Open Education for a Global Economy (The New York Times)

Open Education for a Global Economy By DAVID BORNSTEIN

If you or your kids have taken an online lesson at the Khan Academy (3,200 video lessons, 168 million views), been enlightened by a TED Talk (1,300 talks, 800 million views), watched a videotaped academic lecture (Academic Earth, Open Courseware Consortium, Open Culture), enrolled in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course, now being offered by companies like Udacity and a growing list of universities, including M.I.T., Harvard and Stanford), or simply learned to play guitar, paint a landscape or make a soufflé via YouTube — then you know that the distribution channels of education have changed — and that the future of learning is free and open.

This is good news for everyone, but it is particularly good for the vast number of people around the world whose job prospects are constrained by their skill levels and who lack the resources to upgrade them through conventional training. It’s a problem that a company based in Ireland called ALISON — Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online — is helping to address with a creative model. ALISON provides free online interactive education to help people acquire basic workplace skills. It’s not a megasite. It has a million registered learners, the bulk of whom live in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Nigeria and the Middle East, where ALISON has 200,000 students. It is adding 50,000 learners each month, but the kinds of services it offers are likely to proliferate in the coming years.

To understand why, we only have to think back to last week, when the big news was the release of the June jobs report, which found that the unemployment rate had stalled disappointingly at 8.2 percent. As always, the story behind that number is more noteworthy than the political spin it gets. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people in “management, business and financial operations” is nowhere near 8.2 percent; it’s only 3.8 percent. For workers in “installation, maintenance and repair,” it’s 5.3 percent. It’s workers in certain occupations — like “transportation and material moving” (10.3 percent unemployment) and “construction and extraction” (13 percent) — who are experiencing the most severe economic pain.

That’s because the skills of many workers are increasingly out of sync with the demands of the job market, and the gap is likely to grow, particularly given that only a minority of companies provide formal training to employees. This isn’t just an American problem, however. There are 200 million unemployed people around the world, 75 million of whom are youths, and many lack rudimentary workplace skills — the ability to use a computer, make a budget, communicate in an office environment. According to a study published last month by the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020, the world will have a surplus of up to 95 million low-skill workers and a shortage of up to 40 million college graduates.

Free and open online education could help close this gap, but only if it’s intentionally directed to the people around the world who most need it. Right now, a lot of free education is thrown online without a clear sense of how it will help people prepare themselves for employment. In May, Unesco, the branch of the United Nations that focuses on education, held an international gathering in China, where representatives concluded that the development of technical and vocational education and training — what one official called the “poor cousin of mainstream education” — should be deemed a “top priority” to tackle global unemployment.

ALISON addresses this need. It offers some 400 vocational courses at “certificate level” (1 to 2 hours of study) or “diploma level” (about 9 to 11 hours of study) and plans to add 600 more in the coming year. Its most popular course, ABC IT, is a 15- to 20-hour training suite that covers similar ground to the widely recognized International Computer Driving License curriculum. (ALISON’s certification is free; ICDL certification can cost over $500). Other popular offerings are project management, accounting, customer service, human resources, Microsoft Excel, health studies, basic study skills, operations management and psychology.

Last year, 50,000 users earned certificates or diplomas, which indicate that they completed courses and scored 80 percent or above on ALISON’s online assessment. Employers can verify an applicant’s knowledge with an online “flash test” of randomized questions (reminiscent of typing tests for stenographers). ALISON doesn’t have the capacity to track its learners’ career progress, but it has thousands of testimonials on its Web site. A typical example is one from Mariyam Thiseena, from the Maldives, who wrote: “I love ALISON because you give the feeling that even the poorest person deserves an education.” (Thiseena wrote to me that she found ALISON through Google and is currently pursuing a diploma in environmental engineering.)

Another student, Zakiyu Iddris Tandunayir, from Accra, Ghana, completed a diploma in social media marketing. “I’ve been interested in social media for a long time,” he told me by phone, “but when I discovered ALISON, I committed myself to it. I studied day in and day out. I passed my exam, then I set up a page on Facebook to do social media for businesses. I put my number in there and people started calling me.” Tandunayir added that he has since received contracts worth $700. “For my eight years of Internet experience I have never felt the way I feel now,” he commented.

ALISON is a for-profit social enterprise. “My vision is that all basic education and training is freely accessible online worldwide and accessible by everyone,” explains the company founder Mike Feerick, who received an award last year from Unesco for innovation in online workplace education and has been recognized by Ashoka as a social entrepreneur. “Education underpins all social progress. If we can improve the general education level worldwide, global poverty can be dealt with profoundly and a general standard of living can be vastly improved.”

