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Category — Multimedia Content

Online Education – Introducing the Microlecture Format

Most college students would likely concur – fifty minute lectures can be a bit much. With current research indicating that attention spans (measured in minutes) roughly mirror a students age (measured in years), it begs the question as to the rationale behind lectures of such length.

teddY-riseDGiven that it is tough to justify the traditional lecture timeframes, it is no surprise to see online educational programs seeking to offer presentations that feature shorter podcasts. But in an astonishing switch, David Shieh of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently took a look at a community college program that features a microlecture format, presentations varying from one to three minutes in length.

The Micro-Lecture
While one minute lectures may be beyond the scope of imagination for any veteran teacher, Shieh reports on the piloting of the concept at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. The concept was introduced as part of a new online degree program in occupational safety last fall. According to Shieh, school administrators were so pleased with the results that they are expanding the micro-lecture concept to courses in reading and veterinary studies.

The designer of the format, David Penrose, insists that in online education “tiny bursts can teach just as well as traditional lectures when paired with assignments and discussions.” The microlecture format begins with a podcast that introduces a few key terms or a critical concept, then immediately turns the learning environment over to the students.

Penrose, a course designer for SunGard Higher Education, offers the following explanation of the process:

Stephanie Booth“It’s a framework for knowledge excavation,” Penrose tells Shieh. “We’re going to show you where to dig, we’re going to tell you what you need to be looking for, and we’re going to oversee that process.”

More in Line with Current Theory

With educators seeking more active learning environments, the microlecture format seemingly offers great potential. Not only will the process allow students greater ownership of their learning, the more open-ended nature of the follow-up materials should provide greater time variation opportunities for students who may need such time.

But as with all educational developments, the process clearly is not one that can be used for all classes. It clearly will not work for a course that is designed to feature sustained classroom discussions. And while the concept will work well when an instructor wants to introduce smaller chunks of information, it will likely not work very well when the information is more complex.

But just as most writers are taught to say what they need to say but do it in as few words as is necessary to accomplish their goal, the microlecture format similarly requires teachers to get the key elements across in a very short amount of time. Most importantly, it forces educators to think in a new way.

catspyjamasnzInstead of the framework being defined by seat time, the microlecture format ditches the traditional notion that all students must spend the same amount of time in class to receive credit. The concept focuses on what is to be learned and it allows, in the online environment, students of various skills and abilities as much time as they need to digest the learning objectives related to the microlecture.

Given such positives, one would think the format would soon become a critical component of every online course.

For those interested, here are Penrose’s steps to creating a one minute lecture:

1. List the key concepts you are trying to convey in the 60-minute lecture. That series of phrases will form the core of your microlecture.

2. Write a 15 to 30-second introduction and conclusion. They will provide context for your key concepts.

3. Record these three elements using a microphone and Web camera. (The college information-technology department can provide advice and facilities.) If you want to produce an audio-only lecture, no Webcam is necessary. The finished product should be 60 seconds to three minutes long.

4. Design an assignment to follow the lecture that will direct students to readings or activities that allow them to explore the key concepts. Combined with a written assignment, that should allow students to learn the material.

5. Upload the video and assignment to your course-management software.

Flickr photos courtesy of teddY-riseD, Stephanie Booth, and catspyjamasnz.

March 8, 2009   Comments Off on Online Education – Introducing the Microlecture Format

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, Ineptness, Ignorance, and More

It has been a while since we did a simple web walk and pointed readers to some interesting material and helpful resources. Today we offer readers four interesting link options, everything from Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy to a look at why ignorance does appear, in fact, to be bliss.

Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy

Almost a year ago we featured some of the work of Andrew Churches. The teacher and self-professed ICT enthusiast has taken the time to do a modern day mash up of one of education’s long-standing models for analyzing learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in the 1950’s, clearly holds a place of reverence within the educational community. Using a hierarchical framework to express thinking and learning, Bloom’s offers a set of concepts that begins with what we call lower order thinking skills (LOTS) and then progressively builds to higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

edorigamiIn education, the best teachers have made it a point to bring their students to the HOTS level of the taxonomy whenever possible. The belief has always been that acquiring knowledge and comprehending information (LOTS) pales in comparison to being able to analyze, evaluate, and apply that knowledge.

Where Churches comes in is that he began examining the traditional theory against a backdrop of the new digital age and the use of technology in the classroom. From his efforts, educators began being able to associate specific digital techniques with the traditional categories set forth in the taxonomy.

While there is clearly still much to be done to clarify these associations and properly place digital technology tasks in each category, teachers at least now have a framework from which to start and dialogue from. In keeping with the open source movement that is defining the future of education, Churches has now published his work in e-book format over at Scribd.

Those wanting to see both the rationale and the depth of assessment Churches has employed will find a free resource, Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (v212), at the site. The 44-page document is filled with information and is available for download, free, in multiple formats.

We highly recommend all teachers take the time to read this important document.

Among the Inept – Ignorance Is Bliss

An article that is now more than nine years old recently started getting tagged on As one great example of the challenge of filtering the wealth of material on the Internet, we missed the original article that takes a look at the behaviors demonstrated by people we might call incompetent.

In her article, Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance Is Bliss, Erica Goode cites the research of Dr. David A. Dunning. In true tongue-in-cheek mode, Goode sets the tone for the article with the following intro:

debaird“There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear he might be one of them. Dr. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

“On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.”

It seems “that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured” because ultimately “the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.”

Given that education is a people-profession, the article is a must read for everyone working in the field, especially those working in administration. With a strong push to ensure that every classroom is staffed with a competent teacher, the research of Dunning offers great insight.

Especially in the case where feedback is absent or ambiguous – in such instances incompetents generally do not realize their level of ineptness.

Open Courseware Toolset

A summary resource that offers a list of links to open courseware materials is available at the web site Best College Rankings. The Ultimate Open Courseware Toolset: 60+ Directories, Search Engines, and Web Tools offers readers an extensive set of links to a wealth of materials now available on the web.

