Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller talks about MOOCs

The MySlideRule Blog has an interesting interview with last year’s Economics Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller, where part of the time, they talked about MOOCs and the future of education

Considering that he loves to teach, and teaches a 300-person freshman class at Yale, and his Financial Markets online course had over 165,000 students registered, he should have a good understanding of the potential of MOOCs.

Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview:

How does teaching on Coursera compare with teaching on campus at Yale? Are online courses the future?

Technology changes society, but not always in the way people expect. The need for community and social connection is stronger than most technologists believe. In 1876, when the telephone was invented, people thought cities would disappear, but it didn’t happen.

The human mind requires a sense of relationship, and social connection. MOOCs do these things better than textbooks, but still have a long way to go. My Yale classes are big (the latest had over 300 students), so I don’t get to know most of the students. Yet, there is a sense of community. And that’s important.

Are you saying that the online course was less effective?

I’m saying that it’s not as easy to build deep connections in an online course. On Coursera, I held office hours and responded to questions. Yet, I found myself spending more time thinking about my 300 Yale students than my 165,000 Coursera students, because I saw my Yale students every week.

I felt guilty for paying less attention to the larger number of students, but I couldn’t help the deeper feelings I felt for my on-campus students.

So, does this mean that Schiller does not think that the “massively” part of “massively online open courses” is really going to work?

So what does this mean for the future of education?

Online classes are here to stay, but perhaps the right answer is ordinary-sized classes rather than the “massive” classes currently in prevalence. I suspect the future will involve smaller online class sizes, more interaction with faculty.

There is a large opportunity in making online classes resemble traditional education more closely. For instance, tools to create better relationships even at a distance, record of professors’ communication with each student so they can refresh their memories.

Read the full article

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play

The Atlantic has an interesting article on by Tim Walker on How Schools in Finland Keep Kids Focused Through Free Play.

Having come from the US, Walker was surprised by the Finnish school timetables:

Normally, students and teachers in Finland take a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.

It appears that To Walker, this seemed like typical European laziness. So he decided to fix it:

As a teacher in the United States, I’d spent several consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time.

The results were not what he expected. Students started rebelling and their performance went down. So he decided to embrace the Finnish way, and was surprised by the results:

Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.

At first, I was convinced that I had made a groundbreaking discovery: frequent breaks kept students fresh throughout the day. But then I remembered that Finns have known this for years; they’ve been providing breaks to their students since the 1960s.

But is anecdotal evidence like this conclusive? Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on just Walker’s story. There is actually research by Anthony Pelligrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development and emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota—who has praised this approach for more than a decade.

Not satisfied with anecdotal evidence alone, Pellegrini and his colleagues ran a series of experiments at a public elementary school to explore the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break. They also found that the children were less attentive when the timing of the break was delayed—or in other words, when the lesson dragged on.

Sending children out for recess and then having to collect them again in a 15 minutes might not be practical for all schools. But, the interesting point is that the break does not have to be outside.

Although I favor the Finnish model, I realize that unleashing fifth graders on the playground every hour would be a huge shift for most schools. According to Pellegrini, breaks don’t have to be held outdoors to be beneficial. In one of his experiments at the public elementary school, students had their recess times inside the school and the results matched those of other experiments where students took their breaks outside

And the most important fact, that some people need to realize is that the converse is also true: Just because you give kids breaks, they are not going to be useful, if the activity during the breaks is directed by the teachers:

What’s most important is not where kids take breaks but how much freedom we give them from their structured work. When break times are teacher-directed, Pelligrini found, the recess loses its value. It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge—they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.

Read the full article

Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t. -NYTimes

The New York Times has an interesting article which argues that Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

However, looking at data carefully gives a different picture.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities.

Specifically, just because the best universities in the US are the best universities in the world, does not mean that the average universities in the US are better than the average universities in the rest of the world, or even as good.

Because:

International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

Looking at the impact of average universities on the average population is a different way to evaluate a country’s higher education program.

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the O.E.C.D. published exactly such a study.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia. Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

And, the situation is getting worse:

In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

Read the full article

Education: We need a national strategy – by @MeetaSengupta

@Meeta Sengupta in LiveMint talks about the need for a national strategy for education. There are various problems at various levels with our education system. Here are her suggestions on what the government needs to do to improve things:

  • Unbox Learning: [...] Build on existing programmes to push content via multiple channels, create open libraries, let village school buildings become community learning centres after school time with open access to solar-powered connected computers. Commission science and reading vans, convert bus stops into educational game corners. Invest in creativity and research attitudes from the very beginning. Let learning be open to all, not just those who wear uniforms.
  • Unbind the education sector from these regulatory constraints, allow the private sector to participate and compete, and take on the role of good governance via agencies to ensure relentless focus on improving quality.
  • Build synergies between ministries. Let the digital literacy mission be integrated with the teachers’ mission. Vocational training and employability are inextricably linked with the labour ministry. Untangle the threads that do not allow student finance to flow freely, whether as loans, scholarships or vouchers.
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto and speeches spoke of maximum governance, minimum government. This is what education needs. Let the government provide oversight, not necessarily run operations

Read the full article where she goes into much more detail.

