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Book Data

ISBN: 9781603582346
Year Added to Catalog: 2009
Book Format: Paperback
Dimensions: 5 3/8 x 8 3/8
Number of Pages: 208
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Release Date: March 31, 2010
Web Product ID: 498

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DIY U

Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

by Anya Kamenetz

Articles By This Author

Good Magazine

October 19, 2010

How to Ensure More Overseas College Graduates

A simple high school diploma is no more a guarantee of a living wage job in Haiti than here in the United States. How HELP is working to make a difference.

"Almost no one is working on higher education overseas." That's what Conor Bohan, head of the Haitian Education and Leadership Program told me in his office last week. We met at the Clinton Global Initiative in September and bonded over this common interest.

Here's the problem. The balance of power and wealth is shifting rapidly from industrial to postindustrial economies, and with it, the demand for a highly educated workforce. This is true around the world: A simple high school diploma is no more a guarantee of a living wage job in Haiti than it is here in the United States.

But most international education aid, whether from governments, big foundations, or the World Bank, focuses, understandably, on the pressing need for basic literacy. What's required is nothing less than a quantum leap for the higher education attainment rates in, say, sub-Saharan Africa (about 5 percent) to go near those at the top of the heap (Canada and South Korea, above 50 percent).

Read the full article here.

________________________________________________________________________________________

What's Up With Twenty-Somethings? In a Word, Economics
Huffington Post
Anya Kamenetz
August 19, 2010

I can't believe we're going through this again.

In January 2005, Time magazine featured on its cover a photo of a young man in a shirt and dress slacks sitting in a sandbox. The headline: "They Just Won't Grow Up." The article featured the research of one Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, a developmental psychologist who coined the term "emerging adulthood" to explain these puzzling, infantilized adults.

The cover story of the New York Times Magazine this weekend, already situated snugly at the top of the Most-Emailed List, is a near-exact repeat of this story from 5 years ago, this time asking "What is it About Twenty-Somethings?" Again Arnett is the resident featured expert. The Times' only innovation, besides the slightly higher quality of the writing and the greater length, is tarting up the article with lots of sexy pictures of 20somethings ("I'm lying on my bed, all angsty! Look down my shirt!") so readers can lust after them while simultaneously shaking their heads.

While they try on various social science hypotheses, the overall tone of both articles is condescending, puzzled, frustrated, mocking. Both take the point of view of the print magazines' aging readership: your mom, who wants you to get a job and an apartment and get married and give her grandchildren.

However, as I argued at great length in my book Generation Debt in 2006, and in dozens of articles for the Village Voice, Yahoo!, the New York Times, and the Washington Post dating back to 2004, the overwhelming reasons for this so-called "delayed transition" are NOT personal or psychological but economic. College costs 1000% more money than it did 30 years ago, yet it's required for most living-wage jobs. Young people work longer hours while they're in school, so it takes them longer to finish. Rent is higher too, and the youth unemployment rate is the highest for any age group. Young people have unprecedented amounts of student loan and credit card debt that persist into their 30s. Getting married, let alone starting a family, is difficult, even inadvisable, when you're not financially stable.

Even when we as a nation try to remedy Generation Debt's problems, we do so in a way that extends financial dependency. For example, the recent health care bill included a provision that young adults must be included on their parents' health care policies until the age of 26. Why not mandate instead that the part-time service employers that overwhelmingly rely on young workers provide access to health care coverage?

There is no mysterious collective 20something malaise. It's like publishing an article titled, "What's Up With Blacks?" (written, of course, by a white person).

The poor position of our nation's future workforce is the outgrowth of decades of economic policy -- the growth of consumer and national debt and the deterioration of the American job market, the protection of old-people programs like Social Security and Medicare and the faltering of opportunity-creating programs like education and health care for all. Maybe the Times should be talking to its own Paul Krugman, not a psychologist.

Or, if the Times editors wanted to emphasize the cultural and personal experience that emerges from this economic background, why not commission a young writer? Why is an article asking "What's Up With Twentysomethings?" being written by a writer who is clearly at least in her 50s? I can think of half a dozen writers in their 20s who'd be great for the job. I'd have been happy to do it myself -- I'll be in my 20s for 3 more weeks.

Read the original article here...