Feerick says that the scope of the problem necessitates a business approach. There is not enough philanthropy, and perhaps not even enough government investment, to meet the world’s workplace development needs. (Seven percent of the world’s people currently have college degrees.) ALISON works to leverage and redirect the large supply of for-profit courses, searching for high-quality vocational offerings and inviting publishers to put some of their courses on ALISON, available free. For example, it carries hundreds of hours of English and French language instruction from the British Council and Alliance Francaise. (It never offers short “teaser” courses that link to paid sites, only modules at a minimum of a certificate level.) It hunts for courses that meet the specific needs of workers or employers in specific industries. For instance, it offers a 5 to 6 hour diploma in European Union public procurement, which sounds a bit dry — unless you’re applying for a job in a company that hopes to win contracts from the E.U., in which case it is a standout credential.

Publishers agree to work with ALISON because the company generates business leads for them and shares its revenues, mostly from advertising, sales of certificates and token fees from learners. (A graduate can purchase a paper certificate for $30 or one on parchment for $120, and opt to pay for premium access that loads slightly more quickly and has no ads.) Given its model, the more ALISON grows, the more free courses it will be able to offer.

The decision to make everything on ALISON free remains the key factor that distinguishes the site from others of its type, and makes it globally valuable. (In addition to English, there are courses in French, Spanish, Farsi and Arabic, and the platform is going to be translated into Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.) Unlike academic instruction, which is increasingly free online — you can take hundreds of lessons in algebra or calculus at the Khan Academy — quality workplace skills training is usually pricey. So is certification. Sites like, which offer training in software tools, require a paid subscription. Udemy, a relatively new education company with some excellent free courses, charges fees for many courses that offer workplace skills. If you’re a would-be programmer from Egypt, there is a world of difference between a free course in Microsoft Access and one that costs $99.

Just as there is great variability in teacher quality, online education is a mixed bag. “There’s an enormous amount of learning out there,” notes Feerick. “There’s also an enormous amount of rubbish. It’s hard to make out the difference if you don’t know what’s coming. We turn down a huge number of courses that are low quality.” What does ALISON look for? Feerick’s staff members ask the following. “Is it good content? Is it interactive? Does it ask you to do something? Sometimes the content really lends itself to video — like language learning where you need pronunciation help. Does it flow logically? Is the content from a reliable source? Is there a way to assess the learning?”

In the United States, ALISON is now offered through government workplace centers in 18 states. When a job seeker goes to EmployFlorida or Virginia Workforce Connection, for example, he or she can work with a counselor to survey the job market and assess skill gaps. The client may then be referred to traditional brick and mortar training or ALISON courses. ALISON also supplies digital literacy training to public schools in the United States.

Jaime Maniatis, the technology instructor at the Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School, in Trenton, N.J., which serves students who have previously dropped out, has been using its ABC IT course for a number of years. “It’s accessible from any computer in the building,” she said. “You can listen to it or read it, so it’s good for E.S.L. students. It’s interactive and has quizzes that help the students stay focused. And with all the cuts in education, it gives me security because I know I’ll always be able to use it — because it’s free.” She added that this year, she plans to spend $165 for a premium service that is ad-free and allows her to track students’ progress in three classrooms.

As the cost of formal education has skyrocketed and the job market continues to change at a rapid clip, the responsibility for keeping their skills up-to-date will likely fall more and more on individuals. Many will turn to online learning — for convenience and affordability. There are, of course, drawbacks to this. But there are advantages too — including the ability to work at your own pace and gain exposure to a broad array of topics. (The long tail of the Internet means that online courses can be highly specialized and still cost-effective. A university may offer a general electrical engineering course, but an online site can offer a course in how to operate a Siemens generator.) Perhaps the biggest advantage of online learning will be that women can more easily bypass the sexism and discrimination associated with traditional vocational education.

At ALISON, all students receive a learning record, a kind of archive of their response to life’s vicissitudes. Feerick notes: “The record says, ‘I might be 58 years of age, but I’m still learning.’”



The trouble with Khan Academy

The trouble with Khan Academy

July 3, 2012, 9:08 am

By Robert Talbert

At some point around the beginning of February 2012, David Coffey — a co-worker of mine in the math department at Grand Valley State University and my faculty mentor during my first year — mentioned something to me in our weekly mentoring meetings. We were talking about screencasting and the flipped classroom concept, and the conversation got around to Khan Academy. Being a screencaster and flipped classroom person myself, we’d talked about making screencasts more pedagogically sound many times in the past.

That particular day, Dave mentioned this idea about projecting a Khan Academy video onto the screen in a classroom and having three of us sit in front of it, offering snarky critiques — but with a serious mathematical and pedagogical focus — in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I told him to sign me up to help, but I got too busy to stay in the loop with it.

