Gates on tech and ed
June 27, 2012 1:41 PM   Subscribe

A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education at the Chronicle of Higher Education. As always, Bill is honest and interesting as he talks about new developments and how they fit into a realistic view of the next 10-20 years of higher ed.
posted by BlackLeotardFront (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't Gates another union buster?
posted by wittgenstein at 1:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Oh - higher education - never mind.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Really quite contentless, apart from a few obvious points, like his pushing for testing/assessment and hence broadening quantification (what he calls "objective" assessment) across the curriculum (with not even a nod toward its inappropriateness in places like teaching writing). And the idea that universities will "give up a piece" by parting out lectures and, implicitly, firing those who give them once the lectures are recorded. Does he have any ideas worth discussing, or is this all just a bunch of smokescreen over a management push against university labor?
posted by RogerB at 1:50 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Interesting stuff, thanks for linking.
posted by Artw at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2012


I think the management push against university labour is succeeding very well without Gates' help. What's the ratio of admin vs. teachers these days compared to 20 or 30 years ago?

It seems that tertiary education is due for some sort of shakeup thanks to sheer demographics - there are going to be fewer students relative to the population and the inflated capacity of the universities themselves. Plus, it's obvious that going into debt for a university or college degree just does not make economic sense. This deflationary decade is going to affect a massive change on how people approach upward mobility.

As for assessment, I can understand why teachers don't like it, but at the end of the day it is an objective benchmark that provides some sort of useful information to students, or, in earlier grades, to parents. Having teachers say "Just trust me! You're doing well!" is not good enough.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:02 PM on June 27, 2012


You'd like it to go into the completion rates, the quality of the employees that get generated by the learning experience.

Not say, people, or citizens, but employees. This reminds me of the speech Arther Jensen gives in Network.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 2:06 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


RogerB, you imply that the only use for seasoned professors, experts in their fields and perhaps performing important research, is to stand in a room talking to a bunch of people who are staring at their computers anyway? Come on. The system of teaching we're talking about goes back to the goddamn classical era, if not before. We have the ability to let people like these interesting and expert men and women reach thousands upon thousands of people throughout the world. That does mean that lecture halls with 250 students and one professor are going to disappear. There is no threat, implicit or explicit, against their jobs, just against the most tedious and inefficient part of their jobs.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2012



Really quite contentless, apart from a few obvious points, like his pushing for testing/assessment and hence broadening quantification (what he calls "objective" assessment) across the curriculum (with not even a nod toward its inappropriateness in places like teaching writing)


A Bachelor's Degree takes 4 years of your life and a lot of money. If its place as a credential required to obtain any job that doesn't suck is displaced by some scheme hatched out of Bill Gates's forehead, then I'm at least willing to give that scheme a fair hearing.
posted by ocschwar at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"There is no threat, implicit or explicit, against their jobs, just against the most tedious and inefficient part of their jobs."

Only someone who has not taught at the college level in the last ten years could possibly say this.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Remember, this thread is ONLY for taking things out of context for maximum GRAR. For substantive discussion try somewhere else, like maybe Slashdot...
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, there are a lot of fields where things are fairly objective. If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, there are various exams that are given for those things. There are softer areas, like you want to be a salesman or something, but it's not even clear what college degree is appropriate for that. Employers have decided that having the breadth of knowledge that's associated with a four-year degree is often something they want to see in the people they give that job to. So instead of testing for that different profession, they'll be testing that you have that broader exposure.

I am not convinced by this thinking. Because, my impression, after talking to Nursing faulty, that the test works, in as far as it does, because the student has been tested in other ways during their training. In other words, you can have a licensing test that measures factual things in an "objective" way because students really unsuited for the work have already been directed elsewhere. That the licensing exam only weeds out incompetents (or, I suppose, those who test poorly), not all people unsuited to be nurses.

For the "softer area" of salesmen, employers apparently don't know what degree would be good, but we should be able to make a test for it.... If we cannot define the characteristics of that job enough to tie it to a major that collects a set of skills, aptitudes, understandings, knowledges, etc, then how do we make a test for it?

Not to mention that the students entering my classes out of the No Child Left Behind paradigm are not exactly impressing me with their not having been left behind (many are great students, but they seem to have managed that despite their schooling, not because of it).

Then there is the assumption that the only purpose of a degree is to get a specific job, which others me. Some jobs have a fairly clear job path, but many do not. And plenty of students complete courses of study to discover they don't really enjoy the practice of their discipline. Are those failed degrees? I suppose it depends on what the student does with it.

