversation ongoing at the Twitter hashtag #DIYU. I particularly liked this exchange (from the bottom):

  1. Nate Angell xolotl @BryanAlexander I like it. Is the territory metaphor based on Deleuzian deterritorialization? http://bit.ly/cv8Buj #DiYU
  2. Gardner Campbell GardnerCampbell @BryanAlexander Great quote. Classic “administered intellectuality” move. Cf. Yeats, “The Scholars.” Cough in ink indeed. #DIYU
  3. Bryan Alexander BryanAlexander Neat formula: “The university continuously expands its territory by adapting and assimilating the empirical into the scholastic” p. 7, #DiYU

There’s also a series of blog posts by different authors responding to specific chapters of the book, and there’s even an attempt at a crowd-curated review (3 authors so far).

When I was in the creative writing program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in high school, there was an ironclad rule that the author had to remain silent while her precious work was being workshopped. The piece belongs to the readers now and anything that’s not on the page, you have no right to make excuses about. Also, I have plenty of room to expand on my ideas on this blog and elsewhere. If anyone has specific questions or critiques that you think I should respond to, you can direct them here or to me on Twitter at anya1anya.

All I really want to say is way to go edupunks, and thanks for being so passionate and creative and generous and engaged with these ideas.

Oh, and one more thing. I think Gardner Campbell’s being generous, but he’s also right. GardnerCampbell The book is journalism, for better or worse. Much of the time, a helpful document of an important moment in this conversation. #DIYU

That is pretty much exactly what I set out to do, for better or worse. And what I’m trying to do now is widen out the conversation beyond existing networks of people who are already professionally involved with education, as awesome as you all are, to the millions of young people and their parents who have such a crying need for access to high quality education. It’s. About. The. Students. That’s why, for example, I needed to take so much and space explaining what is wrong with what we have now–if it is so obvious to everyone that the system is broken, then why do colleges get record numbers of applicants year after year?

Forty people showed up to my talk at the public library in Las Vegas yesterday, including  a bunch of real live college-aged students, and they collectively bought 20 books, which shows that they found some value in this conversation, enough to want to take it home with them. That’s my inspiration to keep going.

Ok talk, great Q&A.

video platform
video management
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Two alt.edu models I’ve come across in my travels:

A woman named Rochele Hirsch came to my talk at the Carter Center and passed me a 1-page summary of her proposal for a “Digital One-Room Schoolhouse.” The next day I ended up tossing around the idea at TEDxAtlanta onstage in the Q&A with Gever Tulley of the Tinkering School and Michael Levine of the Cooney Center (Sesame Street digital learning folks).

Basic idea: home school kids in small neighborhood groups using digital resources to expand the virtual boundaries of the classroom while preserving a strong community feeling and peer-to-peer relationships.

“- 14 kids (multi-age) in a neighborhood classroom (walk to school)with
- 2 “Learning Process Facilitators” (not “teachers”) whose job includes connection with students — and ensuring they are learning, that the equipment is working well for them, that they are paid attention to in a learning environment.
- Distance Education provided, multi-media, interactive teaching/learning through the computer with EXCELLENT teachers/lecturers and an EXCELLENT curriculum: The student moves as rapidly as they can or want to through the required basics — and then on to advanced work as they choose — with constant feedback, reinforcement and “extra” opportunities.
- Phone-center “tutors” (all over the country) who are available to answer questions and engage the thinking process either through the phone or through chat as the student is moving through the education module.
- Older students provide tutoring to younger students as part of their own learning and reinforcement
- Parents are more involved — because they are close by to the neighborhood “distance education classroom” and would be conspicuously absent if not involved.
- Further socialization can be accomplished through arts / music / sports — with modules on one-two days / week — with larger groups
- The school day runs longer (say 8 to 6:00) — to support family needs, study time, exercise, extra optional studies and socialization.”