What makes the list so worthy is that it contains some individual tools but many of the links offered are actually to other sites or web pages that then feature more links to more resources. The site lists links in alphabetical order (not weighing in on good, better or best) and breaks the material into three distinct categories.

They begin with a list of directories of various open courseware projects. The list features 22 links (some offering lists of 100s of sites) to “books, video lectures, teaching tools and more, all labeled with the open courseware tag.”

The second category features 16 links to a number of search engines and archives while the third and final category focuses on 23 web tools “that can help teachers, parents and students.”

The sheer volume of material, however, reminds us of how important our own ability to filter Internet materials has become.

A Parental ADD Resource

Finally, in recent days we stumbled across the web site of Brenda Nicholson, ADD Student. The mother of 3 children with Attention Deficit Disorder, Nicholson is a trained ADD Coach who began learning about the disorder over 20 years ago.

Booksamillion.comSurprised that many educational professionals knew little about ADD, Nicholson found she needed to educate herself. Because of her experiences, she has set up the ADD student resource portal for parents and professionals alike.

One simple aspect that spoke volumes to us was her advice regarding students on medication. Instead of pluses and minuses regarding meds, she notes that the taking of medications at school has become a major issue for everyone involved: students, parents, and educators.

Another is her focus on diet as a method for minimizing issues with ADD children and managing their symptoms. While some of the information is on a cost basis (a 12 week email coaching program for parents), there is also a wealth of general info free for site visitors including subcategory links to specific areas such as ADD and Life Skills, Organization, School and Time Management.

Flickr photo courtesy of debaird.

February 26, 2009   1 Comment

Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing, Part 2

Our credibility being of utmost importance to us, today we return to a prior post: “Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

We were taken to task to by one of the researchers, Dani McKinney, who had the following to say:

Tama Leaver“It is difficult for an author to know how to comment when the author of the blog did not actually read the paper that he is discussing. In fact, the effect of having the podcast only appears when the students in that condition worked considerably harder than those in the live-lecture condition. The effect completely disappears when the podcasts are merely listened to. To see the advantage, the students had to take notes of the podcast AND listen to it more than once. So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.

Please don’t comment on specific conclusions the paper makes by reading the abstract alone. That’s similar to attending the first week of class and the last week of class and expecting to get an A….”

Our Integrity

First and foremost, in writing about the results of a new study from Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera, iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, we acknowledged writing about the findings based upon the summary abstract. We chose to write about the topic based upon the fact that taped lectures were very timely given some of our prior posts. We also wrote using only the abstract because access to the full article was on a fee basis and not published using the creative commons approach that we have espoused (perhaps we have simply become spoiled).

To ensure we were not making assumptions, we did not speculate as to how it was possible for students listening to a podcast of a lecture to exceed the performance of those who attended the lecture in person. Whatever those reasons might have been, we did point out that if students listening to a podcast could even match the performances of those who attended in person, then greater consideration should be given to the less expensive, podcast option.

Replicating lectures at 100s of colleges then bringing students from far and wide to individual locations represents one of the biggest reasons for the current cost of higher education. Many online education advocates have begun speculating that a lecture repository could in fact replace the current delivery model and therefore reduce the costs of higher education significantly.

The Research

We noted that the basic experiment was quite simple. We wrote:

Tama LeaverThe researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. T hey too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Accordingly, based on the comments of the researcher, we need to add, “To see the advantage, the students had to take notes of the podcast AND listen to it more than once.”

In contrast to our support of others who had already postulated that professors could in fact be replaced, Ms. McKinney notes: “So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.”

More Appropriate Assertion

WikipediaGiven the feedback, a more appropriate assertion might be that it is time for all colleges to provide students access to podcasts of each professor’s lecture. That way, highly-motivated individuals would seemingly have access to the best of both worlds, the chance to hear an in-person lecture and later gain greater clarity by virtue of the opportunity to listen to the presentation a second or third time.

In fact, given the current costs of higher education, it would seem that students ought to demand such of their institutions. But at the same time, the added words of the researcher will do nothing to dissuade the current critics who insist that a podcast could in fact replace a professor provided a student has sufficient work habits.

In closing, we return to the words of Ms. McKinney:

“So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.”

That said, our guess is that being present to hear a lecture would still be considered exceedingly overrated by those prior critics. Because, unless a professor were in fact willing to repeat the lecture upon request by students, the opportunity to listen more than once and thus gain more accurate notes simply is not possible under the current delivery model.

Which brings us full circle, back to the original title of our article, “Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?”

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Leaver again.

February 22, 2009   1 Comment

Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

OK, this online learning concept may now have another feather in its cap. We recently discussed the notion of video lecture series being available online, a step that could ultimately render the traditional face-to-face lecture option obsolete.

tama leaverIn a rather interesting development, Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera have released the results of a new study. In iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, the researchers take a look at student test results depending on whether the student attended a specific classroom lecture or listened to the lecture as a podcast.

The Research

The experiment was quite simple. The researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. They too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Another Blow to High Cost Education?

We noted previously the potential outcome of high-caliber lecture repositories becoming available online. We quoted John Robb, who offered this simple caveat in regards to online lectures, especially if the taped version were delivered by the best in the field.

“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers” if there is at least one exceptional version available online.

Critics have long held onto the fact that being there and hearing the lecture in person, face-to-face, trumps any taped offering. The work of McKinney, et al, certainly undercuts that assertion.

Eli HodappUnfortunately, in an ironic twist for us, the folks at ScienceDirect have not caught on to the opensource education movement. To be able to read the full article regarding the study one must shell out $31.50.

So we have not been able to discern what McKinney postulates as rationale for the students listening to a podcast to perform better than those students hearing the lecture in person.

But the abstract alone confirms that as education gives careful consideration as to how best to implement technology, things change when the focus is on steps to make education more affordable. Because, if lectures and the accompanying power point slides available on iTunes produce even similar academic outcomes as traditional face-to-face lecture formats, then the enormous potential cost savings from taped online versions would in fact render the current educational model obsolete.

