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November 19 2013

Four short links: 19 November 2013

  1. Why The Banner Ad is Heroic — enough to make Dave Eggers cry. Advertising triumphalism rampant.
  2. Udacity/Thrun ProfileA student taking college algebra in person was 52% more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain. In which Udacity pivots to hiring-sponsored workforce training and the new educational revolution looks remarkably like sponsored content.
  3. Amazing is Building Substations (GigaOm) — the company even has firmware engineers whose job it is to rewrite the archaic code that normally runs on the switchgear designed to control the flow of power to electricity infrastructure. Pretty sure that wasn’t a line item in the pitch deck for “the first Internet bookstore”.
  4. Panoramic Images — throw the camera in the air, get a 360×360 image from 36 2-megapixel lenses. Not sure that throwing was previously a recognised UI gesture.

November 04 2013

Freie Bildungsmedien: „Open Educational Ressource University” gestartet

Anfang November ist die „Open Educational Resource University“ gestartet. Die Plattform bietet einem internationalen Publikum offene Kurse für universitäres Lernen und ermöglicht auch den Erwerb akademisch relevanter „Credits“.

Zu den Themen der momentan knapp 20 Kurse der Open Educational Resource University“ (OERu) gehören unter anderem „Open Content Licensing for Educators”, „Resourcing a Small Enterprise”, „Understanding Culture in Asia and the Pacific”, „Developing a Business Plan” oder auch „Regional Economics in Asia and the Pacific”. Bei der Lizenzierung berufen sich die Macher auf die Pariser OER-Erklärung der UNESCO von 2012 und gehen zugleich darüber hinaus: Standardlizenz ist Creative Commons Namensnennung (CC BY 3.0). Die Inhalte lassen sich also weiterverbreiten, bearbeiten und remixen; auch kommerzielle Nutzungen sind erlaubt. Zusätzliches Lehrmaterial oder Fachbücher müssten Kursteilnehmer nicht erwerben, so verspricht es die Online-Uni.

Die Kurse der OERu enthielten stets alles, was man zum Absolvieren des Inhalts benötigt, erklärt Wayne Mackintosh auf der Website, Geschäftsführer der federführenden Open Education Resource Foundation. Teilnehmer, die akademische „Credits“ oder Zertifikate erwerben wollen, müssen Bearbeitungsgebühren bezahlen. Das aber erst dann, wenn sie den Kurs komplett absolviert haben. Die OERu-Kurse dauern in der Regel zwischen 10 und 15 Wochen; darüber hinaus bietet die Online-Universität kürzere, sogenannte „micro Open Online Courses” (mOOC) an, die zu Kursreihen gehören, aber einzeln absolvierbar sind und über zwei bis drei Wochen laufen.

Stiftungsfinanzierte Plattform, Unis kooperieren

Die Open Education Resource Foundation, die hinter der OERu steht, operiert nach eigenen Angaben als unabhängige Non-Profit-Organisation mit Hauptsitz in Neuseeland. Zum Konsortium der OERu gehören etwa 30 Partner-Universitäten weltweit, deutsche Universitäten sind allerdings nicht dabei. Zugleich hat das „UNESCO-Commonwealth of Learning OER Chair network“ (COL)  das Projekt anerkannt und unterstützt es. Das COL ist eine zwischenstaatliche Organisation, die von Regierungen der Commonwealth-Staaten eingerichtet wurde und fördert neben Fernunterricht auch offenes Lernen und OER.

Die OERu richtet sich mit ihren kostenlosen Hochschul-Kursen explizit an ein internationales, breit gestreutes Publikum. Darin ähnelt es stark dem kürzlich gestarteten MOOC-Portal Iversity. Das gleichnamige Berliner Unternehmen startete vor rund zwei Wochen sein Kursprogramm. Auch Iversity steht unter dem Motto „Open Courses”, macht über den Einsatz freier Lizenzen aber keine weiteren Angaben.

July 29 2013

Online education can be good or cheap, but not both | Reihan Salam

Online education can be good or cheap, but not both | Reihan Salam
http://blogs.reuters.com/reihan-salam/2013/07/26/online-education-can-be-good-or-cheap-but-not-both

Outsourcing this kind of teaching [basic introductory material] could in theory be an enormous boon to the bottom line of colleges and universities, as the most effective providers could spread their online courses across the country, sparing the need for large numbers of expensive faculty members. Indeed, Udacity’s entry-level courses were offered for $150 each, far less than the $620 San Jose State charges for traditional classroom-based courses.

The problem, however, is that between 56 percent and 76 percent of students who took the final exams ultimately failed them.

(...)

