To do what needs doing

Michael Ellsberg has a book out called The Education of Millionaires, which outlines the 7 key skills you need to know to become a millionaire like college drop-outs Zuckerberg or Gates. The argument, loosely, is:

  1. yes college can teach you many wonderful things
  2. but those things do not transfer easily to the real world.
  3. various millionaires have done really well without a university degree
  4. so at worst, higher education may actually get in the way
  5. at best it obscures the key skills money-making college drop-outs like Dell and Gates have learned.

Vartan Gregorian has an excellent review.Along with the standard defence of liberal arts as a preparation for the ups and downs of life, one point in particular struck a chord.

What is also left out of the debate about higher education is that its purpose is not just to provide a pathway paved with gold for the nation’s elites. If we frame the discussion that way, we may unintentionally serve to disparage the people who are in charge of the daily management, maintenance and smooth operation of our civilization — the men and women who deliver our mail, comprise our police force, serve in our military, work in our libraries, teach our elementary school children, and devote themselves to a thousand other jobs that, if not performed with responsibility, commitment and creativity, would undermine the basic structures of our society. Though these individuals may not be reaching for the kind of stars that Michael Ellsberg and others would have them aspire to grasp, most are doing something even more important: they are engaging in the useful tasks of good citizens and contributing to the common welfare, including providing for their families. And perhaps they are even carrying out what Marcus Aurelius called “one of our assignments in life … to do what needs doing.”

Spot on, in my book. Any mass educational system will have a hard time dealing with those at either end of a bell-curve. But surely the failures of these systems to cope with exceptional cases does not invalidate them? Rather than eulogising these exceptional cases – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg – as icons in the fight against an impractical education, they should be celebrated, I think, for having the self-awareness to decide that college was not for them. No less, no more.


The Pedagogy of Oxford Tutorials

It’s funny how blind one can be.

This article, by Robert Beck, outlines the Pedagogy of the Oxford Tutorial system, the jewel in the University’s crown.

Essentially the process is research (reading, writing, lectures, chatting with friends) – essay – presentation of essay – discussion with tutor.

A couple of things caught my eye, now that I have a teacher’s hat on.

First, a comment about marks:

there is an extreme aversion among the Oxford tutors in my study to provide letter grade evaluations to essays. While formative feedback, nuanced notes and other annotations are used copiously, there was no tendency to grade essays, which is regarded as inhibiting motivation. Why? Perhaps, because grading violates the open-ended quality of the tutorial and suggests a sense of finality or, at least, may be taken that way

Second, an observation about feedback loops:

When a tutor asks a question about some claim within a student’s essay or presentation, he or she is requesting information from the student, but the intent may also range from uncertainty, to doubt, and even outright dispute and opposition. While the phrasing of the question may be subtle, relatively non-specific, and indirect (“what are you getting at here?) or direct and specific (why do you claim that economic factors alone led to WWII?) or challenging (Aren’t you dead-wrong about this?), in each case the tutor is referring to possible errors in the student’s argument. At the very least, the tutor is indicating that more information is needed to answer the question and is offering clues in potentially useful directions. But when the student responds to such questions, the answer may indicate further problems in the student’s thinking, and the tutor’s subsequent feedback in the next exchange(s) will indicate how adequate the answer was, thus pointing out additional errors; for example, the student may not have understood the question or may have provided answers that are deficient in evidence or a relevant warrant (Toulmin, 1958).

This process is very different than the mindreading and guessing games some teachers employ when they ask: who knows the capital of Wisconsin? Rather, in tutorials questions and feedback are used to induce students to repair their reasoning, although some direct corrections of information are inevitable. … In fact, on close examination of this process, I have observed that the tutorial hour involves an almost continuous formative assessment of students’ arguments that result in the identification of many points of error, some of which may be repaired successfully by students. And, in this process, contrary to argumentation theory, the object is not explicit agreement between tutor and student, but to induce the student to make his own repairs to his argument and thus, to learn to think for himself.

So there’s metacognition, project-based learning, assessment for learning and more in the Tutorial System.

I grew up in Oxford. My father’s a don. I worked as a research associate in Oxford for a couple of years. And I have only just made the link between home turf and modern schooling. Depressing really.


Moving Beyond the Course to Micro-labs

A normal class defines both the required learning outcomes and the required inputs (the homework, projects, group assignments etc.) that students must experience in order to (hopefully) arrive at the required outcomes. In other words, the professor decides, not only what the students should learn but also how they should learn.

This factory model for education is growing increasingly untenable as the world grows more complex. Today's students graduate into a world of far greater uncertainty and far greater diversity as the formerly monolithic landscape dominated by a few large companies grows increasing fragmented and diversified.

The core idea is that micro-lab classes adapts to its learners instead of requiring its learners to adapt to the class. This is the central idea of many web 2.0 applications. … In a similar way, the micro-lab course provides an architecture for students to build learning communities and use learning objects of their choosing.

