Live-blogging Sugata Mitra’s EDUCAUSE 2016 address

I’m going to get retro with this blog post, live-blogging an event.  The event is a keynote address by Sugata Mitra to the EDUCAUSE 2016 conference. Written and edited on the fly –

Mitra begins by describing his hole in the wall experiment as a historical artifact, even dated (1999-2005, I think).  He repeats many of his established claims: kids are likelier to try stuff out on their own, without a teacher’s supervision; the power of self- and peer-teaching; safe, free, public access produced learning.  Mitra argues that the computer taught people, and this was repeated in multiple locations.


Key details: big computer screen (so multiple people can see) and “open access to the internet”.

After seeing these happen over time, Mitra can’t explain how they work.  Boldly, he publishes on this “failure”.

More, Mitra sets up slightly more structures events, when he poses a challenging question to students, after which they solve it on their own.  He dubs such learning events SOLEs: Self-Organized Learning Environments.  These are self-organized, non-hierarchical, emergent processes.  Example: asks us to clap in  unison, which we do.  SOLEs then go viral.

Mitra thinks this is a “grandmother’s method”: daring children to go further.  Then sets up a “granny cloud”, hundreds of British grandmothers who video into schools to – well, not teach, but have a conversation.  (Is this the Socratic method, unnamed?)  Sometimes there’s no academic content, but talk about daily life.  (example of showing students a British fridge)

Shows more examples, from Bangladesh, Harlem, England, Goa.

What are the leading outcomes of SOLEs?  Reading comprehension, internet searching, confidence, communication skills (changed speech).

“Now here’s the bad news.”  Assessments happen.  Mitra sounds anti-test.  “We’ve been preparing out children for employers who have been dead for over 100 years.”  Nice analogy: compares prohibiting students to use the internet while taking tests to banning eyeglasses from reading comprehension tests.

Mitra argues that we are becoming cyborgs – doesn’t use that word, but refers to use as “composite creatures”, “my phone and I.”  Example: I and my phone can read Japanese, or find the airport.  Compares to handwriting – we don’t need that anymore (it was for the Phoenicians).  Use whatever technology is best.

Closing: Mitra thinks schools should make people happy, healthy, and productive.  Cross-hatch those categories with these headers: comprehension, communication, computation.  Memorizing multiplication tables wouldn’t meet this matrix; we don’t need that anymore.

New pedagogy: based on questions, not answers.  Collaborative and distributive.

I’m ambivalent about this presentation.  On the plus side, I sympathize deeply with the anti-authoritarian, pro-poor people angle.  It’s refreshing to see a positive attitude towards games.  On the negative, he hasn’t mentioned abusive possibilities.  What happens when boys gang up on girls, or go full Lord of the Flies?  No response to these criticisms.  Or these.

(photo by Samantha Eastman)

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On digital literacy: we release a new report

digitalliteracycoverfinalOver the past three months I’ve had the privilege of working with the New Media Consortium to develop a new report on digital literacy.  Our research and writing were also generously supported by Adobe.

Today the report is live, and I encourage you to read it.  Over the next few weeks I’ll post about specific details and ramifications, but let me draw your attention to a few key pieces today.

First, a key part of our research involved surveying more than 400 NMC members.  We asked them about digital literacy definitions, implementations, “soft” versus technical skills, current support structures, emerging technologies, and more.  The results were eye-opening.  Two key takeaways: there was nothing like a shared sense of what digital literacy actually is, and few institutions are doing much to support it beyond the actions of individual faculty or staff.  One more point: respondents generally saw digital literacy as productive (students as makers), but most institutions were not taking that into account.

Second, in wrestling with the definition question, we came up with three different forms of digital literacy.  They have much in common: a sense of productivity (again, students as makers); multiple technologies; multiple “soft” skills beyond technologies.  They differ by degree and implementation.

So “universal literacy” is a baseline, what we can expect all students to have when they complete our programs.  This includes multimedia consumption and production, office and creative tools, and engagement with the social media world.  “Creative literacy” is an advanced version, including more challenging skills, such as coding, hardware, and animation.  We didn’t see this model as universally applicable, but well suited to certain academic fields and careers.  Lastly, we identified “literacy across disciplines”, which embeds specific technologies and soft skills within individual academic programs.
3 digital literacy models

We have recommendations for how academic institutions can engage with these, and much more.  Read it and let us know what you think.  The comment box awaits you.

Let me add that it was a treat working with NMC and Adobe.  These are bright, energetic people thinking and working through some of the major technological and educational challenges of our time.  I appreciated the opportunity very much.

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The great October DDoS attack: first thoughts, implications for education

This past Friday saw one of the worst cyberattacks since, well, ever.  It’s very early days and information is hazy.  I’d like to summarize some observations in the moment, then add tentative reflections on education.

