Why Socrates and Open Education should be Friends

 Is there value in studying Socrates?

Some suggest we should ditch the study of Humanities altogether, others are supportive, some just plain indifferent and scholars like Stanley Fish suggest that the study of humanities has no intrinsic value at all. Though we’ve all heard that the study of humanities is valuable for something, I happen to wholeheartedly agree, and there’s convincing research that supports this point of view — that cross-disciplinary study is of value. Most  recently a study conducted at Harvard University found that,

“The further the problem [to be solved] from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they are to solve it,” K.R. Lakhini, Harvard Professor. [More on this later].

As the announcements of new online learning ventures multiply, though exciting, I am concerned that the possibility of the fading emphasis of studying such works as  Plato’s Cave,  Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and on and on we could go. What I am referring to is the study of humanities. I’m all for much needed reform – an accessible and relevant model for Higher Ed is needed, and I’ve written about promising initiatives recently. However, there appears to be an abundance of mathematics, and science topics within the open learning resources and open online universities, and it’s more than a little scant on the arts, history, literary studies and languages.

If you peruse through Kahn Academy‘s over 3,200 video lectures [all quite excellent] – you’ll find the majority are related to math and science, (granted they are working on expanding the humanities side, and have even partnered with SmartArt), – or how about Udacity (granted the founder S. Thrun is a math genius), or MIT OpenCourseWare (granted it’s a Computer Science school) , and Open Lectures [granted newly launched]. Yet there are the bright spots, Cousera, [one of the newest open university course platforms] has a category devoted to Humanities and Social Sciences, (though only 5 courses so far), and Open Yale Courses which appears to offer a robust selection of history, art and language courses. Encouraging.

Why study Humanities?
Though really, should we bother following the historic path of educating students in the Arts, History, Literature and such? Yes I believe so — and not just to produce a well-informed, literate, highly functioning citizen who makes solid contribution to his or her society, but because people who study a breadth of topics, and who have many interests are better problem solvers when they do. And, we have an abundance of problems that need solving.

An interesting study done recently as mentioned, at Harvard Business School’s InnoCentive (similar to a ‘think tank’) by Professor Lakhani, analyzed hundreds of scientific problems posted by companies that for whatever reason had failed to solve. Lakhni found InnoCentive’s network solved nearly 30 percent of the problems, and that the more diverse the interests of the solvers, the more likely the problem was to be solved. Also fascinating – the study found that expertise [held by the problem solver] in the field of the problem, actually hurt a solver’s chances. (Ronsenberg, 2012).

The Practical Side
This post points alludes to a broader topic which I won’t get into here, but mention briefly, is the purpose of higher education to become an educated individual who can think critically with breadth and depth, which may mean studying within various disciplines, OR is the purpose of higher education to focus on a vocational track and that leads to a specific job path and career? I’d like to say both – but they can be at cross purposes for a young college student. On this same vein, the Wall Street Journal reported this past week  in For most graduates a grueling job hunt Awaits, that the top 5 majors companies are hiring from this year are engineering, business, accounting, computer science, while [sadly] the majors being least hired were from social studies, humanities, agriculture, health science and education (Weber and Korn, 2012).

However, we DO need the scientists and engineers, and those that study social sciences, education and others, and within these groups the innovators, problem solvers, critical thinkers and risk takers to solve the problems at hand just as we have with every crisis that has presented itself in years of past.

In summary, I suggest we study humanities to…

  1. be creative problem solvers.
  2. be informed of history, the parallels to current problems in order to contribute to solutions that are relevant using sound knowledge and rationale.
  3. be able to think with depth and breadth, ask questions, think critically.

I hope we can work towards an OPEN and Online education model that offers humanities, science, mathematics, communication and the Arts that will educate a to produce a bright, informed and intellectual problem-solver.

Further Reading:
Prizes with an Eye towards the Future, Tina Rosenberg, The Opinionater
Why Colleges Don’t Teach the Federalist Papers, Peter Berkowitz, WSJ
Will the Humanities save Us? Stanley Fish, The Opinionater
Why are the Humanities important? Stanford University

Why Change is [very] Good for Education

“Yet undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time. My predecessor …. famously compared the difficulty of reforming a curriculum with the difficulty of moving a cemetery” Lawrence H. Summers, former president of Harvard University.

What do you think about change and education? ‘Change’ and ‘education’ spoken in the same sentence has been compared to mixing oil and water. But is education more resistant to change than any other institution, corporation, government bureau, etc? I don’t think so. Yet I’m sure you’ll agree that change is hard, not natural, yet being adaptable, fluid and open to new ideas leads to good things… creative, crazy, innovative and even life change things.

I was inspired this week, I read about several educators that don’t appear afraid of change, in fact embraced change that has led to well…pretty incredible things. Though there are many, I’ll share just the few.

1) Sebastian Thrun, One of the founders of Udacity
In Wired magazine author Steven Leckart writes about his life-changing experience taking the course Introduction to Artificial Intelligence taught by Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. Teaching this online course, to 160,000 students from 190 countries was life changing for Stanford Professor Thrun as well, so much so he resigned from his teaching position at Stanford and Udacity was born. There are now 6 more  free courses being offered… Amazing.

One of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life is to teach a class to 160,000 students. In the Fall of 2011, Peter Norvig and I decided to offer our class “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” to the world online, free of charge.

 Thrum is a change agent. Read more here.