 


 

 

How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite

Fast Company
Anya Kamenetz
September 1, 2010


Inside the World's MOST EXCLUSIVE (and Most Accessible) CLUB with SPECIAL GUESTS including:

Elizabeth Gilbert • Richard Branson • Jamie Oliver • Malcolm Gladwell • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala • Barry Schwartz • Ken Robinson • Sarah Silverman • Bill Clinton • David Byrne • Bill Gates • Craig VenterJill • Bolte Taylor • Dave Eggers • Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy • Sunitha Krishnan • Tony Robbins • Julia Sweeney • Isabel Allende • E.O. Wilson • and the chief himself, Chris Anderson!

The other day, I got an email from a new friend. The subject line read "Are you a TED talk person?"
It linked to an 18-minute video of MIT behavioral economist Dan Ariely talking about the bugs in our moral codes. Other friends have sent me videos of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert on the spiritual dimension of creativity; rocker David Byrne on how venue architecture affects musical expression; and UC Berkeley professor Robert Full's insights into how geckos' feet stick to a wall.

Each of these emails is like a membership card into the club of "TED talk people." I love being a member of this club. The videos give my discovery-seeking brain a little hit of dopamine in the middle of the workday. But just as important, each one I see or recommend makes me part of a group of millions of folks around the world who have checked out these videos. What links us is our desire to learn; TEDsters feel part of a curious, engaged, enlightened, and tech-savvy tribe.

These two things -- great ideas and the human connections they create -- make TED a unique phenomenon. Other conferences, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos and D: AllThingsDigital in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, have similar elite A-list rosters. But TED, which takes place annually in Long Beach, California, is the only one that fully exploits the power of what you might call, with apologies to Cisco, the human network. In the nine years since publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought TED, it has grown way beyond a mere conference. By combining the principles of "radical openness" and of "leveraging the power of ideas to change the world," TED is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it's creating a new Harvard -- the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.

Of course TED doesn't look like a regular Ivy League college. It doesn't have any buildings; it doesn't grant degrees. It doesn't have singing groups or secret societies, and as far as I know it hasn't inspired any strange drinking games.

Still, if you were starting a top university today, what would it look like? You would start by gathering the very best minds from around the world, from every discipline. Since we're living in an age of abundant, not scarce, information, you'd curate the lectures carefully, with a focus on the new and original, rather than offer a course on every possible topic. You'd create a sustainable economic model by focusing on technological rather than physical infrastructure, and by getting people of means to pay for a specialized experience. You'd also construct a robust network so people could access resources whenever and from wherever they like, and you'd give them the tools to collaborate beyond the lecture hall. Why not fulfill the university's millennium-old mission by sharing ideas as freely and as widely as possible?

If you did all that, well, you'd have TED.

Its "faculty": A roster of speakers that runs from Bill Clinton to J.J. Abrams, from Desmond Tutu to Isabel Allende -- anyone who's driving change across the globe. Their topics range from biophysics to graphic design, covering all that Roman playwright Terentius might have had in mind when he said, "Nothing human is alien to me." The economic model? With attendance fees, advertising, and corporate sponsorships, TED ran an operating surplus of more than $2 million last year, which was reinvested into expanding its reach.

That's because unlike fearful old-school colleges, TED is finding that the more open it is, the more it becomes the global education brand of the 21st century. The runaway success of the TED talk videos, Chris Anderson tells me, persuaded him "to completely rethink what TED was, from a conference to a platform for ideas worth spreading." When you frame your mission in those terms, transformation follows. TED's Open Translation Project has in the past year made its videos truly accessible to a global audience; 3,100 community volunteers have translated the videos into more than 77 languages, adding a potential audience of 2.2 billion people. Anderson has gone even more radical, doing something that few universities would ever consider: He has started licensing the TED name and video content to anyone who wants them -- for free. The result: In just the first year, with comparatively little input from the mothership, TEDsters from around the world have put on 615 independent conferences, called TEDx, in locations from Kiberi, Nigeria, to Amsterdam. "We're exploring TED as a global classroom," Anderson tells me. "It's very much part of what we're dreaming of."

Read the whole article here.


 

What's Up With Twenty-Somethings?

The Huffington Post
Anya Kamenetz
August 19, 2010


I can't believe we're going through this again.

In January 2005, Time magazine featured on its cover a photo of a young man in a shirt and dress slacks sitting in a sandbox. The headline: "They Just Won't Grow Up." The article featured the research of one Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, a developmental psychologist who coined the term "emerging adulthood" to explain these puzzling, infantilized adults.