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Eli Hodapp.

February 1, 2009   9 Comments

John Robb on “The Education Bubble” and the Opportunities Provided

John Robb, the author of Brave New War, recently speculated on the future of American education at Global Guerillas.

His first noteworthy point centers upon his assessment of the current educational process. Referring to our current form as an admixture of industrial and artisan processes, Robb correctly notes that “the quantities of product (graduates) produced and the facilities resemble industrial processes” even as the “actual production is most closely akin to artisanship (with guilds, no less!).”

Amazon.comSuch a reference mirrors one of the age-old questions for educators. Is teaching a science or an art? It also raises one of the ongoing and legitimate criticisms of the current educational structure, one that actually follows the factory assembly line model.

Higher Education

Robb spends little time on that notion, instead shifting immediately to the costs of education and the failure of schools, at all levels, to significantly increase student performances despite enormous funding increases. Here again, Robb is dead on, and his description of the process as “an albatross of cost and stagnating quality” is certainly consistent with those who are concerned with the failure of public schools to significantly improve student performance.  

But Robb saves his strongest criticisms for higher education. Beginning with the costs for collegiate education, expenses that have increased 4.39 times faster than inflation over the last three decades, Robb indicates that higher education is no longer affordable for most households, especially as median family incomes stagnate.

Robb offers the following interesting assertion:

“Worse, there is reason to believe that costs of higher education (direct costs and lost income) are now nearly equal (in net present value) to the additional lifetime income derived from having a degree.  Since nearly all of the value of an education has been extracted by the producer, to the detriment of the customer, this situation has all the earmarks of a bubble.”

Unlike the Housing Bubble
While the current situation involving higher education has all the makings of matching the recent housing bubble, instead of the downturn facing the housing sector Robb sees the higher education bubble as offering immense opportunity to introduce educational improvements.  

At the heart of those improvements is the greater use of technology and the “ability of collaborative online education to replace much, if not most of in person teaching.” As many others have noted, there are some specific improvements afforded by greater use of technology in education:

  • Lectures – Robb notes that video lecture series, along with associated learning materials, for many courses at some of the best universities in the world are now available online. He rightly notes that such an option allows students to get the very best lecture available (“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers”). mrploughWhy attend another university when the very best lectures are available free.
  • Application – Robb adds the push towards just-in-time information processes. Operating online with a JIT focus, we “can train kids to adults in complicated and complex tasks in a fraction of the time other methods require.” Such an approach is the complete antithesis of our current approach, one that features a broad array of subjects and concepts with the idea that students learn certain materials just-in-case there may be a need to know sometime in the future.  
  • Collaboration – Robb notes the shifting of the business world from in-person work to a greater emphasis in online collaboration. Instead, at the university level, we continue the age old push to have face-to-face contact, with all students and the professor being present at the same time and in the same place. The idea of moving aspects online still is not “central to the educational world.”

We have discussed many of these notions in our prior work, including a lecture repository, just-in-time learning, and the need for education to begin to embrace the concept of social networking. We have also shared with readers David Wiley’s assessment that higher education as it currently is structured is “Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant.”

Education’s Shift to a Fully Online Environment
While some may see his suggestions as radical, Robb is unequivocal as to the future of education.

“The shift towards online education as the norm and in-person as the exception will arrive,” he writes, “however, the path is unclear.  It is currently blocked by guilds/unions, inertia, credentialism, and romantic notions.” 

As noted, if we are indeed in a higher education bubble, the current economic downturn could well become one of the key catalysts for a radical shift in educational delivery. Robb suggests that the need for local governments to balance their budgets in the face of dwindling revenues will demand extensive cost-cutting measures. Those cost-cutting steps will have to include reduced monies for education, often the single biggest local expense, forcing higher education to pursue more cost-effective delivery methods (online courses).

If we are in the midst of a real higher education bubble, schools will likely see a dwindling student population. Here, Robb speculates on a amazing option. What if MIT or Harvard decided to “offer full credentials to online students at a tiny fraction of the cost of being in attendance.”  He postulates that the result just might be “ten million students enroll in the first year to attend Harvard’s virtual world.”

metaweb20Of course, yet another option involves an entirely different take, one that features the opensource movement. If in-person education continues to be too expensive but no institution is able to step forward to create a major online brand, the entire world of education shifts. “A massive open source effort develops,” writes Robb, leading to the creation of “virtual worlds and other online courseware that rivals the best universities.”

In the third scenario there would be a need for a new credentialing agency. Of course one quick answer could be a continued move towards standardized testing and students demonstrating, by their performance on such tests, that their education in fact does match what one might have received in the more traditional college setting.  

The Future of Education
At the heart of Robb’s notions is the need for a “productive educational system that produces high quality graduates” but does so “at a small fraction (an order of magnitude less) of the current costs.” In addition, moving to online, just-in-time formats, would perhaps offer the kind of flexibility that is needed if workers, and our educational systems, are “to meet the challenges of a rapidly mutating global economy.”  

Robb even goes so far as to toss around a potential cost of $20.00 a month. While that seems a bit beyond the realm of possibility, the rest offers strong food for thought.

In fact, he might have hit one more proverbial nail on the head. While his ideas as to where education could head have been speculated by others before, his idea that the current higher ed financial crisis could be a catalyst for major change seems dead on.

In fact, in our history, once it has become clear that we can do something as well if not better at far less cost, the entrepreneurial spirit has taken off. Tougher financial times always place a demand on innovation, making us wonder:

Will education continue to be immune?

Or will technology finally intercede and lead one of the last bastions of our society to finally consider new, more cost-effective models?

Flickr photos courtesy of mrplough and metaweb.

January 29, 2009   1 Comment

At MIT – The Slow Death of the Classroom Lecture

Jodi Hilton, writing for the New York Times, begins her discussion of a fundamental change in the teaching methodology for the introductory physics course at MIT thus:

“For as long as anyone can remember, introductory physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was taught in a vast windowless amphitheater known by its number, 26-100.”

