This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (April 20-26)
[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]
It’s like being released every day. The teachers who came in were kind. They weren’t scared of us. Dr. Baker, she taught us history of music. And when I got to her test, she played 30 seconds of music. And I wrote on two white, lined papers, back and forth. Both sides were full. Then I handed it to her. She was so impressed and said, I taught at Columbia. And I’ve never – you know, I’ve never seen that.
And she wrote me this beautiful letter of recommendation. And it said I was going to graduate with honors. So I was always appreciative of her seeing that. I think being in a position where people, and you included, have been telling you how bad you are for so long that – to know that’s not always true gave me an energy that I took through the rest of the college career.
(Jose Bou, former prisoner, explaining his experience with college in prison)
Things That Caught My Attention
After decades of different technology fixes for education, the sheen of that promise seems to have dulled somewhat. I’m talking about the reality here rather than the hype.
In general, learning is messy. It proceeds at different rates for different people and there are countless variables that affect its progress. Many of these variables are somewhat unpredictable and remain outside our control. This messiness and unpredictability generally make it difficult to apply scalable, one-size-fits-all solutions and achieve great success. This is particularly true, I think when it comes to technology.
But technology far from being the only tool or practice in our education system that requires reevaluation. In his post this week, Tim Stahmer suggests we all take a look at homework. Tim Holt suggests that traditional textbooks may be another variable that merits evaluation
On Monday this past week, Elizabeth Warren announced her plans to eliminate student debt and make public college attendance almost free. We definitely need to address the rising costs of college education in the U.S. However, as this article points out, “free education doesn’t exist, because educating people costs money. Professors need to be paid, buildings need to be maintained, and degrees need to be printed. Even Warren said her plan would cost $1.2 trillion over the course of 10 years.”
Like Warren’s, most current plans and discussions about affordable college education center on who will pay for for it: the individual or the government (further subdivided into federal and state funding). Perhaps it’s time to begin reevaluating our overall goals and business models. Instead of finding more ways to subsidize today’s expensive college education, perhaps we can focus on designing college education that is actually affordable.
On a related topic, I see that there’s a new bipartisan bill in Congress that would allow incarcerated people to use federal Pell Grants — designed for low-income students — to pay for higher education, including college classes and workforce training.
“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. The bill would “give people a real chance to rebuild their lives,” Schatz said.
By the way, in case you’re wondering about the benefits of providing a college education to people in correctional centers, you might want to read about this prisoner’s experience.
Of course, on the university side of the equation, there is increased wrangling with the traditional cost of doing business and the prospects of a declining undergraduate population. How to offset those realities? For a growing number of institutions, the answer is graduate programs.
That’s in part because the net price, or the amount students actually pay after discounts and financial aid, has increased nearly twice as fast for graduate as for undergraduate programs in the 10 years ending in 2016. “Graduate school is way more expensive than undergrad,” Rivero said. Tuition and fees at the law school at St. Thomas are $42,190 a year.
Graduate students can also borrow an unlimited amount toward their educations, unlike undergraduates, whose borrowing is capped. The federal government even charges higher interest rates for graduate than for undergraduate loans: 6.6 percent, compared to 5.05 percent for undergrads.
And, if you’re looking for a quick primer on AI in education, you might find this slide deck from Inge de Waard particularly useful.
Coursera made a big splash this week by announcing that it has raised an additional $103 million. The company says it will use the cash infusion to expand its international reach and prepare learners for the rising challenges of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Coursera had found a niche through corporate partnerships and by providing a for-profit bridge between high-profile colleges and adult learners, especially those in the workforce trying to add to their skills without going back to a college campus.
Naturally, not all training requires extensive coursework. There is a great deal of training related to new company or government policies and guidelines. In these cases, the policies and guidelines (the content) already exist and what is needed is for some group to go in and create structured knowledge/compliance training around them. As Donald Clark points out in this post, AI can be an ideal tool for generating such training material efficiently.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also need workforce training that focuses on developing critical and creative thinking.
Our society is undergoing an important transition spurred by technological innovations. The development of automation, the wide-scale introduction of robots and computers are profoundly changing our society and workplace. These innovations increasingly reduce the demand for human labor in performing routine mechanical, mental and physical tasks. As a result, our society today needs more people who can be creative and innovative.
In order to meet these new needs, the educational system must foster creativity as a way of preparing young people to become productive members of modern society. Therefore, educating young people to be creative is the best way to make our education socially relevant. This is not to say that involvement in social causes or community work is not important; it most certainly is. However, enhancing students’ capacity to create, helping them gain control over their creativity, more than anything else, will make our education socially relevant.
Slack is a good example of a company with a strong vision that is forced to adapt its vision in order to align with the entrenched practices of the general public. Slack is designed to streamline communication between teams. It eliminates the need for inefficient tools like email. Unfortunately, email remains a pervasive tool in business so, if you can’t beat them… Which is why Slack announced this week that is embracing email as an option for collaboration within its platform.
I also think it’s worth noting that not all that happens in edtech happens in the Western World. Everyone should take note of the impressive edtech investment and development in China.
China saw the establishment of 97 new “unicorn” companies in 2018. That means that every 3.8 days, on average, a Chinese startup reached a valuation of at least US$1 billion. As of July 2018, among the world’s 10 largest EdTech unicorns, seven were born in China, according to a list prepared by HolonIQ. As of February 2019, CBInsights lists six EdTech unicorns, five of which were born in China.
More specifically, it’s important to note that Tencent and Alibaba have intensified their efforts in the education space. “With the capital and technology solutions garnered from the two Internet giants, more concentration effects could be generated regarding integrating data, intelligent hardware to drive education informatization in both public and private settings.”