Posts tagged ‘economics’
The below-linked article by Jill Lepore is remarkable for its careful dissection of Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation.” (Thanks to Shriram Krishnamurthi for the link.) As Lepore points out, Christensen’s theories were referenced often by those promoting MOOCs. I know I was told many times (vehemently, ferociously) that my emphasis on learning, retention, diversity was old-fashioned, and that disrupting the university was important for its own sake, for the sake of innovation. As Lepore says in the quote below, there may be good arguments for MOOCs, but Christensen’s argument from a historical perspective just doesn’t work. (Ian Bogost shared this other critical analysis of Christensen’s theory.)
I just finished reading Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, and I see similarities between how Lepore describes reactions to Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation” and how Lewis describes the market around synthetic subprime mortgage bond-backed financial instruments. There’s a lot of groupthink going on (and the Wikipedia description is worth reading), with the party line saying, “This is all so great! This is a great way to get rich! We can’t imagine being wrong!” What Lewis points out (most often through the words of Dr. Michael Burry) is that markets work when there is a logic to them and real value underneath. Building financial instruments on top of loans that would never be repaid is ludicrous — it’s literally value-less. Lepore is saying something similar — innovation for its own sake is not necessarily valuable or a path to success, and companies that don’t disruptively innovate can still be valuable and successful.
I don’t know enough to critique either Lewis or Lepore, but I do see how the lesson of value over groupthink applies to higher-education. Moving education onto MOOCs just to be disruptive isn’t valuable. We can choose what value proposition for education we want to promote. If we’re choosing that we want to value reaching students who don’t normally get access higher education, that’s a reasonable goal — but if we’re not reaching that goal via MOOCs (as all the evidence suggests), then MOOCs offer no value. If we’re choosing that we want students to learn more, or to improve retention, or to get networking opportunities with fellow students (future leaders), or to provide remedial help to students without good preparation, those are all good value propositions, but MOOCs help with none of them.
Both Lewis and Lepore are telling us that Universities will only succeed if they are providing value. MOOCs can only disrupt them if they can provide that value better. No matter what the groupthink says, we should promote those models for higher-education that we can argue (logically and with evidence) support our value proposition.
In “The Innovative University,” written with Henry J. Eyring, who used to work at the Monitor Group, a consulting firm co-founded by Michael Porter, Christensen subjected Harvard, a college founded by seventeenth-century theocrats, to his case-study analysis. “Studying the university’s history,” Christensen and Eyring wrote, “will allow us to move beyond the forlorn language of crisis to hopeful and practical strategies for success.” … That doesn’t mean good arguments can’t be made for online education. But there’s nothing factually persuasive in this account of its historical urgency and even inevitability, which relies on a method well outside anything resembling plausible historical analysis.
According to the article linked below, there is a large effort to fill STEM worker jobs in Northern Virginia by getting kids interested in STEM (including computing) from 3rd grade on. The evidence for this need is that there will be 50K new jobs in the region between 2013 and 2018.
The third graders are 8 years old. If they can be effective STEM workers right out of high school, there’s another 10 years to wait before they can enter the workforce — 2024. If they need undergrad, 2028. If they need advanced degrees, early 2030’s. Is it even possible to predict workforce needs out over a decade?
Now, let’s consider the cost of keeping that pipeline going, just in terms of CS. Even in Northern Virginia, only about 12% of high schools offer CS today. So, we need a fourfold increase in CS teachers — but that’s just high school. The article says that we want these kids supported in CS from 3rd grade on. Most middle schools have no CS teachers. Few elementary schools do. We’re going to have to hire and train a LOT of teachers to fulfill that promise.
Making a jobs argument for teaching 3rd graders CS doesn’t make sense.
The demand is only projected to grow greater. The Washington area is poised to add 50,000 net new STEM jobs between 2013 and 2018, according to projections by Stephen S. Fuller, the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. And Fuller said that STEM jobs are crucial in that they typically pay about twice as much as the average job in the Washington area and they generate significantly more economic value.
It is against this backdrop that SySTEMic Solutions is working to build a pipeline of STEM workers for the state of Virginia, starting with elementary school children and working to keep them consistently interested in the subject matter until they finish school and enter the workforce.
I recently watched the documentary Why we fight, and was struck by the prescience of President Eisenhower’s warning. So many of our educational decisions are made because of the harsh economic realities of today. How many of these are guns-for-butter choices might we have made differently if education was considered? Here in Georgia, computer science curricular decisions are being made with a recognition that there will be little or no funding available for teacher professional development — certainly not enough for every high school CS teacher in the state. What percentage of the DoD budget would it cost to provide professional learning opportunities to every CS teacher in the country? It’s certainly in the single digits.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms in not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
via Cross of Iron Speech.