It turns out I missed my chance at viral internet stardom, because Dave finally made the video along with John Golden (another GVSU math person):


The video was first picked up by Dan Meyer’s blog, and from there made it to Education Week… then on to Slate, the Chronicle, the Huffington Post, and Wired. The video now has over 11,000 views and has spawned a Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000 contest (with Twitter hashtag #mtt2k). Khan Academy took down the video that Dave and John critiqued and replaced it with two new ones. So this has turned into kind of a big deal.

Another thing it’s spawned is a slew of comments and conversations about Khan Academy. More comments at this point than conversations. And unfortunately many of those comments are uncritical defenses of Khan Academy that often adopt a much nastier tone than John and Dave’s snarkiness from the video. (Just look at the comments below the YouTube video.) It seems like the #MTT2K project/phenomenon has pushed some issues about math education from simmering to boiling — which I think was Dave and John’s intent. As Dave has explained, the snarkiness of their video may not rub everyone the right way, but Khan Academy has an almost impenetrable veneer of rightness about it that only biting satire could cut through. And they’ve certainly cut through.

I don’t plan on joining in to the #mtt2k contest because my criticisms of Khan Academy are more at the top level than in the specifics of any one video, and I hope my ongoing screencasting work embodies the kind of pedagogical approach I’d like to see video resources take. Some readers might be surprised I have any criticisms at all, since my screencasting is so obviously inspired by Khan; I even once openly wondered if Khan Academy is the future of education. But some criticisms remain, and since the conversation is happening, I thought I’d briefly lay those out.

Let’s start with what Khan Academy is. Khan Academy is a collection of video lectures that give demonstrations of mechanical processes. When it comes to this purpose, KA videos are, on the average, pretty good. Sal Khan is the main reason; he is approachable and has a knack for making mechanical processes seem understandable. Of course, his videos are not perfect. He tends to ramble a lot and get sidetracked; he doesn’t use visuals as effectively as he could; he’s often sloppy and sometimes downright wrong with his math; and he sometimes omits topics from his subjects that really need to be there (LU decomposition in linear algebra, for example). But on balance, KA is a great resource for the niche in which it was designed to work: giving demonstrations of mechanical processes.

But let’s also be honest about what Khan Academy is not. Khan Academy is not a substitute for an actual course of study in mathematics. It is not a substitute for a live teacher. And it is not a coherent curriculum of study that engages students at all the cognitive levels at which they need to be engaged. It’s OK that it’s not these things. We don’t walk into a Mexican restaurant and fault it for not serving spaghetti. I don’t fault Khan Academy for not being a complete educational resource, because it wasn’t designed for that purpose. Again, Khan Academy is a great resource for the niche in which it was designed to work. But when you try to extend it out of that niche — as Bill Gates and others would very much like to do — all kinds of things go wrong.

When we say that someone has “learned” a subject, we typically mean that they have shown evidence of mastery not only of basic cognitive processes like factual recall and working mechanical exercises but also higher-level tasks like applying concepts to new problems and judging between two equivalent concepts. A student learning calculus, for instance, needs to demonstrate that s/he can do things like take derivatives of polynomials and use the Chain Rule. But if this is all they can demonstrate, then it’s stretching it to say that the student has “learned calculus”, because calculus is a lot more than just executing mechanical processes correctly and quickly. To say that it is not — that knowledge of calculus consists in the ability to perform algorithmic processes quickly and accurately — is to adopt an impoverished definition of the subject that renders a great intellectual pursuit into a collection of party tricks.

Even if the student can solve optimization or related rates problems just like the ones in the book and in the lecture — but doesn’t know how to start if the optimization or related rates problem does not match their template — then the student hasn’t really learned calculus. At that point, those “applied” problems are just more mechanical processes. We may say the student has learned about calculus, but when it comes to the uses of the subject that really matter — applying calculus concepts to ambiguous and/or complex problems, choosing the best of equivalent methods or results, creating models to solve novel problems — this student’s calculus knowledge is not of much use.

Khan Academy is great for learning about lots of different subjects. But it’s not really adequate for learning those subjects on a level that really makes a difference in the world. Learning at these levels requires more than watching videos (or lectures) and doing exercises. It takes hard work (by both the learner and the instructor), difficult assignments that get students to work at these higher levels, open channels of communication that do not just go one way, and above all a relationship between learner and instructor that engenders trust.