Summer camp is another awesome educational model for kids and adults. It’s immersive, a strong community, tailored to a single passion. I had amazing experiences taking college level courses in three weeks at “nerd camp” as a middle schooler. The Tinkering School is a summer camp for playing with power tools, learning about physics, and making and repairing things. I also got an invite from ITP at NYU yesterday for this:

“For the first time this June we are inviting non-students, working professionals, to come to ITP on weekends and evenings to make stuff, hear speakers on the cutting edge, collaborate with people from diverse disciplines…It’s a mash-up of an artist residency and a summer camp for adults…We’re creating a flexible structure, an Un-University, that will be responsive and supportive to the group we select. The structure is based on “unconferences” such as foocamp or barcamp, where presentations and discussions form in response to participants’ interests and projects. ITP’s facilities––its faculty, resident tutors, and equipment––will be at your service…During the school year ITP is a two year graduate program in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU where students from both artistic fields and technological ones explore innovative possibilities. On our web site we say we are a Center for the Recently Possible.”

They are asking me to post a session–what do you think?

I had an excellent, thought-provoking discussion last week at UC San Diego courtesy of iGrad with a really well-chosen group of professors: Dr. Beyer of National University, a nonprofit online university that is the second-largest private institution in California; Dr. Allison Rossett, a professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State; Joe Safdie, a poet who teaches at San Diego Mesa Community college; and Monte Johnson, a philosophy prof at UCSD whose field is Aristotle.

Johnson was especially good to have on the panel because he’s a principled, absolutist opponent of online education. He said repeatedly that while he could abide the use of hybrid models and online resources to supplement the classroom experience, he thought it was “absurd” to pretend that a degree granted entirely online could possibly approach the quality of one in the traditional classroom. He handed out a Xerox (not available online) of a list of references to research critical of the quality of online classes; on the opposite side was this letter signed by hundreds of professors objecting to Washington State’s “2020 Commission on the Future of Higher Education” , strenuously objecting to the commission’s recommendations about accountability, productivity, and increased availability of online classes.

It’s easy to satirize the position of someone defending the status quo, who trivializes and dismisses “education by
CD-ROM and internet” out of motives that include inherent conservativism and fear of losing one’s own job and respected position in society. There was more than a whiff of that spirit in the room. But I think Johnson made some really good points that should be taken under consideration, not to stall this transformation but to guide it.

1) Open educational resources don’t equal education. Access to a video of a lecture is not the same as access to a class. Content is infrastructure–the first step.
2) We can’t codify exactly what might be lost in the transition from online to in-person learning, but it pays to look at what goes on in the classroom really really closely so we can either replicate it or enhance it in the online environment, or supplement it with real-world experience in hybrid models. At one point I asked Johnson what it is exactly that he does in his philosophy class that he thinks can’t be done online. “Do you teach through the laying on of hands?” No, he said, but I look people in the eye, I call on them, we converse back and forth. Safdie mentioned then that he teaches through videoconference, which also involves a form of eye contact; platforms like Moodle allow for plenty of either real-time text-based chat or posting on a Facebook-like wall, which seems like a fine way to discuss philosophy to me–not too different in fact from the promulgation of ideas through a series of written papers in dialogue with each other, like at a symposium for example.

3) From the Washington letter: “One of the problems with the newest crop of distance-learning institutions is that they are motivated entirely by profit.”

This is true. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Public institutions need to get involved in defining online education or it will be defined for them by a set of institutions with very different agendas.

4) “In reality a privileged few will continue to enjoy the personal and economic benefits of face-to-face instruction at schools like
Stanford, UC Berkeley, and M.I.T. The less fortunate citizens of our state will make do with downsized and underfunded campuses or settle for inferior and dehumanizing “virtual”  alternatives.”

The thought of a two-tiered system like this makes me queasy. Online-enabled higher education doesn’t have to be inferior or dehumanizing. It can represent the best of what education has to offer today. Yet there’s a danger that this will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The DIY U future allows community college students anywhere in the country to access the same number of library books, the same lectures and course materials as are available at MIT and Stanford. It can also allow students to collaborate across institutions and form networks of peers and mentors outside the state and city where they happen to live and go to school. In this way there’s a potential to overcome old hierarchies. But it’s not a given that things will turn out this way.  The reality today is that students with the fewest resources are at the institutions with the fewest resources, and that those who are accessing online-only education are doing so largely because they have to work while they go to school.

