A Proposal for Change in Our Current Model for Higher Ed

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

A couple days ago, I heard a report on BBC News at WUNC about the connection between higher education and the job market in the UK. A recent report showed that almost 60% of college graduates were not able to find jobs in their field or even at their level of education. Some analysts are saying a university education is worthless and a waste of money, so they are advocating a return to apprenticeships.

However, the speaker said that he thinks that university education needs to be better aligned with what’s going on in the workforce. He also asserted that the workforce needs to be more open-minded about the skills they are looking for. He used the example that if you are going to be a biochemist, you need to learn certain knowledge and skills. However, for other bio-tech jobs, many of the skills one learns in any STEM program can give the employee the necessary basic skill set, which they can then refine on the job.

When I worked at a high school here in the US, I was part of a workforce readiness initiative for high school students. A representative from the local phone company told us to send them applicants who can read and write and be on time and they can do the rest with their in-house training. At the time, I thought that was a little simplistic, and I still do, but there is some truth in what he says.

This story also made me think about technology and education as well as MOOCs, other educational delivery systems, and the cost of education. First, I want to make it clear that I think there is more to university education than “skills training.” I think the university is a place to expand our awareness, have the opportunity to explore issues, and learn to think, really think. However, I also believe that higher education needs to take a step back and re-think how it is educating.

One area that should be addressed is the current model of students taking two years of basic courses, English, math, science, etc., before they can start their major courses. If high schools are doing their job, students should have this basic knowledge before entering the university. If they don’t then, perhaps, these deficits can be addressed with online competency-based courses that students take along with their major courses.

There are several advantages to this idea. First, students learn the skills they need, but save time and money. Second, these courses can help teach mastery skills as they are developing or refining competencies, such as writing skills and critical thinking. Then in major courses, students can integrate these skills into their acquisition of abstract theory and concrete knowledge needed to develop what they need to find jobs and be successful in their chosen careers.

What are your thoughts about this issue? Have you experienced this type of model (blend of online competency-based basic courses and major courses) or another model that helps better prepare students for the 21st century workforce while assuring them a quality education?

Zen and the Art of Instructional Technology

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Updated 8/14/15

In her latest article, Lynn Zimmerman comments on Dian Schaffhauser’s “5 Essential Multimedia Skills Every Educator Must Master.” The skill that grabbed my attention is “Troubleshooting Your Own Tech.”

Troubleshooting is the most critical tech skill for 21st century teachers. Integrating tech into instruction invites “Trouble,” with a capital “T” no less. But it’s “good” trouble, the kind that extends our students’ reach into the world of web-based information and communications.

Technology is the proverbial can of worms, problems that mount as usage increases and deepens. Again, these are “good” problems, problems that come with the new territory that technology has opened up.

There’s no escaping the need to troubleshoot, or problem-solve. Teachers have to embrace the messiness that technology represents. They have to be willing to get their hands dirty, to pop the hood of hardware and software to see what the problem is, to futz with the parts to fix it, often with students looking over their shoulder and getting their hands dirty, too.

I’m not talking about repairing hardware or debugging software, although these are possibilities down the road. I’m talking about basic user-oriented skills such as setting up LMS and social media (SM) accounts, designing and developing course websites and resources, navigating the virtual learning environment, posting and commenting, participating in and moderating online forums, customizing settings, maintaining links, developing and maintaining static and interactive course webpages, integrating apps and SM such as Twitter and blogs into the teaching and learning process; intermediate skills such as coding in basic HTML to provide additional functions in apps, developing graphics and videos to facilitate learning, troubleshooting hardware and software usage and compatibility issues; and advanced skills such as continuously adapting hard and soft as well as traditional and new technology in innovative ways to enhance instruction and learning.

It’s important to stress that troubleshooting isn’t an exception, a one-time thing. It’s the norm in the world of instructional tech. It is an integral part of the process, which is continuous, dynamic, organic. When — not if — teachers run into problems, they should be able to fix them on their own. This ability to troubleshoot independently is critical because it gives them the skills they need to help their students, who will raise not only similar but a wider range of problems at a frequency that increases exponentially with class size. Referring most or all of these problems to IT specialists is simply out of the question. Instruction would never get off the starting line block.

