Posts tagged ‘open learning’
The announcement that Stanford teamed with edX is interesting, but may be less significant than the interpretation that Stanford is nixing Coursera and Udacity. Rather, Stanford faculty will have options between Coursera, iTunes U, and YouTube. The report suggests that Class2Go will “publicly merge” with edX, so there will be one fewer options for Stanford faculty. (Discussed further in the The Chronicle.) This is also the first I’ve heard about MIT faculty feeling that OpenCourseWare is not a useful path to pursue. The options for open learning are shaking out, with multiple options going forward, but some falling by the wayside.
Mitchell said Stanford faculty members will continue to post material on Apple’s iTunes U, on Google’s YouTube and on Coursera, and to also generally allow faculty to pick among different platforms.“We will work on a case-by-case basis with individual faculty,” Mitchell said.
And, even though it is nonprofit, edX will also eventually need to make money. MIT and Harvard both chipped in $30 million apiece to get edX off the ground.While other open education resources, like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, are perpetually profitless and donor-backed, there may be little appetite to do that again. For instance, MIT faculty and trustees are “convinced that they cannot go down the same path again,” according to a new book about MOOCs by William Bowen, the former president of Princeton University.
Of all the open learning movement initiatives, this may be the most important. The credit hour is a poor measure of learning-attained. It’s too large a grain size to be important as a measure of instruction. Moving to competencies (whatever that may end up being) is a move in the right direction, in terms of facilitating our ability to measure the amount of learning and the amount of teaching effort involved in an education program.
The U.S. Department of Education has endorsed competency-based education with the release today of a letter that encourages interested colleges to seek federal approval for degree programs that do not rely on the credit hour to measure student learning.
Department officials also said Monday that they will give a green light soon to Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, which would be the first to attempt the “direct assessment” of learning – meaning no link to the credit hour – and also be eligible for participation in federal financial aid programs.
I’m with “Gas Stations without Pumps” in his take on the NYTimes article cited below. Does anyone have any evidence that anyone does anything because of badges? I understand badges as a kind of mini-certification, and unlike “Gas Stations,” I do believe that companies may find valuable having certification about smaller-than-degree skills. We do know that companies are more carefully tuning their job searches these days, and badges may serve as verified skills tags to make it easier to do these searches. However, I would be interested to see some evidence that people really do the activities that earn them those badges because of the badges. I think people answer questions on Stack Overflow because they like to do it, and the badges are a certification of that. I can’t imagine someone studying algebra or US history just to get a badge in those subjects.
In my Prototyping class, we just read the Luis von Ahn and Laura Dabbish paper on the ESPgame. This was the game that they created where randomly-selected pairs of players are asked to “think like the other person” to come up with text labels to match what the other person writes, when both view a randomly-selected image from the Web. It was a popular, fun game that resulted in effective labels for thousands of images on the Web. The sentence that caught my attention was, “However, we put greater emphasis on our method being fun because of the scale of the problem that we want to solve.” First, they never define “fun” or why the game is fun (maybe ala Malone and Lepper), but I was more taken with the notion that we use “fun” to deal with “scale.”
Fun isn’t the only way to solve problems at scale. It’s not even clear how far fun works for large-scale problems. Millions of people get fed every day on the relatively-agriculturally-barren island of Manhattan because of Adam Smith’s iron hand of capitalism, but not because it’s fun to bring food into Manhattan. Pay works to scale solutions. As a parent, I perform a useful purpose to our society, helping to raise the next generation of workers and citizens. It’s not always fun, and it costs me lots of money. The rewards of being a parent are different than fun or pay, and it scales to millions of people.
People learn things for all kinds of reasons, including certification, fun, and for economic benefit (e.g., a good job). I still remember (over 25 years since the last time that I used this knowledge) that hex A9 is “Load A immediate, LDA #” for the 6502 microprocessor, and decimal 32 (hex 20) is “Jump to subroutine, JSR.” I have also programmed (at the machine and assembler level) the 8800, Z-80, and 6800 microprocessors, and the LSI-11 and IBM 360, too. Why do I still remember the 6502? Because I owned one. Learning assembler languages was always fascinating for me, but I particularly wanted to learn the processor that I owned. Feeling ownership of some knowledge encourages learning it. I didn’t learn the 6502 so well because I could get points for it, nor certification, nor economic benefit. I wanted to own that knowledge.