This is not to say that Khan Academy can’t play a useful role in learning calculus or some other subject. I don’t deny that mechanical skill is important for getting to the higher-level cognitive tasks.  But mechanical skill is a proper subset of the set of all tasks a student needs to master in order to really learn a subject. And a lecture, when well done, can teach novice learners how to think like expert learners; but in my experience with Khan Academy videos, this isn’t what happens — the videos are demos on how to finish mathematics exercises, with little modeling of the higher-level thinking skills that are so important for using mathematics in the real world. So the kinds of learning objectives that Khan Academy videos focus on are important — but they’re not enough. And I’m troubled when people say that it is enough, that Khan Academy videos are great because “they work”, and redefine mathematics to be the study of how to perform hand-calculations and pass mathematics exams.

One last thing for this post. I’m not a Khan Academy hater. I’ve used the videos for a long time — I think as far back as 2008, and definitely before KA made it big. I’ve assigned KA videos many times and will continue to do so, in the right amounts and the right contexts. And I believe online video is an idea whose time has really come in education. I’m not jealous of, or threatened by, Khan Academy in the slightest. But I’m not an uncritical fan, either, and we need to look at carefully at Khan Academy before we adopt it, whole-cloth, as the future of education.

Title Colleges Face More Drama Ahead

TIMES, Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012

University of Virginia Reinstates President, But Colleges Face More Drama Ahead

By Kayla Webley

Trustees at the University of Virginia voted unanimously on Tuesday to reinstate the president they ousted just two weeks ago. But while the decision to restore Teresa Sullivan to the position she had held since August 2010 brings to an end days of swirling uncertainty, speculation and campus protests, the issues the drama brought to the forefront are likely to echo across college campuses nationwide for months to come.

Rector Helen Dragas, the head of the university board (known as the Board of Visitors) — and an individual widely seen as an instigator for Sullivan’s removal in the first place — said she hoped the decision would reunite the campus community. “It’s time to bring the university family back together,” she said at the meeting, according to Inside Higher Ed. For her part, Sullivan said she and the trustees need to work together to put the debacle behind them. “I need to have your support,” she said, according to Inside Higher Ed. “I need you to reach out to your networks around the commonwealth and the world to help us move forward.”

 The reunification is desperately needed on the campus that has been in upheaval following the sudden announcement of Sullivan’s departure on June 10. In the days since, the board’s vice rector stepped down, one professor resigned in protest, and students and faculty held rallies in support of the popular president on campus and spray painted the word “GREED” on the columns of the school’s famed Rotunda building. The chaos intensified on June 19 when the board ignored demands from the faculty to offer a more detailed explanation for why it pushed Sullivan out, and met in a closed door session to appoint an interim president. Tuesday’s decision came after Governor Robert McDonnell, who appoints the board members, threatened to ask the entire board to step down if it was unable to decide conclusively whether to reinstate Sullivan or move on without her.

In a lengthy statement applauding the decision, McDonnell said, “The past few weeks have not been easy for the University, and all those who love it. There has been too little transparency; too much vitriol. Too little discussion; too much blame. Now, with today’s Board action, the time has come for Mr. Jefferson’s University to move forward. The statements made today by Board members and President Sullivan were poignant and gracious and set the right tone for collaboration ahead.”

But while the decision resolves the immediate situation in Charlottesville, the reaction around the country over the past two weeks makes clear that there are deep divisions in academia over how to run a university at a time when virtually all public universities are grappling with dwindling financial resources.

Here are three key issues to watch in the coming months:

PROFESSORS OR CEOS? Should a university campus be run like a business? The reactions to Sullivan’s dismissal showed clearly that while many faculty members believe academic credentials should trump other considerations in the president’s role, others increasingly worry that the job is more akin to CEO — a role most academics have little experience with. If the worriers are right, colleges need business acumen at the top to take quicker, more decisive action than is typical of academia, move more responsively to changes in the marketplace and balance budgets.

THE MOOC FACTOR One of the more contentions issues that emerged in the Sullivan saga was uncertainty over how higher education is being altered by the rise of MOOCs, or massively open online courses. After the UVA student newspaper submitted a FOIA request, the university released several emails from Rector Dragas that indicate she and others were keenly aware of the attention elite schools like Harvard and Stanford were getting for starting up MOOCs, a trend that some experts say will fundamentally alter college education.

 RISINGS COSTS FOR STUDENTS Over the past year, state funding for higher education has declined by nearly 8%. What that means: at a time when demand for degrees is at an all-time high, there is $6 billion less being funneled into the nation’s public colleges and universities. As resources dwindle, universities are left with little choice but to put more of the financial burden on students who are already taking on record levels of debt. To compensate for the lack of funds, universities face decisions about shrinking the number of enrollment slots they can offer, recruiting more students from out-of-state and even internationally, cutting back on the number of courses offered and scaling back the number of full-time professors they employ.

