Comment and Review


This bearded fellow is Bryan Alexander, who runs a wonderful future-oriented blog about higher education.  Bryan has been conducting a read-along of Revolution in Higher Education. As he was approaching the last chapter, he sent me a note asking me to be interviewed on his new Future Trends Forum,   On February 16, I spent an intense hour with Bryan and a pile of viewers discussing topics ranging from access and affordability to the nature of innovation in colleges and universities.  It was an interesting (and not entirely accidental) contrast to a similar interview that Bryan had conducted a week before with Audrey Watters, who more or less savaged the very notion that higher education could be doing a better job.

An edited version of that interview along with Bryan’s notes is located here.  The YouTube video is embedded below.  I encourage you to follow Bryan’s entire FTF series.

Josh Goodman-56099-1

Josh Goodman from Harvard’s Kennedy School will be giving a seminar January 7 on Georgia Tech’s Online Masters Degree in Computer Science  at Stanford University’s Center for Education and Policy Analysis.

Tilte: Can MOOCs Increase Access to Education? Evidence from a Large New Computer Science Degree Program

Summary: Though MOOCs and online technology have generated excitement about their potential to increase access to education, most existing research has focused on comparisons of student performance across online and in-person formats. We provide the first evidence on the impact of online education on the amount of education pursued. Georgia Tech’s Online M.S. in Computer Science is the first model combining the inexpensive nature of MOOCs with a degree program from a highly-ranked institution, a price-quality pairing that has not been seen before. A regression discontinuity design around an admissions threshold shows that access to this low cost, high quality option substantially increases the amount of formal education pursued, with demand driven largely by mid-career Americans for whom in-person options are not appealing. Our estimates suggest that, by satisfying previously unmet demand for mid-career training, this single program will boost annual production of American computer science master’s degrees by eight percent.

SmartMoney's "payback" survey of 50 t

With the price of higher education rising much faster than inflation, many students and families find themselves struggling to pay for college, or looking for ways to reduce or offset the costs. Author and colleague Jeff Selingo is Visiting Scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.  Jeff and I recently sat down with Rick Clark to answer the question “Is College worth it?”This series of 14 videos is designed to help, with expert advice and creative ways for meeting this challenge, beginning with the question: “Is College Worth It?”


Videos available here.




Mark Guzdial comments on a recent Slate article reporting results of a metastudy that (1) claims to show that deliberate practice does not account for acquisition of expertise, and (2) that the only other source must be innate factors like genetics. It would be an important finding if true, but Guzdial points out some critical flaws:

The bottom-line is that the [Slate] study did not test [the 10,000 Rule] question. They tested a weak form of the “10,000 hour rule” (that it’s just “practice,” not “deliberate practice”) and found it wanting. But their explanation, that it’s genetics, is not supported by their evidence.

Computing Education Blog

A recent article in Slate (see here) suggests that practice may not lead to expertise, that the “10,000 hour rule” is wrong. The “10,000 hour rule” was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers (see excerpt here), but really comes from an important paper by K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Ericsson claimed that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice results in expert-level performance.

The Slate article is based mostly on a new meta-analysis (see here) by Macnamara, Hambrick (also a co-author on the Slate article), and Oswald which reviewed and combined studies on expertise. They found that practice always was positively correlated with better performance, but did not explain all of (or even most of) the difference in expertise between study participants. The Slate article authors suggest, then, that deliberate practice is not…

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We have talked many times about the demise of colleges, comparing higher education to other industries that believed they could resist the advance of technology.  Borders book stores, Blockbuster Video, and a whole raft of local newspapers are just the easiest examples of revered enterprises that simply went out of business. From this discussion comes an interesting essay by C21U visiting scholar Michael Haggans, who argues that campuses close all the time. Sometimes it is temporary:

Whether by snow and ice, wind, fire, flood, civil disorder or bankruptcy, you may be certain that your campus will be closed. It is just a matter of when and how long the closure will last. Even a brief closing provides a glimpse of higher education without the comfortable assumption of shared space and time – the familiar functionality of a campus.

Sometimes, institutions–like the dozens of colleges and universities near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor–not only survive catastrophe against all odds but are the only place where communities can gather and rebuild. Sometimes they close forever:

‘Forever’ is an unstated part of every institution’s mission statement. Over the last century, hundreds have winked in and out of existence. [Westminster’s Ray Brown maintains the most comprehensive list.] A few such as Antioch College have been well known, their demise widely reported. Most are long forgotten. They close and disappear through merger, acquisition by for-profit consortiums, and from simple bankruptcy.

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cheap data collection


The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the future of universities was absorbed earlier this year into several other councils–a mistake, in my view, since none of the other councils have institutional focus–but several of the white papers live on. This one on the privacy issues inherent in learning analytics generated some interest in 2012, but the big data aspects of higher education seemed like an abstraction to many council members. Over the past year it has started to loom large (see here and here, for example).  I happen to be a big fan of analytics.  Data from the 700,000 students enrolled in Georgia Tech’s Coursera MOOCs have already had an impact on the quality of residential instruction. However, one of my day jobs is cybersecurity, which has made me sensitive to new technologies that have not paid sufficient attention to security and privacy. This white paper is a note of caution.

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Ivory Tower (1)
The Ivory Tower, a 2015 Sundance Festival film by Andrew Rossi, is a dramatic and unflinching look at the spiraling cost of higher education. Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times proved that Rossi can disassemble even complex enterprises, so that everyone can see the moving parts. It was a good warm-up for this effort. The similarities are striking.  Jay Hoberman said in his Village Voice Review of Page One: It’s a system at once efficient and cumbersome, ultra-modern yet quaint, that suggests nothing so much as a herd of dinosaurs, oblivious to the threat of impending extinction. And, like Page One, there is a blend of alarmism and genuine fondness for American higher education. Innovation–particularly technological innovation–plays the same role in higher education as it does in other industries that are being disrupted.  It is both the disruptor and the way to avoid disaster. If only leaders can abandon old assumptions.