Archive for the ‘Online Education’ Category

WSJ: The Future of U.S. Higher Education…

April 9, 2021

A Few Star Universities, Many Affiliated Satellites

Consider how the U.S. hospital system is evolving … independent hospitals are affiliating with “name brands” (e.g. Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins) … or are joining “integrated delivery networks” (e.g. HCA, CommonSpirit, Universal, Ascension, Tenet).

That model is analogous to a “re-imagining” of higher education in a WSJ op-ed by Daniel Pipes, founder of an organization called Campus Watch.

Mr. Pipes predicts that “top schools will flourish while the rest wither and are reborn as affiliates.”

Here’s the essence of Mr. Pipe’s rationale:

The taxi system was unreliable, expensive and unpleasant, so along came Uber and overturned it.

Higher education, even more antiquated than taxis, was due for a comparable shock.

Covid provided it.

More specifically, this is what Mr. Pipes envisions:

Covid has forced a massive reliance on Zoom instruction has finally proved the internet’s potential to disrupt the dominant, archaic model.


In-person attendance will return, but institutions will scamper to find new procedures [and ways to add value


MOOCs (“massive open online courses,”) – which have generally languished — will take off and finally fulfill their potential.


The appearance of such huge courses at a moment when lesser institutions are failing will result in a few star universities flourishing while the rest starve and die.


Imagine a reduction from some 5,300 U.S. colleges and universities to 50, each with its renowned outlook, specialties and strengths.


Thousands of existing campuses will become shared satellite facilities for those 50 that flourish.

Legions of (local) teaching assistants and graders who meet in person with students, will give education the personal touch and community grounding essential to its mission.

So, what happens at the “flourishing 50” campuses (and their faculties)?

My take:

> They continue to fulfill their research missions.

> They train the next generation of scholar-teachers

> They offer advanced content courses that require in-person teaching by subject matter experts.

> They operate as “content farms”, providing proprietary online courses

> The provide quality control over the “satellites” to protect the school’s standing and brand image.

For sure, the next couple of years will be interesting.

In-person advanced seminars with star professors will continue as ever,

Tuition will come crashing down as economies of scale come into play, truly opening education to all and ending the student-loan crisis.

Why can’t online education be as engaging as Fortnite?

July 30, 2020

In prior post,  asserted that near-term, more online education is inevitable … and, in another post, we reported a WSJ study that  The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work.

The headline point of the WSJ study:

Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math.

We concluded:

The playing field changed: Teachers are no longer just “competing” against other teachers and subjects for students’ interest … now, they are directly competing against Fortnite and Tik Tok.

That’s not a fair fight…

A couple of loyal readers asked a reasonable question: “Fortnite? What the heck are you talking about?”


During the past couple of months, I had a unique opportunity: occasionally kid-sitting a 1st grader and a 5th grader during the Covid school shut-down.

So, I had a glimpse into the effectiveness of their online virtual classes …  and, I got to see how they spent their time with schools and sports locked down.


The experience was eye-opening…


Near-term, more online education is inevitable…

July 29, 2020

So, parents need to ramp-up for home schooling.

Those are pivotal conclusions that I’ve reached based on the following observations & assumptions:

> Some school systems are starting fully online this fall … and, the number seems to be increasing everyday.

> Others schools are mixing a hybrid of in-class and online learning.

> Even schools starting fully in-class will need to provide an online option for students whose parents opt them out of in-class.

> Similarly, even schools starting fully in-class will need to provide an online option for students who catch the coronavirus and are quarantined.

> Some (or many) schools that start in-class may encounter viral outbreaks that force them to reverse course and go fully online.


Bottom line: Near-term, more online education is inevitable… and, longer-term, it may become a permanent component of practically all educational programs.

So the critical question for educators to ask is not whether or not to go online … it is how to quickly develop and launch effective online teaching … and how to incorporate online learning in on-going curriculums.

For parents, the question is not if, but how to provide a nurturing learning environment at home.

Hillary preached that “It Takes a Village”.

But, sometimes you just can’t count on “the village” to raise and educate your kids.

In those instances, it’s nice to have a nuclear family to fall back on …


Should you send your kids back to school this fall?

July 10, 2020

It’s hard to follow “the science” when it’s inconclusive.

It appears that most school systems are on a path to open their schools either fully or partially (e.g. rotating students every other day or every other week) … and, to mitigate the risks by capacity limiting busses, socially distancing students in classrooms, wearing masks, etc.


In a couple of weeks, many parents will be forced to make a very big decision: Do they send their K-12 children back to school or not?

Classical public health thinking would say to focus on four questions:

1. Are kids susceptible to the coronavirus?

2. If yes, will mitigation actions sufficiently reduce the risk?

3. Are infected kids vulnerable to severe outcomes?

4. Do infected kids transmit the virus to others?

Unfortunately, “the science and the data” don’t provide much guidance…


During this week’s White House briefing on school reopening…

Sally Goza – President of the American Academy of Pediatrics said:

Children are less likely to become infected and they are less likely to spread infection.