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A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education

A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education

Bill Gates

Bill Gates never finished college, but he is one of the single most powerful figures shaping higher education today. That influence comes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, perhaps the world’s richest philanthropy, which he co-chairs and which has made education one of its key missions.

The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Gates in an exclusive interview Monday to talk about his vision for how colleges can be transformed through technology. His approach is not simply to drop in tablet computers or other gadgets and hope change happens—a model he said has a “really horrible track record.” Instead, the foundation awards grants to reformers working to fix “inefficiencies” in the current model of higher education that keep many students from graduating on time, or at all. And he argues for radical reform of college teaching, advocating a move toward a “flipped” classroom, where students watch videos from superstar professors as homework and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities. As he put it, “having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing.”

The Microsoft founder doesn’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, he describes the foundation’s process as one of continual refinement: “to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners to do things.”

The interview comes on the eve of Mr. Gates’s keynote speech at an event Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the nationwide system of land-grant colleges. The “convocation” will be held in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.

Below: A complete transcript of the conversation. First: Three video excerpts from the chat. (We’ll post additional clips throughout the week.)

On Business’s Role in Higher Education

View video here

“If you’re engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that’s a bad thing.”

On Tablets in the Classroom

View video here

“Just giving people devices … has a really horrible track record.”

On the Meaning of MOOC’s

View video here

“Even though I only have a high-school degree, I’m a professional student.”

Q. You have been interested in education for quite a while. I was looking back at your 1995 book, The Road Ahead, and you laid out a vision of education and how it could be transformed with technology. It seems like some of that vision is still only just emerging, so many years later. Did it take longer than you thought it would?

A. Oh sure. Education has not been changed. That is, institutional education, whether it’s K-12 or higher education, has not been substantially changed by the Internet. And we’ve seen that with other waves of technology. Where we had broadcast TV people thought would change things. We had early time-sharing computing—so-called CAI, computer-assisted instruction—where people could do these drills, and people thought that would change things. So it’s easy to say that people have been overoptimistic in the past. But I think this wave is quite different. I think it’s more fundamental. And we can say that individual education has changed. That is, for the highly-motivated student, the ability to go online and find lectures of various length—to see class materials—there’s a lot of people who are learning far better because of those materials. But it’s much harder to then take it for the broad set of students in the institutional framework and decide, OK, where is technology the best and where is the face-to-face the best. And they don’t have very good metrics of what is their value-added. If you try and compare two universities, you’ll find out a lot more about the inputs—this university has high SAT scores compared to this one. And it’s sort of the opposite of what you’d think. You’d think people would say, “We take people with low SATs and make them really good lawyers.” Instead they say, “We take people with very high SATs and we don’t really know what we create, but at least they’re smart when they show up here so maybe they still are when we’re done with them.” So it’s a field without a kind of clear metric that then you can experiment and see if you’re still continuing to achieve it.

Q. So who’s to blame? Are there things like the U.S. News rankings or other pressures that give colleges the wrong incentives?

A. Well there certainly is a perverse set of incentives to a lot of universities to compete for the best students. And whether that comes out in terms of being more selective or investing in sort of the living experience, it’s probably not where you’d like the innovation and energy to go. You’d like it to go into the completion rates, the quality of the employees that get generated by the learning experience. The various rankings have focused on the input side of the equation, not the output.

Q. There’s a moving moment in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs that describes a time when you visited Mr. Jobs at his house not long before his passing, and the two you reflected on the innovations you both led in technology. I understand that one thing Steve Jobs asked you that day was about how technology could change education. What did you tell him?

A. Well, I’d been involved in the education space because of my full-time foundation work. And so I’d been able to get out to various charter schools, to inner-city high schools, to community colleges, different universities, and learn about the financial situation about what discourages kids. And based on that, you get more of a sense of, OK where can technology come in? If the kids don’t have to come to the campus quite as often, that would be good. But then what’s the element that technology can’t deliver? And it’s through that that I really have developed a lot of optimism that we can build a hybrid. Something that’s not purely digital but also that the efficiency of the face-to-face time is much greater. Where you take the kid who’s demotivated or confused, or where something needs to be a group collaboration as opposed to the lecture. So I talked about the vision and what type of innovators we should draw in.

Q. Getting to some of those ideas, you’re famously not a college graduate, since you left Harvard early to start Microsoft. So I’m curious what you think of EdX out of Harvard and MIT. What do you think of that model of certificates or badges for taking free online courses?

