This year the University of Edinburgh plans to become one of the first big European universities to launch a blockchain course. Aggelos Kiayias, chair in cyber security and privacy and director of the blockchain technology laboratory at the university, says: “Blockchain technology is a recent development and there is always a bit of a lag as academia catches up.”
What interests me is how we think about all the things that universities do first. And why and how we lose that advantage for our students.
This (via the Intercept) is from the US, but….
”IN MAY, A MELBOURNE-BASED real estate mogul’s claim that millennials would be able to afford homes if only they cut back on discretionary expenses such as avocado toast went viral — with many heaping mockery on the suggestion. Now the Federal Reserve has its own hot take to throw on the pile. Except this one is based on empirical research. In a paper published last week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, five researchers offered an explanation for declining home ownership rates among millennials that does not require avocado toast. Looking at nine student cohorts, they concluded that the increase in public tuition and resulting student debt can account for anywhere between 11 and 35 percent of the decline in home ownership for 28- to 30-year-olds in the years between 2007 and 2015.”
Smita Jamdar writing on Wonke about what the OfS changes will mean for universities.
Ever more intrusive and interventionist regulation – all regulators start with a desire to be risk-based and light touch, but it only takes one or two regulatory failures (either a rogue provider, or indeed a sector-wide failure to deliver a desired outcome) and the gloves come off.
These are not features that have typified the approach to the quasi-regulation we have had in the sector to date and, if implemented, they have the potential to change the culture of universities quite substantially, not least because they will focus so strongly on teaching, rather than research. They may (perhaps almost inevitably, will) push universities towards a more centralised, command and control model of management than many have adopted to date.
Those who run many UK Universities have almost willingly embraced the darker side of corporatisation. Many students will — reasonably in my opinion — think it is payback time.
There have been a similar set of category errors in play this month over TEF. I can’t find a lot wrong with putting metrics in the mix when making judgements and assessments. But to suggest that the precise collection of metrics with their precise weighting is somehow innately in all students’ interests is preposterous. As is the aggregating of all the metrics relating to different student experiences on different programmes into a single institutional score. That this is then further boiled into one of three medals, well, it’s almost as ridiculous as the UK degree classification system!
Jim Dickinson. The full article is well worth reading — especially about hidden costs and changes to course delivery.
This can be read as typical Silicon Valley hype, but I think it is more right than wrong. Just as government thought computer education in schools was about using MS Office, too many in higher education think it is about copies of dismal Powerpoints online, lecture capture, or online surveillance of students and staff. The computer revolution hasn’t happened yet. Medical education is a good place to start.
What can we do to accelerate the revolution? From our observation, the computer revolution is intertwined with the education revolution(and vice versa). The next steps in both are also highly overlapped: the computer revolution needs a revolution in education, and the education revolution needs a revolution in computing.
We think that, for any topic, a good teacher and good books can provide an above threshold education. For computing, one problem is that there aren’t enough teachers who understand the subject deeply enough to teach effectively and to guide children. Perhaps we can utilize the power of the computer itself to make education better? We don’t hope to be able to replace good teachers, but can the computer be a better teacher than a bad teacher?
One key finding is that because interest rates on student debt are very high — up to 3 per cent above RPI — the average student accrues £5,800 of interest while studying, meaning they borrow £45,000 but have a debt of £50,800 on the day of graduation. By contrast, the average debt burden on students in the US is far lower at $36,000 (£27,900), even though the cost of tuition varies far more at US institutions.
Arguments about university funding are everywhere (and here and here and from the IFS, too). The UK government is indulging in fantasy / PFI like economics again, and much of this story looks like another mis-selling scandal. The universities again, come out of this badly (FT). Whereas many have behaved badly, they are going to end up being treated worse.
My eldest daughter warned me that reading comments will make me sad or angry. But sometime anger is more valuable than sadness. The comment below, in the FT, from Matt_us is germane (The case for reform of UK university finances)
Hang on a minute. Students now graduate with about £50k of student debt (tuition and maintenance loans and interest). Student loans cannot be repaid by the majority of students. That is because the interest rate is higher than the repayment schedule. Despite repaying loans, the student debt continues rising. It is a pyramid scheme.
In detail: Graduates have to earn over £56k to even repay £1 of their loans, otherwise the loans get bigger, rather than smaller. Graduate starting salaries are between £20k and £30k. And only the best graduates will earn over £45k after five years in the job. During that time all loans will increase by 6% per year.