It’s also important to note that technology is a “we” thing in the online or blended classroom, which means troubleshooting is a communal process. Everyone is at once a learner and a teacher, and the roles shift from moment to moment, from tech to tech. Thus, the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues, support staff, students, and others is essential.

A teacher who can’t or won’t troubleshoot will never be able to use tech in instruction. Total reliance on IT specialists to solve every tech problem is simply unsustainable.

But the good news is that once a teacher experiences the high that comes with getting under the hood and attacking a problem, s/he is on the road to becoming a DYOT (Do Your Own Tech) junkie. For a DYOTer, a problem is an invitation to learn, and with every mastery comes increased confidence and daring in trying out other technology.

Related article: Why Teaching Is No Longer Relevant in Online Courses and MOOCs

How and Why We Use Technology in the Classroom

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

With school getting ready to start back in many places, it seems like a good time to review how and why you use technology in the classroom. Educators in the 21st century work with technology in one form or another every day. Most are comfortable with some but not all types of technology.

Dian Schaffhauser, in THE Journal, reported on a national survey given to “teachers, administrators and tech leaders to tell us how technology energizes their classrooms.” Her article, “5 Essential Multimedia Skills Every Educator Must Master,” addresses the top five skills that were identified by educators. Besides “Troubleshooting Your Own Tech” and “Embracing Curiosity,” using videos and podcasts for the flipped classroom was one of the “instructional tools [that] could increase student interest and participation in class.”

Another skill that she focused on was knowing how to use the equipment in your classroom. She quotes Cameron Mount, an English instructor at Brookdale Community College (NJ): “Just about everything available in the room to use should be used. Variation in modes of instruction is not just a good idea; it’s practically compulsory in the day of the [individualized education program] and multimodal learning.”

The final skill addressed was how to use presentation software effectively. Although tools such as PowerPoint have been around a long time, many presenters still do not use them effectively. You have probably been victim to “death by PowerPoint” on various occasions. However, just transferring bad slides over to Prezi isn’t going to help.

Presentations need to be planned carefully, just as one would any other teaching tool and strategy. I confess, I was dismayed that effective presentations is still such an issue that this one made the top five. However, having sat through a presentation recently in which the presenter mumbled his way through the copious text on his slides, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

What about you? How do you use technology effectively? Where do you need to make some improvements?

Latinos in Science and Technology (LISTA)

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

Among the organizations working to ensure better access for minority students to science, technology and math studies across the United States is the association Latinos in Science and Technology (LISTA).

LISTA’s latest initiative was a day-long meeting, an “Emerging Tech Leadership Summit,” held in North Bergen, New Jersey, on 22 July. It brought together Latinos and Latinas engaged in technology and business leaders from around the New York tri-state area and their associates.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Professor Jorge Schement, from New Jersey-based Rutgers University, set the scene.

He pointed out that the U.S. population is diversifying rapidly. Of the Latinos in the country, 66% have their origins in Mexico.  Continue reading

My Changing Expectations About Social Media: Facebook

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

When I arrived in Albania to teach future English teachers at a university, I wanted to use online resources to stay connected with my students like I do in the US. After trying several different free learning management platforms, I decided to set us up on FaceBook. Most of my students already have FaceBook accounts, and they were used to using it. Although things did not work exactly as I had planned, it did form a basis for online communication among the students and with me.

My intention was that “our” FaceBook page would be a place for English-only communication about issues related to English and English teaching. I linked to the American English website and the British Council so we’d get their feeds. I asked the students to do the same when they find relevant links.

What actually has happened is that the site has functioned primarily as a social networking page for the students with daily posts of selfies and a lot of comments in Albanian. At first, I was upset by this because it did not meet my expectations. However, as time has gone by, I have accepted the social aspect of this and how it has created a sense of community among the students in a different way. I do use it to post class-related information and to link to “professional” resources, and they do occasionally post in English. However, the next time I do something like this with a group of students, I want to try to create more of a learning environment.

