Friday, January 29, 2010

How the iPad Could Drive Up College Tuition

(crossposted from

The below video, by e-textbook company CourseSmart, is a neat demo of the educational advantages of the iPad: keep all your textbooks in one slender, elegant package; highlight and make notes; watch embedded video and multimedia; browse the web for supplementary material; chat and collaborate with classmates and teachers as you read. These innovations are exciting for colleges that want to be tech savvy. "I do see our university replacing our [standard undergrad-issued] laptop computer with this new iPad," wrote one CIO of an Oregon university.

A bigger question is whether they can cut costs at the same time. Textbooks cost the average college student more than $1000 a year,; electronic content can be much less, especially when it's open-source. The open-license textbook company Flat World Knowledge estimated it saved students a collective $3 million just this past fall. The iPad uses the open ePub format for electronic books, which should be a boon to the burgeoning open education movement.

However, Joshua Kim, a technology blogger at Inside Higher Ed, asks whether the iPad is a "sustaining" rather than a "disruptive" innovation. The danger is that colleges spend even more money and faculty time on purchasing and developing content for these new gadgets, as they have on the generations of tech that came before, without making cuts elsewhere. This is one reason tuition keeps growing faster than inflation. "The possibilities for learning, student interaction and
enhanced campus services that the iPad unleashes will all come at a
price. Nothing about a tool as wonderful as the iPad will lower the
cost of constructing or delivering education."

That is, costs won't come down unless universities act, boldly, to fully replace part of the butts-in-seats classroom model with mobile, wireless, open-source education.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

DIY U: Coming in April 2010

Galleys are going out soon. Here's the temporary cover; I'd love to get your reaction.

From the press release: The price of college tuition has increased more than any other major good or service for the last 20 years. Nine out of 10 American high school seniors aspire to go to college, yet the United States has fallen from world leader to only the tenth most educated nation. Almost half of college students don't graduate; those who do have unprecendented levels of federal and private student loan debt, which constitutes a credit bubble similar to the mortgage crisis.
... Our choice is clear; radically change the way higher education is delivered, or resign ourselves to never having enough of it.

The roots of the word "university" and "college" both mean community. In the age of constant connectedness and social media, it's time for the monolithic, millennium-old, ivy-covered walls to undergo a phase change into something much lighter, more permeable, and fluid.

The future lies in personal learning networks and paths, learning that blends experiential and digital approaches, and open-source educational models. Increasingly, you will decide what, when, where and with whom you want to learn, and you will learn by doing. The university is the cathedral of rationality, and with our whole civilization in crisis, we are poised on the brink of Reformation.

That's Why I Chose Yale/That's Why I Chose Kaplan

While it's been maligned as "best Harvard prank ever," this campy all-singing, all-dancing recruiter spot actually shows a lot of the best my alma mater has to offer--yes, the camera lingers on the green lawns and baronial splendor, but the video spends the longest time talking about the sense of community found in smaller residential colleges, and the vibrant cultural life of the community, with dozens of chances to perform, play sports or debate.

This Kaplan commercial from last year shows the opposite picture: an intellectual community united, and freed, by technology.

The first ad is for a $140,000 product that is available to only a few thousand students at a time. The second ad is for a product that costs 40% of that ($353 per "quarter credit hour") and is available to tens of thousands, while most importantly, not requiring a full time commitment.

Both versions, I think, have their appeal, depending on your individual interests and needs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Americaland in Bad Decline: Thoughts on the Loss of the Supermajority in the US Senate

I don't normally comment on politics writ large, but here's what's going through my head on the election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat today:
American democracy doesn't work very well anymore. I'm not the only one concluding this. It fails on its most basic terms: it can't manage to enact the stated will of the majority of the people, even when that will is in accordance with the judgment of the designated experts (as it is on health care). America, as a nation, doesn't seem to be working that well either.

Obama is probably one of the best Presidents our current system could produce. But that's a very qualified statement. He is abundant in the qualities of charisma, charm and communication skills, with an impeccable sense of the symbolically apt gesture. This are the qualities that the mass/social mediapoliticosphere demands. He doesn't seem to be as strong in moral courage--the devotion to fight like a bulldog for ideas that are right, but unpopular. Or even when they are popular, but there is opposition to them.

The charming, symbolically apt thing to do was to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, on the occasion of conducting two wars, and give a really great speech about it. The morally courageous thing to do would have been to refuse it.

Anyway, so American democracy: worn out. World government: not yet ready for prime time (cf Copenhagen). Yet people are suffering tragically and the world faces huge threats looming on the horizon. How then is the conscientious person to try to make change?

I think it's a good idea generally to try to work through institutions that are more functional than our national government/Congress and to build new kinds of institutions/groups/ bodies to get things done:

The courts. Nongovernmental organizations, charities, and philanthropies. Some state and local governments. Mass movements and coalitions. Science labs and research organizations. Social media. Social networks. Mainstream media. Spiritual and intentional communities. Even the marketplace.

Work with what's working. Work with what we've got.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Faculty on Food Stamps

Brian Croxall, an adjunct professor, writes about how he could not afford to attend the Modern Language Association conference, his field's biggest conference, in order to try and find a job.

"Landing a job in the professoriate has been difficult for well more than this decade, but the recent economic crisis has necessitated (or allowed, if we’re feeling cynical) administrators trimming budgets so that less and less tenure-track faculty are hired. What this means is that more and more contingent faculty are employed to teach the increasing number of students who are matriculating at the nation’s universities. So…perhaps it’s not that employment is going down for humanists with the PhD. Rather, it is sustainable employment that is evaporating."

Tad Friend writes in the New Yorker about the California budget crisis and student and faculty resistance, Berkeley-style. The tactics haven't changed much since the 1960s, but the reality on the ground has: This is the end of the 1960 Master Plan, the original template for public mass higher education in the United States. I've heard more than one person say that, one of whom is quoted in my book.