A massive distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) targeted a little-discussed but widely used company, Dyn.  Dyn handles domain name system (DNS) for a lot of web-based companies and services, including Netflix, Visa, Amazon, Twitter, Spotify, Paypal, BBC, the Playstation Network, Reddit, Squarespace, Soundcloud, Github, Pinterest, Box, all of which suffered outages on Friday.  (My wife and I couldn’t reach our local banks for some time.)  The means of attack involved a network of tens of millions of machines, possibly infected and organized using the open source Mirai program.

Does “a massive attack on domain name servers” sound familiar?  A month ago security guru Bruce Schneier warned that such attacks were being readied.

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state.

Was he right about the source?  Did China (Schneier’s estimate in September) or Russia (say) launch this attack, possibly to preempt America’s apparent retaliation for *another* cyberoffensive?  The onslaught was definitely US-centered:

DDoS attack October 2016

Alternatively, the source could have been a small group of hackers irked by a Dyn researcher’s presentation on new developments in DDoS.  It’s a fascinating time to be alive, when we can’t tell if the world’s superpower was just semi-paralyzed by a nation state or a group of irate coders.

Another note: this attack used many networked devices other than desktops and laptops.  Indeed, this looks like the first internet of things (IoT) cyberattack.  Looking ahead, we should expect more attempts to exploit IoT vulnerabilities.

What does this mean for education?

To begin with, some number of colleges and universities lost some degree of internet connection.  I don’t have access to solid data, but heard from several CIOs and IT leaders that their communities couldn’t access certain services.  Obviously this is a serious problem.

There is now a greater perceived need for security strategies to be ramped up.  Insurance companies may incentivize institutions to take greater steps.  IT departments may be better positioned to expand their security resources.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see greater emphasis on improving user security skills.

Related: the attack is going to be great fodder for campuses to create or expand cybersecurity majors, courses, and programs.  Computer science departments, security programs, etc. will look even more significant.  Savvy political science departments will engage

The desire to explore IoT devices for educational, research, and student life purposes could be chilled by this.

What educational implications are you seeing?

(thanks to Facebook friends and Metafilter discussion)

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Rural broadband update: Fairpoint weirdness and potential governors

How can we bring broadband to rural areas?

Over the past few months I’ve been blogging about our Vermont region’s struggles to get decent highspeed.  Let me update you on where things stand.

Fairpoint logoShort version: there has been some potential, more frustration, and a single glimmer of hope.  It is now political.

Part 1: Fairpoint follies

A few weeks ago Fairpoint, our only available ISP and major telco in the region, sent around a memo claiming to improve speeds in our county, singling out Ripton by name. Which was nice.

However, exactly nothing has happened since.

When I called their business office, the rep said they had no idea what I was talking about. I haven’t heard anything since, not by official communications, nor in response to my queries.

Meanwhile, I’ve been researching technologies which could speed up existing broadband services.  Some companies claim they can bring fiber speeds to copper connections.

I’ve pinged Fairpoint about this.  Once again, nothing.

Indeed, the person at their Customer Excellence Center whom I’ve been talking with for a couple of months has stopped answering her phone.  Every call of mine goes straight to voicemail, and she hasn’t called back.

Their Twitter accounts, both general and for business, have been less than helpful:

Bryan Alexander ‏@BryanAlexander 16h16 hours ago @FairPoint The Customer Excellence Center contact we've been working w/ isn't answering or returning calls. @FairPointBiz 0 replies 0 retweets 0 likes Reply Retweet Like View Tweet activity More FairPoint ‏@FairPoint 16h16 hours ago @BryanAlexander @FairPointBiz we have an internet chat and a 24/7 help at 800.240.5019. sorry you are having issues 0 replies 0 retweets 0 likes Reply Retweet Like More Bryan Alexander ‏@BryanAlexander 14h14 hours ago @FairPoint 2. I'm in touch w/a company that can boost copper speeds. Who should I speak with about testing it? @FairPointBiz 0 replies 0 retweets 0 likes Reply Retweet Like View Tweet activity More Bryan Alexander ‏@BryanAlexander @FairPoint Any response? Hello? @FairPointBiz

So what’s going on with Fairpoint?  Did they announce a service improvement too early?  Are they working on something even now, but their communication setup isn’t connected to it?  Is this a bait and switch, or just puffing smoke? Continue reading

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Next week in California: a bumper crop of Forum interviews

EDUCAUSE logoNext week I’ll be in Anaheim, California, participating in the 2016 EDUCAUSE annual conference.  A lot will be happening, but I’d like to draw your attention to an unusual event I’m hosting.

On October 26 and 27 we’ll hold a special series of Future Trends Forum sessions.  No fewer than ten (10) guests will be involved, including some of the brightest lights in higher education and technology.  Since this is a Future Trends Forum event, every one will be on live Shindig videoconference, so you are all invited to participate, ask questions, make comments, and more.

