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Fred M Beshears

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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
Thanks for the article, Michael.

You refer to the problem of "solution-ism," but we also need to consider the "paralysis by analysis" problem.

It's nice to think that faculty will be willing and able to serve as "citizen scientists" to aid in a vast effort to analyze current practices with the objective of making small, incremental reforms from within.

Many will, but still there's this problem: faculty are steadfastly unwilling to innovate themselves out of a job.

Two of the greatest innovations - the development of writing and the invention of the printing press - put many academics out of work. Writing displaced many story tellers, the printing press many scribes.

So, if we only search for solutions that help keep faculty in their comfort zone, we may be missing something important.

This is one reason why Larry Summers favors disruptive innovation. Here's a segment from a recent interview:

Ep. 28: Larry Summers on Macroeconomics, Mentorship, and Avoiding Complacency

The potential action in higher education is probably heavily through distance learning and artificial intelligence in learning technologies of various kinds because, if you think about it, the unique capacity that online education has is that, on the one hand, they’re huge economies of scale. Once the lecture’s filmed, 100,000 people can watch it at the same cost as 100 people watching it.

On the other hand, you can have much more personalization. You can re-listen to the bit you didn’t understand. You can insert diagnostic questions and have a different lecture for people depending on how they do on the diagnostic questions. So it permits what’s usually very rare, which is more differentiation and more economies of scale. But I would say, to date, it hasn’t yet been pursued on a scale and with a degree of energy that is commensurate with the real challenge.

A number of universities have made what Clay Christensen would say is the first elementary error. They said that their MOOC efforts or their distance learning efforts are going to all be designed to be complementary of better education on their campuses.

There’s a certain logic to that in terms of faculty politics, in terms of faculty comfort, and all of that, but the essence of Clay Christensen’s lessons about disruptive innovation is if you want to do something all new you have to separate it from the original mission, not judge it by the standards of the original product, and let it be separate.

What I’ve been struck by in the distance education efforts is that they tend to be very much within paradigm and not set up in separate ways. I think the main thing to say about innovation in higher education is that there’s much too little of it.
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.

Your extended summary of the Tyton report is excellent, Michael. Thanks!

I've posted an article that provides a very quick overview of your extended summary.

See: One way to understand the need for vocational education and to analyze proposed solutions.

When I read your extended summary, I couldn't help thinking that there may be a large number of voc-edu service providers who want to get in on this market. That's good, but it may mean that student records are scattered across multiple providers, and that's bad.

So, here's one idea addressed my blog post: To avoid scattering student records across multiple service providers, and to manage massive student records that may be required by next generation intelligent tutors, it would be very useful to have an extended student record system that would work across multiple providers of vocational education.

The the footnote section in my blog post provides links to articles on this idea. See footnote 2: Massive Student Information Records, Credential Reform, Virtual Tutors, and Digital Personal Assistants

Here are two articles included in footnote [2]:

1. Credentials Reform: How Technology and the Changing Needs of the Workforce Will Create the Higher Education System of the Future (Note: credential reform will also be needed in vocational education.)

2. Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
Hi Phil,

Nice post.

Sometimes when we think someone is acting irrationally it may be that we don't really understand their motives. Also, their real motives may not be the same as their ostensible motives - i.e. their official motives.

With that in mind, we might want to consider some possible motives that would line up with the behavior we see. Also, we might want to look at similar historical examples.

So, here's an historical example of where a government decided to create a brand new distance education university from scratch : Back in 1969 a labor government in Great Britain decided to create the Open University from scratch. They did not try to reform existing public universities.

One of the main reasons they did this, in my opinion, is that it would be very difficult to make fundamental changes in the governance structure of traditional schools. But, if you create a new school, you can start with the governance structure you think you need. I talk about this in the following blog post:

Governance Structure: one reason it is so hard to reduce the cost of instruction in Higher Education with information technology.

So, it may be that the administrators do want to create a new kind of school that's designed from the ground up for online teaching. And, ultimately, they may want that school to take over the campuses of the more traditional schools.

Note here that the British Open University does have physical teaching centers. So, if California wanted to emulate the OU, they too would need teaching centers. But, it would be expensive to build them from scratch. So, once the new school starts to ramp up, they may look for ways to convert the existing campuses to make them branches of the new school.