A. Well at the end of the day you’ve got to have something that employers really believe in. And today what they believe in by and large are degrees. And if you have a great degree then you’re considered for jobs, and if you don’t have that degree there’s a lot of jobs you won’t get consideration for. And so the question is, Can we transform this credentialing process? And in fact the ideal would be to separate out the idea of proving your knowledge from the way you acquire that knowledge. So even though I only have a high-school degree, I am a professional student. That is, I like to watch courses and do things online. So things like OpenCourseWare, the various lectures that have been put online, I consume a lot of those because I’m very interested.

Q. That’s interesting. I’m hearing a lot about that idea in the tech industry—such as companies like Microsoft trying to hire programmers—but do you think this could work as well in things like humanities fields where it’s harder to measure mastery?

A. Well, there are a lot of fields where things are fairly objective. If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, there are various exams that are given for those things. There are softer areas, like you want to be a salesman or something, but it’s not even clear what college degree is appropriate for that. Employers have decided that having the breadth of knowledge that’s associated with a four-year degree is often something they want to see in the people they give that job to. So instead of testing for that different profession, they’ll be testing that you have that broader exposure.

Q. The Gates Foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to traditional universities and to some new upstart players in higher education. But with that amount it would be possible to build a new campus of your own—have you considered starting your own university?

A. Well, we have a couple of people who are starting new universities that we’re getting behind. They’re looking at low-cost models where they figure out the right student pool, where they use technology the right way.

For us, our role is different than that. Our role is to make sure that the universities that are out there that already have a lot of professors, a lot of real estate, a lot of reputation, that if there’s ways that they can do things better, like looking at their completion rates and saying, OK, what are the best-practices? And seeing a student who seems to be disengaged, what do you to do to get them re-engaged?

Even these top universities often only have a 60-percent completion rate. And the average university will have something like a 30-percent completion rate. So you have an immense amount of wasted resource, and students who end up with a big loan and sort of a negative experience in terms of their own self-confidence. And so that failing student is a disaster for everyone. And yet there’s been surprisingly little put into finding out who does it well. Even universities knowing their completion rates. It’s only been recently with some things we and others have gotten behind that there have been standard metrics and a willingness to share what is actually a fairly embarrassing statistic for these universities and be able to say if somebody’s got 80 percent, what are they doing? Is it the pool of people they bring in or what they’re doing when they get there?

Q. The role of business in higher education is a hot topic these days. Many new online-education efforts are run by companies, and in some ways the controversy at the University of Virginia over the forced resignation of the president there was partly about how fast the institution should move online and adopt a more business-style approach. What would you say to those who worry that businesses, and in some cases even foundations like yours, are becoming too influential at traditional colleges?

A. Well, if you’re against completion and measuring completion then, yeah, we’re a real problem. Because we’re saying, Hey, maybe we ought to look at that. Because budgets are so tight we’re going to have to find best practices there, and if you’re engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that’s a bad thing.

Our goal is pretty simple: Seeing the U.S. education system as a real gem. As the thing that’s provided broad opportunity and made the country do very well. And so the question is how do we renew that when others have looked at what we do well and copied a lot of those things. And so their universities are getting a lot better. Their completion rates are better than ours. Their efficiency rates are better than ours. The number of students who go into science and math are better than ours. What is it that we need to do to strengthen this fundamental part of our country that both in a broad sort of economic level and an individual-rights level is the key enabler. And it’s amazing how little effort’s been put into this. Of saying, OK, why are some teachers at any different level way better than others? You’ve got universities in this country with a 7-percent completion rate. Why is it that they don’t come under pressure to change what they’re doing to come up with a better way of doing things? So if casting light on the current state of the system is a good thing, then we’re a positive change. And if not, then people could feel differently.

Q. In blunter terms, some have asked what makes successful business people—even if they are successful at business—qualified to weigh in on the operation of universities?

A. Well, obviously anything that has to do with the universities is going to be figured out by people who’ve worked in universities, and it’s going to be piloted in universities. I don’t think there’s any business people who are just walking out of their office door and walking over to a university and saying, Hey, reorganize your university this way. I’ve never heard of that. What we do is we fund universities who are on the cutting edge. And so it’s people from universities who apply and say, Hey, I want to do this next-generation learning. Because you need the people doing the neat content, and the people who actually sit with the students and motivate the students and help them when they’re confused, help them with the labs, you need those elements to come together.

Take remedial math, which is an absolute disaster. What destroys more self-confidence than any other educational thing in America is being assigned to some remedial math when you get into some college, and then it’s not taught very well and you end up with this sense of, Hey, I can’t really figure those things out. If we can take and bring the right technical things and people things to that, then that would make a huge difference.

So all the grants are to people in universities, and, yes, some people in universities disagree with other people in universities. But if you have a sense that completion is a good thing, then you’re all eventually going to come to a consensus that yes, we can improve.