True MOOCs that make almost no use of faculty labor will be very cheap to deliver, but one can easily imagine that they will be plagued by an attrition rate at least as high as what we see in today’s for-profit colleges. Blended online courses that stream lectures while also making use of face-to-face teaching assistants might have a success rate closer to land grant public institutions, where interaction with senior faculty is limited but there is a human support system for students. It should go without saying that the latter are going to be much more expensive than the former.

#mooc #université

me rappelle fortement
http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2000/04/NOBLE/13691

December 04 2012

The MOOC movement is not an indicator of educational evolution

Somehow, recently, a lot of people have taken an interest in the broadcast of canned educational materials, and this practice — under a term that proponents and detractors have settled on, massive open online course (MOOC) — is getting a publicity surge. I know that the series of online classes offered by Stanford proved to be extraordinarily popular, leading to the foundation of Udacity and a number of other companies. But I wish people would stop getting so excited over this transitional technology. The attention drowns out two truly significant trends in progressive education: do-it-yourself labs and peer-to-peer exchanges.

In the current opinion torrent, Clay Shirky considers MOOCs one of the big disruptive technologies of our age, and Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, writes (in a Boston Globe subscription-only article) that traditional colleges will have to deal with the MOOC challenge. Jon Bruner points out on Radar that non-elite American institutions could use a good scare (although I know a lot of people whose lives were dramatically improved by attending such colleges). The December issue of Communications of the ACM offers Professor Richard A. DeMillo from the Georgia Institute of Technology assessing the possible role of MOOCs in changing education, along with an editorial by editor-in-chief Moshe Y. Vardi culminating with, “If I had my wish, I would wave a wand and make MOOCs disappear.”

There’s a popular metaphor for this early stage of innovation: we look back to the time when film-makers made the first moving pictures with professional performers by setting up cameras before stages in theaters. This era didn’t last long before visionaries such as Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, and Luis Buñuel uncovered what the new medium could do for itself. How soon will colleges get tired of putting lectures online and offer courses that take advantage of new media?

Two more appealing trends are already big. One is DIY courses, as popularized in the book Fab by Neil Gershenfeld at the MIT Media Lab. O’Reilly’s own Make projects are part of this movement. Fab courses represent the polar opposite of MOOCs in many ways. They are delivered in small settings to students whose dedication, inspiration, and talent have to match those of the teacher — the course asks a lot of everybody. But from anecdotal reports, DIY courses have been shown to be very powerful growth mechanisms in environments ranging from the top institutions (like MIT) to slums around the world. Teenagers are even learning to play with biological matter in labs such as BioCurious.

Fundamentally, DIY is a way to capture the theory of learning by doing, which goes back at least to John Dewey at the turn of the 20th century. The availability of 3D makers, cheap materials, fab software, and instructions over the Internet lend the theory a new practice.

“I believe in everything never yet said.”–Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Stunden-Buch

The other major trend cracking the foundations of education is peer-to-peer information exchange. This, like learning by doing, has plenty of history. The symposia of Ancient Greece (illustrated in fictional form by Plato) and the Talmudic discussions that underlay the creation of modern Judaism over 2,000 years ago show that human beings have long been used to learning from each other. Peer information exchange raged on centuries later in cafés and salons, beer halls and sewing circles. Experts were important, and everybody could recognize the arrival of a true expert, but he or she was just first among equals. A lot of students who sign up for MOOCs probably benefit from the online discussion forums as much as from the canned lectures and readings.

Wikipedia is a prominent example of peer-to-peer information exchange, and one that promulgates the contributions of experts, but one that also has trouble with sustainability. (They’re holding one of their fund-raisers now, and it’s a good time to donate.) This leads me to ask what business model colleges can apply in the face of both MOOCs and peer-to-peer knowledge. How do you mobilize a whole community to educate each other, while maintaining the value of expertise?

This challenge — not just a business challenge, but really the challenge of tapping expertise effectively — happens to be one that O’Reilly is dealing with in the field of publishing. We introduced the equivalent of filmed stage shows in the mid-1990s when we created the Safari Bookshelf to provide our books on a subscription-based website. The innovation was in the delivery model, which also delivered a shock to a publishing industry dependent on print sales.

But we knew that Safari Bookshelf barely dipped into the power of the web, which has grown more and more with advances in HTML, JavaScript, and mobile devices. Safari Bookshelf is much more than a collection of web pages with book content now. As a training tool, the web has exploded with other experiments. We offer an interactive school of technology also.

So the field of education will probably see lots of blended models along the way. It’s worth noting that proponents of open content have called for licensing models that reinforce the open promise of the courses. Some courses ask students to write their own textbooks and share them — but one asks where they get the information with which to write their peer-produced textbooks. In an earlier article I examined the difficulties of creating free, open textbooks that are actually usable for teaching. Such dilemmas just show that the investment of large amounts of time by experts are still a critical part of education — but applying the broadcast model to them may be less and less relevant.