Here’s the current schedule, with the roster of guests:

Wednesday, October 26th:
1:00 pm PST: Brian Gardner, Director of Academic Technologies at the Columbia University Business School
1:20 pm PST: Cliff Lynch, Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI)
1:40 pm PST: Allison Salisbury, Director of Higher Education, EdSurge
2:00 pm PST: Jonathan Blake Huer, Chief Design Officer, Skoolbo; Director of Emerging Technologies and Media Development, Ball State University
2:40 pm PST: Emory Craig, Director eLearning, The College of New Rochelle, and Maya Georgieva, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Bodies – Immersive Learning.

Thursday, October 27th
1:00 pm PST: John O’Brien, President of EDUCAUSE
1:30 pm PST: Susan Grajek, Vice President of Data, Research and Analytics at EDUCAUSE
2:20 pm PST: Michael Berman, Vice President for Technology and Communication & CIO of California State University Channel Islands
2:40 pm PST: Casey Green, Founding Director of The Campus Computing Project

I plan on asking each about what they’re bringing to the conference, including some cutting-edge presentations.  I also hope to ask about their impressions of leading ideas and issues raised by participants they’re heard.  Above all, I’d like to get their thoughts on the future of higher education.

What would you like to ask them?  Ask some comments on this post.  You can also click here to RSVP for the event.

Anaheim, by topnach_72

I’d like to thank EDUCAUSE and EdSurge Higher Ed for their contributions to this event.  And I’m looking forward to the discussions!

(photo by topnach_72)

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Another campus sacrifices the queen: IPFW to cut programs, majors, departments

ipfw_logoBack on the queen sacrifice beat, I find another American campus intending to cut academic programs and perhaps faculty.  This time it’s Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, much more commonly referred to as IPFW.

After a recommendation process earlier this year and a state recommendation that IPFW be divided among two other local universities, campus administrators this week announced the upcoming closure of a series of majors.  Queen sacrifice readers will not be surprised to learn their identities, which include the humanities and teacher training:

Geology (BA & BS)
German Philosophy
Women’s Studies
Biology Pre-Dentistry
Chemistry Pre-Dentistry
Chemistry Pre-Medicine
Math Computing
Math Business
Math Statistics
Legal Studies
Biology Teaching
Chemistry Teaching
French Teaching
German Teaching
Spanish Teaching
Physics Teaching

In addition, some departments will be axed or fused over the next two years:

Departments or programs eliminated January 1, 2017
Women’s Studies
Departments merged July 1, 2017
Departments merged July 1, 2018
VPA and Fine Art

Why so many teacher training programs?  Is Indiana’s K-12 population shrinking, or is IPFW being outcompeted by other campuses?

Melissa Rasmussen reminds us that more cuts are likely to be announced:

Why is IPFW attempting a queen sacrifice now?  My readers will be utterly unsurprised to learn that steeply declining enrollment and tuition income are at work: Continue reading

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New data on student debt

TICAS logoHow much do students owe in college loans?  New data has just appeared from the Institute for College Access & Success (ICAS or TICAS) , and their report is essential, if unsurprising, reading for anyone interested in American post-secondary education.

Some details:

Debt continues to be widespread: “about seven in 10 (68%) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt, a similar share as in 2014.”

The average amount of debt passed a milestone: “These borrowers owed an average of $30,100, up four percent from the 2014 average of $28,950.”  Yes!  We cracked 30K! USA USA USA

Defaults are still happening: “[a] record high 8.1 million federal student loan borrowers are mired in default”.  That’s about 2.5% of the entire population of the United States.

Debt varies strongly by state:

Statewide average debt levels for the Class of 2015 range from $18,850 to $36,100, and many of the same states appear at the high and low ends of the spectrum as in previous years. The share of graduates with debt ranges from 41 percent to 76 percent.

For example, compare the highest and lowest debt-holding state populations:

Highest and lowest debt-holding state populations

I’m not sure how this plays out according to red-blue state models.

For-profits are worse than publics and non-for-profit privates, but TICAS admits their for-profit data is weak, since those schools rarely shared such data.  Here’s the best they can find:

The most recent nationally representative data are for 2012 graduates, and they show that the vast majority from for-profit fouryear colleges (88%) took out student loans. These students graduated with an average of $39,950 in debt—43 percent more than 2012 graduates from other types of four-year colleges.

They’ve broken this out by individual states, too.  Some rich stuff therein.

So what’s not surprising?  This is more of the same, just ratcheted up a little worse.  Debt is widely held and rising.  Data isn’t that great, since no sector of higher ed is especially enthusiastic about sharing the results of financialization.

Seven years after the financial meltdown slammed into higher ed and shocked the nation into discussions about (among other things) college and university financing, nearly a decade after some ferment of reform and experimentation and “innovation”, we’ve gotten…


In other words, for American higher education institutions, for American public policy makers, for voters and politicians, for just about everyone except students, this is fine.


(thanks to Todd Bryant)

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