OER and Sandra Lee’s 70/30 Semi-Homemade Cooking

I’d never heard of the IKEA effect, the tendency of people to overvalue work done themselves, but it seems really pertinent to OER (and OpenCourseWare). 

As an example, Dan Ariely points out when cake mixes were first introduced, you just added water. Simple! And no one bought them. 

After focus groups they found the problem — they were doing too much for home cooks. Cooks found food they had cooked themselves to be more desirable. It was hard to get passionate about box mix. 

The solution? A reformulated mix that required home cooks to add eggs and oil. It flew off the shelves. Ariely points to the Sandra Lee line of 70/30 semi-homemade products as an example of a refinement of this formula. The pitch? We’ll do 70% of the work for you. For some reason that formulation resonates — it’s OK to do most of the work, but leave me something significant and personalized.

To practiced cooks, I’m sure it seems ridiculous, and it’s easy to mock. That’s not cooking, right?

But most people aren’t practiced cooks, yet would still like to be involved in what they produce. In education 70/30 is a vast improvement over the two poles it sits between; on the one hand, the “not built here” syndrome that keeps us from collective iterative improvement, and other the other hand lockstep scripted curricula that deaden the soul of teachers everywhere and send them fleeing to other occupations. And it’s pretty clear that Open Curriculum/Ed. Resources is an easy way to accommodate that.

Sharing and Collaborating with Google Docs: The influence of Psychological Ownership, Responsibility, and Student’s Attitudes on Outcome Quality

Sharing and Collaborating with Google Docs: The influence of Psychological Ownership, Responsibility, and Student’s Attitudes on Outcome Quality

I haven’t been able to go over the methodology closely, but this finding fascinated me:

Participants in all groups believed that collaboration improved the document quality. However, evaluation of the real contribution of collaboration was asymmetrical – students felt that while they did not exacerbate the document they read or edited, others worsened their own document by reading, suggesting or editing it. We therefore suggest that collaborative learning may be improved by encouraging collaboration mainly through suggesting and receiving improvements and less by editing each others’ writing.

The big caveat is this seems to measure (in my admittedly cursory glance) only student perceptions, not skill outcomes. But an interesting finding nonetheless. Reminds me in some ways of the Peer Instruction vs. Group Work divide, with the fundamental difference in PI being that students take recommendations but retain full ownership of decisions — ownership seems to matter. In any case, article is probably a must read for people using Google Docs for collab.

U.S. says colleges with big tuition hikes must explain

U.S. says colleges with big tuition hikes must explain

This is almost sadly funny. So there’s all these tuition hikes, particularly at state colleges. It’s out-of-control spending, right? So the DoEd is asking colleges that have the sharpest hikes to explain why they are being so profligate with money.

Except, as everyone knows who actually works at a state college in America, the reason why costs are going up has almost nothing to do with spending. The reason costs are going up is that the state legislatures are cutting the funding to colleges. By a lot. Add in the fact that financial need has gone up as well, and well, that’s pretty much your increase right there.

I guess I’m not opposed to this policy — I’m sure even in the current climate there are colleges that are clearly feathering their nests at the expense of students. And going forward, I am sure it will be useful.

Still, it feels oddly out of touch at this particular moment.

Plan to Restructure British Higher Ed

Plan to Restructure British Higher Ed

I wish I knew more about the British educational system to say for sure, but this sure looks like the voucher slide to me:

Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the “conceptual shift” was that the whole framework of regulation needed to focus on “the student in receipt of the loan, rather than a group of institutions in receipt of [a government] grant.” He said: “You have to think of a regulator protecting students as consumers, ensuring they have access to what is still a very significant amount of public money and being clear about what happens in return.”

If our experience in America is any guide, the “competition” that this plan will foster will have zero to do with quality of instruction, and everything to do with amenities and co-curriculum. And then, a decade later, all the conservatives that supported consumer-driven education will sit around and shake their heads gravely, wondering how college turned into a five-year party. It will never be that they handed out vouchers to 17-year olds, though, because markets are smart.