The cover story of the New York Times Magazine this weekend, already situated snugly at the top of the Most-Emailed List, is a near-exact repeat of this story from 5 years ago, this time asking "What is it About Twenty-Somethings?" Again Arnett is the resident featured expert. The Times' only innovation, besides the slightly higher quality of the writing and the greater length, is tarting up the article with lots of sexy pictures of 20somethings ("I'm lying on my bed, all angsty! Look down my shirt!") so readers can lust after them while simultaneously shaking their heads.

While they try on various social science hypotheses, the overall tone of both articles is condescending, puzzled, frustrated, mocking. Both take the point of view of the print magazines' aging readership: your mom, who wants you to get a job and an apartment and get married and give her grandchildren.

However, as I argued at great length in my book Generation Debt in 2006, and in dozens of articles for the Village Voice, Yahoo!, the New York Times, and the Washington Post dating back to 2004, the overwhelming reasons for this so-called "delayed transition" are NOT personal or psychological but economic. College costs 1000% more money than it did 30 years ago, yet it's required for most living-wage jobs. Young people work longer hours while they're in school, so it takes them longer to finish. Rent is higher too, and the youth unemployment rate is the highest for any age group. Young people have unprecedented amounts of student loan and credit card debt that persist into their 30s. Getting married, let alone starting a family, is difficult, even inadvisable, when you're not financially stable.

Even when we as a nation try to remedy Generation Debt's problems, we do so in a way that extends financial dependency. For example, the recent health care bill included a provision that young adults must be included on their parents' health care policies until the age of 26. Why not mandate instead that the part-time service employers that overwhelmingly rely on young workers provide access to health care coverage?

There is no mysterious collective 20something malaise. It's like publishing an article titled, "What's Up With Blacks?" (written, of course, by a white person).

The poor position of our nation's future workforce is the outgrowth of decades of economic policy -- the growth of consumer and national debt and the deterioration of the American job market, the protection of old-people programs like Social Security and Medicare and the faltering of opportunity-creating programs like education and health care for all. Maybe the Times should be talking to its own Paul Krugman, not a psychologist.

Or, if the Times editors wanted to emphasize the cultural and personal experience that emerges from this economic background, why not commission a young writer? Why is an article asking "What's Up With Twentysomethings?" being written by a writer who is clearly at least in her 50s? I can think of half a dozen writers in their 20s who'd be great for the job. I'd have been happy to do it myself -- I'll be in my 20s for 3 more weeks.

Read the whole article here.


 

Is TED the New Harvard? Reactions from Around the Web

Fast Company
Anya Kamenetz
August 16, 2010


My story has occasioned a healthy amount of reaction around the web, including from TED and Chris Anderson himself.

First, the snark: Maura at The Awl (a commentary site run by ex-Gawkers) calls the story "breathless" and TEDsters "smug". Most of the commentators admit that they enjoy watching TED talks anyway. I batted back with some snark of my own but also tried to answer what i took as her serious point, which was that TED seems just as elitist as the old-line institutions it's being compared with:

"I actually think we have similar concerns about elitism vs. openness. My contention is that many of the cool things that TED does spread more widely than the cool things that Harvard does, because of its attitude toward openness and its use of social media. Harvard has a crappy open courseware site–it's very difficult to find and view many Harvard lectures online. MIT has the best open courseware site, but even the most-watched video lectures have been watched a few hundred K times, while the most watched TED talks have been viewed over 6 million times. Lectures are admittedly a small percentage of the benefit offered by either TED or Harvard, but they're not nothing. The spread of the TEDx platform with over 600 events worldwide offers a way for ever-more people to participate, often for free, in a much closer approximation to the TED experience. I would love to see Harvard & Yale try something like that."

Open Culture , a cultural blog, took umbrage too: "Will watching 18 minute lectures – ones that barely scratch the surface of an expert’s knowledge – really teach you much? And when the 18 minutes are over, will the experts stick around and help you become a critical thinker, which is the main undertaking of the modern university after all?"

