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