Revolution in Higher Education: chapter 4

Revolution in Higher Education, coverContinuing with our reading of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable (2015) (publisher; Amazon): this week we’re discussing chapter 4, “Technology Curves.”

Here DeMillo changes tack from neuroscience (chapter 3) and returns to technology, but not very much to MOOCs.  The focus now is technology for personalized learning, including data analytics.

That’s not where the chapter begins.  Instead we start with TED Talks, which I didn’t expect, then move on to Britain’s Open University, and MIT’s OpenCourseWare, all of which DeMillo approves, but aren’t what he’s looking for.

They were Chautauqua performances… the vast majority of these open courses carried no credit, did not constitute a curriculum, and did not lead to a degree.  Interaction was destined to replace [these]… with something else entirely. (1966)

None of these offer the kind of teaching DeMillo wants, starting with what he identified last chapter: “The effect of feedback is stronger than almost any other single factor in stunt achievement” (1999).   Allied to feedback is “testing that is spaced out appropriately over time as opposed to a single, cumulative test.  In fact, the frequency of treating alone accounts for most of the variation in learning outcomes…”  Plug this into the digital world, and

technology-enhanced learning makes it more likely that feedback and formative evaluations along with a dozen other techniques that are known to have a major effect on achievement will be carried out. (2008)

Just using a clicker for formative assessment makes a big difference (2023) (paging Derek Bruff!).  Web-based peer review can also do the trick (2083), which inspired at least one start-up, NovoEd.  Pushing hard on the digital front, Georgia State University and the Education Advisory Board piloted a promising use of data analytics (2210ff).

In this chapter DeMillo returns to one major theme,  broadening access to higher education.  He wants us to consider the possibility that big data and analytics could address social problems, citing Michael Crow, ASU:

“The exciting thing is that we may finally be able to attack unfairness in the system by overcoming the limits of culture and individual circumstance… Can we take kids from any background that have a certain capability and ‘net out’ their individual circumstance?”(2138)

It’s a cliche to toss around “revolution” these days, but DeMillo really wants us to think along those lines, at this point in his book. Revolution in Higher Education now sees us in the midst of a complex breakthrough in teaching and learning.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • This is a very pro-technology chapter, from the first page on.  “In virtually every known category of learning, technology appears to be driving improvements in learning achievement.” (2247)
  • “learning analytics will certainly be in widespread use by the time [this book] is published” (1796).  Not quite.
  • There’s a strong swipe at instructors who connect well with learners.  “[I]mmediacy has almost no noticeable effect on [academic] achievement.” (1990)  Even mentoring gets the treatment.
  • Notice the, ah, interesting case of a company recruiting unpaid tutors for online learning (2100).

What do you make of it?

Next week, starting November 30th, is chapter 5: Internet Scale.

Would you like to follow along?  Simply snag a copy of the book from your library or MIT Press or the local bookshop or Amazon (etc.), and get reading.  I’ll post about each chapter at the start of each week, so you can add comments there.  I’ve set up a tag for all posts: demillorevolution.  Twitter’s also a fine place to chat (I’m @BryanAlexander).  If you’re into Goodreads, let us know so we can catch up (here’s me).

(thanks to Todd Bryant for keen-eyed correction)

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Inequality and optimism in higher education

Last month the EDUCAUSE media team asked me two really good questions during a video interview: where is the greatest inequality in higher education, and what keeps my optimism going? I answered in just over 3 minutes.

Posted in interviews | 2 Comments

Does social media control our lives? An upcoming discussion on Malta

Does social media control our lives?  This is the question Alex Grech and I will be discussing Thursday night in Valetta, Malta.

The public lecture is organised by the Office of the European Parliament and the Strickland Foundation in collaboration with the Malta Communications Authority.
Partners for the event are Villa Bologna Working Estates & Gardens and Times of Malta.

Entrance is free but attendees have to register by sending an e-mail to

Alex Grech on social media

Alex is a terrific thinker and strategist.  I look forward to his thoughts, and also to audience participation.

Posted in presentations and talks, technology | 3 Comments

Revolution in Higher Education: chapter 3

Revolution in Higher Education, coverContinuing with our reading of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable (2015) (publisher; Amazon): this week we’re discussing chapter 3.

“Levity, Brevity, and Repitition” alters the book’s course by leaving technology behind and addressing the recently advanced science(s) of learning.  We explore short-, long-term, and working memory, P300 waves, the value of repetition, the Flynn Effect,  Bloom’s 2 sigmas and mastery technique, dopamine hits, multiple intelligences, motivations, and what teachers cannot and can control.

The brain and neurochemistry are the point here, and DeMillo notes that this is a controversial focus, since it leaves behind social contexts (1446).  While celebrating the science, the author is careful to hedge his enthusiasm: “[t]hink of this chapter as a short primer on how to wash your hands* before you start learning about learning and teaching – how to do no harm.” (1472)

A key takeaway is the claim that teachers control very little that matters when it comes to learning, except “repetition and emotional excitement” (1530). “[S]tudent aptitude… and the environment in which the student lives” are beyond a teacher’s ability to control (1693).  Yet with the tools they do have, instructors can flip the classroom (1615) and teach through mastery learning (1713ff).