I responded: "I never claimed that watching TED talks=attending Harvard. If you read the article closely, I’m asking if *participating in* TED–and to a lesser but broader extent, TEDx–-confers a lot of the benefits of attending Harvard, albeit in abbreviated (and much cheaper) form. That means talking about the ideas with the presenters, including asking questions; forming relationships with fellow TEDsters; and having TED on your resume, which can open all kinds of doors.
In addition, I’m asking if there’s any way that Harvard and other universities can follow TED’s lead and open up to more people. When a single Harvard lecture has been viewed 5 million + times on YouTube, this goal will be closer to being reached. TED videos have far more uptake than open courseware from MIT or anywhere else–over 300 million views–not only because the content is more entertaining but because they pay very close attention technically and production wise to what works well on the web. And, with the TEDx program, TED has “released the platform” so that thousands of people, (over 600 events in the first year) , in countries around the world, are able to participate in something that’s often very very much like TED, and most of the time for free, or else for no more than $100. I would love to see Harvard, Yale, and MIT do that."

Reihan Salam (who is a friend of mine) at the National Review and Matt Yglesias  at the progressive blog Think Progress were less bothered by the piece's tone per se, and more taken with what it might say about the role of the modern elite university in the 21st century.

"The success of TED doesn’t mean that traditional elite institutions don’t have a place. But it provides a very constructive kind of competition," Salam wrote. "As TED’s “mindshare” expands, will will hopefully see more efforts like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, if only because elite schools don’t want to lose their relevance and their influence. Eventually, the mission of these schools, with their vast resources, will focus more on the wider public than on their own enrolled students, thus delivering more educational bang-for-the-buck. TED is, in a small but important way, teaching educators how to solve the problem of scalability."

Not surprisingly, I think this is spot-on. I want to reemphasize what I think TED's achieved with the TED talk. They've proved that there is a robust audience for semi-long form lectures on the web that pique people's interest in topics like robotics, demography, physics and public health. But don't ask me, ask the teachers of the Teaching With Ted wiki, an independent, self organized group of educators who use TED talks in their classrooms.

Yglesias argues that universities' turn toward greater openness won't happen automatically; we should direct philanthropy toward organizations that truly expand educational opportunity. I'm all for that.

Finally, TED's Chris Anderson seems to be getting concerned that TED is being accused of overreaching. When the article came out, he Tweeted "Fast Company have just published a truly amazing feature on #TED. Wow. http://bit.ly/aNOsQH."

Today, he added, linking to Salam's and Yglesias's posts above, "For the record, we don't for 1 min think "TED is the new Harvard"! http://bit.ly/arU8Z1 Backlash! http://bit.ly/ciCJEV"

Duly noted. Those are Fast Company's words, not TED's. Everyone I've spoken to there has been far from smug or grandiose; more like awed and humbled by the power of what they've unleashed in the community of folks--a vast majority of whom are neither famous, nor rich, nor Westerners--who are proud to call themselves TEDsters. But I stand by the comparison, because I think it brings up interesting and provocative questions, and that's what we're here for. 

Read the whole article here.


 

TED and Teaching Ourselves With Technology

Fast Company
By Anya Kamenetz
August 13, 2010


The most recent TED gathering, TEDGlobal in Oxford, highlighted the theme of the future of education--and Chris Anderson's own talk hinted at how TED sees itself as a potential part of that future.

Sugata Mitra, of the Hole in the Wall education project, spoke at TED Global. I've been fascinated by his work since Paul Kim,of the Pocket School project, highlighted him as an inspiration when I was interviewing Kim for my A is for App story.

Back in 1999, Mitra began embedding computers with Internet connections in the walls of playgrounds in slums in India, and then stepping back. He's seen young people using the computers to record and playback music, to improve their English through voice recognition software, to learn about biotech, and even to raise test scores.

Read the whole article here.


In the end, all education is self-education

Forbes.com
By Anya Kamenetz
August 11, 2010


The path of DIY U starts with a toaster.

Well, not quite a toaster. What Thomas Thwaites exhibited at London's Royal College of Art in the summer of 2009 was a couple of leaf-blowers, a suitcase full of chunks of iron ore and a microwave, with which he had managed to smelt a piece of pure iron "about the size of a ten-pence coin." The Toaster Project was a solo attempt to fabricate, from raw natural materials, the same Chinese-made appliance that sells in British stores for £3.99 ($6.60). Thwaites took his cue from sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams, who in his novel Mostly Harmless wrote of the average modern human, "Left to his own devices, he couldn't make a toaster."

Not explicitly educational, the Toaster Project nevertheless illustrates two basic strategies central to DIY education. The first is to seek out the vividness of direct experience, to encounter the world and, if possible, to make yourself useful. You might well fail at your immediate task, like Thwaites did--that's all part of the process.