InnoVidya Event: Ground Water Governance in India

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni, on Groundwater governance in India: an ecosystem perspective to participatory aquifer management, on Saturday, 19 July, 2014, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni creates space for implementing the science of groundwater in the practice and policy on groundwater management. His system of aquifer-based participatory groundwater management is slowly bearing fruit on many fronts in India. He has been actively involved in the advocacy for stronger programs on groundwater management in India, through his inputs, more recently as Chairman, Working Group on Sustainable Groundwater Management for India’s 12th Five Year Plan. ACWADAM, which he co-founded with some of his teachers & peers, is working actively with various groups, networks and committees dealing with water resources across the country. Groundwater resources have held Dr. Kulkarni’s interest for nearly 30 years now. His work, both on the science of groundwater as well as on its application to socio-economic and ecological sectors is known and acknowledged in academic and development circles. He is currently working on groundwater management across India’s diverse hydrogeological typology. His work blends experience from his stints with academia, the corporate sector and, in his current position, with ACWADAM. He has travelled extensively, including to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship and to Austria as a UNESCO scholar. He has conducted hydrogeological fieldwork in all types of geological terrains in India and overseas. Dr. Kulkarni continues to publish his work extensively while providing various levels of mentorship in the field of groundwater management.

Abstract of the talk:

Groundwater governance in India must combine science, participation and regulation. India’s current groundwater scenario is a consequence of the scale and diversity of aquifers, the varying degrees of groundwater use and the significant degree of our groundwater dependence cutting across demands by agriculture, industry and household need. Developing a framework for groundwater requires an interdisciplinary perspective, although ‘hydrogeology’ remains the platform on which such a framework is built. Given India’s diverse hydrological and hydrogeological settings, the proposed approach considers fundamental principles of groundwater governance from other parts of the world, at the same time giving due importance to India’s social, economic and environmental peculiarities. This talk provides emergent contours of groundwater governance as well as a preliminary framework that is in synchronization with the fresh paradigm of water resource management enunciated in India’s 12th Five Year Plan. The approach proposed here is based on establishing that sustainable national development is only possible through groundwater governance taking an ecosystem perspective that is inclusive of both ‘aquifers’ and ‘people’s participation’.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune Campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.

India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?

Business Standard has an Opinion Column by Devesh Kapur arguing that India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?. He basically compares India with China and points out that China has very quickly become a major contributor to Science and Technology in the past few years, and India is falling behind.

This rise of China is not just about quantity: they are also improving their quality and capabilities:

Make no mistake: if a foreign institution wants to establish itself in China, it has to have a meaningful collaboration with a Chinese institution that can learn, copy and improve over time, just as Chinese businesses have done. But this self-confidence is lacking in India. If India’s political elites have been apprehensive of globalisation, the country’s intellectuals have been, for the most part, hostile; they have viewed themselves as valiant defenders of the nation against marauding foreigners. Patriotism is the best cover for self-interest.

How does India fare in comparison?

Not only is meritocracy a much more contested terrain in India, but the idea that there should be clear links between academic productivity, salaries and tenure, as in China, would meet fierce resistance from a vocal interest group, namely faculty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) rules, that faculty members in public institutions should automatically get promotions based on the length of service and have a common salary structure linked to civil service salaries set by an anachronistic authority called the Pay Commission, have reduced faculty to the status of babus. It is not surprising that so much of higher education in India – both overall regulation and the internal governance of universities – is what Pankaj Chandra, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, termed “babudom” – a regime of, for and by babus.

He goes on to lament that a very few babus in our government control the leadership positions in all our top institutions, and this can only lead to bad things:

Why should the HRD ministry have a role in the selection of an IIT or IIM director, or in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a central university? The key stakeholders are the campus community (faculty, students and staff), alumni, and, yes, the national government. At the same time, an alumnus of an IIT has a far greater emotional stake in the success and future of his alma mater than a dozen bureaucrats in the HRD ministry or the selection panels they appoint.