Wall Street Journal just ran an article (linked below) about people “flocking to coding classes.” The lead for the story (quoted below) is a common story, but concerning. If coding is all extra-curricular, with the (presumably expensive) once-a-week tutor, then how do the average kids get access? How do the middle and lower kids get access? Hadi Partovi and Jane Margolis talked about this on PRI’s Science Friday — CS education can’t be an afterschool activity, or we’ll keep making CS a privileged activity for white boys.
Like many 10-year-olds, Nick Wald takes private lessons. His once-a-week tutor isn’t helping him with piano scales or Spanish conjugations, but teaching him how to code.
“I always liked to get apps from the app store, and I always wanted to figure out how they worked and how I could develop it like that,” Nick says.
As the ability to code, or use programming languages to build sites and apps, becomes more in demand, technical skills are no longer just for IT professionals. Children as young as 7 can take online classes in Scratch programming, while 20-somethings are filling up coding boot camps that promise to make them marketable in the tech sector. Businesses such as American Express Co. AXP -0.57% send senior executives to programs about data and computational design not so they can build websites, but so they can better manage the employees who do.
SIGCSE Preview: Measuring Demographics and Performance in Computer Science Education at a Nationwide Scale Using AP CS Data
Barbara and I are speaking Thursday 3:45-5 (with Neil Brown on his Blackbox work) in Hanover DE on our AP CS analysis paper (also previewed at a GVU Brown Bag). The full paper is available here: http://bit.ly/SIGCSE14-APCS This is a different story than the AP CS 2013 analysis that Barbara has been getting such press for. This is a bit deeper analysis on the 2006-2012 results.
Here are a couple of the figures that I think are interesting. What’s fitting into these histograms are states, and it’s the same number of bins in each histogram, so that one can compare across.
Fitting this story into the six page SIGCSE format was really tough. I wanted to make the figures bigger, and I wanted to tell more stories about the regressions we explored. I focused on the path from state wealth to exam-takers because I hadn’t seen that story in CS Ed previously (though everyone would predict that it was there), but there’s a lot more to tell about these data.
Figure 1: Histograms describing (a) the number of schools passing the audit over the population (measured in 10K), (b) number of exam-takers over the population, and (c) percentage of exam-takers who passed.
Measuring Demographics and Performance in Computer Science Education at a Nationwide Scale Using AP CS Data
Abstract: Before we can reform or improve computing education, we need to know the current state. Data on computing education are difficult to come by, since it’s not tracked in US public education systems. Most of our data are survey-based or interview-based, or are limited to a region. By using a large and nationwide quantitative data source, we can gain new insights into who is participating in computing education, where the greatest need is, and what factors explain variance between states. We used data from the Advanced Placement Computer Science A (AP CS A) exam to get a detailed view of demographics of who is taking the exam across the United States and in each state, and how they are performing on the exam. We use economic and census data to develop a more detailed view of one slice (at the end of secondary school and before university) of computer science education nationwide. We find that minority group involvement is low in AP CS A, but the variance between states in terms of exam-takers is driven by minority group involvement. We find that wealth in a state has a significant impact on exam-taking.
We’ve heard about this problem before: Online courses don’t reach the low-income students who most need them, because they don’t have access to the technology on-ramp. This was an issue in the San Jose State experiment.
That’s because the technology required for online courses isn’t always easily accessible or affordable for these students. Although the course may be cheaper than classroom-based courses, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education argues in a report released Wednesday low-income students might still have a harder time accessing it.
“We have to wrap our heads around the fact that we can’t make assumptions that this will be so simple because everyone will just fire up their computers and do the work,” says Lillian Taiz, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and president of the California Faculty Association.
Many students, Taiz says, don’t have computers at home, high-speed Internet access, smart phones, or other technologies necessary to access course content.
The US News article suggests Google Chromebooks as an answer — cheap and effective. The Indian government is trying an even cheaper tablet solution. Could you use one of these to access MOOCs?
The Indian government realized a few years ago that the technology industry had no motivation to cater to the needs of the poor. With low cost devices, the volume of shipments would surely increase, but margins would erode to the point that it wasn’t worthwhile for the big players. So, India decided to design its own low-cost computer. In July 2010, the government unveiled the prototype of a $35 handheld touch-screen tablet and offered to buy 100,000 units from any vendor that would manufacture them at this price. It promised to have these to market within a year and then purchase millions more for students.