One other factor might be in play here. It has to do with "free" public education. It may be that someday either the federal government (not the current admin, obviously) or some group of states (e.g. the left coast: California, Oregon, Washington) might try to implement taxpayer funded "free" public higher education. If this came to pass, it would put a lot of competitive pressure on the non-profit private schools and the for-profit schools. How can they compete with "free"?

So, if a lot of non-profit schools and for-profit schools go belly up, then their enrollment would shift to the public schools. To the extent the public schools need campuses, they might decide to buy the campuses from the bankrupt non-profits and for-profits. So, in that sense the idea of "free" public HE may well involve cannibalizing existing campuses and imposing a new governance structure on them.
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
The idea determining the pros and cons of online learning from a single cost-benefit analysis is fundamentally flawed.

What is needed is an ongoing search for ways to improve education with technology. Part of the search process should include a cost-benefit component, but it is just one component of a larger search process.

Unfortunately, many faculty may resist the idea of conducting an ongoing search for ways to improve education if they fear that their jobs may be at risk.

I explained this problem in a recent Quora comment, which I'll append below.

Here's my response to a Quora post regarding the UC System:

I worked at UC Berkeley from 1987 to 2007 as an educational technologist. For most of this time, I worked with their Instructional Technology Program.

Berkeley is a great research university, but they short change their undergraduates in order to favor their graduate program. Graduate students are in a much better position to help faculty pursue their research agendas. Undergraduates, not so much.

Educational technology could be used to improve undergraduate education, but faculty are wary of some applications of ed tech. In particular, they don’t want to innovate themselves out of a job.

Some applications are OK, but academic labor saving applications are typically resisted. But these applications may be the most important of all. Remember, both writing and printing were profoundly important applications of educational technology, but they both put a lot of academics out of work.

So, my suggestion to those who fund the UC is this: find ways to foster the use of ed tech, especially the academic labor saving forms of ed tech that faculty would otherwise resist.

My suggestion to prospective undergraduates: find a good community college with an articulation agreement with the UC campus you have in mind. Your classes will be smaller, and no one will care where you did your first two years once you have your four year degree.

For more on resistance to labor saving forms of ed tech at UC Berkeley, see the following blog post:

Opposition To Academic Labor Saving Technology At UC Berkeley
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.

One fairly recent work that deals extensively with the question of what counts as a good scientific explanation is The Beginning of Infinity: explanations that transform the world by David Deutsch.

Deutsch teaches physics at Oxford, but his interests also extend to the philosophy of science. In that regard, he's a fan of Karl Popper, so his theory of explanation in particular and his philosophy of science have both been influenced by Popper's work.

In a nutshell, his theory of explanation is that explanations should be hard to vary. There's more to it than that, of course.

If you're interested, I've posted notes on his theory of explanation at:

David Deutsch's Theory of Explanation

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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
EdTech and EdPsych reformers tend to focus on ways to define and measure learning outcomes, which may lead them to overlook motivation outcomes.

Reforms that emphasize self-paced, adaptive learning may improve the learning outcomes for a particular student in a given course, but the overall experience may discourage the student from finishing a degree.

Small group-based reforms such as Tutored Video Instruction (TVI) may do a better job of improving both learning outcome and motivation outcomes. By having students work in small groups, the TVI approach helps students blend their social life with their academic studies.

We don't hear much about TVI these days, perhaps because some EdTech reformers want to economize on face-to-face learning environments. So, these cost-conscious reformers favor ideas such as the flipped classroom because they entail less face-to-face with both the instructor (who needs to be paid) and other students. Unfortunately, by reducing social interaction, these reforms may undermine motivation outcomes.

For more on how TVI works, here's a short excerpt from The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid.

"Putting learners in contact with 'the best in the field' has definite value. Peers turn out to be, however, an equally important resource.

An early attempt at distance teaching by video revealed this quite unexpectedly. Jim Gibbons, former dean of engineering at Stanford, taught an engineering class to Stanford students and engineers from Hewlett-Packard. When it became impractical for the engineers to attend, Gibbons started recording the class and sending the video to the engineers. The engineers would watch these tapes as a group. At regular intervals they would stop the tape and discuss what Gibbons and the class were talking about, coming to some sort of collective understanding before going on."

For more, see:

John Seely Brown on Tutored Video Instruction
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
Hi Phil,

Thanks for another excellent article on the average cost of college textbooks.

When one addresses this question, one has to consider carefully the denominator one uses when calculating average cost.