Eryk Bagshaw’s article “Social media is teaching the world English1 about using social media to offer “snack-size” English language lessons gave me some ideas about how to do this. This Australian initiative has found that users respond positively when offered small bits of English – a few idioms, a few uses of modal verbs, difficult spellings, etc. Bagshaw says, “It is all about giving people context to hang that learned language on.” He also wrote about how the BBC uses Twitter to connect English learning and current events and mentioned that creating a community is a part of the service and part of the appeal of using social media in this way. “You can get instant feedback from other users a world away, they collaborate, correct, rework. That is how you learn and that is really exciting.”

As a teacher, I recognize the importance of building community among learners. Therefore, I intend to take what I learned from my experience in Albania and what I learned from Bagshaw’s article and think about how I can change my expectations about social media use for a group of students so that it functions as a more effective learning tool, as well as for community-building .

I would like to hear others experiences with using social media in learning environments. What has worked? What hasn’t?

1Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 2015.

Human Beings Could Be the Largest Untapped Resource in Online Learning

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Posted 7/28/15 at 10:17am; updated 11:46am

In the discussion on “MOOCs and Traditional Online Courses Are on a Collision Path,” Ray Rose (onlinelearningevangelist) and Harry Keller are having a fascinating exchange on the problem of captioning in MOOC videos. A cost-effective solution is autocaptioning, but the outlook at this time for developing an effective tool isn’t very good.

Their discussion fascinates in more ways than one. For example, it raises the issue of problem-solving in the online environment. What is the best approach?

For problems in technology, we naturally gravitate toward technological solutions, for example, a program that automatically translates speech to text and displays it as captions.

The cost for developing such a program, however, may be prohibitive, and the wide variation in human speech even within a single dialect makes the task extremely difficult.

But high tech problems don’t necessarily exclude low-tech solutions that are leveraged by technology. Put another way, the latest technology could generate innovative approaches that rely on old-fashioned human power, creating cost-effective solutions that blend the old with the new.

For example, Duke’s Sally Kornbluth,1 discussing the problem of formative evaluations in MOOCs, says, “If you’re wondering how you can possibly read 400,000 essays, you can have 400,000 students read one another’s essays.” Her point is that “there’s a lot of unexplored power that can be harnessed.” We just need to open our eyes to a much wider range of possibilities — and the possibilities could easily include human resources such as classmates empowered by networking technology.

The rap against peer feedback models, however, is that they’re unreliable, but ongoing research is proving that they can be and are being improved.

We have to keep in mind, though, that peer feedback is really just one of many other forms of evaluation provided by people other than teachers. For example, Sebastian Thrun,2 for his Udacity nanodegree on Android programming, takes the idea of peer evaluators and leverages it to include experts who aren’t part of the formal instructional staff. He has created a “network of 300 global code reviewers” who provide feedback to students.

The genius of this business model is that it’s self-sustaining while providing a profit for Udacity. Students pay $200 a month, reviewers’ pay is covered by this amount, students rate the quality of the feedback they receive, and reviewer income is determined by the evaluations they receive from students.

According to Thrun, “The best-earning global code reviewer makes more than 17,000 bucks a month. I compare this to the typical part-time teacher in the U.S. who teaches at a college — they make about $2,000 a month.”

This model could be applied to other problems (see Harry Keller’s comment) such as captioning. For example, MOOC developers could put out an international call for transcribers who are willing to provide captioning services. Since captions are aimed primarily at learners with disabilities, candidates could be volunteers or paid through philanthropic and public funds. A rating system could be attached to the videos, providing both student feedback on the quality of the captions and a means to control for quality.

The pool for captioners, when geographic location is factored out, is potentially huge. It could include high school and college students earning service credits, retirees, homebound adults, military personnel, and select prisoners.

We tend to think of technology as cold and impersonal, but it really doesn’t have to be. Technology could easily be a means to expand and deepen human interaction, providing a way for people to collaborate, one-on-one, with others.

1George Anders, “The Believer: Duke’s Sally Kornbluth,” MIT Technology Review, 27 July 2015.
2Nanette Byrnes, “Uber for Education,” MIT Technology Review, 27 July 2015.