An interesting experiment, with a deeply disturbing result.
The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.
The Washington Post series on “The Tuition is Too Damn High” has been fascinating, filled with interesting data, useful insights, and economic theory that I hadn’t met previously. The article linked below is about “Baumol’s cost disease” which suggests an explanation for why wages might increase when productivity does not. It’s an explanation that some have used to explain the rise in tuition, which Post blogger Dylan Matthews rejects based on the data (in short: faculty salaries aren’t really rising — the increase in tuition is due to other factors).
But I actually had a concern about an earlier stage in his argument. It’s absolutely true that our labor intensive methods do not lead to an increase in productivity in terms of number of students, while MOOCs and similar other methods can. However, we can gain productivity in terms of quality of learning and retention. We absolutely have teaching methods, well-supported with research, that lead to better learning and more retention — we can get students to complete more classes with better understanding. In the end, isn’t THAT what we should be measuring as productivity of an educational enterprise, not “millions of customers served” (even if they don’t complete and don’t learn)?
Performing a string quartet will always require two violinists, a violist and a cellist. You can’t magically produce the same piece with just two people. Higher education, for at least the past few millennia, has seemed to fall in this category as well. “What just happened in my classroom is not very different from what happened in Plato’s academy,” quips Archibald. We’ve gotten better at auditorium-building, perhaps, but lecturers generally haven’t gotten more productive.
I’m interested in the discussions about corporate involvement in higher education, but am still trying to understand all the issues (e.g., who has a bigger stake and greater responsibility for higher education, industry or government). The point made below is one that I have definite opinions about. If we’re trying to improve higher education, why not try to make it more effective rather than just lower cost? I disagree with the below that we have to have 16:1 student:teacher ratios to have effective learning. We can increase those student numbers, with good pedagogy, to still get good learning — if we really do focus on good learning. Why is all the focus on getting rid of the faculty? Reducing the labor costs by simply removing the labor is unlikely to produce a good product.
There is a lot wrong in this apples to oranges comparison, but the point is obvious—cutting labor costs is the path to “education reform,” not research and improved pedagogy. This is “reform” we need to reject when applied to public education. I say this without reservation: when it comes to education, you pay for what is most effective. Period. If small class sizes produce better teaching and learning, then that’s what you support when appropriate. Whatever your approach, stop conflating economic restructuring and education reform; it’s dishonest.
Semester Online sounded like a nice idea — getting liberal arts focused institutions to share their online course offerings. The pushback is interesting and reflects some of the issues that have been raised about sustainability of online education as a replacement for face-to-face learning or even as an additional resource.
While Dr. Lange saw the consortium as expanding the courses available to Duke students, some faculty members worried that the long-term effect might be for the university to offer fewer courses — and hire fewer professors. Others said there had been inadequate consultation with the faculty.
When 2U, the online education platform that would host the classes, announced Semester Online last year, it named 10 participants, including Duke, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — none of which will be offering courses this fall. “Schools had to go through their processes to determine how they were going to participate,” said Chance Patterson, a 2U spokesman, “and some decided to wait or go in another direction.”
My thinking on computing education has been significantly influenced by a podcast about hand-washing and financial illiteracy. I suspect that education is an ineffective strategy for achieving the goal of Computing Literacy for Everyone. I have a greater appreciation for work like Alan Kay’s on STEPS, Andy Ko’s work on tools for end-user programming, and the work on Racket.
On Hand-Washing and Financial Illiteracy
I have been listening to Freakonomics podcasts on long drives. Last month, I listened to “What do hand-washing and financial illiteracy have in common?” I listened to it again over the next few days, and started digging into the literature they cited.
At hospitals, hand-washing is far less common than our knowledge of germ theory says it ought to be. What’s most surprising is that doctors, the ones with the most education in the hospital, are the least likely to wash their hands often enough. The podcast describes how one hospital was able to improve their hand-washing rates through other behavioral methods, like shaming those who didn’t wash their hands and providing evidence that their hands were likely to be filled with bacteria. More education doesn’t necessarily lead to behavioral change.