Interesting graphic from Audrey Watters on the bête noire, that is Pearson (especially if you are an investor). But although I think I am in a minority, I think universities are wrong to not understand how the world of content will impact on their business models. What is your content like, and what do you add to it? Content is key. But it doesn’t cost 9K, at least not if you scale it right.
Of all the titles submitted to the 2014 research excellence framework, only “around a half in most subjects achieved at least one retail sale in the UK in the years 2008-14”.
A large part of Kahn’s legend rests on his fame as a pedagogue, and although his parallel teaching career was driven by financial necessity, he became renowned for his ability to inspire students with a more elevated vision of professional practice than the technically advanced but psychically stunted approach characteristic of postwar American architectural education. (emphasis mine)
From a (book) review in the NYRB about the late architect Louis Kahn (Salk institute etc). “Psychically stunted.” Sounds like some other sort of professional education I am more familiar with.
If I had one criticism of Drezner’s otherwise excellent book, it is that his cure is thin gruel. He urges universities and think-tanks to regain their independence from big philanthropy. That is all very well. But how could they afford it?
Review in the FT of ‘The Ideas Industry’, by Daniel Dresser.
Terrific interview with Alan Kay. Familiar memes, but I do not tire of them.
The business of a university is to help students learn contexts that they were unaware of when they were in high school.
His use of the word context encompasses intellectual creations such as reading, writing, printing etc. His oft quoted quip: a change in context is worth 80 IQ points
One of the important things I learned from reading Herb Simon’s ‘Models of my life’ was his view that seldom did reading the academic literature feed him with new ideas on what to work on. I do not mean to imply that reading the literature is irrelevant, but that in some domains of enquiry the formal literature is often unhelpful when it comes to not so much thinking outside the the box, but realising the box needs throwing out and you need a chair instead. For instance, in med ed, I find most of the formal literature akin to chewing sawdust. It is dull and often the main motivation seems to be to advance one’s career rather than change the world. All of this came to my mind when I read the following:
It tells the remarkable tale of Athletic Bilbao, one of three clubs never to have been relegated from La Liga, the Spanish top division, despite having a policy of selecting only Basque players. Bilbao’s story emphasises a recurring theme of the book: the importance of development programmes for young players and the lengths that clubs go to in order to nurture footballers. Benfica, a Portuguese club, uses a 360-degree “football room”, walled by LED lights, to train players in over 100 scenarios. Targets appear for the players to hit with the ball; sensors measure the players’ effectiveness.
( a review in the Economist of The European Game: The Secrets of European Football Success. By Daniel Fieldsend. Arena Sport; 255 pages; £14.99.)
Now, readers will know that given the genes, I am more rugby than soccer, although I marvel at the skill modern footballers show. But what interests me and has interested me for a while is the relation between structured unnatural performance and fluency at performance. Now my phrasing may be a little ugly, and I do not think there is anything deep or new about what I am saying. Just take how we know you learn a musical instrument. How breaking up and sequencing of mini skills is necessary before you put it all together. People do not pay to listen to people play scales (although I will ignore, shred guitar aficionados), but rather they like songs or sonatas etc.
I would push this is the following direction. A real danger in undergraduate medicine is that we have become inured to the idea that learning situated in the clinic is the best way to learn medicine. At one time, I might have agreed. But out clinics have changed, but our ideas have not. One of the benefits of coaching and online learning is that we can make the offline — the clinic — work better. But also need it less, because it is not working well.
There are some interesting apparent paradoxes here. We need (pace the above quote) more ‘football rooms’, but as Seymour Papert argued, if you want to learn to speak French go to France and if you want to learn maths go to mathland. But are these real or virtual?
Despite this, less than half of developers consider their formal education to be “important” or “very important” to their jobs.
Well this is tech, but it is also true of any many fields of endeavour. But not all. We need to understand when and where the rules of the game change. This is not just about certification
Thanks to Betsy DeVos & Co., “school choice” has become a hot-button issue in the US. But across the pond in Germany, choice looks a lot less like private school vouchers and a lot more like…democracy. At Dolli-Einstein-Haus elementary school, kindergarteners exercise their voting rights weekly through “kids’ councils,” collectively choosing everything from class activities to what’s served at snack. The one limit on their civil liberties? Teachers reserve the right to decide when a kid needs a diaper change—to which we say, fair enough.
There are two models. Sage on the stage. Or building structures than scale. Individual brilliance and interpretation; or Hollywood. There are not not enough sages; but people deny we can build structures that scale.
