Tag Archives: Education-innovation

Joel Cohen: Malthus Miffed: Are People the Problem, the Solution, or Both?

I highly recommend that you inspect Floating University’s Great Big Ideas: An Entire Undergraduate Education While Standing on One Foot. 

In the Fall of 2011 Big Think teamed up with the Jack Parker Corporation to launch The Floating University, an online educational initiative that debuted at Harvard University, Yale University, and Bard College. Seeking to upset the status quo, evolve the structure of higher education, and democratize access to the world’s best thinkers, FU’s inaugural course, Great Big Ideas, became the most requested class at all three schools where it was offered.(…snip…)

There are twelve lectures, each taught by a leader in the field who is also a great teacher. The first lecture of the series is the captioned Malthus Miffed by Joel Cohen, a mathematical biologist and a professor of populations. It is a suitable topic for the first lecture because an understanding of demography is one of the foundations for understanding how the world works, and especially what policies are likely to succeed (e.g., immigration, development, climate).

Prof. Cohen really is a great teacher – a skill achieved by investing a lot of energy in developing the craft, including practice. Even if you don’t think you are interested in demographics I predict you will be glued to your screen for the duration of this lecture. The course package includes Readings and Discussion Questions. 

Enjoy!

MOOCS: Should celebrities teach online classes?

As part of the production team, yes of course! The reason South Korean tutors earn multi-millions per year is because they generate engagement and satisfied customers. An education model that requires a teacher or professor to do everything is like a Hollywood producer having to direct, act,   film, promote and distribute the film. Is that a winning scheme?

A savvy student wants to buy the best product for her needs – the quality of that product is ultimately measured by the subject mastery she achieved using the course-product. The innovators like Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity are already finding more effective ways to deliver the concept of “great teaching”. Here’s an excerpt from Jeffrey R. Young writing for Slate:

(…snip…) Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.

One for-profit MOOC producer, Udacity, already brings in camera-friendly staff members to appear with professors in lecture videos. One example is an introduction to psychology course developed earlier this year in partnership with San Jose State University. It had three instructors: Gregory J. Feist, an associate professor of psychology at San Jose State University, who has been teaching for more than 25 years and who wrote a popular textbook on the subject; Susan Snycerski, a lecturer at the university who has taught for 15 years; and Lauren Castellano, a Udacity employee who recently finished a master’s in psychology from the university, advised by Feist.

In the course’s opening lecture, the three stand together and go over the ground rules, but after that, Castellano takes the lead on camera. Feist and Snycerski make regular appearances throughout the 16 lessons, but often only briefly, to explain a concept or two, or to be part of a demonstration or skit with Castellano.

Does it bother the more-experienced professors that they get less screen time than their younger colleague? “That’s a Udacity decision,” said Feist. “They’ve discovered that it works well if you have these younger people doing most of the instruction, but in fact the content is coming from professors. They wanted someone who students can identify with.”

The professors say they typically develop the lessons and then send them to the Udacity employee to turn the lectures into scripts, complete with demonstrations and suggested jokes. For the lesson on sensation and perception, for instance, Castellano came up with the idea of staging a “sense Olympics.” She and another Udacity employee pretended to be news anchors giving updates from contests that demonstrated human senses. The scenes are playful, and the professors even filmed mock advertisements for products related to the lessons, as a way to add variety to what could otherwise have been a series of talking heads lecturing to the camera.

Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s founder, said that he models the approach on the way popular television shows are made. “It’s similar to a newscast these days— they have a dialogue,” he said.

“All our instructors are knowledgeable in the subject area,” Thrun added. “However, we often rely on teams of people to produce a MOOC, and often the individuals who show up on tape are not the primary instructor who composes the materials. This really depends on how camera-shy an instructor is, and how well we believe an instructor is able to do a great job in front of a camera.”

None of us know where this going – but I’m hoping to see Udacity-type experimentation multiplying throughout the education space. We especially need it in K-12 where the institutional structure makes it unspeakably difficult to change. 

Khan Academy: Shelby Harris reflects on her first 3 months of KA in Kuna, Idaho

Like most of the personal reflections of teachers who have switched to using Khan Academy — Shelby makes me smile. Her students are smiling too:

 

I am Shelby Harris, a 7th grade math teacher at Kuna Middle School in Kuna, Idaho. I’m entering my 14th year of teaching in this rural town right outside of Boise. Our school serves 7th and 8th grade students and has a population of roughly 800 students. We have sizeable ELL and low income populations and, like all buildings, instruct to an enormous range of student abilities.