As for the computerized classroom, I'll repeat what I have said elsewhere -- a video of a lecture is not the same as a lecture, if for no other reason that the student has to have vastly greater self-discipline to really pay attention, since there is no feedback.And sure, there isn't much feedback in large lectures, which are, after all, not a result of pedagogical philosophy but economic necessity. For the vast majority of Freshmen, "video lectures" would be a disaster -- the completion rate of online courses lags well behind that of their face-to-face counterparts (I think, in part, because it requires greater determination to finish).
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obviously there are threats to professors' jobs, wittgenstein, but improving the interaction between education and technology is not one of them. My dad recently retired after teaching at UW for 30 years. He will tell you any day that lousy administration and a fundamental shift to a profit motive are a hundred times the threat of something like remote learning and virtual classrooms. Because the former are real and immediate, closing down departments and firing professors today, not a vaguely imminent sea change that may or may not change the way the world learns.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:29 PM on June 27, 2012


Remember, this thread is ONLY for taking things out of context for maximum GRAR. For substantive discussion try somewhere else, like maybe Slashdot...

The interview is kind of contentless... when pressed as to what an enormously wealthy college dropout has to contribute to reforming higher education in the US, Bill Gates says:
What we do is we fund universities who are on the cutting edge. And so it's people from universities who apply and say, Hey, I want to do this next-generation learning. Because you need the people doing the neat content, and the people who actually sit with the students and motivate the students and help them when they're confused, help them with the labs, you need those elements to come together.
Inarticulate business-speak covering various pushes for technologies which turn higher-ed from a high labor-cost business into a low labor-cost business.
Q. Some of what you've been talking about is getting people to completion by weeding out extraneous courses. There's a concern by some that that might create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without the citizenship focus of that broad liberal-arts degree.

A. Right now, a lot of the institutions that are all-access are essentially overloaded. That is, if you're trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time you'll find yourself constantly not able to get into various required courses. And so if you're taking more years and more courses simply because you're being held out of the ones that are required for your degree, that's a real problem. And there's not very good metrics about that. Costs are being constrained because the state money is going down. They can only raise tuition a certain amount, and what happens is the federal support for tuition is really very up in the air, like so many elements of the federal budget right now. And so yes, it is important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus, versus they're just marking time because they're being held up because the capacity doesn't exist in the system to let them do what they want to do. As you go through the student survey data, it's mostly the latter. But I'm the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things. And hopefully, if these courses are appealing enough, we can get people even after they've finished a college degree to want to go online and take these courses.
Fundamentally, business minded greed-heads like Bill Gates see university an antiquated content-delivery system in need of creative disruption. The "distance learning" model is about replacing highly paid professors with recordings of super-stars and low-paid "facilitators." He has no sense of the university as a broader social institution and no sense of society as anything other than employees and consumers.

A shallow man, who made his nut by brutal business practices and monopoly economics trying to find something to do with his useless money before he dies.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:37 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


My dad recently retired after teaching at UW for 30 years. He will tell you any day that lousy administration and a fundamental shift to a profit motive are a hundred times the threat of something like remote learning and virtual classrooms.

Well, sure. I thought it was kind of interesting that Gates realizes that higher education in the US is a mess but doesn't seem to notice that many of the other countries that are doing it better a) are not trying to apply business models to a non-business environment and b) usually have significantly greater public support for higher education because they assume an educated populace is a common good.

Now, that doesn't really make a difference in whether technology in the classroom is good or not. I can confidently assert that a lack of public support for higher ed is of vastly more impact on learning than, say, meningitis outbreaks on a campus, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't worry if such an outbreak happened. The two are not directly related. Honestly, I do think technology has a place in the classroom, but the people who are pushing it, as far as I have seen, are not doing so because it's a universal panacea for education problems, but because they sense an economic advantage. Distance students don't have to be housed, for example, and they take up very little campus real estate, on the part of the universities, and, on the other side, there are thousands of businesses eager to get education fully commodified so they can get their cut.

Gates is right that Mathematics education is a disaster in many ways, although I am coming to believe that your non-STEM student needs a solid grounding in statistics more than any other mathematical area outside of basic arithmetic and a little geometry.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fundamentally, business minded greed-heads like Bill Gates see university an antiquated content-delivery system in need of creative disruption. The "distance learning" model is about replacing highly paid professors with recordings of super-stars and low-paid "facilitators." He has no sense of the university as a broader social institution and no sense of society as anything other than employees and consumers.