I see this dialectic everywhere in education. When do we need n=1; and what can do at scale. It is not just education however. All over the creative world we can see this battle play out. As Paul Simon put it:
“I’m sittin’ in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination
On a tour of one-night-stands, my suitcase and guitar at hand
And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band”
On the other hand look at this. The song maker (Max Martin) few have heard of.
Woodie Flowers in a devastating critique of MITx said it well.
I believe the “sweet spot” for expensive universities like MIT is:
1) access to highly-produced training systems accompanied by
2) a rich on-campus opportunity to become educated.
MITx seems aimed at neither.
Medicine gets this confused big time. There is training and education. If we did the former better, we could offer a real education. But to do the training better, we need scale. And that means content. We could do things better and cheaper.
Institutions with histories matter. It is just that in many instances innovation often comes from the periphery. I think this is often true in many fields: science, music, even medical education. It is not always this way, but often enough to make me suspicious of the ‘centre’. The centre of course gets to write the history books.
An article by Mark Mazower in the NYRB, praising Richard Evans, the historian of the Third Reich, caught my attention. It seems that nobody in the centre was too excited about understanding the event that changed much of the world forever. Mazower writes:
If you wanted to do research on Saint Anselm or Cromwell, there were numerous supervisors to choose from at leading universities; if you wanted to write about Erich Ludendorff or Hitler, there was almost no one. The study of modern Europe was a backwater, dominated by historians with good wartime records and helpful Whitehall connections—old Bletchley Park hands and former intelligence officials, some of whom had broken off university careers to take part in the war and then returned.
Forward-looking, encouraging of the social sciences, open to international scholarship from the moment of its establishment, St. Antony’s is the college famously written off by the snobbish Roddy Martindale in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as “redbrick.” The truth is that it was indeed the redbrick universities, the creations of the 1950s and 1960s, that gave Evans and others their chance and shaped historical consciousness as a result. The Evans generation, if we can call them that, men (and only a very few women) born between 1943 and 1950, came mostly from the English provinces and usually got their first jobs in the provinces, too.
It is interesting how academics who had had career breaks were important. And how you often will need new institutions to change accepted practice. All those boffins whose careers were interrupted by the war led to the flowering of invention we saw after the second world war. You have to continually recreate new types of ivory towers. But I see little of this today. Instead, we live in an age of optimisation, rather than of optimism that things can be different. The future is being captured by the present ever more than it once was. At least in much of the academy.
Edward Tufte’s ‘The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint’ is funny. The problem is that it is not just funny, but deadly serious. Literally. His argument and case studies concern how humans died because people failed to understand how to communicate. And the title says it all. Powerpoint (at least its templates) degrades communication.
Communication is a big thing in medical education, and it is not unusual to have to sit through tedious talks on the subject. They usually start with Powerpoint slides, so at least you know that they are not going to say anything worthwhile and you can get your phone out and play.
Below is a memo, from Jeff Bezos, of Amazon.
Perhaps the single most important thing we could do to improve university education to is to remove all copies of Powerpoint. Words matter. Sentences even more.
This is from a book review on the ‘birth of cool’, by Robert Eaglestone in the THE.
Despite laying out some principles (“cool is…”), the book focuses on honed case studies of “the saints of cool” (as Hannah Arendt argues, we learn more from examples than from principles).
This little gem was new to me —but not the concept, or the principle…..
Academia tends to love rules, and formal systems, but for some domains of competence, they are grossly overrated. Formal logic is often not what is need, and we may seem more with a metaphor. Alan Kay’s aphorism: a different perspective may be as valuable as 80 IQ points.
Ultimately, students may feel less ripped off by essay mills than by universities.
I like this take on plagiarism and cheating. As has been said before, if somebody can write your essay, and the change in style not be noticed, those claims in the glossy prospectuses are hollow. Canaries in the coal mine.
What he was doing in this was holding a crucial middle ground. He understood better than anyone else that the public realm has to fight for its existence against two equally great dangers. One is the culture of self-enclosed, technocratic expertise, the hiving off of intellectual life into increasingly minute specializations and increasingly impenetrable professional dialects. The other is the insistence—so much in the ascendant now—that there is no expertise at all, that scholarship and rigor and evidence are the mere playthings of elitist eggheads. Bob’s great gift to civic life was the living demonstration in every issue of the Review that these impostors could be treated with equal—and magnificent—contempt. He held open the space for that great republican virtue: common curiosity. He made this fierce effort seem so natural that it is only in his absence that we realize how hard it is to do and how much it counts.
