On The Innovative University

I read a ton of books on the history of higher education, how change happens in higher education, and how technology will change education, etc. Stuff going back to Boyer’s 1987 book College, Lion Gardiner’s 1994 work on redesigning higher education, to the more recent explosion of books on re-engineering what we do (I’m sure you all know the books). 

But I’ve often found the visionary books to be detached from reality to some extent — proposing courses of actions that show an illiteracy of how colleges actually operate and the multiple functions they serve. And I’ve found that people that write about the system from the inside, the people that do get how change is made in higher ed often suffer from a really reduced sense of the possibilities. 

This is maybe the first visionary book that I feel actually grapples with higher education as it actually exists. And it does it by making sense of how universities and colleges act, instead of just throwing up its (metaphorical book) hands and declaring higher ed insane, or greedy, or both.

Xeni Jardin stops her Google public posts

Xeni Jardin stops her Google public posts

Not exactly breaking news, but she was one of the few people using people using G+ the way I hoped people would grow to use it, as a sort of cross between twitter and blogging. And she’s quit doing it because of some unnamed unpleasantness. 

It’s bad for me, because I enjoyed her posts. But I’m more curious what the reason was, e.g. did it result from some weirdness that comes from using G+ in that way? Scoble (in a comment on her post) seems to indicate it is something to do with a “chat room problem” that Google needs to fix….

Cognitive surplus watch

Cognitive surplus watch

A lot of Shirky’s formulations are spot on, but I’ve always felt uneasy about the cognitive surplus idea. It’s not just, as Carr points out in the linked article, that there’s not much evidence that the Wikipedia hours are coming out of a surplus, but it’s the view of human endeavor as a noncount noun, an undifferentiated quantity like the sugar production of a country, or the amount of sunlight hitting Guam. 

It also reminds me a bit of Office Space, the main characters firmly convinced they can get rich by shaving off rounding errors. 

This isn’t to say there isn’t some truth to it. I just don’t know that surplus is the right frame. I feel that to a large extent the people that always had hobbies now have hobbies that can have a worldwide impact. But that’s about taking time away from building canoes to update the Wikipedia article on building canoes. It has nothing to do with Seinfeld reruns. 

Schoolchildren Can Also Learn Complex Subject Matters On Their Own, Researchers Find

Schoolchildren Can Also Learn Complex Subject Matters On Their Own, Researchers Find

Another entry in the great debate, I suppose, though it comes down in part to what you mean by “on their own”:

Following an introduction on the general topic by their teachers, the school children were given a workbook of geometric tasks that they had to solve on paper and using a computer over four school periods. Calculating the surface area of Gran Canaria was just one of the real-world, free-form assignments the students had to tackle. The workbook material included explanations and examples of various problem-solving approaches. The teachers took a back seat during the session but were on hand to answer questions from the children, who worked in pairs.

“We expected students who were weaker at math to benefit more from a greater degree of guidance through the module,” reports Reiss. “But we didn’t see a significant difference between these and stronger students.”

This isn’t actually surprising to me — it reminds me in some ways of the NCAT Emporium Model, which has also seen spectacular success with traditionally low-performing students.

But there’s a lot of ingredients here that are essential — well-defined tasks, immediate feedback, required course meeting times, availability of teachers for assistance when online resources and peer resources fail, measurable outcomes.

This is why I’m watching the MOOC space with interest, but I am not sold on its direct application to higher ed’s pressing problems yet. The MOOC’s adaption into remedial use (for example) is going to require some additional contrivance. And I think we’re headed that way, but not there yet.

Publishing Gives Hints of Revival, Data Show

Publishing Gives Hints of Revival, Data Show

The “buggy-whip” theory of industry collapse has never really sat well with me. You know, the idea that the buggy-whip producers couldn’t see that cars would collapse their industry, etc.

Here’s the problem — did anyone back then really produce (and only produce) buggy-whips? I imagine most “buggy-whip makers” were really leather workers and did quite alright as the nations GDP rose and folks could afford more leather goods.

I guess in some way that validates the analogy. But my point is that it is not as dismal a proposition to be a buggy-whip maker as many people seem to believe it is. The industry morphs, but the players remain the same.

In any case, far from being eaten by broadband, publishers seem to be entering a golden age of profits. Maybe that’s temporary. But I have to say it’s not what a lot of people predicted would be the case 18 years into the Web, and it’s worthwhile to look at the reasons why this particular content industry is not imploding and recalibrate our predictions.