I’ve always been a very traditional teacher; in the front of the room, captive audience, putting on a show. I managed behavior with ease, entertained my crowd, delivered lessons meant to inspire to the masses. I loved my job. I also knew I wasn’t doing it very well. I knew I had highly capable students who were bored but well behaved, so they politely smiled through my lectures. I knew I had a not-so-tiny group who was completely lost.

I needed a solution. I needed fewer students. I needed more time. I needed an assistant teacher. None of these needs were easily met. Until Khan Academy.

The day the students were assigned their one to one devices and we started using KA, they were so excited! Partially because of the new technology, but mostly because they knew that math as they knew it was going to be changing. What they knew before was a class where they were either the bored kid or the lost kid. I had a prescribed curriculum to get through in a prescribed amount of time, even though there were students who needed two minutes on a concept while their classmates needed two days (or two weeks!).

I was excited too–but also very nervous. How do you take a mostly traditional teacher like myself and suddenly take my soapbox away and give kids a bunch of screens to look at? I felt lost and out of place. I wasn’t sure where I fit in, nor how to behave.

Fast forward: I’m figuring it out. I am pulling small groups based on KA data and observations. I’m able to give personalized attention to students and focus on the unique needs of each individual. The kids are all engaged and helping each other. And there are smiles. Lots and lots of smiles. The change in atmosphere is palpable. I don’t stand at the helm and drive the boat along while all my disciples row in unison. I am rowing with them. Constantly checking data and redirecting the crew. When a man goes down, I am using data to send aid. When there is a group off course or in uncharted waters, I am pulling them aside to guide their next direction. It’s beautiful and fluid and looks like….well, chaos. But within this chaos there are students learning with a renewed enthusiasm for math, tackling their fears, and supporting each other.

At the end of a few short months, I was doing a lot right and still doing a lot wrong. I know my implementation is still a work in progress, but I know I’m moving in the right direction. The smiles on those faces and improvement in their scores tells me so. 

David Brooks on “The Practical University”

In The Practical University David Brooks asks “What is a university for?” David suggests that the high level answer is “places where young people acquire two sorts of knowledge … called technical knowledge and practical knowledge.” 

We may find that mastery of technical knowledge can be enhanced by leveraging the free offerings from online innovators like Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity. But it is not clear how far Udacity can go on the practical knowledge branch of the learning tree. What if we merged the face-to-face setting of a live-in residential college with adaptive learning software innovation and the real-time online presence of the world’s best teachers? As I understand it, that is the vision of the Minerva Project.

David Brooks ends his op-ed with these thoughts:

Let’s focus on practical wisdom in the modern workplace.

Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.

These skills are practical knowledge. Anybody who works in a modern office knows that they are surprisingly rare. But students can learn these skills at a university, through student activities, through the living examples of their professors and also in seminars.

Nelson’s venture, Minerva, uses technology to double down on seminars. Minerva is a well-financed, audacious effort to use technological advances to create an elite university at a much lower cost. I don’t know if Minerva will work or not, but Nelson is surely right to focus on the marriage of technology and seminars.

The problem with the current seminars is that it’s really hard to know what anybody gets out of them. The conversations might be lively, but they flow by so fast you feel as if you’re missing important points and exchanges.

The goal should be to use technology to take a free-form seminar and turn it into a deliberate seminar (I’m borrowing Anders Ericsson’s definition of deliberate practice). Seminars could be recorded with video-cameras, and exchanges could be reviewed and analyzed to pick apart how a disagreement was handled and how a debate was conducted. Episodes in one seminar could be replayed for another. Students could be assessed, and their seminar skills could be tracked over time.

So far, most of the talk about online education has been on technology and lectures, but the important challenge is technology and seminars. So far, the discussion is mostly about technical knowledge, but the future of the universities is in practical knowledge.

More on the Minerva Project and other innovations in education here.

Bill Gates on Graphite: a remarkable teachers’ aid

Happily, we are seeing an explosion of digital education resources, from Khan Academy to Udacity. How does a teacher find the resources most suitable to the requirements of her students? Well, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting a new web service that will be a huge help: Graphite. This is exciting. See e.g., how the Graphite rating scheme works.