Source: here

Private school students ‘moving to the state’ – Telegraph

More than a quarter of teenagers now opt out of independent schools at 16 after completing GCSEs, it was disclosed.

The shift is believed to be driven by rising fees coupled with perceived improvements to state schools and sixth-form colleges.

It was also suggested that more parents were moving sons and daughters to the state sector amid fears that privately-educated teenagers face discrimination from leading universities attempting to “socially engineer” student numbers.

Source: here

15 Cool High School, College and University Building Designs | WebUrbanist

If all high school, college and university campuses looked like this, attendance rates would skyrocket. Some may argue that it’s what’s inside that’s important, but there’s no reason for school buildings to be bland, boring boxes. From a big open high school where students lounge on big pillows all day to a university building created by Frank Gehry, these 15 incredible campus building designs may just inspire a whole new generation of innovative architects.

Source: here

Links for April 28th

  • 3quarksdaily >> Epidemic Thinking
    “the risks that kill people and the risks that upset people are completely different. If you know that a risk kills people, you have no idea whether it upsets them or not. If you know it upsets them, you have no idea whether it kills them or not. “
    Tags: statistics risk fear
  • Warren Ellis » The Machines Of Desire
    I come from the classic British tradition, where science fiction is social fiction. Therefore, in my head, the most valid way to come to terms with The Age Of Giant Fictional Machines and the terrifying miasmic presence of the 21st century is in fact to frame the whole discussion in terms of monstrous chunks of implausible technology, remaking the world by drilling or blasting or generally stabbing it with nuclear-driven metal bits, trying to stop things from exploding, and having the Cigarette Of Victory afterwards.

    I think stories like these contain important lessons for our children.

    My child, of course, watches SUPERNATURAL and gets all her news from MOCK THE WEEK. So we?re all doomed anyway. But I wanted to note the thought down
    Tags: culture technology scifi British stories imagination children

  • Op-Ed Contributor – End the University as We Know It – NYTimes.com
    The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.
    Tags: education academia university curriculum
  • Revolutionary Espresso Book Machine launches in London | Books | guardian.co.uk
    It’s not elegant and it’s not sexy ? it looks like a large photocopier ? but the Espresso Book Machine is being billed as the biggest change for the literary world since Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 500 years ago and made the mass production of books possible. Launching today at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road branch in London, the machine prints and binds books on demand in five minutes, while customers wait.
    Tags: books technology publishing innovation london printing
  • The Long Now Blog » Blog Archive » Introducing The Long News
    Each weekday, The New York Times prints around 125 news stories. That?s just one newspaper; add in all other newspapers, plus television, radio, and the internet, and it?s clear thousands upon thousands of news stories are generated every day.

    But how many of these stories will make a difference next year? A decade from now? A century? Ten thousand years?

    That?s the idea behind The Long News: to try to identify news stories whose significance seems likely to grow, rather than diminish, over time.
    Tags: future time slow news journalism

  • Stephen Fry lampoons Digital Britain
    Speaking at the Digital Britain Summit on Friday, Fry said that if people found value in the internet, they would naturally learn to use it, rather than be forced to. “We live in a world dominated by the car and it is useful to know how to drive, yet I don’t see debates and steering committees to tell people how to use traffic”
    Tags: UK digital traffic adoption learning
  • Screencast-O-Matic
    free and easy way to create a video recording of your screen (aka screencast) and upload it for free hosting all from your browser with no install
    Tags: screencast video tools free
  • Technology and Education – list of useful tools

    Tags: tools education games software free ict

Links for March 2nd

  • russell davies: fair play
    “where this thing really scored is in an element I’ve not noticed in a lot of the talk about play – fairness. And kids are utterly, utterly obsessed with fairness. It’s the most important element in any game. And human rule-enforcement is automatically deemed unfair. There is no referee, umpire or god-like grandparent that can escape being seen as unfair at some point, for some decision. But the commanding voice of Cosmic Catch escapes all that. The relentless, ineluctable judgement of the RFID machine brooks no argument, is prey to no human frailties and biases and is immediately seen as fair. Or actually Fair. Or even FAIR.

    All of which makes for better playing. “
    Tags: games children rfid toys fairness

  • How Not To Sort By Average Rating
    [via anu]CORRECT SOLUTION: Score = Lower bound of Wilson score confidence interval for a Bernoulli parameter

    Say what: We need to balance the proportion of positive ratings with the uncertainty of a small number of observations. Fortunately, the math for this was worked out in 1927 by Edwin B. Wilson”
    Tags: maths statistics programming rating algorithms

  • Academic Earth – Video lectures from the world’s top scholars
    “Thousands of video lectures from the world’s top scholars.”
    Tags: reference video education videos free university

Links for July 11th