If people who care about quality and equality in higher education don’t get deeply involved in the use of technology to stretch the resources we have in order to educate everyone to the best of our ability and their abilities, then the future will be shaped by people with worse motives and visions.

I happen to be in California, and doing an event at UCSD tomorrow, which makes it amazing timing for me to learn that yesterday the University of California made a groundbreaking announcement that has the potential to break the tuition cost crisis and finally deliver the crucial benefits of higher education to millions of Americans and to tens of millions who demand it and deserve it around the world. They are putting $5 to $6 million into a pilot project to create online versions of courses with an eye toward eventually creating completely online degree programs.

More than one in four US college students already take at least one online class. So why is this an important announcement?

Because a public university system is declaring that it will innovate its way out of recession, and even more importantly, that it will not cede the banner of innovation to the for-profit sector that is encroaching more and more on public higher education’s territory.

“Somebody is going to figure out how to deliver online education for credit and for degrees in the quality sector–i.e., in the elite sector,” Christopher Edley Jr., dean at Berkeley’s law school, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. This is exactly what I call for in DIY U.

And it’s not just any public university system that’s doing this, but the largest public university system in the country and the global template for mass higher education for over fifty years.
Clark Kerr’s Master Plan in 1960 introduced the idea that higher education would be a massive, state-run, open and democratic, publicly accessible resource for all.

I interviewed CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, and he told me flat out, “In the more than forty years that I have been involved in higher education and politics, I have never seen an economic meltdown such as the one that we are currently experiencing,” and, “This is the end of the Master Plan for Higher Education in California.”

These new online classes have the potential to bring the Master Plan back from the dead, by expanding access once again beyond the straining borders of the UC campuses.

Of course, anyone who has read the book or this blog knows it’s not going to be an easy road ahead. There are major faculty politics involved and much resistance to change within the university. (Although the usual rap on faculty politics is that they’re vicious because the stakes are so low, in this case the stakes are high: we’re talking about nothing less than transforming teaching and learning.)
More interesting from my point of view are the serious design challenges involved in making online courses taht are actually an improvement on the old lecture model. Prof. Wiley compares online to classroom teaching to horse polo vs. water polo–you can’t run the same plays in the pool.

Beyond basic overhead savings of the physical classroom, online doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper or more accessible.

In order to improve learning quality while keeping costs down at the same time, it’s not a matter of uploading a bunch of lectures to YouTube. Online courses have to be designed carefully, using open educational resources and the latest Web 2.0 tools. The National Center for Academic Transformation offers detailed course redesign templates.

Duplication of effort has to be avoided, which means faculty has to collaborate on course content. That means giving up some of their perfect autonomy within the classroom in favor of peer review.

Assessment should be automated where possible, and software used to enhance learning where appropriate.

Designing for peer teaching, discussion, and evaluation over social platforms, as the 2Tor platform does for USC’s School of Education, is an even greater challenge. But I think it can be sold as another path to save faculty time while improving learning outcomes and student engagement–a real win-win.

Ideally–and this is more about quality than cost, exploiting the full potential of teaching over the Internet–student participation should go beyond papers and exams to the creation of online portfolios, blogs, and wikis that are open to the web, so they can demonstrate their knowledge to the world. Innovative online professors have also engaged students in updating the course content as part of their assignments, so the courses get better each time they are taught.

The University of California has seized a tremendous opportunity. All of these changes in delivery of higher ed are necessary, if not inevitable, and it’s extremely heartening to have one of the nation’s best public universities take them on. I wish them the best of luck and I look forward to discussing this with UCSD professors tomorrow!

NPR called me an “advocate and admirer” of for-profit colleges. Just to be clear–I am NOT that. I’m on the record raising serious concerns here and here and here.

For-profits are a fast-growing sector of higher ed and it’s important to watch them closely, to give them credit for things they’re doing right, and to condemn and regulate them hard for the things they’re doing wrong.