 

The Minerva project plans for different kind of online education

The Minerva Project is sufficiently visionary that it makes me fearful they might fail. Let’s hope not. Ry Ryvard at InsideHigherEd recently profiled the Ben Nelson-founded for-profit elite university startup. 

(…snip…) Minerva’s doors won’t open to anything resembling a traditional university: the for-profit startup expects top students will fly across the world to sit in front of computers. Professors could be located anywhere in the world. Now, Minerva will need to make good on its promise to attract some of the world’s most qualified students based on an unproven idea that relies on unfinished software.

The company wants to be a “hybrid university.” Its students would gather in dorms in major cities across the world, and after spending time together in one city, move to another, but take online classes from Minerva professors on the other end of the screen.

Minerva’s founder, former Snapfish executive Ben Nelson, believes powerful software can teach students better than traditional classes. But he also believes students still want to go to a residential college. Minerva plans to charge about half as much as an Ivy League university.

To get there, he will need to raise millions before Minerva can begin teaching its first class. The company also needs to produce one-of-a-kind software good enough to compete with a traditional campus experience, use what Nelson calls “various loopholes” in the accreditation system to get accredited and attract talent to an unproven idea.

 (…snip…) 

The Minerva Project

Who: Ben Nelson, a former executive at Snapfish, and his team, along with $25 million in venture capital, but with millions more needed.

What: A for-profit university that will have students in residence hall taking online classes from Minerva professors. The software Minerva is working on will monitor student learning and encourage student involvement in ways Nelson does not believe are possible in traditional in-person lectures. The university plans to have four colleges within it and eventually a business school.

Why: Nelson and his team believe some elite students from across the world are ready for something different and that traditional universities have yet to apply 21st century technology to decades of research on student learning.

When: The company expects to run a small group of students through its program in 2014 but offer its first full year of classes to students starting in September 2015.

Where: San Francisco at first, with other campuses in more than a half dozen of the world’s major commercial capitals. None of the campuses are ready yet and Minerva will not own any of the buildings but instead work with private developers who will put up the money while Minerva guarantees the students.

Minerva v. MOOCs and Lectures

When Nelson started thinking about Minerva in 2010, online education had already taken off, with universities nationwide competing to offer online degree programs. But much of the growth of online education was in professional training and the big players weren’t always the colleges attracting top undergraduates. Now, leading universities from across the world are offering free online courses and seem to be moving rapidly to offer them to undergraduates for credit.

Nelson is not the least bit threatened by these massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Instead, Nelson called MOOCs ”manna from heaven” for Minerva. He said he never wanted Minerva to offer introductory classes to begin with. He expects Minerva students will be good enough to pick up basic things like Econ 101 on their own.

Indeed, he thinks it’s “not O.K. to charge” for Econ 101. So Nelson plans for Minerva’s professors to only teach classes where students are required to debate one another or where the professors can closely track students’ intellectual development using sophisticated software. Those things, he said, “can’t be MOOCed and therefore can’t be given away for free.”

Nelson’s confidence in this direction is born in part of a disdain for lectures. Lectures, the staple of most undergraduate education, “are not proven to work,” he said.

Nelson said MOOCs are victims to the same flaws as lectures and therefore make “absolutely no sense.”

Where, if not classrooms, will Minerva students learn? Well, first of all, in front of a computer. “We will not allow them to congregate” in typical classroom settings, Nelson said. The students will live together in residence halls, first in San Francisco and then in dorms Minerva plans to have in the world’s major commercial capitals. Minerva students will have hall advisors and faculty guides for education excursions, but no in-person classroom professors.

While MOOCs are basically supersized lectures offered to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of students, Minerva wants to use learning analytics to scale up Oxbridge-style tutorials to seminar-size online classes taught by professors who can work remotely from any location in the world.

“We are trying to deliver the world’s highest-touch education experience,” Nelson said. “And we believe that to deliver a truly high-touch delivery experience — we believe that if you tell 20 students to gather in a room that will not happen.”

Unlike MOOCs, which are based on recorded lectures, Minerva classes will be taught live online.

Minerva believes it can develop software to log students and professors’ every move and not only track but encourage participation and learning. This, Nelson says, will avoid the limitation of the in-person lecture — namely that whatever is said just “vanishes into thin air.”

Students in the back of a real class are not very engaged, said Robin Goldberg, Minerva’s chief marketing officer. But Minerva students, who could be in front of a webcam with their keystrokes being logged, will be on their toes. “You can barely blink without everybody knowing it. You can’t get up to get a glass of water without everybody knowing it,” she said.