But I really don’t know the British system, and maybe I am misreading this. If anyone wants to explain the system to me (and others) please do…

Serious Discussion About Constructivist Pedagogy

I agree with this, I think: “The constructivist-direct instruction characterization is a false dichotomy, and trying to operationalize something as complex and contextually varied as teaching in such simplistic terms seems to me a mistake. What is needed is not coarse labeling of artificially grouped approaches to instruction; but an iterative program of studies that enables us to better characterize specific features of effective teaching in different learning contexts. Indeed, I have argued that to some extent, such a program is already underway within constructivist work in science education (Taber, 2009b) – but that may not be how some people wish to understand constructivism.”

I’ve been struck at how Peer Instruction and Deliberate Practice look a little like DI and a little like Constructivism. It’s tempting to resort to “best of both worlds” banalities, but that would be wrong. These terms have always been too blunt when you get down to the classroom level; there’s not actually two separate worlds to pull from.

Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology

Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology

It’s yet another article in Science dealing with pedagogy, and if the note in this news brief under “Teaching to Achieve” is right, it looks like the second vindication of Peer Instruction in Science in the the space of two months. According to the brief: “A highly structured course design that included peer instruction and peer-graded practice exams, but no instructor lectures, generally yielded a better grasp of biology and higher grades for all students, relative to courses grounded in lectures and small-group exercises.” Note the contrast between small-group exercises and peer instruction here, which is where a lot of the interesting questions are. May have to head down to the library for this one. 

U.S. College Tuition Rises 4.6%, Beating Inflation

U.S. College Tuition Rises 4.6%, Beating Inflation

It pays to read these things carefully. Tuition at private non-profit colleges increased at 4.6%, but adjusted for inflation this was a 1% increase, one of the smallest in the past 40 years. And again, these are published prices: student aid is up 7% which means this is less a story about spiraling college costs, and more a story about private colleges using increased price discrimination. Which could be a fascinating story, if we cared to dig into it.

Incidentally, for those unused to Tumblr, you click the title to get to the story I’m talking about. Yeah, took me a minute too…

Cockroach Performance Anxiety

Cockroach Performance Anxiety

Via Ariely, this great experiment on the social facilitation effect from the 60’s: cockroaches do better on simple tasks in the presence of other cockroaches, but worse in the presence of other cockroaches when the task is difficult: 

However, research by Zajonc, Heingartner, and Herman (1969) argued that such conscious, cognitive processes weren’t necessarily an important component, as cockroaches, which presumably do not have the same conscious processes as humans, showed the same social facilitation effect.

In this same experiment, Zajonc and colleagues also found that the cockroach’s performance decreased in the presence of other cockroaches when the task was particularly difficult. In the landmark article, “Social facilitation”, Robert Zajonc offered the theoretical explanation that the presence of others increases physiological arousal. During this state of arousal, he argued that performance increases when task is easy or familiar, while performance decreases when a task is difficult or unknown. As such, social facilitation effects came to be understood based on two components: the presence of others and the ease of the task for the individual.

I’d love to link to the original article, but it is locked up in some Elsevier safe somewhere, despite being a classic article that is at this point over forty years old. 

Large Stakes and Big Mistakes

Large Stakes and Big Mistakes

I’m on vacation, and catching up with some reading. Dan Ariely’s book on the Upside of Irrationality is so far decent, though a little too chatty at times (I like a little less of the human interest backstory, YMMV). 

In any case, one thing I plan to do over the next couple days is find and read some of the studies I hit in it that I find interesting. This one is pretty neat — an experiment with motivation through money and social stress that appears to confirm the existence of  Yerkes-Dodson Law in humans — as potential monetary/social reward increases, performance increases then decreases. In the case displayed above, the small rewards appear to have been set too high, so you don’t get the full curve here, but the deterioration at higher levels of payment is pronounced. 

And yes, I know you’ve probably seen Dan Pink cover a portion of this study — but do you want to spend your life watching TED videos, or do you want to read some research? Right. I thought so. 

[Note: the tables are not presented in-text, but scroll to the end of the paper and you’ll find them there.]