I don't know how else to say it. Higher education is only peripherally about the transmission of data. It is fundamentally about learning habits of mind and ways of approaching problems. All these schemes for cheaper, more efficient content delivery make it more difficult to accomplish the core task of training people how to think.

A cup of coffee, a chalkboard, some books, and a clean & well-lit room. That's all the technology the liberal arts have ever needed. The problem is you have to fill those rooms with well-trained scholars and dedicated students.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:58 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


For substantive discussion try somewhere else, like maybe Slashdot

Are you kidding? No one in that thread even seems to know that the discussion is about universities and not kindergartens, and they're mostly too busy scoring random points about tablet computers to even bother discussing education.
posted by RogerB at 3:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yesterday's Fresh Air, What's Driving College Costs Higher? was interesting (IMO).

"[Professors] are not the beneficiaries of large increases in college spending that has gone on," he says. "In fact, the percentage of all students taught by non-tenure-track professors — adjuncts, teaching assistants — has gone up and up and up."

Meanwhile, university administrations have grown — meaning colleges are now employing more provosts, deans and assistant deans than ever before.

"[Colleges and universities] compete with one another not to make money, but for status and prestige, so they buy things that increase their status and prestige in relation to their competitors," Carey tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "They're big on construction. ... They're always building things."
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


In principle I like the "flipped classroom" teaching model in which you start with an online lecture series given by a superstar professor, have the students watch the lectures at home, and devote more of the class time to going through exercises and spending more time on face to face teaching. It wouldn't work for every class I teach, but there some classes that I could see it being useful. There are a lot of classes where I feel I spend far too much time rehashing things that are easily available online, things that the students could find just as easily without me. So in theory it should be possible for me to rededicate myself to directing students to that material, then helping them as they try to learn it and providing additional interpretation and perspective on the content. I've never really been a big fan of giving standard lectures myself, even though I've become quite good at it through practice.

In practice, I worry about how this idea will be implemented. First, my idealism regarding university teaching practices is almost entirely dead. My experience (mostly in Australia) of how universities have managed "online education" so far has been pretty negative. It should have been a tool to improve student learning while keeping costs constant: instead, it's been used to cut costs without improving student learning. Lecture recordings, for instance, are an excellent way of saving infrastructure costs. Once it becomes standard that everyone records the lectures, only about 30% of students show up to class, so the class can be moved to smaller lecture theatres. Which means we can have more larger classes without needing to find room to host them. The larger classes aren't accompanied by more funding to grade the assessments -- so the assessments start to shift towards "dumb" problems that can be graded automatically: more multiple choice questions, fewer free response questions. No resources are provided to deal with the fact that watching lectures at home doesn't seem (in practice) to lead to the same amount of learning than physically attending a talk. And so on. Online class management tools like Blackboard are mildly useful, if clunky, but again their actual function is to allow bigger classes at fixed cost, *not* to improve the existing classes for the same costs. This history really does not leave me with a lot of optimism about how this new virtual classroom idea will be taken on by universities. I suspect the elite few will improve: Cambridge, MIT, Stanford etc will find ways to improve teaching this way because they're not under serious budget pressure. Big public universities tend to be chronically short of cash, even the ones that provide top quality research and education. So the administration will -- even with the best of intentions -- be led to treat these new technologies as cost cutting measures.

Secondly, adopting this model seems likely to lead to a loss of diversity in university curricula. At the moment, my classes are quite idiosyncratic, and they reflect the way I think about a particular topic. Even my "intro stats" classes have tended to be pretty customised, and that's about as close as you can get to a "standard" class in my area. My classes are, of course, similar in content to classes taught at other universities, but the particulars vary a lot. I think this is a good thing in the wider world: it means that two people graduating from different universities have subtly different perspectives on the same problem, which in turn means they can challenge each other to think differently later on. Admittedly, people will do this no matter what, but all else being equal I think it's helpful to have a bit of variety in educational experience. If the teaching model starts to switch to a situation where every university takes lecture content from one of a small number of superstar "lecture providers", it's going to be very hard -- though not impossible -- to maintain any level of educational diversity across institutions. This interacts with my previous worry: if I felt confident that the university would back this up with real resources, then it would be pretty easy for individual lecturers to re-introduce their own perspective back into this standardised content in any number of ways... the externally-sourced lecture content would only be a starting point, not the whole class. But if it's not backed up with resources, about which I am very skeptical, then none of this will happen.