The faith in the power of the software versus the lecture is at the heart of the company.

The software? It’s not finished yet.

The Faculty

A university also needs faculty and students. Last month, Minerva lured Stephen Kosslyn away from his job as director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences.

Kosslyn, who started full-time at Minerva on April 1, will be the new university’s founding dean. He will oversee the School of Arts & Science and its four colleges of natural science, social science, computational science and arts and humanities.

“I need to find distinguished academics who can head those, so if you can mention that in the article that would be great,” Kosslyn said.

(…snip…)

The Minerva momentum seems to be building with Larry Summers signing on to lead the board of advisors, the announcement of the $500,000 Minerva Prize, and the announcement of the Kosslyn hiring: Minerva Project Names Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn As Founding Dean; Former Harvard Dean Will Lead the Academics and Curriculum of the University.

To be continued…

Minerva Project Announces $500,000 Prize For Innovation In Teaching

All of the big academic prizes go for research. But among the innovations emerging from the Benchmark Capital-funded Minerva Project is a serious prize to reward the educator who has contributed the most to excellence in education. The press release begins with this: 

April 22, 2013 – Minerva Project, which is redefining a top-tier university experience to prepare global leaders and innovators, today announced the launch of the Minerva Academy, a society of educators dedicated to promoting and rewarding innovation and excellence in teaching. Led by Nobel Laureate Roger Kornberg, who will serve as Governor of the new Academy, the group will select and award the Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education. This international honor and $500,000 prize, the largest of its kind, will be bestowed on one distinguished educator each year whose innovations have led to extraordinary student learning experiences. Nominations are open through November 30, 2013 at http://www.minervaproject.com/academy and the first Minerva Prize will be awarded in May 2014.

“While academic research has long been internationally recognized, and rightfully so, communication of the passion that lies behind it has gone largely unnoticed. We seek to enhance the intellectual development of students and inspire their interest, while continuing to support the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge within the professoriate,” said Dr. Roger Kornberg, governor of the Minerva Academy. “The new Minerva Academy and Prize are a step toward balancing emphasis and recognition in higher education.”
The Minerva Academy is an honorary institution that will induct the best educational innovators from around the world. Academy members will be identified and invited based on recognized expertise focused on student learning as well as published research. The objective of the Minerva Academy is to promote, recognize and reward extraordinary advancements in teaching excellence by providing a forum for open exchange of new ideas and enhanced practices in higher education instruction.

The Academy will recognize achievement through the Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education, to be awarded annually to one faculty member, from any institution worldwide, who has demonstrated extraordinary, innovative teaching and advancements in learning experiences. The Minerva Prize is the largest teaching award of its kind, focusing on significant advancement in student learning in higher education. One $500,000 cash prize will be awarded to the winner, who will be selected through a rigorous nomination and review process.

(…snip…)

Udacity & Georgia Tech MOOMS (M.S. Computer Science online)

Inside Higher Ed has a long article on this remarkable new venture – “based on interviews and documents, including some that the university provided to Inside Higher Ed following an open records request.” There are 22 pages of internal Georgia Tech docs referenced. Example: 

“It is an experiment that no other institution of our caliber has embarked on (yet!) but everyone is talking about moving in this direction, so if we want to do it, we should do it right away,” the report, produced in late February, said. “There is an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower if we act quickly and thoughtfully.”

There is a glimpse of the financial projections as well:

The Georgia Tech program will have four enrollment tracks for students. Enrollment starts in January, though the first year will feature a small test run of several hundred paying students drawn mostly from the military and the corporate world, particularly AT&T.

Georgia Tech and Udacity expect the program to cost about $3.1 million in its first year. With a $2 million one-time sponsorship from AT&T and about $1.3 million in tuition and fees, Georgia Tech and Udacity
expect to split $240,060 in gains at the end of the first year.

In the second year, without AT&T’s large subsidy, Georgia Tech and Udacity plan to spend $7.5 million and scrape out gains of just $14,848 for the whole year.

By the third year, when the program is expected to be running at full steam, Georgia Tech and Udacity expect to spend $14.3 million on the program but bring in $19.1 million in revenue — for a total gain of about $4.7 million.

Georgia Tech will receive 60 percent of the revenue and Udacity the rest. The money to Georgia Tech will flow through its research corporation. Professors and the computing college both stand to gain from the effort. A professor will receive $20,000 for creating a course and $10,000 for delivering the content — meaning most professors will receive $30,000 per course. Professors will receive a royalty of $2,500 each time the course is offered again.

