The practical university

“Are universities mostly sorting devices to separate smart and hard-working high school students from their less-able fellows so that employers can more easily identify them?” asks New York Times columnist David Brooks in The Practical University. ”Are universities factories for the dissemination of job skills? Are universities mostly boot camps for adulthood, where young people learn how to drink moderately, fornicate meaningfully and hand things in on time?”

Universities teach technical and practical knowledge, he decides.

Technical knowledge — how to do things — can be transmitted just as well online as in a standard lecture class, he writes. The online courses are going to get better in the next few years, putting lecturers out of business. Universities will have to concentrate on practical knowledge, “not what you do but how you do it.”

It is the wisdom a great chef possesses that cannot be found in recipe books. Practical knowledge is not the sort of knowledge that can be taught and memorized; it can only be imparted and absorbed. It is not reducible to rules; it only exists in practice.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg describes how to succeed in the workplace.

. . . 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.

Students can learn practical skills at a university, “through student activities, through the living examples of their professors and also in seminars,” Brooks believes.

Is this really the university’s strong suit? I learned these skills at the family dinner table and on the job, especially in my years on a newspaper editorial board.

 

Online ed works—for sex, alcohol, and health

All-online courses have low success rates, note the Hechinger Report. But computer-based instruction can be more effective than classroom teaching for sex, drugs, and health issues, “subjects in which privacy, personal comfort and customized information are especially important, and embarrassment or cultural taboos can get in the way of classroom teaching.”

Simple video- and animation-based interactive courses in these disciplines turn out to be good ways of teaching subjects you may have giggled through in health class.

. . . “We’re seeing significant and large effects on attitudes, knowledge, and also behaviors” from online courses in nontraditional subjects, says Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who coauthored one study of the subject.

Colombian students who took an 11-week online course in safer sex knew more about safer sex — and practiced what they knew — compared to students who took a conventional health class.

For every 68 students who took the online course instead of the traditional course, researchers estimated by reviewing students’ medical records and comparing them to those of peers who didn’t take the course, up to two sexually transmitted infections were prevented.

Students — and teachers — often feel embarrassed to talk about sex in conventional classrooms, the researchers found.

Years ago, I looked into how contraception was taught in San Jose high schools. One teacher told me sex ed was lumped in with drivers’ ed, anti-drug ed, career awareness, etc. He left sex ed till the end of the school year in hopes he’d run out of time and not have to teach it.

Online courses can widen learning gap

Digital learning is expanding access to higher education, but may be widening the  achievement gap. Students who have trouble learning in a traditional classroom have even more trouble learning online, concludes a study of community college students in Washington state. For older students, women and high achievers, the difference between online learning and face-to-face learning is small.

MOOCalypse soon

Online learning will replace residential campuses predicts Nathan Harden in The End of the University as We Know It  in The American Interest.  Only the elite universities will have bricks, mortar and ivy.

The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

Community colleges will survive to serve students who need an instructor, writes a professor.

Roll-your-own higher ed

Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.

Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.

Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”

Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.

Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.

Michigan bill: Let students choose districts

Michigan will consider letting students choose their school district, reports the Detroit Free Press.  Per-pupil funding would follow students to their public schools of choice.

The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act would  provide for learning at “any time, any place, any way and at any pace,” said Richard McLellan, who developed the proposal for Gov. Rick Snyder.  Districts would not “own” students.

The bill would:

• Allow students to access online learning from across the state, with the cost paid by the state. Districts that provide online courses would receive public funding based on performance.

• Provide a framework for funding based on performance, once the proper assessment and testing mechanisms are in place.

• Give scholarships of $2,500 per semester, to a maximum of $10,000, to students who finish high school early.

• Encourage year-round schooling by having a 180-day school year spread over 12 months instead of nine, with a break of no more than two weeks.

Naturally, there’s lots of opposition. Don Wotruba, deputy director for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the state already is pursuing online learning and school choice. “But it’s monitored,” he said. “The answer is not to say, ‘Here’s the money. Make your own choices.’ ”

Tennessee is considering vouchers for low-income students, reports Ed Week.

College credit for MOOCs?

If students could earn transferable credits for MOOCs (massive open online courses), the cost of higher education will go way down. The American Council on Education and Coursera, a MOOC provider, are looking for ways to translate MOOC learning into college credits, reports the New York Times.

 The council’s credit evaluation process will begin early next year, using faculty teams to begin to assess how much students who successfully complete Coursera MOOCs have learned. Students who want to take the free classes for credit would have to pay a fee to take an identity-verified, proctored exam. If the faculty team deems the course worthy of academic credit, students who do well could pay for a transcript to submit to the college of their choice. Colleges are not required to accept those credits, but similar transcripts are already accepted by 2,000 United States colleges and universities for training courses offered by the military or by employers.

Coursera, founded last year by two Stanford computer professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, has 33 university partners and nearly two million students, who currently can earn certificates of completion, but not academic credit, for their work.

The Gates Foundation is funding research on using MOOCs in remedial math and writing classes.

A free remedial math MOOC is being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  The six-week course will be open to high school students and adult learners who hope to avoid the remedial track and start in college-level math classes.

In a “Fast Track” pilot this summer, 38 low-scoring students took the online course. After six weeks, all but one qualified for college-level math and science courses.

An online path to a low-cost 4-year degree

A California community college is partnering with out-of-state universities to offer an online path to low-cost bachelor’s degrees.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Faced with a $15 million budget deficit and the threat of losing accreditation, City College of San Francisco will return more than 60 faculty department chairs to full-time teaching.

Give credit for learning, not time

Give credit for learning, not seat time, argues a new report. As more students learn online at their own pace, the credit hour’s day is ending.

To fix student loans, make college unnecessary

To fix student loans, make college unnecessary, writes columnist Ed Quillen in the Denver Post.

Sending more people to college is no solution. Indeed, it would make the problem worse, for it would just drive costs up further while putting a glut of graduates on the market, thereby depressing their earnings.

Instead, we need to extend our civil-rights laws to forbid job discrimination based on educational credentials. Employers would be free to test potential employees to see if they had relevant skills and knowledge, but they could not ask for educational credentials.

If college was optional, prices would plummet, Quillen predicts. “People who wanted to study medieval French literature could still pursue degrees at schools populated by scholars seeking knowledge,” while job seekers would learn by reading, studying online, apprenticeship or whatever enabled them to pass the qualifying test.

After all, you don’t need a degree in English to ask, “Do you want fries with that?”

As learning goes online, it will increase the pressure to find ways for independent learners to prove what they know.