True of Most Large Universities
DrgandyThe sentence was striking as I did not attend MIT. But as a math major and physics minor, the image of 26-100 was the same as that of Bennett Hall and the extraordinarily large amphitheater-like lecture room that was my home thirty plus years ago.

I do not know how many students the room could seat – but somewhere between three and four hundred would not have been an exaggeration. And it was full for first semester physics and calculus, and it was nearly full for the second semester of those courses.

And while additional semesters were often held there, beginning with the third semester of each those courses they could have been held in smaller halls. That was because of the winnowing out of those who simply did not have what it took to be able to survive the demands as structured.

According to Hilton, at MIT it was “as many as 300 freshmen” who sat in 26-100 who “anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.”

A Monumental Change
Today, MIT has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture course with smaller classes. As befitting the latest in teaching methodology, the course is now taught with a hands-on, interactive, and collaborative learning approach.

Hilton is quick to point out that M.I.T. is not alone in the change. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard, physicists “have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.”

However, high school physics teachers will likely find the new format at MIT beyond the realm of comprehension. Hilton describes:

“Today they meet in high-tech classrooms, where about 80 students sit at 13 round tables equipped with networked computers.

“Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of general principles and engages the students as they work out related concepts in small groups.

“Teachers and students conduct experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates, calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white boards are all encouraged.”

TEALThe new approach at M.I.T. is called TEAL (Technology-Enhanced Active Learning) and the two classrooms cost around $2.5 million each.

The Day the Lecture Died
Once upon a time, the process of teaching physics at MIT (and elsewhere) involved a well-prepared lecture, delivered by a subject matter expert. If the professor was special, he not only was an expert, he had a little shtick that made the entire 50 minute ordeal a little less painful.

Of course, another name for the format was sit and get. Interaction with the professor was nonexistent, questions of understanding and of curiosity took place back at the dorm when fellow classmates attempted to piece together the information they had been presented.

Of course that process worked because the students made it work. At least for those who could make it work. As I noted before, surviving deep into these programs was a sign of intellectual prowess – not everyone was able to do so.

Hilton quotes Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard, regarding the prior practice:

infidelic“The people who wanted to understand,” Professor Mazur is quoted, “had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, ‘Let me figure this out.’ ”

Maybe at Harvard or MIT they could all figure it out eventually with effort. That was not true for everyone at my state college.

Mazur indicates the majority of students need a much different approach.

“Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV, likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.”

Teachers Mimic

Of course the other piece of the puzzle is that some of the students exposed to the prior methodology went on to become teachers (yours truly). When those individuals began teaching such courses they did what most would expect, they used the very same methodologies that they had been exposed to.

Yes, the very methods that led to attrition at the collegiate level, a weeding out of students who had not made the grade, often were used with students of even lesser skill level.

Fortunately today we know better – we know that “sit and get” is not a great classroom strategy.

PinelifeYet in classrooms without the requisite technology, the white boards and the assistants, it can be easy to fall back on the lecture format. In fact, the more sophisticated the material, the more difficult it is to stay away from the lecture format.

And With Change

Of course, while it was exciting to read about the positive changes at MIT, there was one small piece of the article that stood out in enormous contrast. It in fact leaped from the screen as I read.

“Of the core science curriculum required of all freshmen, only introductory physics follows the new method. Math, biology and chemistry are still taught through large lecture classes and small recitations.”

And even within the physics department, the “debate over teaching methods continues. Younger professors tend to be more enthusiastic about TEAL than veterans who have been perfecting their lectures for decades.”

But, even at MIT, it is only a slow death.

Flickr photos courtesy of drgandy, infidelic and pinelife.

January 14, 2009   3 Comments

Lawrence Lessig Takes on New, Bigger Challenge

Lawrence Lessig is the man most turn to when discussing the open source internet era. Lessig Lessig, of course, is the author of “Free Culture” and the founder of the Creative Commons.

The brilliant legal mind spent years pushing the intellectual-property envelope, seeking to break down the barriers that might limit current internet innovations by rethinking copyright laws as they exist today. The lawyer had the audacity to insist that the current concerns surrounding copyright infringements in the new media arena was not one debating artistic freedom and protection. Instead it was about control.

But with brilliance clearly comes the desire for new challenges. And so Lessig has taken on a new focus as he moves from the West Coast where he served as a professor of law at Stanford University to the East and in his new position at Harvard University.

Emphasis on Corruption
Having previously taught at Harvard Law, the move to the Stanford of the East (as Harvard is often dubbed by left-coasters) was not the real surprise. The biggest shock with Lessig has come from his shift in intellectual pursuits, to a new topic based on an age-old problem, corruption.

Lessig has begun a five-year commitment to examine corruption in government and academia. In his role, he will head Harvard University’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.

In an interview with Samuel P. Jacobs of the Boston Globe,
Lessig notes that both politics and academics have lost independence. The new emerging field of consulting creates a situation where professors and/or advocates receive funds from corporations for advice.

DSearlsHowever, by virtue of taking funds, these individuals, once thought to be independent thinkers, create a situation where the public begins to assume that money is behind all public policy. The result is that those people once-deemed independent are no longer seen in such a light.

The key of course is that public trust disappears when such independence is lost.

Corrupt System vs. Corrupt Individuals

One of the more interesting points Lessig makes in his interview centers upon the fundamental question of responsibility. The legal scholar believes it is time to shift the focus from the notion of corrupt individuals and examine the larger issue of how society creates corruption opportunities.

Lessig explains to Jacobs:

“There are some people who think about the word “corruption” and they are thinking about it as if it is speaking about something evil. . . . Evil brings to mind images like Hitler or Pol Pot. I’m very much of the view that that is not an interesting way to think about this problem. We have enough attention and understanding about why people like Hitler or Pol Pot or the bad guys in the financial crisis are bad guys. I don’t think we’re actually going to make much progress focusing more of our attention on those bad guys.

