Tag Archives: school

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:

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.

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)