Bottomline: Motivation is key to learning, and we know a variety of ways to motivate students. I don’t believe that badges do it in an effective way.
Badges are gaining currency at the same time that a growing number of elite universities have begun offering free or low-cost, noncredit courses to anyone with access to the Internet and a desire to learn. Millions of students have already signed up for massive open online courses, or MOOCs. By developing information-age credentials backed by a wide array of organizations outside the education system, creators of badge programs may be mounting the first serious competition to traditional degrees since college-going became the norm.
In this story, I side with those who consider the “learning” described as “illegitimate.” Watching a TED lecture doesn’t mean you learned anything. What does it mean to “take” a course from OCW? You downloaded the PDF’s?
If a college course means anything, it means that you did something, you demonstrated your learning. No one should get credit towards a degree for watching the video.
Fast-forward 472 years. You’re a college student. You’ve taken advantage of some amazing opportunities in the online world. You’ve listened to Nobel laureates discuss the Eurozone crisis and explain how current difficulties relate (or not) to classical theories of economics. You’ve worked through the underlying physics and chemistry for nearly every episode of “MythBusters.” You regularly watch the TED lectures. And you’ve even taken courses from the Open Learning Initiative and from OpenCourseWare at MIT. Now you want the academic credit for those forms of learning.
Although you won’t actually be burned at the stake as Cranmer was, you have a very good chance of experiencing the modern version of this torture because it is equally threatening to the elite. It goes something like this.
First, you’ll be asked to produce the sacred document, otherwise known as a transcript, indicating that you officially took the course. No transcript you say? Sorry — your learning is then considered “illegitimate,” and you’re then often cast out into the night where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth as you stumble back to the very beginning of college to start over.
While an exaggeration, today — through such outlets as TED, various open-source course initiatives, and primary sources through digital content providers — we all have access to the knowledge that previously was the province of academia. In the same way that access to the New Testament gave otherwise uneducated English people access to the very heart of Christianity, that access is “dangerous.” It threatens the central notion of what a college or university exists to do, and so, by extension, threatens the very raison d’etre of faculty and staff.
The TechCrunch article actually cites research (see below), a paper by Cindy Hmelo. Cindy’s paper is actually on problem-based learning, but it does describe scaffolding — as defined in a Hmelo & Guzdial paper from 1996! How about that!
What I see in the Khan Academy offering is one of the kinds of scaffolding that Cindy and I talked about. Scaffolding is an idea (first defined by Wood, Bruner, and Ross) which does involve letting students explore, but under the guidance of a tutor. A teacher in scaffolding doesn’t “point out novel ways of accomplishing the task.” Instead, the teacher models the process for the student, coaches the student while they’re doing it, and gets the student to explain what they’re doing. A key part of scaffolding is that it fades — the student gets different kinds of support at different times, and the support decreases as the student gets more expert. I built a form of adaptable scaffolding in my 1993 dissertation project, Emile, which supported students building physics simulations in HyperTalk. Yes, students using Emile could click on variables and fill in their values without directly editing the code, but there was also process guidance (“First, identify your goals; next, find your components in the Library”) and prompts to get students to reflect on what they’re doing. And the scaffolding could be turned on or off, depending on student expertise.
I wouldn’t really call what Khan Academy has “scaffolding,” at least, not the way that Cindy and I defined it, nor in a way that I find compatible with Wood, Bruner, and Ross’s original definition. There’s not really a tutor or a teacher. There are videos as I learned from this blog post, and later found for myself. The intro video (currently available on the main Khan Academy page) says that students should just “intuit” how the code works. Really? There’s a lot more of this belief that students should just teach themselves what code does. The “scaffolding” in Khan Academy has no kind of process modeling or guidance, nothing to explain to students what they’re doing or why, nothing to encourage them to explain it to themselves.
It is a very cool text editor. But it’s a text editor. I don’t see it as a revolution in computer science education — not yet, anyway. Now, maybe it’s way of supporting “collaborative floundering” which has been suggested to be even more powerful than scaffolding as a learning activity. Maybe they’re right, and this will be the hook to get thousands of adolescents interested in programming. (I wonder if they tested with any adolescents before they released?) Khan has a good track record for attracting attention — I look forward to seeing where this goes.