What we need to do is to recognize the bad guys in all of us. All of us who don’t take small steps that actually would have a significant chance to eliminate problems. In the academic context, when you don’t raise a question about colleagues who are accepting money to do policy research, making policy recommendations that are directly connected to the money that they are receiving, what you are doing is nothing evil in the Hitler sense. You are just being weak. You’re not asserting an ethical position that, if asserted, might actually help keep the integrity of the institution.”

Great Example

As but one example as to why the entire system must be looked at Lessig offers a story of a situation involving former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu.

“I tell this story in one of my talks about Senator Sununu sending me a nasty note, after I was down in D.C. talking about network neutrality, saying that I ought not to be shilling for these companies. It struck me that he couldn’t imagine that while I was down there doing public policy work, I might just be down there not because somebody was paying me to do it, but because I thought it was the right answer.”

DSearlsIn simplest terms, because other intellectual scholars have sold out, there becomes the assumption that all have done so. Of course the need for public trust in certain institutions goes without saying, but currently there seem to be fewer and fewer such institutions that the public can count on as being independent.

Lessig goes on to note the challenges we now face.

He first notes “the domains of public life where trust is a central part of the success of the mission of those domains: medical research or the legal profession or the media . . . or what Congress does” then adds, “trust is at the center of those institutions …

“If you want people to listen to you when you tell them that they should vaccinate their children against malaria, people need to trust that when you say the vaccines are safe, they are safe.”

Building Trust

Clearly, one key component to rebuilding trust will be to examine the current practice of business funding university research. While many schools have come to see funds from the business sector as necessary to their survival as research institutions, under Lessig’s model any school that accepts such funds is likely no longer able to assert its independence.

SimSullenAnd if the school cannot assert independence, then all respective faculty members likewise lose their ability to insist they are independent.

Lessig’s ability to get us all to rethink intellectual property has served the Opensource movement well. We truly hope that he can have a similar impact on the political and academic world.

Because restoring public trust in our political and academic institutions is essential to our society meeting the enormous challenges of the 21st century.

Flickr photos courtesy of DSearls, DSearls, and SimSullen.

January 11, 2009   No Comments

Will OpenSource Concepts Define Education in 21st Century?

Eliminating Control – Mark Pesce on the potential of a shared and connected, opensource educational environment.

In the process of web surfing, there are times you stumble on some gems – some material so transcendent you find yourself spellbound.

Such is the case with the work of Mark Pesce at The Human Network. David Parry, assistant professor of Emergent Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, offers his assessment of Pesce’s work on his AcademHack blog:

“I find Pesce to be one of the more provocative thinkers on the internet and matters of cultural transformation. I am not sure I always agree with what he suggests, but this is also one of the reasons I find him worth reading.”

ottonassarParry also notes the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, are the rarest of internet materials.

“In this series I read each piece at least twice,” states Parry, “some three times. They are that good.”

Fluid Learning
To fully grasp how education can be transformed by technology, we begin by taking a peek at Pesce’s Fluid Learning. But before we do so we turn back to our trilogy from last February, our review of the digital commons.

We noted the Committee on Economic Development’s report, Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness, that touts the success of the “Digital Commons” approach. The report notes the “benefits of openness” and insists that continued openness is critical for further growth.

Most importantly, the report challenges the thinking of those who view the digital world in the same manner as that of the physical world. And if one can begin to think about how we might replace the current physical construct for education amongst this new digital age, we perhaps finally see where a new learning model emerges.

Pesce writes:

“It’s all about control.

“What’s most interesting about the computer is how it puts paid to all of our cherished fantasies of control. The computer – or, most specifically, the global Internet connected to it – is ultimately disruptive, not just to the classroom learning experience, but to the entire rationale of the classroom, the school, the institution of learning. And if you believe this to be hyperbolic, this story will help to convince you.

“Flexibility and fluidity are the hallmark qualities of the 21st century educational institution. An analysis of the atomic features of the educational process shows that the course is a series of readings, assignments and lectures that happen in a given room on a given schedule over a specific duration. In our drive to flexibility how can we reduce the class into essential, indivisible elements? How can we capture those elements? Once captured, how can we get these elements to the students? And how can the students share elements which they’ve found in their own studies?”

Pesce offers four recommendations:

Capture Everything
WikipediaWhen it comes to traditional college settings, Pesce notes succinctly: “Lecturers are expensive.” But the process of “recording is cheap.”

Of course, recording everything creates enormous new challenges. It “means you end up with a wealth of media that must be tracked, stored, archived, referenced and so forth.”

In Pesce’s eyes capturing everything means no front-end decisions as to the worthiness of any material. Just capture and let the natural course of events determine its value.

Share Everything
In a move analogous to the recent open courseware available from Stanford and MIT, Pesce also notes, “While education definitely has value – teachers are paid for the work – that does not mean that resources, once captured, should be tightly restricted to authorized users only. In fact, the opposite is the case: the resources you capture should be shared as broadly as can possibly be managed.”

In making this mindset shift, Pesce explains:

“The center of this argument is simple, though subtle: the more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. You extend your brand with every resource you share. You extend the knowledge of your institution throughout the Internet. Whatever you have – if it’s good enough – will bring people to your front door, first virtually, then physically.”

Open Everything
Next instead of commercializing, Pesce suggests a look at the open-source solutions.

“Rather than buying a solution,” states Pesce, “use Moodle, the open-source, Australian answer to digital courseware. Going open means that as your needs change, the software can change to meet those needs. Given the extraordinary pressures education will be under over the next few years, openness is a necessary component of flexibility.

“Openness is also about achieving a certain level of device-independence. Education happens everywhere, not just with your nose down in a book, or stuck into a computer screen.”

And Pesce means open, fully open – thus filtering must be eliminated.