Henry David Thoreau argued for a Toaster Project-approach to education. Students, he wrote, "should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. ... Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month,--the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this,--or the boy who had attended the lecture on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a ... penknife from his father? Which would be more likely to cut his fingers?"

The second DIY U strategy is to collaborate with a "personal learning network"--a group with common interests, engaged in similar tasks. I found out about the Toaster Project on Google Reader, a free application. Every day when I'm surfing the Internet, I can click a button and share what I'm reading on Reader, Facebook, or Twitter with several thousand of my friends and contacts, who also share their links with me. The Toaster Project is highly shareable; Thwaites put a lot of information online, including step-by-step videos. If I wanted to, I could probably draw on these resources and use my microwave to smelt iron too. (I have used YouTube to practice guitar and get better at baking bread.)

The essence of learning is found neither inside nor outside the classroom, neither online nor offline. It's in the flow from lived experience and practice, to listening, researching, and sharing the fruits of your work with a community and back out to the world again. Now that so much high-quality information is available for free--like the 1,900 courses on MIT Open Courseware--and platforms to allow people to exchange words, images and sound online are exploding in use, many of us are excited about the possibilities of self-organized education that is pared down to this essence, thus affordable, efficient and accessible. But whether or not you attend a traditional university, you will need to trace this path again and again, from experience to theory, from empirical to abstract, from action to reflection, from real to ideal, in order to keep learning throughout your life.

Read the whole article here.


Some Opinions On College Textbooks

Philosophy of Science Portal
By Anya Kamenetz
July 25, 2010

Get Rid of Print and Go Digital

The high cost of textbooks isn't a technological problem to be solved by digital distribution; it's a business model problem. With students as a captive market, textbooks are the last big cash cow for conventional publishers. It's no coincidence that Pearson, the largest educational publisher, is the largest English language publisher, period.

But textbooks, with or without the bundled DVDs, are what Judy Baker, of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, calls "The Hummer of higher education."

Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic, rich-media learning environments instead using free and open source software tools?

You can find examples at Wikieducator or UMW Blogs.

Teaching without textbooks means teaching students to think critically, evaluate various sources of information, and draw their own conclusions -- critical 21st century liberal arts skills. Good professors could put together stellar college courses from the material on Wikipedia and YouTube, but they don't have to. Learners can draw on a growing trove of materials like TED Talks, the Internet Archive, Europeana, and of course those created expressly for education at the Open Courseware Consortium or the Open Learning Initiative. These are all high quality, of known provenance, and did I mention free?

Some professors are rushing to teach without textbooks, while others are less eager or simply like the convenience of a basic written guide to a topic. Luckily, there is a great transitional model: Flatworld Knowledge. Flatworld Knowledge commissions expert authors to produce textbooks that are free to read online and available in a variety of formats for costs that average just $18 per student per semester, 82 percent cheaper than traditional textbooks.

Most important, because they're Creative Commons-licensed, educators and potentially students can customize the texts for each class in which they're adopted--cutting, adding, or remixing material to use only what they need. Goodbye, Hummer -- hello, hybrid Zipcar.

Read the whole article here.



 Twitter and the Anxiety of Influence

Fast Company
Anya Kamenetz
July 20, 2010

Part of our ongoing series related to The Influence Project.

For the past few months, while my colleague Mark Borden was busy with the planning stages of the Influence Project, I’ve been working on my own personal influence project—releasing a new book on the transformation of higher education called DIY U.

I did all the usual promotional things: visited 12 cities on tour; blogged on DIYUbook.com, Fast Company and the Huffington Post; published excerpts and related pieces; gave interviews via television, radio, print, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Webcasts, company newsletters, and even one in Second Life. I also turned to my existing social networks, and that’s where I really learned about meaning of influence today.

Having grown up shy and bookish, I love being social online. I blog, use Facebook, Twitter, share on Google Reader, and I even look at Buzz from time to time (ok, every day).

Yet when I published my first book in 2006, the Internet was not my friend. Reviews of Generation Debt were wildly mixed and the commentary often nasty and personal. I would stay up late, eyes burning, as I scrolled through the comments of random strangers and obsessed about replying point by point. It was defensive, negative, and fruitless.  And frankly, it didn’t sell books. Despite lots of major media coverage my Amazon rankings remained anemic.