2) Salman Kahn, founder of Kahn Academy
Salman Kahn attended MIT, and became a hedge fund analyst. Salman tutored his niece and nephew in high school math, and discovered they preferred his lessons when he recorded them with a whiteboard and posted them on YouTube. So did thousands of other students. Eventually Mr, Kahn quit his day job, and founded Kahn Academy that now offers 3,100  free videos in Math, Biology, Chemistry, Test Preparation, Art History, Civics, with more are added each month.

Khan Academy is revolutionary, helping students around the world. Though there are many critics, I suggest that perhaps these individuals are change resistors? Here’s an article to read more. Mr. Kahn is another agent of change – and students of all ages are reaping the benefits.

 3) The Masters of Innovation, Harvard Business Review, by Scott Anthony

This slide slide show displays 12 Masters of Innovation, educators take note – the first 2 innovators are educators (granted these are in alphabetical order). These two have contributed much to moving education forward, in fact Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business professor has written several books on education. He also coined the term disruptive innovation. Interesting that the term though it applies to a business model, yet Clayton’s recent book describes how education is being ‘disrupted’ by technology and changing education as we know it, The Innovative University, Changing the DNA of Education from the Inside Out.

How do you deal with change? Below I’ve included an article that presents the concept of change from a different perspective than the typical corporate ‘change management’ articles, there are many of those. I’ll conclude with a quote that speaks to an earlier comment I made about change, Henry David Thoreau describes change better than I, “Things do not change; we change“.

Related Articles:
The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever, Steven Leckart
4 Principles for Creating Change, and 4 Barriers that Make is Harder, Clay and Camfield

Photo Credit: Oil and Water, TopGuy, Flickr

The No-textbook Challenge: Using web resources to replace the College Text

Is it possible to use Open Educational Resources  and other open education materials to replace student textbooks for an online college course? Find free content on the web, eliminating the need for  students to buy textbooks?  Yes! -  at least for the course United States Government which I put to the test. I put myself up to the  No Textbook Challenge – to replace textbooks for a given General Education college three credit course as described in my last post. In this post, I’ll outline the context of the course, and the engaging, comprehensive and free instructional resources which I’ve incorporated into the online course delivered via Moodle (the  learning management platform our college uses).

 The context
I use the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional model (consisting of 9 phases) for design and re-design of our online courses. There are nine phases in the model – though with the re-design we focus on phase 7 and 8, developing the instructional strategy and selecting the instructional materials.

Background: Course Objectives:
To put the course in perspective, the course is a survey course designed to introduce students to the institutions and processes of the American political system.

  • Explain the basic concepts on which the American governmental system was based
  • Describe the workings of the American governmental system
  • Outline the process by which a bill becomes a law
  • Explain the various civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution
  • Describe the basic functions, organization, and powers of the Congress, the presidency, and the judiciary

Instructional Materials:
Instructional materials are part of the Instructional Strategy and are essentially the content that supports the course objectives. Other materials may include materials (resources) such as, workbooks, textbooks, case studies, web resources, lecture notes, simulations etc. For this US Government course, we use pre-recorded video lectures that covers some of the course topics, delivered over 8 modules, and text books, (before the re-design).

The texts we replaced:
1) American Government, Brief Edition, 9th Ed. by James Q. Wilson – $76.73 (paper back), $69.06 (Kindle edition)
2) The Federalist Papers by Charles Kessler – $7.99

English: Title page of the first printing of t...

With: open content and web resources: – Free
The resources below are part of the instructional strategy -  the instructor uses these as content to support learning objectives. Note that student application and synthesis comes through online forum discussions, group work, mini assignments, quizzes and essay assignments where the student applies the content. These sources are not the sole method of learning, it is instructor involvement and guidance that promotes meaningful and authentic learning.

Federalist Papers:
ourdocuments.gov : This  awesome site, features 100 milestone documents of American history presented by the National Archives. Best of all the site lets the user view and zoom in on the images of original documents, including all of the federalist papers, i.e. Federalist no. 10, as it appeared in the New York Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787.

American Government: Topics:

I  The Constitution of United States
The United States Constitution – Constitution Day Resources, Library of Congress
The Declaration of Independence – The History Channel - video
Constitution development & Principles: Video lesson: OER, US Government
Federalism: Video Lesson: OER:
Library of US Historical Documents: ourdocuments.gov

II Political Beliefs and Behaviors
Political Parties: ushistory.org
Interest Groups and their influence: other, list of select groups
Public Policy: ushistory.org
The Media and its Influence: Pew Research Center
Voting Behavior of the Public: other

III Institutions of the Government: Congress, Presidency, Bureaucracy and Courts
Electoral College – how it works: The Kahn Academy
Three Branches of Government: Harry Truman Library Resources
The Nature of Bureaucracy: OER video lesson
Legislative Simulation – http://www.legsim.org/
Presidential Election History: procon.org
The White House
US Senate: Live Stream of US Capitol

IV Civil Rights and Liberties
The Bill of Rights: ourdocuments.org
Civil Rights: Landmark Cases: streetlaw.org
How a bill becomes Law: OER

Glossary of Political Economic Terms:

This course used for this no textbook challenge was [very] conducive to open content. Not all courses will lend themselves to open and free content, though I firmly believe that with detailed and careful research, there is much content available on the web for free. I do want to reiterate, that the resources we listed do not stand on their own – the selection and choice of tools require careful pedagogical planning and development of learning activities and assessments. And, the final component of successful learning is instructor guidance and instruction. Check back in a few days for another post on other textbook options.

Keep Learning :)