November 20 2012

Will online learning destroy America’s colleges?

The American college system is staggeringly large: 2,421 four-year institutions enroll about 18.5 million college students. The proportion of Americans with a bachelor’s degree is at an all-time high — a social victory if they’re able to enjoy a positive return on their degrees, which the Pew Research Center estimates at about $550,000 on average.

And the very existence of that system is threatened, as we are to believe it, by the massive open online course, or MOOC, offered by new ventures from the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT. In an essay last week, Clay Shirky compared universities and MOOCs to record companies and Napster: in both cases, the incumbents operated by providing something inconveniently and locally that could be provided conveniently and universally on the web. I don’t agree with the entire essay, but Shirky is absolutely right to point out that the college industry is made up of several markets, and they’ll be disrupted in different ways.

American higher education is deeply divided: it’s outstanding for a relative small handful of students and pretty bad for everyone else. The disruption of MOOCs will likely start at the bottom and move up from there. The question on which we should meditate is: how far up will it move?

Admission rate is a crude way of judging college quality, but it’s available consistently and implies something about the way the market sees a school. There are 2,421 bachelor degree-granting institutions in the U.S. and, according to the College Board (PDF), only 60 of them (2%) accept fewer than a quarter of their applicants (this includes most of the country’s famous schools — Harvard through Notre Dame). But 47% of those 2,421 schools admit more than three quarters of their applicants or have no admission standards at all; 82% of full-time undergraduates attend a school that admits more than half its applicants.

And the educational experience at the least-competitive schools is dismal: 87% of students at the most competitive schools finish their degree in six years or less; 29% of students at open-admission schools finish their degrees in the same period. Even at the 50-75% admission rate schools (a third of all colleges, enrolling 42% of undergrads), 39% of students either drop out or take longer than six years to finish.

That experience at the bottom is ready for destruction. Think of the student deciding between Pace University and a MOOC — maybe a low-cost, non-degree certificate from MIT is worth only 10% of what a degree from MIT is worth in terms of pure return, but maybe a degree from Pace is worth only 20% of what a degree from MIT is worth. Given the difference in cost (tuition, room, board, and fees at Pace amount to $51,364 per year), that certificate from MIT could look compelling, depending on what you’re looking for in the way of a college experience. And if attitudes toward MOOC certificates change, maybe a certificate from MIT starts moving up toward 50% of the value of an MIT degree, and threatens, say, Tulane.

I think Harvard and its peers are safe for the time being, but the vast majority of U.S. colleges aren’t, and even the middle and lower schools in the top tier could be threatened pretty quickly. (That said, there’s a bit of a disconnect at the moment between what Stanford and MIT offer online and what students at expensive, low-tier universities study. Students who enroll in the University of Phoenix’s software engineering program follow a much more applied curriculum than MIT’s computer science students, and even MIT’s high-achieving students find their program challenging.)

Top-tier schools that survive the spread of MOOCs could find themselves subject to new costs and transformations by the creation of a star system for faculty, in which popular teachers will have an international audience. Coursera’s terms of service explicitly prohibit the use of its courses for credit at any university, but it’s easy to imagine that changing at some point — that a University of Florida student could get credit at her school for taking a Stanford computer science class via Coursera. If that happens, Stanford and its vaunted faculty stand to gain; why take a University of Florida CS survey when its famous counterpart at Stanford is available instead? Either way, you’re attending non-interactive lectures (or, increasingly, watching recordings online after sleeping through class) and having your work graded by teaching assistants.

None of this is to suggest that our whole higher-education system will collapse as high school students make careful ROI calculations and elect an online education over four years of seminars in the wood-panelled offices of famous dons. My own liberal-arts education at the University of Chicago was illuminating, and I’d do it over again in a heartbeat — math and economics, with some Greek, history, comparative literature and physics on the side. I’m profoundly fortunate to have had that education available to me.

I think there will be a market for that sort of education for a long time — and, indeed, the giant endowments of the country’s top universities make this kind of education available to an increasingly wide audience. But that’s not really representative of the whole landscape of higher education today; the widest possible grouping of liberal arts majors encompasses only about 40% of college students, and that figure includes tens of thousands of students in majors like biomedical sciences and “science technologies” that are likely applied in their approach.

Students who want a career-focused degree, on the other hand, are already making an ROI calculation of sorts, although it’s not necessarily free of influence from friends and cultural expectations. They make up the vast majority of college students, and they’re ready to be converted.

(Full disclosure: my father is a dean at the University of Virginia, which went through an upset last summer centered in part on the future of the university in the context of online learning. The views in this post are entirely my own.)

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