The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age. Clay Shirky’s fan­tas­tic post about the costs and struc­tural insta­bil­ity of our cur­rent higher edu­ca­tion model. The last line is killer:

Argu­ing that we need to keep the cur­rent sys­tem going just long enough to get the sub­sidy the world owes us is really just a way of pre­serv­ing an arrange­ment that works well for elites—tenured pro­fes­sors, rich stu­dents, endowed institutions—but increas­ingly badly for every­one else.

STEM: Still No Short­age:

I gen­uinely believe that the biggest part of the belief in a STEM short­age results from our cul­tural obses­sion with tech­nol­ogy and our per­pet­ual belief that it will cure all of our ills.

The Anti-Dropout

The Anti-Dropout:

It’s true (and excit­ing) that so much knowl­edge has moved online in the past decade. I can learn basic pro­gram­ming via Tree­house. I can learn web design in a course on Udemy. But what if I want to learn about the physics that drive hard­ware per­for­mance? The mate­ri­als sci­ence behind the next gen­er­a­tion of wear­able com­put­ing? Or what about how to bring elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing back to the United States? There are real, fun­da­men­tal sets of knowl­edge that are still locked up in tra­di­tional academia.

Col­lege was my biggest mis­take:

$44,000 might as well have been a mil­lion dol­lars, because in my mind they were equally unfath­omable– with only $300 in my check­ing account, I had to make a deci­sion whether or not to bor­row $176,000. Makes sense.

I remem­ber fac­ing a sim­i­lar deci­sion at 18. I with­drew the $6,000 from my sav­ings account and wrote a $5,000 check to Whitman.

The other grand bought me a Mac­Book. On that Mac­Book I taught myself basic HTML, CSS, PHP, and even­tu­ally dis­cov­ered WordPress.

I wouldn’t say my time at col­lege was a mis­take. Too much good came out of it to say that. But, I do know what the more pro­duc­tive use of my time and money was.

Pro­fes­sors with­out bor­ders. Inter­est­ing overview of mass, dis­trib­uted, web-based teach­ing tools. Things like Cours­era and Udac­ity are neat but they’re really just an alpha. They take the same model of edu­ca­tion as tra­di­tional col­leges and shift it online. The rev­o­lu­tion will come when some­one sets the goal of build­ing a web-native tool for learn­ing. Then it will get interesting.

Blogs, term papers, and a fear of what’s new

Cody Brown tweeted a link to this New York Times arti­cle ear­lier today about blogs and term papers. It’s a fairly shal­low piece with many things I’d enjoy respond­ing to, but I’ll pick one: the patron­iz­ing way the old guard por­trays newer forms of writing.

Here are two quotes from that arti­cle. The first is from Dou­glas B. Reeves, a colum­nist for the Amer­i­can School Board Journal:

It doesn’t mean there aren’t inter­est­ing blogs. But nobody would con­flate inter­est­ing writ­ing with premise, evi­dence, argu­ment and conclusion.

The sec­ond is from William H. Fitzhugh, founder of The Con­cord Review:

Writ­ing is being mur­dered. But the solu­tion isn’t blogs, the solu­tion is more read­ing. We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about them­selves and their home lives.

Fitzhugh and Reeves aren’t engag­ing with the idea of blogs from an aca­d­e­mic or evidence-based per­spec­tive. They seem to fear­ful of the new medium and seek to dis­credit it with all the tact of a gos­sip writer.

We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about them­selves and their home lives” is a great sound­bite, but it is ridicu­lous. First, are we so sure there is some­thing wrong with giv­ing kids an out­let to write about them­selves and their home life? Sec­ond, what does it mat­ter what the out­put is if the learn­ing that hap­pens in the process of get­ting there is sub­stan­tial? I think Fitzhugh and Reeves are far too con­cerned with the poten­tial out­put of these blogs than they are with what kids may learn by writ­ing in a medium they enjoy.

If you want to say that blogs have, through research, been the cause of decreas­ing crit­i­cal think­ing among stu­dents that is fine. Merely assert­ing it does not make it so, though. You need evi­dence to back your claims, just like the term papers Reeves and Fitzhugh glorify.

If, instead, you are going to char­ac­ter­ize the only ben­e­fit of blogs as the fact that some are “inter­est­ing” and imply that “premise, evi­dence, argu­ment and con­clu­sion” are only achieved through dead tree term papers, then you are full of it.

These two would be bet­ter off tak­ing Reeves’ advice and using premise, evi­dence, argu­ment, and con­clu­sion to ana­lyze writ­ing on the web.

WordCamp Portland: Educators and WordPress

Shan­non Houghton led the first uncon­fer­ence ses­sion at Word­Camp today. She’s a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at an ele­men­tary school in Fed­eral Way, Wash­ing­ton. She uses a Word­Press site for her classroom.

The class blog is used to con­tact stu­dents as well as authors. Shan­non also posts les­son plans on the site as well that are all avail­able to download.

Access to sites can be a prob­lem in school dis­tricts. Shannon’s dis­trict usu­ally blocks access to blogs by restrict­ing domain names. Hav­ing a cus­tom domain name routes around this though and lets her stu­dents access the site from the school network.

Like many school dis­tricts they require all school data to be hosted on their own servers. Shannon’s site isn’t cur­rently hosted there but the dis­trict as a whole is mov­ing to Word­Press from Dreamweaver sites so she’ll likely be able to move on to the school servers.

One issue men­tioned with sites was con­trol­ling access and per­mis­sions to a site or a net­work. One plu­gin that can help do this is called Role Scoper. There are oth­ers like User Role Edi­tor. They’ll give you a level of gran­u­lar con­trol over user roles and permission.

Some­one in the ses­sion asked where the other teach­ers in the room got their tips and tricks from. Shan­non men­tioned Edu­topia as a great resource that isn’t blocked on school net­works. There’s also a large teacher com­mu­nity on Twit­ter that orga­nize nightly chats relat­ing to spe­cific grade lev­els or topic areas.

Another per­son men­tioned the biggest flaw in Word­Press as its lack of event cal­en­dar sup­port. School dis­tricts really need a good event cal­en­dar plu­gin. This dis­trict uses School­wires which has a gran­u­lar cal­en­dar fea­ture but was described as ter­ri­ble otherwise.

For set­ting up a demo site for your work I highly rec­om­mend using a local instal­la­tion on your com­puter. There are ter­rific instruc­tions on the Word­Press Codex that walk you through how to do this on a Mac or a PC.

For any­one who was in the ses­sion and has more ques­tions feel free to get in touch. I’d love to talk more about how Word­Press can help teach­ers and schools.

The History of Dialogue: Other People’s Papers

But not know­ing what pla­gia­rism is isn’t really the prob­lem. It’s unfor­tu­nate that right now the uni­ver­sity is crack­ing down so hard on pla­gia­rism. And the rea­son the uni­ver­sity is crack­ing down so hard on pla­gia­rism is because their prod­uct is less and less valu­able these days. When stu­dents pla­gia­rize, there’s an implicit recog­ni­tion that “I’m just doing this for the grade.” That’s why they do it. And that’s the way that the major­ity of stu­dents look at the uni­ver­sity, and have been for some time now. At my col­lege, the frats had rooms full of file cab­i­nets full of pla­gia­rized papers. Pla­gia­rism is old news. It’s really not just that pla­gia­rism is get­ting eas­ier to do, with the Inter­net. The prob­lem is now that the grade doesn’t even get you the job.

The New Inquiry — The His­tory of Dia­logue: Other People’s Papers. (via Robin Sloan)