“The classroom does not exist in isolation, nor can it continue to exist in opposition to the Internet. Filtering, while providing a stopgap, only leaves students painfully aware of how disconnected the classroom is from the real world. Filtering makes the classroom less flexible and less responsive. Filtering is lazy.”

Only Connect
nathanaelbAs for the most transformative element, Pesce indicates it might well be the connective elements we now have available. His words mirror those of the recent Digital Youth Project survey, one that insists that social networking is fundamental to students using the computer and the internet as educational tools.

“Mind the maxim of the 21st century: connection is king. Students must be free to connect with instructors, almost at whim. This becomes difficult for instructors to manage, but it is vital. Mentorship has exploded out of the classroom and, through connectivity, entered everyday life.

“Finally, students must be free to (and encouraged to) connect with their peers,” adds Pesce. “Part of the reason we worry about lecturers being overburdened by all this connectivity is because we have yet to realize that this is a multi-lateral, multi-way affair.

“Students can instruct one another, can mentor one another, can teach one another. All of this happens already in every classroom; it’s long past time to provide the tools to accelerate this natural and effective form of education.

The Universal Solvent
As for how it all might work, take a trip down the “what if” of universal connectivity and sharing, of opening and capturing everything.

As one school places materials online, Pesce believes that a natural altruistic nature will prevail causing others to begin to follow.

“It’s outstanding when even one school provides a wealth of material, but as other schools provide their own material, then we get to see some of the virtues of crowdsourcing. First, you have a virtuous cycle: as more material is shared, more material will be made available to share. After the virtuous cycle gets going, it’s all about a flight to quality.”

DrupalThen comes a new frontier:

“When you have half a dozen or have a hundred lectures on calculus, which one do you choose? The one featuring the best lecturer with the best presentation skills, the best examples, and the best math jokes – of course.”

Of course, there would be a need to obtain student input to reach that level of information. We also would need a cataloging type site.

“Why not create, a website designed to sit right alongside iTunes University?” asks Pesce. “If Apple can’t or won’t rate their offerings, someone has to create the one-stop-shop for ratings. ”

And the real possibility for transcending education as we currently know it?

“When broken down to its atomic components, the classroom is an agreement between an instructor and a set of students,” writes Pesce. “The instructor agrees to offer expertise and mentorship, while the students offer their attention and dedication.”

But schools as we know them – are they necessary?

“The question now becomes what role, if any, the educational institution plays in coordinating any of these components. Students can share their ratings online – why wouldn’t they also share their educational goals? Once they’ve pooled their goals, what keeps them from recruiting their own instructor, booking their own classroom, indeed, just doing it all themselves?”

Currently, students do not have “the same facilities or coordination tools.” Our structures mean that at this moment “the educational institution has an advantage over the singular student.”

tujiguomanIn fact, that is what our current institutions offer for a strength, they exist “to coordinate the various functions of education.” But in the future, when we truly have an open school concept, we could well see a heretofore unheard of paradigm shift.

“In this near future world, students are the administrators,” writes Pesce. “All of the administrative functions have been ‘pushed down’ into a substrate of software. Education has evolved into something like a marketplace, where instructors ‘bid’ to work with students.

All About Control
When it comes to knowledge, the opensource, opencourseware movement is gaining ground. For Pesce, the rationale is clear and the benefits without limit.

Of technology and the internet, “The challenge of connectivity is nowhere near as daunting as the capabilities it delivers,” states Pesce. “Yet we know already that everyone will be looking to maintain control and stability, even as everything everywhere becomes progressively reshaped by all this connectivity.

“We need to let go, we need to trust ourselves enough to recognize that what we have now, though it worked for a while, is no longer fit for the times. If we can do that, we can make this transition seamless and pleasant.

“So we must embrace sharing and openness and connectivity; in these there’s the fluidity we need for the future.”

Some Thought-Provoking Work

We noted earlier that the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, represent the rarest of internet materials.

Like David Parry, we have read each piece at least twice. As a suggested order, we turn back to David for his suggestion for those interested in reading further:

“Start with Fluid Learning the first in the series, then check out The Alexandrine Dilemma and Crowdsource Yourself, ending with Inflection Points.”

Flickr photos courtesy of ottonassar, nathanaelb, tujiguoman, and KK+.

December 21, 2008   No Comments

Ira David Socol on Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Reforming Education

Today we present readers an in-depth interview with Ira David Socol, author of “The Drool Room” and the web site “SpeEdChange.” Our interest in talking with Ira centered upon three critical factors.

First, there is little doubt that Ira is passionate about education and the process of learning. More importantly, that passion is relentlessly focused on creating a learning process that is responsive to the needs of learners.

Second, to be frank, Ira shares some of our views on how best to reform education. He notes that there are a multitude of ways to create positive learning opportunities for students but our current school structures prevent the flexibility necessary to provide alternate paths. Like, he is also a strong proponent of the use of technology yet does not buy into the “digital natives” nonsense.

Third and perhaps most importantly, Ira is extremely courageous. He is unwavering in his support for students and is willing to step out on a limb if it means questioning the system. He is one of the rare individuals we have seen who has been willing to speak out about what he sees as fundamental flaws in programs like Teach for America and the KIPP school concept (Knowledge is Power Program).

Ultimately, we believe it is important that everyone involved in education is familiar with his work.

Can you give our readers a brief introduction to the key elements of your personal bio?

I come to the field of education from an interesting direction. I know that most in the field, be they teachers, administrators, teacher education faculty, are there because they liked school, and so they wanted to stay. School worked for them – at least on some significant level – and school made sense to them.

The key part of my bio for this interview is that none of that was true for me. From the beginning I hated school, and struggled with it. I have never seen school as a place for education, but rather as a place of compliance with nonsensical rules which have stopped me from learning.

But luckily I was shown alternatives. Early in my school life I discovered what were then “books on LP” – audio books – and I always preferred listening to reading. I had the good fortune to attend a Neil Postman designed alternative high school led by the best educator I know in America, a teacher named Alan Shapiro, and in that “school without walls” (or grades, time schedules, or requirements) I found the freedom to actually learn. I also saw, at Pratt Institute, that every subject (even concrete engineering) could benefit from flexibility, and project-based learning.