Much more important was the segment on financial illiteracy. First, they present the work of Annamuria Lusardia who has directly measured the amazing financial illiteracy in our country. There is evidence that much of the Great Recession was caused by poor financial decisions by individuals. Less than a third of the over-50-year-old Americans that Lusardia studied could correctly answer the question, “If you put $100 in a savings account with 2% annual interest, at the end of five years you will have (a) less than $102, (b) exactly $102, or (c) more than $102?” More mathematics background did lead to more success on her questions, but she calls for a much more concerted effort in financial education. Her arguments are supported by some pretty influential officials, like Fed Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill. It makes sense: If people lack knowledge, we should teach them.
Lauren Willis strongly disagrees, and she’s got the data to back up her argument. She has a 2008 paper with the shocking title, Against Financial Literacy Education that I highly recommend. She presents evidence that financial literacy education has not worked — not that it couldn’t work, but it isn’t working. She cited several studies that showed negative effects of financial education. For example, high school students who participated in the Jump$start program become much more confident about their ability to make financial decisions, and yet made worse decisions than those students who did not participate in the program.
The problem is that financial decisions are just too complicated, and education (especially universal education) is expensive to do well (though Willis doesn’t offer an estimated cost). Educational curricula (even if tested successful) is not always implemented well. The gap between education in teen years and making decisions in your 40’s and 50’s is huge. Instead of education, we should try to prevent damage from ignorance. Willis suggests that we should create a cadre professional of financial advisors and make them available to everyone (for some “pro bono”), and that we should increase regulation of financial markets so that there are fewer riskier investments for the general public. It costs the entire society enormously when large numbers of people make poor financial decisions, and it’s even more expensive to provide enough education to prevent the cost of all that ignorance.
This was a radical idea for me. Education is not free, and sometimes it’s cheaper to prevent the damage of ignorance than correcting the ignorance.
Implications for Computing Literacy Education
I share the vision of Andy DiSessa and others of computing as a kind of literacy, and a goal of “Computing for All” where everyone has the knowledge and facility to build programs (for modeling, simulations, data analyses, etc.) for their needs. Let’s call that a goal of “Universal Computing Literacy,” and we can consider the costs of using education to reach that goal, e.g., “Universal Computing Education to achieve Universal Computing Literacy.”
The challenge of computing literacy may be even greater than the challenge of financial literacy. People know even less about computing than they do about finance. We don’t know the costs of that ignorance, but we do know that it has been difficult and expensive to provide enough education to correct that ignorance.
Computing may be even more complicated than finance. Willis talks about the myriad terms that people need to know to make good financial decisions (like “adjustable rate mortgages”), but they are at least compounds of English words! I attended a student talk this week, where terms like “D3” and “GreaseMonkey” were bandied about like they were common knowledge. We invent so much language all the time.
The problem is that education is often inefficient and ineffective. Jeremy Roschelle pointed out that education improvements rarely impact economic outputs. Greg Wilson shared a great paper with me in response to some tweets I sent about these ideas. Americans have always turned to education to solve a wide variety of ills, but surprisingly, without much evidence of efficacy. We can teach kids all about healthy eating, but we still have a lot of obesity. Smokers often know lots of details about how bad smoking is for them. Education does not guarantee a change of behavior. This doesn’t mean that education could not be made more effective and more efficient. But it might be even more expensive to fix education than to deal with ignorance.
Universal education is always going to be expensive, and some things are worth it. Text illiteracy and innumeracy are very expensive for our society. We need to address those, and we’re not doing a great job at that yet. Computing education to achieve real literacy is just not as important.
I am no longer convinced that providing computing education to everyone is going to be effective to reach the goal of making everyone computing literate, and I am quite convinced that it will be very expensive. Requiring computing education for STEM professionals at undergraduate level may still be cost-effective, because those are the professionals most likely to see the value of computing in their careers, which reduces the costs and makes the education more likely to be effective.
Barb sees a benefit in Universal Computing Education, but not to achieve Universal Computing Literacy. We need to make computing education available everywhere for broadening participation in computing. To get computing into every school, Barb argues that we have to make it required for everyone. Without the requirement, schools won’t go to the effort of including it. Without a requirement, female and URM students who might not see themselves in computing, would never even give it a chance. In response to my argument about cost, she argues that the computing education for everyone doesn’t have to be effective. We don’t have to achieve lifelong literacy for everyone. Merely, it has to give everyone exposure, to give everyone the opportunity to discover a love for computing. Those that find that love will educate themselves and/or will pursue more educational opportunities later. I heard Mike Eisenberg give a talk once many years ago, where he said something that still sticks with me: that the point of school is to give everyone the opportunity to find out what they’re passionate about. For that reason, we have to give everyone the chance to discover computing, and requiring it may be the only way to reach that goal.