MOOCs and Traditional Online Courses Are on a Collision Path

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Updated 27 July 2015

In everyone’s bucket list, under the heading “Education,” is “Attend an elite college.” Until recently, however, this item has remained unchecked for the vast majority. According to Jonathan Wai, “Only about 2% to 5% of all US undergraduates went to … elite schools.”1

Thanks to MOOCs, the economic and scholastic barriers are going down. And thanks to Natalie Morin,2 students in the U.S. and the world over don’t have to look far for elite offerings. Among the 31 in her list are:

Harvard (“Science and Cooking; Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens; Poetry in America: The Civil War and Its Aftermath”); MIT (“Introduction to Computer Science and Programming; Circuits and Electronics; Molecular Biology; User Innovation: A Path to Entrepreneurship; Introductory Physics: Classical Mechanics”); Princeton (“Computer Architecture; Effective Altruism; Imagining Other Earths; Paradoxes of War; Reinventing the Piano; Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technology”);

Yale (“America’s Unwritten Constitution; Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty, & Disadvantage; Introduction to Classical Music; Moral Foundations of Politics”); Stanford (“Planning for a Sustainable Future with Wind, Water and the Sun; Behind and Beyond Big Data; Careers in Media Technology; Environmental Risk and Resilience; Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing; Adventures in Writing”); Columbia (“The Civil War and Reconstruction 1850-1861; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1865; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1865-1890”); University of Pennsylvania (“An Introduction to Corporate Finance; The Global Business of Sports; Modern & Contemporary American Poetry; Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases”);

University of Chicago (“Asset Pricing; Internet Giants; Global Warming; Understanding the Brain; Critical Issues in Urban Education”); Dartmouth (“Introduction to Italian Opera; Introduction to Environmental Science; The Engineering Structures Around Us”); Cornell (“The Ethics of Eating; American Capitalism: A History; The Computing Technology: Inside Your Smartphone; Introduction to Global Hospitality Management”);

Johns Hopkins (“Psychological First Aid; Confronting Gender Based Violence: Global Lessons with Case Studies from India; Major Depression in the Population: A Public Health Approach”); Northwestern (“Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation; Career 911: Your Future Job in Medicine and Healthcare; Understanding Media by Understanding Google”); Berkeley (“The Science of Happiness; Biology for Voters; Electronic Interfaces: Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds”);

Wellesley (“Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance; Introduction to Global Sociology; Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior; Introduction to Human Evolution”); Georgetown (“The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom; Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries; Terrorism and Counterterrorism”).

MOOCs are free and completely online, they’re open to everyone, and the registration process is simple. You’re free to plug in when and where you want for as long as you want, and if you decide to complete the course, you could earn a certificate. In some cases, a certificate requires a small fee.

Developers are beginning to design a second generation of MOOCs, or MOOC2, that can be taken for credit toward college degrees. For example, see “edX-ASU Global Freshman Academy: Will It Work?” As these evolve, the distinction between online courses locked into traditional structures and MOOCs will gradually disappear.

A key obstacle to the growth of MOOC2 has been pricing. MOOCs that cost as much as traditional onground courses are simply out of reach for nontraditional students who make up the bulk of participants. However, a recent trend toward drastically lowering the cost of traditional courses in completely online degree programs is underway at Texas Tech and other universities. A critical element in this business model is the removal of out-of-state tuition, the final barrier to the expansion of online programs.

MOOCs and traditional online courses are on a collision path, and the impact will change the face of higher education forever, obliterating the class and geographic barriers that have limited access to elite colleges. The promise of online, from the very beginning, has always been access, and here, in the middle of 2015, the promise is gaining traction.

Addendum 7/27/15: Read Ray Rose’s comment re learners with disabilities and the accessibility challenges they pose for MOOCs and online courses. Also see his Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education, INACOL, Oct. 2014.

1Frank Bruni Is Wrong About Ivy League Schools,” Quartz, 22 Mar. 2015.
231 Elite Colleges That Offer Free Online Learning,” Tucson.com, 23 July 2015.


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