Mostly, I’ve had the chance to do many things. I’ve designed houses and been a police officer. I’ve worked on newspapers and pulled thousands of miles of network cables. I’ve programmed computers and worked for a homeless support agency. I’ve coached soccer and taught art classes. I’ve seen this very wide variety of humans learn and communicate in a very wide variety of ways. And in seeing this world, I have learned that the rules, the strategies, the technologies, and the methods typically taught in school do not match what actual humans need.

So, to educators, I’m a bundle of contradictions: the book author who seems to argue against books, for example. But outside of school, as we drive down the road listening to our audiobooks, or download our reading to our phones, people do understand what I’m talking about.

Can you talk a little bit about your book, The Drool Room? The visual with the reversed Rs in the title certainly creates a lasting impression. I am also not clear as to what is meant by a “novel in stories?”

I really worried about the reversed Rs. I fought the design at first. “Generic dyslexic humor,” as The Simpsons put it. But it does generate impact, and it tells a story in a very effective shorthand. As someone who does reverse and otherwise twist letters at times, I know the image well. “I have a kid brother, he’s six, he writes just like you.”

The Drool Room is fiction, but, yes, many parts are “autobiographically informed.” I’m not going to say which. It is not a memoir. It has experiences of mine and experiences of others assembled, tracking a – shall we say – “challenging student” through school and through life. There’s a thread – “seeing differently” is a lifespan kind of thing.

It is told as a series of short stories and microfictions which alternate through a non-linear story line. That’s a literary style: Joyce, Dos Passos, Seamus Deane, that I think really works. The straight-line novel, you know, see climax on page 312, doesn’t hold a great deal of interest for me.

Your blog SpeEdChange offers the sub-header, “The future of education for all the different students in democratic societies.” Can you provide greater insight as to what you mean by that sub-heading as well as what tends to be your focus on the site?

Let me take you back to the origins. When I began my graduate degree program many advised me to join a list-serve called “SpEdPro,” for special education academics, and I did. A month later I posted a response to some question, and in my response I suppose I betrayed my postmodern thought patterns. That is, I doubted the idea that quantitative research of groups could “prove” the best solutions for individual students. And I was immediately hammered – just flat out attacked – as if I was threatening the entire structure of society. The battle ranged across almost 100 posts, but I had, essentially, no defenders.

So, I quit that, and created SpeEdChange, a place where I might doubt, and find others who doubt. And where we might “Speed Change in Education,” especially for those labeled as “different” in our societies. It remains significantly a “special needs education” site in some ways – now, I don’t actually believe in special education, because I firmly believe that every student, every human, has “special needs” in some ways and is “gifted” in some ways – but I do believe in protecting our most vulnerable first.

The spirit of the blog lies in a couple of ideas. “Democracy” – not “majority rule” faux democracy, but actual “protection from majority tyranny” democracy, is essential for society and education. If we do not have that, we will never grant our students the right to control their own learning, and thus, we will never allow them to become effective lifespan learners. “Universal Design,” the idea that solutions in the classroom (or workplace) not be “prescribed” as if as cures for pathologies, but be offered freely to all, so that we learn to make effective choices. And “Liberation Technology,” the idea that using tools effectively is how humans free themselves from their individual and group limitations.

From your writings readers can clearly discern your strong opposition to the tenets of the Teach for America program. Can you highlight for our readers your thoughts on TFA?

Teach for America is a “colonial project.” It is a “missionary project.” It begins with the basic premise that the solution for the underclass in America is to make them ‘as much like’ rich white folks as possible. When you listen to the TFA leadership, they don’t really talk about “education,” probably because they don’t really believe in education. They talk about “leadership” instead. If they believed in education they would see education as important on the path to effective teaching, an idea they specifically reject, replacing it with the thought that since TFA corps members represent the elites (or, religiously, the “elect”), all they have to do is “lead” the downtrodden out of poverty.

This is essentially the British Colonial conversion concept. “We’ll fix Nigeria/Ireland/South Africa/India. We’ll just teach them to speak the Queen’s English, give them a Parliament, and make them wear powdered wigs in court. Then they’ll be civilized. And like the British Empire, this strategy is adopted because TFA’s board and supporters have no desire to ever relinquish power to a rising colonial population. If it’s all about “follow the leader,” the leader never changes.

Beyond that, TFA is a “cover up.” Rather than enlist our elite universities in the fight to reallocate resources, or improve democracy, or build equality of opportunity, or even simply to improve teacher pay, support, and status, we use them to offer the fig leaf of charity to deflect any actual movement within society.

And beyond that, TFA is a “good enough for those kids” effort. I say, over and over, that if TFA wants to prove itself, replace the faculties of the schools in Scarsdale, NY or Greenwich, CT, or at Groton and St. Bernard’s, with TFA corps members. And let those teachers – holding their current salaries – go to the TFA placements. If TFA improves the education in those wealthy places, it will have proved itself. If the teachers from those top schools have better impacts than TFA teachers do in the impoverished districts, we’ll know that better teacher training, better teacher pay, and redistributing resources is the way to go.

By most accounts, the TFA program seems to be immensely popular. According to what we have read, the program is turning away large numbers of applicants. In your estimation, why is the TFA program so popular?

Of course it is popular. It is marketed as a great way to build your resume while assuaging liberal guilt at the same time. It offers the perfect entitlement, a job without the need for real commitment or the effort which goes into real training. As banking jobs shrink, this seems the perfect two or three year placeholder.

You also have frequently shared your opposition to the Knowledge is Power Program (the network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools, called KIPP). Can you share with readers your position and why you have taken such a stance regarding this program?

Let me put it this way. Let’s go to those “best schools in America” in the wealthiest suburbs of New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles. Why aren’t they run like KIPP Academies? Always ask this when rich people offer “solutions” for poor people which those rich people would never accept for themselves.

