On George Siemens’s Duplication Theory of Value

I think a lot of this is happening, frankly. Univ. of Central Florida, a leader in online/hybrid courses has a student body that for the most part takes a fluid blend of online, hybrid, and f2f classes. That model is being duplicated many places. The Innovative University’s fascinating final chapters talk about this as well — the fact that our STRENGTH is our physical campus and face to face interaction.

The key, though, is to see these things (F2F, physical campus, and to some extent domain expertise) not as the go-to solutions for all problems, but as scarce competitive advantages that we must start deploying to maximum effect. We burn away these resources like they are nothing — we have beautiful facilities and a captive audience and we lecture to them with slides we pulled from the textbook.  

There are a lot of things that just work better in person. There is a value in going to a place apart from the rest of life to pursue those things. I find it wildly ironic that a group of people that spend a good part of their life at conferences can’t see that….

Ed Roulette

via Wall of People Being Awesome on Chat Roulette.

A post on Philipp Schmidt’s stream got me thinking about how we might tap into the 20 years of research on Peer Instruction to better inform peer learning initiatives. 

I’m assuming here that readers are familiar with the Peer Instruction research (if you are not, you really should take a look at it — some of the more amazing results are coming out of that area).

The question is how you take Peer Instruction (which after 20 years of tinkering and research has become a robust method) and transfer it to the web in a way that reduces the need for instructor facilitation.

Here’s one idea:

Consider a piece of software that puts a question to 1000 students in real time scattered around the web. The students answer, and then are automatically paired with people that choose a different answer through chat or web cam. Each person explains their reasoning to one another for a couple of minutes, then people revote. If the questions were well designed you might be able to get some of the effects of PI.

The voting piece turns out to be a big factor, BTW, because it focuses the mind and the discussion on an objective, leading to a more productive exchange (at least for many applications). I find it actually work wonders in my F2F classes.

But I could certainly see how with a little coding you could have, if not instructorless sessions, then at least sessions which were mostly facilitated by software. And the nice thing here is you already have literally 100s of articles that have researched what makes these sorts of experiences more effective and what makes them less effective — you’re not shooting in the dark quite as much.

I could also see a sort of rotation thing built in — if you (with your peer instruction help) are able to answer a certain percentage of the questions correctly (say 95% correct, rolling average over last 50 questions) you graduate. So people roll out, new people roll in, etc.

If I built this, by the way, I would call it some pun-like name based on Chat Roulette. Because I see it as that level of simplicity — you answer a question and suddenly the system sends you to videochat with a random person that disagrees with you, and the 3 minute timer for the discussion begins to count down. You and this person have to figure this out before the vote, right?

How fun is that? 

Would this work? Maybe, maybe not. But at the very least it’s an attempt to bring something with demonstrated success into the web sphere. 

Smart Use of Cognitive Disfluency Goes Mainstream

From the NYT, today:

Another common misconception about how we learn holds that if information feels easy to absorb, we’ve learned it well. In fact, the opposite is true. When we work hard to understand information, we recall it better; the extra effort signals the brain that this knowledge is worth keeping. This phenomenon, known as cognitive disfluency, promotes learning so effectively that psychologists have devised all manner of “desirable difficulties” to introduce into the learning process: for example, sprinkling a passage with punctuation mistakes, deliberately leaving out letters, shrinking font size until it’s tiny or wiggling a document while it’s being copied so that words come out blurry.

As far as the larger article: in general, I hate this trend of dressing up educational research findings we’ve known for decades as new “Brain Science”.

“Spaced repetition”? Really, we’re just learning this now?  The truth is Bloom, Vygotsky, Bruner and others got here years ago. And frankly, what is this “new” brain science all the papers keep talking about? Bruner didn’t study the brain? Was the cognitive linguistics I learned a decade and a half ago just applied art?

That said, I think that much of what has been called attention to under this media meme has been good. It reminds me, at least, that we know a crapload about these things in isolation, but most people don’t realize how much we know because the smart integration of these findings into a usable framework has often eluded us. So if some people want to take the public’s fascination with MRI’s and use that to get people to think of education as a legitimate research pursuit and rehash some old findings, I guess I’m fine with that, at least for the moment.

NH to make $35 million in state agency cuts [Healthcare vs. Higher Ed., Again]

NH to make $35 million in state agency cuts [Healthcare vs. Higher Ed., Again]

After last Spring’s cuts, the State of New Hampshire provides only 5% of our operational budget at Keene State College. The word on the street is this new round of cuts will reduce it to 3%. 

A lot of this is just due to garden variety political nuttery, but even so it is interesting that in every round the spending questions have pitted the state’s higher education system against health care cost pressures. 

The current crop of politicians may go soon, but the health care disaster has just started, and when it comes to paying for education vs. helping someone in medical need, medical need [quite rightly] tends to win.

No matter what happens politically, doing more with less is going to be part of the educational landscape until health care costs stabilize. 

Scholarships Go Disproportionately To White Students

Scholarships Go Disproportionately To White Students

From Yglesias, today:

The issue here isn’t racial discrimination, it’s a symptom of the fact that the incentive structure of American higher education is totally screwy. Schools want to produce two things. One is rich alumni who give them money, and the other is high ratings from US News and World Report. Both goals can be pursued either by investing resources in recruiting better inputs or else by investing resources in doing a better job of teaching. It turns out to be more cost-effective to invest in recruiting better inputs.

Healthcare swallows everything

Healthcare swallows everything

Government spending as a percentage of GDP

This is basically the story all over America:

John Arnold, director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, said that Medicaid and other health-care expenses are predicted to grow to as much as 40 percent of the state budget by 2015. That will force the state to cut higher education funding because there are few other options, he said.

And that’s just at the state level. Take a look at the chart at the top if you want to know where Pell Grants are going to go…

It’s maybe fun to talk about why costs of college went up, and about whether we are bloated or starved to death. It’s fun to take a stand and say — look, we should just hold out for the money we need to keep things operating this way, there is no problem.

But it’s all pretty irrelevant. I’m about as progressive a person as one gets, and I’ve been in the trenches fighting for change. But the economic dynamics of the coming health care crisis mean we will have to spend less per student in the very near future, period. There’s not a believable scenario where that doesn’t happen. The question is only how fast and what the change looks like.

A while back, the meme that Broadband Swallows Everything was floating around the ed-tech world — I think that’s looking the wrong direction. It’s healthcare and an aging population that’s going to bring state-funded education to its knees in the next 10 years; every other influence is trivial by comparison.