The posted Georgia Tech document is a wonderful source of insights into how the new degree program will actually operate.

Udacity and Georgia Tech join to offer a $7,000 M.S. Computer Science online

This very exciting bulletin came up simultaneously on two of our favorite feeds: Tyler Cowen and Sebastian Thrun. Here's Tyler:

The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.

Georgia Tech will work with AT&T and Udacity, the 15-month-old Silicon Valley-based company, to offer a new online master’s degree in computer science to students across the world at a sixth of the price of its current degree. The deal, announced Tuesday, is portrayed as a revolutionary attempt by a respected university, an education technology startup and a major corporate employer to drive down costs and expand higher education capacity.

Georgia Tech expects to hire only eight or so new instructors even as it takes its master’s program from 300 students to as many as 10,000 within three years, said Zvi Galil, the dean of computing at Georgia Tech.

…The deal started to come together eight months ago in a meeting between Galil and Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun.

“Sebastian suggested to do a master’s degree for $1,000 and I immediately told him it’s not possible,” Galil said.

(…)

And here's Sebastian:

Today is my opportunity to give back. Ever since Peter Norvig and I launched AI Class, I have been dreaming of putting an entire computer science degree online, and to make access to the material free of charge, so that everyone can become a proficient computer scientist. With Georgia Tech and AT&T, this is my dream come true. If, as a young student, I had the chance to learn from the best professors in the world, my life might have been different. I have been fortunate. Yet so many potential learners are still denied access. Education has become much more exclusive, and getting into a top-10 computer science department, like Georgia Tech's, is still out of reach for all but a chosen few.

I co-founded Udacity to bring the very best of higher education to everyone worldwide. With Georgia Tech, we have a partner whose computer science program is among the best in the world! And equally importantly, with AT&T, we partner with a Fortune-500 company which is relentlessly innovating in the space of digital access to information. This triumvirate of industry and academia is now teaming up to use 21st Century MOOC technology to level the playing field in computer science education. And while the degree rightfully comes with a tuition fee — after all, to achieve the very best in online education we will provide support services — the bare content will be available free of charge, available for anyone eager to learn. We are also launching non-credit certificates at a much reduced price point, to give a path to those who don't care about Georgia Tech credit or degrees, but still want their learning results certified.

I wish I had been born in the 1990s. Back when I was a college student, the Web did not exist. How many young students are there in the world today as eager to learn as I was? Only time will tell how many young people we'll be able to empower to reach for the stars. If you are a student in our program and come across this blog post, please drop me a line at sebastian@udacity.com. If only a single life can be touched with this program, it will be a success!

I think this is a very big deal – hope I'm right!

Update: here's the Georgia Tech site for OMSCS with FAQ and intro videos. From the FAQ:

How is this degree different from residential Georgia Tech MS CS?

The OMS CS will deliver educational content completely through the massive online format. This means it will differ from the residential MS CS in course structure, for example, but will provide an educational experience no less rigorous than the on-campus format.

How is the OMS CS different from other distance-learning and/or online degree programs that have existed for a long time?

The Georgia Tech OMS CS is the first online degree in computer science from a top-tier university that students can obtain exclusively through the massive-online format.

How much does the degree program cost?

We’re not yet ready to announce a specific program cost, but the plan is to offer the Georgia Tech OMS CS for a total cost of under $7,000—a fraction of the cost of Georgia Tech’s on-campus program and even less than that of comparable private universities.

What evidence do you have of market demand for this program?

At present, around 160,000 master’s degrees are bestowed in the United States every year in computer science and related subject disciplines; the worldwide market is almost certainly much larger, perhaps even an order of magnitude larger. We conjecture that the present structure is vastly underserving the market and will conduct market research in the first year to check these estimates and help target our course offerings.

How long does it take to complete and receive a degree?

We anticipate the typical time for students to complete the OMS CS will be about three years, though we will allow for longer enrollments— up to six years—for those students who need greater flexibility.

How does the student workload compare to a residential degree? How many hours a week will students spend on it?

The total workload is the same as the residential program; the weekly or hourly workload depends on how quickly students wish to complete the program.

Who can take courses?

All OMS CS courses will be available free of charge for anyone, anywhere in the world. Degree-seeking students will be virtually separated from “open” students to ensure degree program rigor.