Your article interprets the question -- 'How much do textbooks cost community college students?" -- in two different ways:

1. How much would an average community college student have to pay for textbooks if all community college students did indeed buy the textbooks assigned for their courses?

2. How much does the average community college student actually spend on textbooks?

The answer to both of these questions can be misleading if one does not consider carefully (and explain carefully) the denominator one uses in calculating average cost.

To see why, let's take a related question: the cost of college tuition.

Say you have a country with one million college age students and just one school. That school charges everyone who attends one million dollars a year to do so. Since their tuition is rather high, only one student out of a million pays to attend college; the other 999,999 cannot afford to do so.

Now, if asked the rather vague question "what is the average cost of college" we have at least two ways to compute the average cost depending on how we choose to interpret the question.

The first interpretation assumes that the real question is: On average, how much does college cost per student for those students who actually do pay to go to college?

In this instance, because there is only one student in this category, the answer is one million dollars a year.

The second interpretation assumes that the real question is: How much do college age students actually spend on college?

In this instance, because there are one million college age students, the answer is one dollar a year.

One student pays one million dollars, and the other 999,999 students pay nothing. So, the average cost per college age student is one dollar (i.e. one million dollars divided by one million college age students).

IMO, for both the textbook and tuition questions, the answer one comes up with can be very misleading unless one considers carefully (and explains carefully) the nature of the denominator one uses in calculating average cost.

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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.

The three personalized learning strategies you and Phil have been writing about:

1. Moving content broadcast—especially lectures ...— out of the classroom...
2. Making homework time contact time,...
3. Providing a tutor in cases where the software can help the student ...

are good.

But, I'm not sure whether any small group, peer-to-peer discussion is supposed to take place; and, if so, whether that would be considered "classroom" discussion or not. (At many schools, the definition of "classroom time" is important since it determines the calculation of "seat time" which is used to get funding from the state.)

I've long been interested in the Tutored Video Instruction model, which emphasizes peer-to-peer instruction in small group discussions. However, in the TVI model, the small groups of students (3 to 7 as I recall) watch small broadcast segments together. They alternate between doing this and working on problem sets and discussion questions. One student is chosen to be the "tutor," but she is not assumed to be a content expert. Instead, she has been giving some special training in how to lead a small group of learners. Also, the student tutor is not paid, which helps the school contain the cost of instruction.

In the early Stanford experiments, they were able to compare the TVI groups with the Stanford groups since they both watched the same lectures, did the same homework, and took the same tests. To their surprise, the TVI groups (HP engineers at a remote location) did slightly better than the Stanford students, even thought the Stanford students were head-and-shoulders above the TVI students in terms of SAT scores. These experiments took place in the early 1970s, so they did not have all the additional technology and software we have today.

Since the student tutor does not get paid, TVI would seem to be a much more economical approach to the one you are talking about, especially if the school is trying to convert a large lecture class into some alternative without having to hire a large number of paid professors to be present in each classroom.

Finally, in this blog post, I discuss my failed efforts to bring TVI to Berkeley back in the early 1990s. Even though I had support from some young faculty members, I believe my efforts failed because cost containment (or reduction) was contrary to the objectives of the those with final decision making authority on campus (i.e. senior faculty).

The High Tech Small Study Group Saga

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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
Good luck, and keep up the good work.
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Fred M Beshears commented on a post on Blogger.
In this article, learning analytics pioneer Candace Thille says that

"Colleges should be investing in learning analytics in the same way that they invest in maintaining their buildings."

She also expresses some 'dark thoughts' about simply letting the private sector take over learning analytics research.

As Big-Data Companies Come to Teaching, a Pioneer Issues a Warning
Chronicle of Higher Education
by Goldie Blumenstyk FEBRUARY 23, 2016

Here are some quotes from the article:

"Candace M. Thille helped kick-start the move to bring big data to college teaching." 

"She has founded the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, won millions of dollars in grants, and been a fixture on the lecture circuit about the power of so-called adaptive learning, where data-powered algorithms serve up content keyed to what a student is ready to learn next. Publishers, venture-capital investors, and foundations have followed her lead. They’ve poured hundreds of millions into new companies and new products vying to score big contracts with colleges, sometimes promising to be the 'robot tutor' for struggling students." 
"It seems like a classic business success story." 

"These days, though, Ms. Thille has begun to have darker thoughts about an industry she helped spark."

I've blogged about the question Candace asks at:

Why don't colleges invest in learning software they way to do buildings?
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