Fintan O’Toole. From a collection of essays on the late Bob Silvers of the NYRB.
O’Toole gets the central problem the academy is failing on. Not that the academy is ever sufficient.
Once upon a time the government gave money to universities, and the universities educated people (or they tried). Now things are different. The government buys educational services, and the universities are the contractors.
Not so much Software as a Service, but Education as a Service.
According to the job description for the chair of modern Greek studies posted last month, whoever fills the professorship part-funded by the Greek Laskaridis shipping family will not be paid an “official salary” from the university. Instead, they will receive an unspecified share of €20,000 (£16,730) from the Dutch Society of Modern Greek Studies to carry out numerous academic duties for, on average, one day a week.
The professorship, named after the late shipping heiress Marilena Laskaridis, lasts for five years, during which time the post-holder will be asked to teach, to supervise PhD students and to win research grants. Despite being based in Amsterdam’s Faculty of Humanities, the professor would not be an employee of the university and would not receive any of the usual benefits enjoyed by other staff.
Wonke on the laws that govern us.
And if the is not enough food for thought, consider this:
Higher education in England is no longer a supply-led industry. English universities are now in a demand-led environment in which the regulator has the last word. The Rubicon has been crossed, and few in higher education have really begun to understand what the implications of that are for universities. They will have the next five years of Conservative government to contemplate it.
Spectral authors also haunt the scientific canon. One physicist, frustrated at having his paper repeatedly rejected, finally saw it published after changing the title and adding a fictitious co-author, Stronzo Bestiale. It means “total asshole” in Italian.
Seriously, if you suggested the world we have now of predatory journals and the tyranny of metrics, would any sane scientist in 1960 think it possible? Uncle Syd once remarked that people no longer read papers they just xeroxed them. Now we do not even do that: metadata is all.
Higher education is an industry of the future — one in which the UK is a world-class player. Foreign universities are out to eat Britain’s lunch, and Mrs May’s obdurate stand is one of the best things that has ever happened to them.
Indeed, an industry of the future… “but not as you know it Jim”. FT
“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” — Marshall McLuhan
Comment on an FT article. How things have changed. Even I can remember a colleague — a few years my senior — who went for a Wellcome Training Fellowship, only to be interviewed by one person, with the opening question being, ‘Imagine I am an intelligent layperson: tell me what you want to do!’
I was a war baby, a small farmer’s son and in 1960, at 17, I had a chat with my most trusted teacher about what I should do to apply to become a doctor for which I had just acquired a good group of Scottish highers. He advised me that because I should have applied a number of months before, to write a letter to the University enclosing my qualifications. I was asked to come and have a chat with the Bursar and the only thing I remember him saying was that my qualifications were good but did I realise that I might be preventing somebody else from getting in. I am ashamed to say that I replied that I was not really too troubled about that. I was accepted, and was fine.
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Resist Proxies: As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2. A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.”
(Do you know what they know they want?)
Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design. I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.
Jeff Bezos here. I dislike process, and in education or research, whatever promise it offers, is offset by its tendency to lead to institutional denigration of those who keep their eyes on reality.
Bruce Alberts talks a lot of sense about science education and education in general. And of course he produced a book that ‘educated’ a whole generation (or more) of people like me. But in this recent Science piece he is taking on some of the big questions, questions that have been asked before, but for which few have managed to follow through on. As ever, the emphases are mine.
In previous commentaries on this page, I have argued that “less is more” in science education, and that learning how to think like a scientist—with an insistence on using evidence and logic for decision-making—should become the central goal of all science educators. I have also pointed out that, because introductory science courses taught at universities define what is meant by “science education,” college science faculty are the rate-limiting factor for dramatically improving science education at lower levels.
For example, there is a long-standing belief that every introductory college biology course must “cover” a staggering amount of knowledge. There is no time to focus on a much more important goal—insisting that every student understand exactly how scientific knowledge is generated. Science is not a belief system; it is, instead, a very special way of learning about the true nature of the observable world.
His phrase, “college science faculty are the rate-limiting factor for dramatically improving science education at lower levels”, could equally apply to medicine and medical teachers. It is not hyperbole to say these are some of the central problems of our time. And it is not just science education that is the issue.
Universities are idea factories. Current corporatization approaches emphasize the factory rather than the ideas.
Ralf Buckley in Nature. I would say— for the short term at least — unless somebody finds a way to create new ‘dissenting academies’ things in UK higher ed will get worse.