So yeah, cool idea. But only if it's viewed as an opportunity to improve student learning instead of increasing student numbers.
posted by mixing at 3:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


yes let us ask the college dropout for his advice about education.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:44 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


But if it's not backed up with resources, about which I am very skeptical, then none of this will happen.

Our unwillingness to provide resources is terrible for all infrastructure, not just education.
posted by Forktine at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I made billions bringing solitaire to the people! This means I'm qualified to speak authoritivly about other important things!
posted by Brocktoon at 4:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


yes let us ask the college dropout for his advice about education.

A college dropout who is sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into education, mind. That may make his opinions of some interest.
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


A shallow man, who made his nut by brutal business practices and monopoly economics trying to find something to do with his useless money before he dies.

- Education needs money to advance into the 21st century!
- OK, here is money, plus I know a lot about technology.
- Die, filthy greedhead, and take your tainted money to the grave with you!

Seriously, it's a bit rich to be ragging on Gates for attempting to help, when some universities took a 20 year holiday from fiscal reality and simply stopped making any contributions into their pension funds, at all.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


In a previous thread there was a suggestion that people in Africa should refuse vaccinations paid for by the Bill & Melinda gates foundation because of the "tainted" nature of the money that paid for them, so really nothing should suprise us.
posted by Artw at 4:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


He has no sense of the university as a broader social institution and no sense of society as anything other than employees and consumers.

Yeah, this, essentially. The biggest mistake non-profits are making is trying to run a non-profit like a business, while paying non-profit salaries and giving non-profit benefits. You can't take the tack that assessing and firing the bottom ten percent to cut costs is sensible, before your whole school infrastructure collapses underneath you for lack of staff. Schools are not corporations, and shame on crooks like Gates trying to sell that scam to the public (as much as on his sycophants on the web, most of whom almost certainly benefitted from a public education).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


A cup of coffee, a chalkboard, some books, and a clean & well-lit room. That's all the technology the liberal arts have ever needed.

Actually, no. That model is incredibly inefficient and based on outdated methods from the 1600s. As a result, today students are graduating with 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars of debt. Yet they still serve less than a third of high school graduates.

Those methods might work for the wealthy or those privileged enough to attend expensive private colleges, but it isn't working for the average American. We need to innovate to make college education more affordable to everyone.
posted by JackFlash at 4:49 PM on June 27, 2012


So it seems like the problem is not really with new technologies. Online learning obviously means more people have access to the same material, and if it's done right all the current students can learn as much or more than they have been. It seems like the problem is with university management treating their universities as for-profit businesses; online education is just one of many ways to cut costs by reducing quality.

On an unrelated note: any time there's a discussion of higher education, I hear statistics thrown around about how there are more administrators per faculty than there ever have been. Does anyone know why this is? Is there a good reason for it? (For instance, a lot of schools now have employees whose job is to advocate for minority groups. Those probably weren't around 30 years ago.)
posted by vogon_poet at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2012


So it seems like the problem is not really with new technologies. Online learning obviously means more people have access to the same material, and if it's done right all the current students can learn as much or more than they have been. It seems like the problem is with university management treating their universities as for-profit businesses; online education is just one of many ways to cut costs by reducing quality.

This is a good thought, but that "if it's done right" is one of two sticking points. That's the same "if it's done right" that promises us universal good from the Free Market or the People's Collective. When you actually try putting it into practice, you discover that it is very hard to do right. Education is never going to be a "one size fits all" system -- different students have different needs and different aptitudes. Turning out a graduate, it seems, is not the same as designing and building consumer goods. The standardization of the parts is just not there. Which ties into the other sticking point -- in a face to face class (especially a 20-25 student class), it is usually possible to fairly quickly discern which students are struggling and try and provide support by giving different examples, recovering tricky ground, etc. This is much more difficult in online classes and, in asynchronous online classes it seems very difficult, if not impossible. One problem with the "superstar lecture" approach is that we already have plenty of superstar lectures in book format, yet we have not managed to produce a universally educated populace, because, as it turns out, there is more to learning than the lecture. Now, a good lecture is a pleasure, and I am rather fond of explanatory podcasts and Teaching Company lectures, and I am quite the motivated student if I like the topic, but I am unconvinced that I have learned more from these audio resources than I would have from a similar book. The big advantage is I can listen to them while walking, which is nice, but not, I think, the Salvation of Higher Ed.