But, White House health advisor Dr. Deborah Birx countered that there’s not enough data to arrive at that conclusion:

The U.S. data is incomplete, because the country has not been testing enough children to conclude how widespread the virus is among people younger than 18 and whether they are spreading the virus to others.

If you look across all of the tests that we’ve done, and when we have the age, the portion that has been the lowest tested portion is the under-10-year-olds.

Our data is skewed to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18.”

Bottom line: “The science” doesn’t know whether kids are susceptible to the coronavirus or not.

The mitigation actions are likely to reduce contagions risks, but it’s unrealistic to expect that they will eliminate the risks.


Perhaps the best news so far is that there have been practically no coronavirus deaths among children.

A lot of people are hanging their hats on the apparently low fatality rate as an indicator that severe outcomes are unlikely.

But, keep in mind that kids have been sheltered-in-place since schools closed in the spring, so they have been minimally exposed to the virus.

Some health “experts” warn that’s a double-edged sword since kids haven’t had a chance to develop immunities that counter the coronavirus.

So, when schools open, the proverbial dam may break.


That gets us back to whether or not infected kids are likely to transmit the virus to others.

This is, in my opinion, the pivotal decision factor.

Again, the evidence is, at best, equivocal.

“While some scientists fear schools could act as accelerators for the pandemic, no country where schools have reopened has so far reported a sharp increase in infections.” WSJ

That said, I side with Dr. Birx that “there’s not enough data to conclude whether kids are spreading the virus to others.”

So, I’d apply a variant of Pascal’s Wager to the transmission question.

See HITS: Pascal’s Wager … perhaps, we should be more righteous.

That is, assume that kids are susceptible to the virus, that mitigation actions will reduce but not eliminate contagion, and that infected kids do transmit the virus.

Then, the critical question is:

Are there vulnerable people potentially exposed to infected kids?

If there are vulnerable caretakers at home (e.g. are elderly or suffer co-mobidity factors) … or anyone with compromised or underdeveloped immune systems (e.g. chemo patients or newborns) … then Pascal’s Wager kicks in.

In those cases, the risks of going back to school increase substantially, maybe reversing the decision calculus.

It may be less about whether the kids will suffer bad outcomes … and more about who the kids might infect — and what the consequences will be on them.


Here’s how schools should be thinking about fall classes…

July 9, 2020

In-person? Online? Hybrid? … What to do?

My view: Educators (especially at the college level) are making a fundamental mistake when trying to structure their curriculums for the fall.

They’re thinking about the problem in the wrong way.


Now, most schools are simply trying to maintain past schedules and coax all courses online, essentially emulating what’s currently being done in the classroom.

Rather, they should strategize around  two fundamental questions:

1. Which courses require classroom presence?

2. Which courses are most suitable for online delivery?

When those questions are answered, load the fall schedule with the most online-suitable courses … and defer the classroom-dependent courses until the virus is behind us (hopefully when the calendar flips to 2021)


So, which courses are classroom-dependent and which are online-suitable?


The “summer slide” meets the coronavirus…

June 18, 2020

In his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of an educational “summer slide”.

Referencing a tracking study of Baltimore City Public School students, Gladwell highlighted evidence that students’ standardized test scores in the fall were generally lower than their scores in the prior spring.

His observation: “Between school years, students’ accumulated learning is diminished”.

In other words, there is a statistically significant “forget factor” if learning isn’t reinforced and edged forward with summer enrichment activities (think: summer school, educational camps, field trips, parental tutoring).

The summer slide is most pronounced for poor students who lack summer enrichment opportunities … and for all students in math. 

The black line below illustrates the math score drop-off for typical 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. On average, the typical summer slide in math skills is about 2%.  That is, students are 2% less proficient in math after their summer vacations.

Source: WSJ

To make matters worse, note the red line on the chart … it illustrates the projected drop-off due to this year’s virus-induced school closings.

It’s estimated that students will be about 5% less proficient in math than they were when the schools closed … the combined effect of lesser learning during the schools’ shut-down period and an extended summer slide (with many schools declaring no mas in early June) .

More specifically…


Why do students need a physical classroom?

January 16, 2020

An interesting op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ concludes that 2020 will be “the year the dam breaks for college education in America”.


The author notes  “the rising cost and slowing returns of traditional schooling, coupled with advances in and the growing acceptance of online education

Among the specifics…


You’re not paying attention !

August 24, 2017

Busting students using facial recognition software.


I always walk around the classroom when I teach.

Couple of reasons: it  burns off some nervous energy and it lets me peek at students’ computer screens.

The latter is the the acid test of attentiveness.


If I see one or two students checking email or sports scores, I figure it’s their problem and they move to the front of the queue for cold call questions.

If I see a lot of students “digitally distracted”, I figure that it’s my problem and I’ve got to adjust … e.g. shift out of lecture mode and into discussion mode.

That’s pretty straightforward in the classroom.

But, how to know if students are paying attention when they’re being beamed material online?


In praise of classrooms and “live” professors …

September 4, 2012

Interesting op-ed by a Williams College prof in the WSJ last week touted the perils of online education and benefits of faculty-student interaction …

Most of us in higher education take the long view about the value of what we do.