That’s the face-to-face classroom.  DeMillo also sees data analytics and automated tutor(ial)s conducting mastery learning online (1663).  “[A]rtificial intelligence software can create a personalized experience, and billions of keystrokes can be mined to discover better ways of teaching and learning.” (1761)

Once again we read DeMillo’s passion and historical claims for what he dubs “the Revolution” in learning, which “for the first time makes it feasible to teach students to learn like the brain does.” (1761)

Only one major theme from earlier in the book recurs here, the ways higher education administrators face change.  DeMillo relates a story of a university president who asks his trustees to imagine never building another lecture hall. (1615) Continue reading

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How public universities support athletics – and students – badly

How are America’s public universities supporting athletics?  Badly on a number of levels, according to a new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Huffington Post.  The key finding here is that campuses are increasingly supporting sports by ramping up student fees, and usually without making money on the deal.

Schulman and Bowen, The Game of LifeThis is in many ways not news, at least not to anyone who’s read Bowen and Schulman’s ground-breaking, massively researched, and often devastating Game of Life (2002).  We know that the overwhelming majority of college and university sports programs either lose money or fail to make a profit, and that some touted benefits, like alumni donations, are seriously overstated.  The Chron/HuffPo study not only reminds us of these, but adds an important focus on student fees.

For instance, one key finding: “In the past five years, public universities pumped more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees and other subsidies into their sports programs,” a serious amount of money.  It’s also a rising amount:

The average athletic subsidy that these colleges and their students have paid to their athletic departments increased 16 percent during that time. Student fees, which accounted for nearly half of all subsidies, increased by 10 percent.

Defenders of college sports often point to enthusiastic fans who demand the games.  However, this seems to be quite different from reality at a number of institutions:

subsidy rates tend to be highest at colleges where ticket sales and other revenue are the lowest — meaning that students who have the least interest in their college’s sports teams are often required to pay the most to support them. [emphases added]

The study goes on to find that higher fees fall disproportionately on poorer student bodies.  “Many colleges that heavily subsidize [sports] also serve poorer populations than colleges that can depend more on outside revenue…”

Once more, defenders of big sports cite non-economic reasons.  One school’s leader argued that “the addition of a football program could yield ‘many intangible benefits,’ such as building a sense of community for students.”

So why does this matter? Continue reading

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Queen sacrifice as bargaining strategy

Rider University logoRider University avoided having a queen sacrifice after all.  Its administration announced serious cuts to academic programs and faculty earlier this month. Now Rider faculty decided to make their own sacrifices rather than see some of their number laid off and their programs closed.

Instead of losing full-time professors, Rider will freeze faculty salaries for two years. The campus may also see faculty leave in a different way: “The university will also extend its early retirement incentives to more full-time faculty members and have more flexibility in replacing them with adjunct professors…”  “‘It was a pretty bitter pill,’ Jeff Halpern, contract administrator for the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said Friday…”

Let’s look at the timeline of how this queen sacrifice proposal played out:

With talks about concessions at a standstill, the school announced the cuts on Oct. 29, two days before the contractual Oct. 31 deadline to notify the union of layoffs, he said.

That kicked off a 21-day window for the union to come back with its own proposal for cutting costs, according to the university. The two sides agreed to the deal Thursday and the board of trustees approved it on Friday.

Lest you suspect anything, the president will explain:

Dell’Omo said his original decision to cut majors and layoff professors was not a ploy to get concessions from the union.

“It would be way too risky to employ a strategy just out of gamesmanship,” he said. “This was a serious issue that we had to address.”

In other words, the queen sacrifice is not just a bluff, but a serious strategic option.

I wonder how many other campuses are making choices like this.  Perhaps there’s a hidden layer of queen sacrifices being quietly discussed, just under the radar, concealed by alternative cuts.

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Trying a different podcatcher: Stitcher

I’m trying an experiment this month.  It’s part of my quest to improve how I find and listen to podcasts.  (Previous posts)

Stitcher logoNow I’m going to try Stitcher, a podcatcher client for mobile devices.

This meant downloading the app to my phone (Android, Galaxy Note 3), then manually subscribing to every podcast I normally listen to.  That involved opening my laptop to the Digg Reader podcast folder, searching for each title (from Analysis to Wiretap), and clicking a fat plus sign to include each one in what Stitcher calls my Favorites Playlist.  Next I set “Available Offline” to ON, meaning the hard-working phone can snarf new podcasts when it’s connected to the internet by WiFi.

Over the next few weeks I’ll use this setup to download and consume podcasts.

Reflections so far:

  • While Stitcher indexes lots of podcasts, it misses some that I love.  SFF Audio isn’t there, for example.
  • Stitcher describes itself as more of a radio than podcast service.  Hm.
  • I’m honestly uncomfortable with not having a stack of mp3s in a directory to examine and mess around with.
  • This feels a bit like moving from Netflix DVDs to Netflix Streaming.
  • The app is extremely easy to use.
  • I’m nervous about data charges.  Normally I download mp3s to one of my laptops over WiFi, which has no cost implications.  Now I’m looking at twenty-eight (28) podcasts, some of which (examples: Clarkesworld, Hardcore History) can be pretty hefty files.
  • We don’t live in cell phone range.  As some of you know, Vermont has awful mobile phone coverage.  We do have broadband at home, so I can charge up the phone over our home network’s WiFi.  Now I’ll have to remember to top up my playlist on the go, or at least be mindful of when that occurs automatically.
  • I’m not sure what the Front Page is about.  Is it a generic stream, or something tailored to my listening habits, as a recommendations list?

Anyone else using Stitcher?

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