I have explored putting more course content online. It has eased the need for lecturing in some ways, but it really is more of a replacement for the textbook than for the in-class discussion or guided learning.

On an unrelated note: any time there's a discussion of higher education, I hear statistics thrown around about how there are more administrators per faculty than there ever have been. Does anyone know why this is? Is there a good reason for it? (For instance, a lot of schools now have employees whose job is to advocate for minority groups. Those probably weren't around 30 years ago.)

Universities are more complex institutions than they were 30 years ago. They have more state and federal oversight. They have more legal issues. Technology requires enormous expenses in infrastructure and staff. If you increase enrollment, that is more dorms, more classrooms, more staff. And these staff need administration. Also, I think that it is a rare administrator who looks at a problem and doesn't think "this could be solved by hiring someone," and then, when that problem is over, the staff person comes up with other things to do. That is my explanation in a nutshell.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Actually, no. That model is incredibly inefficient and based on outdated methods from the 1600s. As a result, today students are graduating with 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars of debt.

Profligate chalk use is not really a cause of spiraling student debt, nor is the relatively low cost of liberal arts faculty....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think there's any business people who are just walking out of their office door and walking over to a university and saying, Hey, reorganize your university this way. I've never heard of that.

Heh.
posted by zangpo at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My point is that governor-appointed university boards do this crap all the time.
posted by zangpo at 5:57 PM on June 27, 2012


There's an assumption that there are "superstar teachers" and if we just provide videos of them to students, and shift all the funding over to lower paid teaching assistants who can monitor group projects and testing and so forth, then everything will get better.

I like that assumption. That's why my children spend most of their day watching videos of Mark and Linda Walden, of Lakeview, Wisconsin, because they are vastly better at being parents than I could ever be, and I want my children to have the best.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


He has no sense of the university as a broader social institution and no sense of society as anything other than employees and consumers.


After Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, I have no choice but to conclude that Bill Gates's sense of the university is borderline Polyanna-iish.
posted by ocschwar at 7:29 PM on June 27, 2012


In principle I like the "flipped classroom" teaching model in which you start with an online lecture series given by a superstar professor, have the students watch the lectures at home, and devote more of the class time to going through exercises and spending more time on face to face teaching.

I realize that you went on to discuss some of the practical issues with this, but I am curious, in Australia, would your students actually *do* this? Would they watch the lectures and come prepared to the face-to-face class? Because mine, and I suspect a large percentage of US students in non-elite schools, would not. It has become a sad cliche among faculty at my campus that students don't do the reading before class, no matter how much you wheedle, cajole, threaten, or incentivize it (including giving quizzes, I've tried). And many, many other faculty I've talked to over the years have similar experiences. And even in the rare cases where students do "read" before class, they are generally not reading for any kind of deeper meaning, or taking notes, or even writing down questions they have about the material. And they're not even embarrassed to admit, in class, that they didn't read.

Education is never going to be a "one size fits all" system -- different students have different needs and different aptitudes. Turning out a graduate, it seems, is not the same as designing and building consumer goods.

This is the part that none of these higher education reformers ever seem to understand, and I just don't get it. I mean, have they never met humans before? It's not just the different needs and aptitudes, it's the different motivations, different family backgrounds, etc. that complicate this input-output model that the "reformers" like to espouse. Argh, it's just so frustrating.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like how the only liberal arts function he can conceive of is "salesman."
posted by mobunited at 8:22 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like how the only liberal arts function he can conceive of is "salesman."

To be fair to billg, he's just looking out for the interests of the shareholders. Keeping Microsoft's claws in academia is maintaining another piece of the bottom line.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:21 PM on June 27, 2012


in Australia, would your students actually *do* this? Would they watch the lectures and come prepared to the face-to-face class?

No, probably not.

It's a lovely idea, and one that I think appeals to educational reformers, but the older I get the less I believe in it. My experience has been pretty similar to what yours sounds like. Getting students to do the readings before class seems to be an intractable problem. I've tried a number of different methods, as have some of my colleagues, generally with little to no effect. It's not nothing, but not much either. Every time there's a small minority of students that will always do the reading and do so promptly, and a substantial minority that never do it no matter what you do. The largest group of students seems to be those that quickly skim the readings at the last possible moment, where "last possible moment" doesn't mean "right before class" it means "weeks later, right before the major project is due".

I don't blame the students, to be honest. I think there's something fundamentally intractable here. The problem isn't that the material is boring or the lecturers are bad (though it doesn't help when they are). The problem is that being a good student is hard. Time management is hard, contemplative thought is effortful, and the human mind seems to be built to minimise cognitive effort whenever possible. So it takes a lot of self control to do the work before you have to. Most technological solutions to educational proposals ignore this issue.