DIY U has been a really different story, and I credit that at least partly to Twitter. I started tweeting in March 2009, a month before I signed a contract with the publisher, and it’s been a major, unexpected resource throughout the process. My followers list is relatively modest, but it has built steadily so it feels like a real community of people I respect and admire in the education and technology space. Within that space, people talk about building a "personal learning network," and that concept has really helped me think about how to use Twitter.

Here’s a partial list of how Twitter’s worked for me during both writing and promotion:

-I shared links of interest that I came upon in my research.
-I posted writing goals by word count. (“Starting point: 7684. Writing until 6pm”).
-Sent out queries to find interviewees and information of interest.
-Posed questions to help clarify my own thinking & engage people in debate.
-Asked for & received invites to conferences & speaking engagements.
-Got relevant news items fed to me every day.
-Met up with people at conferences (including lunch with a random Twitter follower at South by Southwest, who turned out to be really cool).
-Followed the proceedings of meetings or sessions I couldn’t make.
-Gotten instant feedback on speeches.
-Kept in touch in a low-impact way with several of the folks who became major and minor figures in the book.
-Amazingly, some readers created a hashtag, #DIYU, which has remained an ongoing book club-like discussion.
-Let people know about media coverage, upcoming events, blog posts, or imminent live broadcasts (“Catch me now on WNYC”).

Of course, it’s that last item, the promotional stuff, that most risks annoying people. One of my Twitter followers actually wrote a rant titled “Twitter Made me Hate You” where she calls out “Authors whose books have just come out…their feeds become overwhelmed by links to reviews, at-replies to people who have reviewed them, tiresome reminders to buy their book, etc.”

Doree, I sincerely apologize, and thanks for the reminder to rein in the jabber.
But overall, the tenor of buzz has been a thousand times more positive, supportive, and fulfilling than anything that went on with my first book. In fact, sometimes I feel like the online conversation is as valuable as anything in the book.
 
What works about Twitter? It’s not anonymous. I’ve found it to be a marvelous medium to engage critics in a low-key, non-defensive way, to say, hey, I’m listening, I’m a real person here, can you let me know a little more about what you’re thinking? I’ve turned critics into supporters and I think softened the tone of some debates over the book.  (I recently had a critic who had trashed a speech of mine on Twitter DM me “You have far too many fans for me to criticize you in public!”  After a little back and forth about his concerns, he went on to write a glowing review of the book.)

The positive flow is also happening because I’ve tried to keep in mind that Twitter, while it allows people to build and address an audience of thousands or millions, always has the potential to be a two-way conversation. That’s helped turn the book into an ongoing conversation as well. DIY U is about the power of spreading ideas openly, and I’ve found I can be most influential when I listen as much as, if not more than, I talk.

What do you think about Twitter and its uses for promotion?


Cheating and Goodhart's Law

The Huffington Post
Anya Kamenetz
July 14, 2010

Lately the New York Times has been alive with stories and commentary about college students cheating using amazing new technological techniques like CTRL-C and CTRL-V.

I came across Goodhart's Law in my web wanderings several weeks ago, and it's been knocking about in my mind ever since. Basically it states that when you attempt to pick a few easily defined metrics as proxy measures for the success of any plan or policy, you immediately distract or bait people into pursuing the metrics, rather than pursuing the success of the policy itself. The mythical example is Soviet factories:

"When given targets on the basis of numbers of nails produced many tiny useless nails, when given targets on basis of weight produced a few giant nails."

This is hard stuff because it's human nature to want to distill big complicated goals down into a few easy to understand numbers, and it seems efficient from a change-making perspective as well. Yet we can all see the bad outcomes from an overreliance on the numbers: Police districts (ok, on The Wire) manipulating murder cases to come out better on COMSTAT; school districts and states lowering standards and encouraging learning disabled kids to stay home on test days, so they look better under No Child Left Behind tests. I also see how it works in my own life: I have a log on my iPod nano of how many times I've used the stopwatch to time my regular run over the bridge. But then I started to turn it on when I go to the gym, or on lazy days when I only run half as far, because it makes the stats (number of times I worked out this month) look better.

In the case of college cheaters, we methodically train students for years to define their worth and their tasks in school extrinsically by grades and test scores (see No Child Left Behind, above). Then we give them boring assignments -- test questions that aren't updated from year to year and papers that don't require introspection or individual response. Then we pretend to be shocked when they respond just like Stakhanovites in a Soviet factory, turning out more and more of shoddier and shoddier product.