Q. Still, these grants do create an incentive—and it’s not just your foundation, it’s all foundations—to work toward the goals that the foundation has set out. It sounds like your argument is that you’re placing a variety of bets, in a way, rather than telling universities that this is the way that it should be done with your grant money, which is pretty powerful.

A. We bet on the change agents within the universities. And so, various universities come to us and say, We have some ideas about completion rates, here are some things we want to try out, it’s actually budget that holds us back from being able to do that. People come to us and say, We want to try a hybrid course where some piece is online, some piece is not, and we’re aiming this at the students that are in the most need, not just the most elite. So that’s who we’re giving grants to, people who are trying out new things in universities. Now the idea that if you have a few universities that figure out how to do things well. how do you spread these best practices, that’s a tough challenge. It’s not the quite same way as in the private sector that if somebody’s doing something better, the price signals force that to be adopted broadly. Here, things move very slowly even if they are an improvement.

Q. Some of what you’ve been talking about is getting people to completion by weeding out extraneous courses. There’s a concern by some that that might create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without the citizenship focus of that broad liberal-arts degree.

A. Right now, a lot of the institutions that are all-access are essentially overloaded. That is, if you’re trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time you’ll find yourself constantly not able to get into various required courses. And so if you’re taking more years and more courses simply because you’re being held out of the ones that are required for your degree, that’s a real problem. And there’s not very good metrics about that. Costs are being constrained because the state money is going down. They can only raise tuition a certain amount, and what happens is the federal support for tuition is really very up in the air, like so many elements of the federal budget right now. And so yes, it is important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus, versus they’re just marking time because they’re being held up because the capacity doesn’t exist in the system to let them do what they want to do. As you go through the student survey data, it’s mostly the latter. But I’m the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things. And hopefully, if these courses are appealing enough, we can get people even after they’ve finished a college degree to want to go online and take these courses.

Q. At a conference in 2010, your said that in five years, “placed-based colleges,” would be less important because of the rise of some of these video-based options and credentials. Should traditional college leaders be worried about their place-based model?

A. If they want to innovate, they should be worried about whether they’re going to pick the right things and innovate in the right way. If the point is, can you just stay the same, I think the answer is no. Other countries are sending more kids to college. They’re getting higher completion rates. They’ve moved ahead of us. The cost of an education just keeps going up. So you’ve go to see if you can change the way the system works. Having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing. On the other hand, having a bunch of kids come into a small study group where peers help each other, where you can explain why you’re learning these various topics, that will be even more important. And so the skill sets that you want on the university campus and that you’re really valuing and measuring and giving feedback to, I think those are shifting somewhat because we can take the lecture piece versus that study-group piece and make the lecture piece more of a shared element, and not have to have that duplicated again and again.

Yes, universities are somewhat reluctant to give up a piece. So it’s not clear who those innovators will be. But I think its time is coming.

Q. Tablet computers are big these days. The Surface tablet was just released by Microsoft last week, and iPads are all over campuses, but it doesn’t sound like your approach has been to give devices to students and hope things change that way. What do you think needs to happen for factors like tablets to really make a difference? Or is that not even part of the equation?

A. Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.

But the device is not the key limiting factor at this point, at least in most countries. If we ever get the curriculum to be super, super good, then the access piece, which is the most expensive part, will be challenging, requiring special policies to let people get access. The device, you’ll be able to check out of the library a portable PC, so I don’t see that as the key thing right now.

Q. Is there a professor or teacher who inspired you to get into education? And of all the things that your foundation could invest in, why higher education, and where does that passion come from?

A. For the United States, I think the main area that will determine whether we retain our traditional strength or not is what we do in the education system, and I put K-12 and higher ed into that.

In higher ed, there’s a part of it that has been extremely strong in the U.S.—the best in the world. You know it hasn’t been easy for other people to do what we’ve done well. But for the first time now, we see them doing some of those things. The top universities in China, like Tsinghua, is a world-class university, absolutely in the top 50 universities in the world. So we have to double-down, particularly when there’s new opportunity, which technology is bringing, and when there’s a challenge, which all these budget issues are pretty dramatic in that regard. So there’s nothing more catalytic. There’s nothing that was more important to me in terms of the kind of opportunity I had personally. I went to a great high school. I went to a great university. I only went three years, but it doesn’t matter; it was still extremely valuable to me to be in that environment. And I had fantastic professors throughout that whole thing. And so, if every kid could have that kind of education, we’d achieve a lot of goals both at the individual and country level.

Q. As a foundation, what’s next? Do you see new areas, maybe domestic health care, say, or are there other new sectors that the foundation might get into?