Read the full article

Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class

The Times of India has published an open letter from Ashish Dhawan, Anu Aga, and Amit Chandra to HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, giving her advice on Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class.

Here are the main points made by the letter:

First,:

our education system currently suffers from an apparent ‘Licence Raj’ that restricts entry and operation of private players. Even policies such as RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). These norms have led to the shutdown of a large number of affordable private schools that serve low-income students. The government must deregulate school education and treat government and private schools as equal partners in solving India’s education crisis.

Second,:

it is important not only to invest more in education but to do so more strategically. Central government should invest more resources in teacher education and development, principal training, ICT in education and assessments.

Third,:

improve quality standards through nationwide assessments. Assessments need to be at the core of any planning exercise for improving India’s education system.

Fourth,:

equip school principals to become efficient school leaders. Great leaders make great institutions, in every sphere. In schools principals are the highest point of leverage, yet their role is often restricted to administrative functions. There is a need to reimagine the role of the principal — as an instructional leader, rather than an administrator.

Fifth,:

improve teacher quality for better learning outcomes. It is unfortunate that teaching today does not attract the best talent. We need public awareness campaigns in India that are able to effectively project teaching as a rewarding and meaningful profession.

The full article has much more detail.

Skilling will power the India growth story (but there are challenges) – by @MeetaSengupta

@MeetaSengupta has an interesting article in the Hindustan Times talking about the challenges facing skills development in India

The first thing she does is point out that skills enhancement is extremely important for India, and our Demographic Dividend is useless unless we can educate all those people:

Skills development for employment and growth is on the front burner with a million new people to be trained and employed each month in India. The rise of this trained workforce is critical to India’s growth story — else who will power the engine? Without this soft infrastructure all investments in hard infrastructure are futile

Clearly, no one will disagree that across India people are interested in improving their skills, and that there are lots of companies interested in charging for training. In other words:

There is demand and supply, and yet the conversion to higher value addition  is lagging. What stands in the way?

Here are some of the problems as she sees them:

First: Accreditation

Who certifies that the skills that trainers provide are adequate and transferable across the industry? Certification must (i) be mobile, and (ii) provide an income boost.
[...]
Till the accreditation network is in place, operational and credible, few skills certificates have a market.

Second, Prior Learning Certification.

Experienced workers will not hop on to the skills bandwagon if you equate them with young starters. Give them credit for what they know, help them upgrade.

Third, Assessments.

Excerpt:

For example, the skills certification for driving licences in India has suffered because few believe it to be a credible test of skill.

There is more. Read the full article

How @BillGates caused a major education policy shift in the US: common standards

The Washington Post has a long article on how Bill Gates pulled off one of the swiftest shifts in US education policy – the common core revolution which asks for common standards of education across the various states and schools in the US.

Apparently, the problem they have is the opposite of the problem India has. Our education system is sluggish because of too much centralized control; their problem is the complete lack of centralized standards:

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

                      The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

The biggest problem in any such major shift in education policy is that it is usually a highly politicized issue with lots of stakeholders all pulling in different directions, and hence any substantial change is almost impossible to push through the mess. That’s where Bill Gates, and the Gates Foundation comes in:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

                      Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

What exactly is the common core? Here is an example:

The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments. The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts.

Read the full article

US Government to introduce a College Rating System

The New York Times has an interesting article about how colleges in the US are rattled as President Obama Seeks a Rating System for Colleges in the US. The basic idea is that colleges and universities receive about $150 billion in loans and grants from the government, and the government wants to see what all that money is buying.

What is this rating system?

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

How would this rating system work?

The rating system, which the president called for in a speech last year and is under development, would compare schools on factors like how many of their students graduate, how much debt their students accumulate and how much money their students earn after graduating. Ultimately, Mr. Obama wants Congress to agree to use the ratings to allocate the billions in federal student loans and grants. Schools that earn a high rating on the government’s list would be able to offer more student aid than schools at the bottom.

Of course there are problems, and lots of the colleges are complaining:

Many college presidents said a rating system like the one being considered at the White House would elevate financial concerns above academic ones and would punish schools with liberal arts programs and large numbers of students who major in programs like theater arts, social work or education, disciplines that do not typically lead to lucrative jobs.They also predicted that institutions that serve minority and low-income students, many of whom come from underfunded schools and have had less college preparation, would rank lowest in a new rating system, hurting the very populations the president says he wants to help.

Overall:

“As with many things, the desire to solve a complicated problem in what feels like a simple way can capture people’s imagination,” said Adam F. Falk, the president of Williams College in Massachusetts. Dr. Falk said the danger of a rating system is that information about the colleges is likely to be “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.”

Read the full article