The answer is simple: we're measuring the wrong things.

Remember the Woody Allen joke? "I cheated on my metaphysics midterm--I looked into the soul of the student sitting next to me."

If professors were looking into students' souls, and truly asking students to look into their own souls, then cheating might be less of an issue. Would you still turn in a shoddy, cut-and-pasted paper if it wasn't just between you and your professor -- if your work was out there on the web for friends and family members and future employees to see? What if it was a collaborative project where you were responsible for other team members' grades as well as your own? The interpersonal stakes are certainly raised then. Or what if the topic of the class was one that you chose to study, one that was close to your heart? What if there was real trust and a bond between you and your professor?

I really liked what Alfie Kohn had to say about this on the Room for Debate blog, and I plan to download one of his books.


The Credit Hour Conundrum

GOOD Education
Anya Kamenetz
July 9, 2010

 Is it possible to create a standard definition of a credit hour?

What is a meter? Most people would be satisfied with an answer of “about three feet.”
Official definitions, however, turn out to depend on some pretty fanciful, abstract, and far-flung benchmarks: one ten-millionth of the distance between the Equator and the North Pole; or, more strangely, the distance between two lines on a metal bar made of 90 percent platinum, located somewhere in Paris.

The more we look into any standard form of measurement, from the length of a second to the value of a dollar, the more we can see that it’s based on an arbitrary consensus where everything is defined in terms of something else. And yet that doesn’t mean we can do without them. In order to operate in the world we have to trust that we all mean more or less the same thing by reference to these standards.

In the world of higher education, the equivalent of the meter is the credit hour. John Meyer, a venerable sociologist of higher education at Stanford University, was the first to point out to me just how strange a convention this is: “The idea is that your value in the mind of a rational god is a standardized thing in this world.”

Because in fact, there’s nothing standard about the content of a credit hour, in terms of how it’s actually spent. As an undergrad I whiled away pleasant classroom hours discussing Emily Dickinson, while my friend, an engineering major, spent grueling sleepless nights grinding out problem sets, yet we both earned equivalent credits towards our degrees, give or take a few distribution requirements.

In the United States system, you can earn undergraduate credits by writing basic five-paragraph essays, practicing ballet, interning for a political campaign, or building a web site—and legitimately so: These can all be valuable learning experiences. Conservatives love to make fun of undergraduate seminars where the coursework involves watching Lady Gaga videos or porn or Mexican telenovelas, to say nothing of the lazy professors—we’ve all had them—who replace lecture time with movie time. And yet somehow, if you play your cards right, all those credit hours, however you spent them, add up to a degree that can be your most important passport to a better job and a better life.

This type of pleasant chaos is now coming under greater scrutiny. In June, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing to try to better define a “credit hour.” And while it may seem esoteric, this is a federal matter because federal financial aid, both grants and loans, is such an important factor in funding undergraduates. And members of Congress are especially concerned that certain for-profit colleges, which soak up more than their share of federal student aid, may be inflating the definition of a “credit hour” in order to keep customers—I mean, students—happy.

But the idea of creating a standard definition of a credit hour—the proposed definition is “one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately 15 weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit"—quickly collapses into absurdity when you think about the diversity of experiences that are accommodated under the “credit hour” blanket, not to mention the possibilities of innovative uses of technology.

For example, the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon created a statistics course  that was a blend of online practice with a specially designed tutoring program and in-person instruction. The course met twice a week for eight weeks, versus four times a week for 15 weeks in a conventional course. The computer-assisted students learned more and retained the information just as well as the students in the conventional program, but they did it in one-quarter of the total classroom time. Should they get one-quarter of the credit hours? 

These difficulties don’t mean, however, that we should throw up our hands at the possibility of ever coming to a better consensus on the definition of a credit hour. (Besides cracking down on credit inflation, another very good reason to do this is to improve transferability of credits, since half of students start out at community colleges and at least 60 percent transfer at some point in their career.)

One possible answer is to promote more visibility into exactly what goes on inside various classrooms—something that sites like Academic Earth, the Open Courseware Consortium,  and Einztein, which show lecturers at top universities at work, can do. Another is to promote publishing students’ work to the open web, as is done at UMW Blogs, and greater discussion and collaboration amongst students at different universities, as can happen on study network sites like StudyBlue.

It may not be possible to measure the content of a credit hour more accurately, but we can certainly be more precise about it.



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