A. Basically no, because until we achieve our goals in the areas we picked—globally, it’s really health, agriculture, things having to do with helping poor people, and here in the U.S. it’s education—because these are tough-enough problems. We want to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners. And so until we’ve done something quite dramatic, which in the best case would be in 10 to 20 years, we’re not going to move on and do something else. So we’ve really picked our areas and hopefully every year we get a little bit better in how we pursue them.

Q. What did you learn from K-12 that you’re bringing to higher ed?

A. In K-12 you learn a lot about the motivational aspects. Why should somebody learn algebra? It’s so far away in terms of connecting that with a job or any life outcome. And how to make things interesting. K-12 has been more homogenized in terms of how it’s done: what the standards are, what the personnel system looks like. One of the strengths of higher ed is the variety. But the variety has also meant that if somebody is doing something particularly well, it’s hard to map that across a lot of different institutions. There aren’t very many good metrics. At least in high schools we can talk about dropout rates. Completion rate was really opaque, and not talked about a lot. The quality-measure things are equally different. We don’t have a gold standard like SAT scores or No Child Left Behind up at the collegiate level. And of course, kids are more dispersed in terms of what their career goals are at that point. So it’s got some things that make it particularly challenging, but it has a lot in common, and I’d say it’s equally important to get it right.

Correction (6/26/12, 11:26 a.m.): This article was corrected to fix a typo. “Tsinghua” University had been misspelled. 

New York Times 기사-flipped learning

Classroom Lectures Go Digital

Published: June 24, 2012
The virtual teacher has arrived — flickering away on a screen on a school bus, in a bunk bed or in the shade of a beach umbrella, and turning traditional education on its head.
Thanks to digital media like video-on-demand broadcasts, or VODcasts, lectures that students would normally receive in the classroom are migrating outside of brick and mortar schools.
TED, the global organization that specializes in both conferences and online inspirational talks, has taken the idea a step further with TED-Ed , a Web site with educational videos that can be customized. The site was announced in April. The idea is to use both educators and animators to produce videos for the site, which also has a YouTube channel.
“It’s a better fit for education in the 21st century,” Chris Anderson, the head of TED, said at a news conference in Tokyo in late May. “It’s the next logical step in TED’s evolution.”
“TED-Ed was founded as a way of empowering teachers, as well as giving a large platform for great teachers to produce their talks or lessons on video for the world,” he added.
This spring also saw the introduction of the new Flipped Learning Network, another online aid for educators. According to its Web site “flipped learning” refers to a technique inwhich students watch classes via video — the argument is that teachers do not need to be present in person when a group listens to a lecture passively — thereby saving physical classroom time for individual tutoring or small groups.
The idea of flipped learning has been around for several years; the fifth annual Flipped conference was just held in Chicago last week. According to its Web site, it began when two teachers decided to address the problem of students’ skipping classes at their rural Colorado school. They added audio and annotations to PowerPoint slide shows, and started presenting their classes online in 2007.
Michelle Rinehart, a mathematics and science teacher at Rankin High School in Rankin, Texas, started “flipped” teaching and created video lessons for her students a year ago. “It’s not about the videos — it’s about the powerful class time we regain for higher-order thinking activities,” she said. “Students appreciate the increased assistance and collaboration they receive with this model.”
She emphasizes the importance of making her own videos rather than taking others’ work off the Internet.
Teaching via video is not new. Open University in Britain has offered distance higher education since the early 1970s, mostly through television and video in the beginning, and now through the Internet.
Today, the Khan Academy, a nonprofit institution backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, offers nearly 3,000 free instructional videos on subjects as varied as Mayan civilization and calculus.
In 2010, Mr. Gates told a conference in California that the best lectures in the world would be found online and for free in five years time.
Gráinne Conole, director of the Beyond Distance Research Alliance in Britain, said that young learners were so accustomed to the digital world that it was the only way to reach them.
“I think the Ted-Ed stuff is excellent, very engaging, and a lot of people seem to be aware of it,” she said. “More generally, I think there are increasing amounts of rich open educational resources, multimedia and online seminars now being made available.”
The use of digital resources may even help reverse the downward trend in U.S. education standards.
According to a 2011 report by the Computing Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA, 65 percent of U.S. teachers surveyed believed that students were more productive than they had been three years earlier because of increased reliance on technology in the classroom.
But before technology replaces real live teachers entirely, education experts urge caution in rolling out new resources.
“The discussion needs to focus on how people teach and learn, their needs and the choices they make,” said Alejandro Armellini, senior learning designer at the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester. “If the technology becomes the driver, e.g. ‘let’s do X because this technology here is really cool’ — regardless of need or preference, we have problems.”
A version of this article appeared in print on June 25, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.