I still like the ideas behind these kinds of proposals. Learning really *shouldn't* have to work the way that it does. The "flipped classroom" idea is wonderful, and in principle it should be a better use of limited teaching resources than the status quo. But in practice it isn't. Not only is there the very real economic threat to be mindful of -- that the new technology will be used as a cost cutting measure and nothing else (as I was saying originally) -- there's an uphill battle to be fought against human nature.
posted by mixing at 10:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is Darwin, at work. American K12 education is losing ground, relative to making sure that all who attend are prepared. American post-secondary institutions have been marginalizing full time faculty while at the same time hiring more administrators, building fancy new dorms/student centers/sports stadiums etc.

Other nations are learning how to educate their populations, some of them without the leagcy policy and institutional structures we have. Just take a plane over to Silicon Valley, where Russian, Chinese, Singaporean, and Indian engineers are replacing American engineers (there's a rotten policy reason behind this, but it's able to happen because the immigrant workers can hit the ground, running, for less money). And so on.

Yes, many countries do give more weight to higher education, but those countries also have higher taxes that pay for higher education, and things like health care. America may not be in decline, because so many of these better prepared students are going to come to our shores and eat poorly-prepared American-educated students for lunch.

Maybe you don't like what Gates is saying, but something has to be done to change the ridiculous waste of intellectual capital fomented in America by lackluster K12, and overpriced post-secondary education. Either we disrupt these sick systems, or we settle for our new international overlords, long-term.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:12 PM on June 27, 2012


The largest group of students seems to be those that quickly skim the readings at the last possible moment, where "last possible moment" doesn't mean "right before class" it means "weeks later, right before the major project is due".

My prof for Operating Systems was surprisingly adept at pedagogy. He used online video to flip the classroom, and utilized a peer review system to identify team project shirkers. In the area of getting students to do readings, his solutions were twofold. First, a timed quiz to start class. It's pretty good at getting people to show up on time, doubles as a record of attendance, and a decent motivator to do the relevant readings.

He took one extra step however, out of the pages of law school (his father was a lawyer I hear). When the quiz is finished, he randomly chooses students to share their answer with the class. I'd never heard of the Socratic Method as a student, but hearing people talk about it years later in the blue certainly reminds me of this. It doesn't work 100 percent, but there is at least an incentive to shift the Last Possible Moment to right before class.

What you can't really expect out of students these days is decent scheduling. They're notorious "earliest deadline first" schedulers, which means the reading only relevant to your major project gets put off till after the Psych midterm. So you need these managerial artificial deadlines.
posted by pwnguin at 11:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, many countries do give more weight to higher education, but those countries also have higher taxes that pay for higher education, and things like health care. America may not be in decline, because so many of these better prepared students are going to come to our shores and eat poorly-prepared American-educated students for lunch.

Maybe you don't like what Gates is saying, but something has to be done to change the ridiculous waste of intellectual capital fomented in America by lackluster K12, and overpriced post-secondary education. Either we disrupt these sick systems, or we settle for our new international overlords, long-term.


Well maybe what we should do is give more weight to higher education and implement higher taxes that pay for higher education.

I am going to quote here something that I also quoted in the UVa thread, because I think it also bears on this conversation (source):
We hear every day from higher-education pundits who can’t seem to express themselves in anything other than jargon and buzzwords that American higher education is “unsustainable.” No. It’s just not adequately sustained. There is a big difference. We could choose to invest in people. We could choose to invest in culture. We could choose to invest in science and technology. We choose instead to imagine that there are quick technological fixes or commercial interventions that can “transform” universities into digital diploma mills. Pundits blame professors for fighting “change.” But they ignore the fact that universities are the chief site of innovation and experimentation in digital teaching and research and that professors might actually know what works and what does not.
This bears repeating once more:
He has no sense of the university as a broader social institution and no sense of society as anything other than employees and consumers.

The job of universities is not to turn out future employees with a set of narrowly conceived job skills. We are in the business of giving people *life* skills, teaching them to think, to problem solve, to inquire, so that they can be successful as citizens, and as employees. If all people like Gates want out of higher education is free (to employers) job training, then fine, but you get the society that goes with that.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Melinda Gates hits out at 'war on women' on eve of summit
posted by Artw at 7:07 PM on July 7, 2012


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