Worth a glance #18

by reestheskin on 29/07/2015

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I have been away, in Croatia. My former colleague (and troublemaker) Bruce Charlton remarked many years ago that many academics seemed to be embarrassed if they were found to be ‘just reading’ in their office. Reading and thinking, is not what most academics are about anymore. But holiday allows you to be a proper academic, so below are just a section of  the news items that bugged me.

Can higher education’s golden age of plenty continue? No, is the correct answer. I linked to this article with a quote earlier. Wolf writes: These figures show that we have been uniquely favoured. Where can we go but down? They also and more importantly underline how totally universities still depend on the state. Overseas student fees are sometimes discussed as meaning that we could cut free. But it is the generous funding for science and the growing levels of support for home students that underpin English higher education’s global success. Students everywhere go for the best they can afford, not the cheapest on offer, and rationally so. Students come to the UK, and pay high fees, in large part because of our reputation. High fees themselves signal quality – we’re expensive, therefore we’re good – but the signal needs to be plausible. You can’t carry on indefinitely if you are sinking in the global research tables or if your buildings are falling apart. If the state is good to us, why worry? Because this system is being seriously destabilised* And then:We can predict with confidence what will happen. Further education will seem even less attractive: why go somewhere funded at £2,000 a student when somewhere funded at £9,000 is wooing you? Universities will expand their intakes rapidly. The academic record of new entrants will be lower. As participation rates rise higher, the average salaries of graduates will fall and so will loan repayments. What she gets right is the way that the FE sector has been canabalised by universities. The only wealth member of my family, a graduate (as in apprentice) of the idyllic Univeristy of Port Talbot (as in the then British Steel) had to close his light engineering business when he retired because, as he said, in the UK you no longer could access  the sort of bright interested apprentices that you once could —they just go to university instead. Compare Germany, and then understand Mittelstand.

Writing an online, open textbook: is it worth it? This is from Tony Bates. I have a sort of online textbook, and students seem to like it and use it, but it could be a lot better.

MIT and German research on the [appalling] use of video in xMOOCs. This is Tony Bates again via Stephen Downes. Lots to agree with. I am interested because I am a fan of the use of videos, and I do not think we have explored their benefits for undergraduate medicine in terms of procedures or personalising what we do for the benefit of students. And I have read Richard Mayer.

In defence of the Research Excellence Framework. I am not alone, just in a minority in arguing that the RAE/REF has been a disaster for UK Higher Ed. Students and those interested in the greatest tech transfer universities can produce (i.e.students) are the losers. The recent announcement of the TEF will no doubt be another bureaucratic fit of nonsense. I am glad I am not at the beginning of my career. I hope Scotland ignores it, and concentrates on teaching instead.

Students under surveillance. This is from the FT, although there is lots everywhere about it. I am sceptical of much of the supposed benefits (tech solutions, for not knowing who your students are or what they know). But be careful not to throw baby out with the…..And sinister too. But then Amazon tracks my reading, and I love the fact that google analytics tells me things about interactions with my online book

This is the promise of learning – and the future of Pearson. I take the FT and the Economist although I tire of most of their supposed solutions to our many problems. But hey, the obits in the Economist are worth the subscriptions, and the book reviews influence what I read. But few have much good to say about Pearson. The line from Pearson, now divested of the FT and soon to be divested of the Economics is: We plan to reinvest the proceeds from today’s sale to accelerate our push into digital learning, educational services and emerging markets. We will focus our investment on products and businesses with a bigger, bolder impact on learning outcomes, underpinned by a stronger brand and high-performing culture. This will help us progress toward a future where learning is more effective, affordable, personal and accessible for people who need it most. By doing so, we can help more people discover a love of learning and make progress in their lives. This is the promise of learning– and the future of Pearson. I really hope not.

Lots of money in ed-tech. And Pearson.

‘The poorest students will leave university with the biggest debts’. This is about the abolition of maintenance grants (as in, what I received). Paul Mason may be on to something. This is all going to fracture. I was only an amateur activist when young, but I am much angrier now. Perhaps even a little less cynical.

You go to Stanford to get your ticket punched, and then you go off and you start your companyThe NSF budget and the NIH budget are relatively frozen; they’re not growing. Venture capitalists are increasingly making short-term bets rather than long-term bets. Google was supposed to be the latest corporate entity that was going to try to fix that. They created Google X that was supposed to do these moon shots. Maybe there’s a little bit of it, but you don’t see it very much of the notion of basic research, of doing science. You see applied research everywhere. Even the national labs, you see projects that are intended to find ways to commercialize technology. The notion of science for science’s sake is under assault. Paul Mason, comes to mind again.

I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today. ‘This exponential hangover leads to a feeling of exponential despair.’

Giving Doctors Grades:Ask any medic and they will have seen this. Once you dismantle professionalism (as the GMC and the government are doing in the UK) you end up here.

More Insights From Dylan Wiliam. Goes with being Welsh, bach!