The heart of the design places a simplified, interactive text editor that sits adjacent to the code’s drawing output, which updates in real time as students explore how different variables and numbers change the size, shapes, and colors of their new creation. An optional video guides students through the lesson, step-by-step, and, most importantly, can be paused at any point so that they can tinker with the drawing as curiosity and confusion arise during the process.
This part is key: learning is contextual and idiosyncratic; students better absorb new material if they can learn at their own pace and see the result of different options in realtime.
The pedagogy fits squarely into what educators called “scaffolded problem-based learning” [PDF]; students solve real-life problems and are encouraged to explore, but are guided by a teacher along the way, who can point out novel ways of accomplishing the task. Scaffolded learning acknowledges that real-life problems always have more than one path to a solution, that students learn best by doing, and that curiosity should drive exploration. This last point is perhaps the most important, since one of the primary barriers to boosting science-related college majors is a lack of interest.
I looked up Justin Reich based on Betsy DiSalvo’s comment last week. Justin argues that the affluent benefit more from free and open learning technologies (like WikiSpaces) than do lower socioeconomic class students, so free and open learning technologies actually widen the gap, more than shrink it. His video op-ed, linked below, makes this case with data based on use of WikiSpaces, showing that lower socioeconomic schools have less capacity to pick up and use these technologies.
But what to do? I liked both of the initiatives that Justin mentions, but I was disappointed that both of them are outside school. His study is on school use, but his recommendations are for out-of-school use. Is there nothing we can do in poorer schools to make things better?
Hal Abelson gave the Friday keynote at SIGCSE, as the 2012 winner of the Outstanding Contributions to CS Education award. He spoke on computational thinking, and how it drives computational values, and should lead us to appropriate actions. His talk slides are available, as is a transcript of his talk. LisaK in her interdisciplinary computing blog and Nick Falkner in his blog have both written nice pieces summarizing his talk. It was a great talk, and one that really got me thinking. But I didn’t agree with the whole chain of reasoning.
One of Hal’s claims in his talk was that “computational thinking” leads to “computational values.” He describes computational values like this:
It’s having the values not only that these are cool ideas but that these ideas should be empowering and that people should be able to exercise these great things in thinking about their world and having an impact on the world.
He gave some intriguing examples about “generative platforms,” systems that let you play with ideas and build new ideas in them. He also gave several examples that he considered contrary to computational values, like closed app stores. He explained that that’s why he did App Inventor — so that students could build things for their own cell phones, outside of these “walled gardens.”
This was the first part of the talk that I had trouble with. Computational thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to computational values, in the sense of free and open access. Despite the beliefs of Steven Levy’s “Hackers,” it is not the case that information wants to be free. Information doesn’t want anything. The people who built the “walled gardens” know a lot about computation — they have computational thinking, but they don’t necessarily share Hal’s values. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates led to the creation of wonderful software, but that doesn’t mean that they will or even want to share it or make it open source. There is value to “walled gardens.” Isn’t that how civilization and cities began, by putting up some defenses and setting up rules of behavior? No, it’s no longer as wild and free, but you can be wild and free outside the walled garden. The walled gardens have their purpose.
Hal talked a lot about these values and how they are related to academic freedom. He talked about how important it is that great universities share research work:
We’ve got a policy that says it’s our values, it’s our values as a faculty that we think our work should be disseminated as widely and as openly as possible. The MIT policy says that if you come to MIT, you have granted MIT a nonexclusive license to distribute your works for purposes of open access.
That policy feels like the opposite of academic freedom, to me. If I’m a professor at MIT, my work will be made public for me by my institution? What if my work leads to a book that I’d like to publish? Does this mean that the professor no longer has control and copyright over his own book? What if I want to start a company? Does this mean that MIT takes away from me the ability to control access to my inventions? No, it’s not a company profiting from my work, but it’s the University deciding who gets access and how to my work.
I thought about Rousseau’s Emile, for which I named my dissertation environment. The book Emile, or On Education isn’t really about education — it’s about the tension between the rights of the individual and the rights of the society. I completely buy all of Hal’s examples, about how ridiculous it has become that a few publishers control access to so much important research. But a policy of enforced open access just replaces one bully for another. Does the professor as an individual own any of his or her own work? Can the professor choose any of how its used or who publishes or develops it?
Hal is well-deserving of his award, having done wonderful things for CS education. I greatly admire the work he does for open learning and open access. I found his talk thought-provoking. I just don’t agree with all his answers.