Sure, students graduate with plenty of facts in their heads. But the transmission of information is merely the starting point, a critical tool through which we engage the higher faculties of the mind.

What really matters is the set of deeper abilities — to write effectively, argue persuasively, solve problems creatively, adapt and learn independently — that students develop while in college and use for the rest of their lives.

Which educational inputs best predict progress in these deeper aspects of student learning?

By far, the factor that correlates most highly with gains in these skills is the amount of personal contact a student has with professors.

Not virtual contact, but interaction with real, live human beings, whether in the classroom, or in faculty offices, or in the dining halls.

Nothing else — not the details of the curriculum, not the choice of major, not the student’s GPA — predicts self-reported gains in these critical capacities nearly as well as how much time a student spent with professors.

These rich, human interactions can’t be replaced by any magical application of technology.

Technology has and will continue to improve how we teach.

But what it cannot do is remove human beings from the equation.

Now, there are new purveyors of massive, open online courses.


One even proposes to crowd-source the grading of essays, as if averaging letter grades assigned by five random peers were the educational equivalent of a highly trained professor providing thoughtful evaluation and detailed response.

To pretend that this is so is to deny the most significant purposes of education, and to forfeit its true value.

Yet the only way to achieve higher productivity, as the National Academy would define it, is to reduce each student’s time with the faculty.  [To have faculty teach more students and more classes, and to put more material online.]

We know that while such approaches may allow us to deliver some facts to some students more efficiently in the short run, the approaches will undermine the fundamental purpose of education in the long run.

Ken’s Take: Technology doesn’t replace classroom interaction, it liberates and enhances it.


One way is to change the nature of the classroom from “seat time” to “quality time”.

My rule: If I catch myself talking for, say, 10 minutes without a student comment or question, I try to outboard the material to an online tutorial.

That way, I’m able to free up class time for more rigorous interaction that can deepen learning … rather than just running out the clock.

* * * * *

Sidenote: I bet some of the profs who demean online crowd sourced grading use the off-line equivalent: having classmates rate peers’ class participation or having group members rated by their teammates.   Hmmm. What’s the difference?

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This prof taught 100,000 students last semester … wow.

May 22, 2012

Thanks to the spread of high-speed wireless technology, high-speed Internet, smartphones, Facebook, the cloud and tablet computers, the world has gone from connected to hyperconnected.

Finally, a generation that has grown up on these technologies is increasingly comfortable learning and interacting with professors through online platforms.

Coursera, a new interactive online education company.hopes to revolutionize higher education by allowing students from all over the world to not only hear his lectures, but to do homework assignments, be graded, receive a certificate for completing the course and use that to get a better job or gain admission to a better school.

Coursera just broke the million enrollments level.

Andrew Ng an associate professor of computer science at Stanford says: “I normally teach 400 students. Last semester I taught 100,000 in an online course on machine learning. To reach that many students I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years.”

Source: N.Y. Times

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New wave education: TED goes to school …

April 30, 2012

Punch line: TED-Ed YouTube channel aims to woo teachers with its subject-specific short-video content and customizable tools. 

* * * * *
Excerpted from “TED-Ed Aims to be a Teacher’s Pet

The TED-Ed YouTube channel’s short videos have garnered over 2.5 million views since it was launched in March.

Now, a newly-launched TED-ED website is TED’s latest delivery on its brand promise of “Ideas Worth Spreading;” a dynamic site with customizable tools for educators.

click for a video  overview of TED-Ed


Each short video (three to eight minutes) includes multiple choice quizzes, open-ended questions and a ‘Dig Deeper’ section. When a student answers incorrectly, a ‘Video Hint’ directs them to the point in the video with the correct answer. Teachers can browse content by subject with videos mapped via tagging to curricula taught in schools and access correlative materials that augment with the learning level.

“The new website is all about what teachers and students can do with those videos,” said TED-Ed’s Logan Smalley. “The goal of TED-Ed is for each great lesson to reach and motivate as many learners as possible. By putting this new technology to use, we hope to maximize time in class and give teachers an exciting tool for customizing – and encouraging – learning.”

“But the most innovative feature of the site is that educators can customize these elements using a new functionality called “flipping,”” notes the official press release. “When a video is flipped, the supplementary materials can be edited and the resulting lesson is rendered on a new and private web page. The creator of the lesson can then distribute it and track an individual student’s progress as they complete the assignment.”

Custom lesson plans receive a unique URL where teachers can track student’s viewing and responses and their plans can draw from any video on YouTube.

“Educators who have tested the site applaud it for its ease and intuitiveness, which, they say, will be especially useful for technology-shy teachers. “Some teachers are kind of afraid of videos,” says Jonathan Bergmann, a K-8 technology facilitator outside of Chicago. “They feel like technology is such a huge hurdle. I think this website will make it easier.” Bergmann, who is a pioneer of the flipped class movement, sees the TED-Ed site becoming an essential tool for outside-the-classroom learning.”

… “Our goal here is to offer teachers free tools in a way they will find empowering,” said TED Curator Chris Anderson of the TEDucation push. “Great teaching skills are never displaced by technology. On the contrary, they’re amplified by it.” …

Edit by KJM

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