It’s always possible that we’ll figure out to educate more effectively at lower cost. For example, integrating computing literacy education into mathematics and science classes may be cheaper — students will be using it in context, teachers in STEM are better prepared to learn and teach computing, and we may improve mathematics and science teaching along the way. My argument about being too expensive is based on what we know now how to do. Economic arguments are often changed by improved science (see Malthus).
As Willis suggests for financial literacy, we in computing literacy are probably going to be more successful for less cost by focusing on the demand side of the equation. We need to make computing easier, and make tools and languages that are more accessible, as Alan Kay, Andy Ko, and the Racket folks are doing. We have to figure out how to change computing so that it’s possible to learn and use it over an entire career, without a PhD in Computer Science. We have to figure out how to get these tools into use so that students see use of such tools as authentic and not a “toy.”
“Computing for All” is an important goal. “Access to Computing Education for All” is critical. “Universal Computing Education to achieve Universal Computing Literacy” is likely to be ineffective and will be very expensive. On the other hand, requiring computing education may be the only way to broaden participation in computing.
It nice to see someone with a background in management making this argument, that the costs of MOOCs may be greater than the benefits.
Give-away pricing in education, Mr. Cusumano warns, may well be a comparable misstep. The damage would occur, he writes in the article, “if increasing numbers of universities and colleges joined the free online education movement and set a new threshold price for the industry — zero — which becomes commonly accepted and difficult to undo.”
In our conversation, I offered the obvious counterargument. Why should education necessarily be immune from this digital, Darwinian wave, when other industries are not? Isn’t this just further evidence of the march of disruptive progress that ultimately benefits society?
Mr. Cusumano has heard this reasoning before, and he is unconvinced. In the article, he explains, “I am mostly concerned about second- and third-tier universities and colleges, and community colleges, many of which play critical roles for education and economic development in their local regions and communities.”
“In education,” Mr. Cusumano adds, “‘free’ in the long run may actually reduce variety and opportunities for learning as well as lessen our stocks of knowledge.”
How much does it cost the American economy that most American workers are not computer literate? How much would be saved if all students were taught computer science?
These questions occurred to me when trying to explain why we need ubiquitous computing education. I am not an economist, so I do not know how to measure the costs of lost productivity. I imagine that the methods would be similar to those used in measuring the Productivity Paradox.
We do have evidence that there are costs associated with people not understanding computing:
- Erika Poole documented participants failing at simple tasks (like editing Wikipedia pages) because they didn’t understand basic computing ideas like IP addresses. Her participants gave up on tasks and rebooted their computer, because they were afraid that someone would record their IP address. How much time is lost because users take action out of ignorance of basic computing concepts?
We typically argue for “Computing for All” as part of a jobs argument. That’s what Code.org is arguing, when they talk about the huge gap between those who are majoring in computing and the vast number of jobs that need people who know computing. It’s part of the Computing in the Core argument, too. It’s a good argument, and a strong case, but it’s missing a bigger issue. Everyday people need computing knowledge, even if they are not professional software developers. What is the cost for not having that knowledge?
Consider this a call to economics researchers: How do we measure the lost productivity from computing illiteracy?
This class sounds cool and similar to our “Computational Freakonomics” course, but at the data analysis stage rather than the statistics stage. I found that Allen Downey has taught another, also similar course “Think Stats” which dives into the algorithms behind the statistics. It’s an interesting set of classes that focus on relevance and introducing computing through a real-world data context.
The most unique feature of our class is that every assignment (after the first, which introduces Python basics) uses real-world data: DNA files straight out of a sequencer, measurements of ocean characteristics (salinity, chemical concentrations) and plankton biodiversity, social networking connections and messages, election returns, economic reports, etc. Whereas many classes explain that programming will be useful in the real world or give simplistic problems with a flavor of scientific analysis, we are not aware of other classes taught from a computer science perspective that use real-world datasets. (But, perhaps such exist; we would be happy to learn about them.)
An interesting list, and a not-unreasonable method of establishing them. I wouldn’t have guessed that Java, Erlang, Silverlight, and Clojure would be on this list.
We asked job site Indeed.com to tell us which skills will command a salary of at least $100,000 a year. And that’s just salary — a new job might also net you bonuses, stock options and the like.
Indeed is one of the biggest job search sites on the ‘net with 1.5 billion job searches per month. It sifted through its massive database of job titles and descriptions and the salaries associated with them to come up with this list.