Oh yeah, the rich parents want creativity and flexibility and diverse curricula. They want individualized discipline (if they want discipline at all). They’d have very little patience for chanting in classes and being told what to do with their children at home. But, you know, “those people,” they’re not “like us.”

Again, we’re back at the brutally low expectations, and the inherent racism and classism of colonialism. So, sure, convert Scarsdale High into a KIPP Academy, show me how it works there, and then offer it to those “less fortunate.”

Today, everyone is interested in improving education, there just seems to be real disagreement as how to best do so in our country. If you were to advise the incoming Secretary of Education on a couple of must areas to consider, what would be the two aspects of education you would most want to see reformed moving forward?

I’ll start with two words: Technology and Flexibility. We need to rethink the technology of our schools, from the shape of our classrooms to the schedules of our days, weeks, and year, to our text systems. Right now we are stuck in buildings quite literally designed in the 1840s (when chalkboards, desks, chairs, and books printed on rotary presses were all “scientifically” introduced). We are stuck with quasi industrial timing, and the industrial processing notions of “grades” (not marks, but the years in school). Only when we break those bonds, and use the technologies of our time to break through our geographical and knowledge boundaries, can we begin to find the flexibility we need to create education which finally works for more than one third of the population.

That flexibility means not assessing for “expected” (based on group averages) progress. It means teachers having “instructional tolerance” for differences in student learning styles and behaviors. It means project-based, interest-based learning which responds to learner needs. It means Universal Design in both technology and practice so that students learn to access and work with information in the ways most effective for them. It means accepting – finally – that “what you learn” is far more important than doing it in any exactly prescribed way.

That is “the change we need.” If we do not begin there, it is all tinkering around the edges, and honestly, that is worthless.

In your two posts last April on teachers and technology, you clearly took a strong position on the issue of technology in education. Could you highlight for our readers your general view of where technology fits in the 21st century classroom?

I believe that, in many ways, we define our human cultures by our technologies. This is because we are, above all else, tool users. Without tools, humans as we know them could simply not exist. So we say, “The Bronze Age,” “The Iron Age,” “The Stone Age,” now, “The Information Age,” because that is who we are.

Right now our classrooms are based in “Age of Steam” technologies. From the desk, to the time schedule, to the mass-printed ink-on-paper book, to the machine made pens and pencils. It is as if we are running “heritage academies,” producing people ready for the jobs, and the higher learning, of 1890.

That is disastrous on so many levels, not just as job prep. In my PhD program the ink-on-paper book is stunningly rare. Research is on line, communication is on line. I need to know how to Skype or Google Chat with distant colleagues, to glean data from blogs and list-serves around the world. I read many newspapers, but none are on paper. I convert reading which is difficult for me from text-to-speech, and my phone converts voice mails from voice-to-text. In every place I go, if I look around, the communication devices and “learning containers” are different from those we focus on in schools.

More important, technology liberates, it breaks boundaries. You have a non-reader? They can still grab the world of literature, and do it independently. Someone who can’t hold a pen? They can still express themselves to the world, without waiting for a scribe to help. Have a child in a distant rural area? They can access every one of the world’s greatest libraries. Have two communities separated by issues of the past? Join them digitally first, and let them build connections.

More practically, students need to know how to use email, Google, mobile phones, texting, blogs, online newspapers, and how to use them appropriately and effectively simply in order to survive. Don’t buy the “digital natives” nonsense. These are skills like any other skills, and they have to be learned. We are either teaching them, or we are not giving our kids the tools they need.

Schools which fail to embrace these technologies leave their students behind. No, their rich, majority group students will be fine, those technologies (and, say, Blackberry strategies) will be there at home. But the vulnerable students will be left in the dark.

So, any insight as to what is next for education?

Education ‘as we know it’ is about social reproduction. We are trying to produce students who are “just like the teachers.” And there is a sad feedback loop in this, educators see, in the students who succeed in these reproductive schools, people just like themselves.

But we need to be better than that – not because our standardized tests “prove” that only about one third of our students “achieve proficiency” (or ever have, you can look back at the stats at least to 1867) – but because our society needs to change, because it is changing, and schools need to support that.

But it is very hard for teachers to support learning which does not look like their own learning. Very hard. It requires levels of tolerance, of empathy, which are rare. It requires flexibility and a dramatic change in the role of the teacher. And it requires information and communication technologies which can offer pathways that the teacher can not.

It also requires more respect for teachers, more freedom for teachers, and much more support, in terms of ongoing educational opportunities and much better initial teacher training.

It isn’t easy, but I think it is essential.

Flickr photo courtesy of LGagnon.

December 11, 2008   17 Comments

Coach for College – An Interview with Program Founder Parker Goyer

While most college students can find the time to study abroad, such an opportunity is generally not in the cards for Division I student-athletes. In addition to their studies and the pursuit of a degree, student-athletes competing at high-profile colleges also have to make a year-round commitment to their respective sports.

Such was the case for Parker Goyer, Birmingham, Ala., now in her first year of study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While studying at prestigious Duke University, Goyer was a member of the Duke tennis team that reached the Final Four indoors and the NCAA quarterfinals twice.

But the year-round commitment to school and to athletics left Goyer little opportunity to travel abroad or to partake in community service. Recognizing that there must be other student-athletes with similar sentiments, Goyer came up with a bold plan, creating the Coach for College program.

We briefly discussed the impetus for the program in our post yesterday. Today, to give interested readers the chance to get an in-depth look at the concept as well as Goyer’s future plans to expand Coach for College to other schools and regions of the world, we present a Q & A with the program founder.

Can you give some concrete examples of the lessons you sought to teach youngsters in Vietnam that you believe helped them develop some of the academic, life and other skills needed to successfully attend a college or university?

In addition to providing youngsters with fitness and sports-specific instruction and infrastructure, coaches taught youth through five academic modules that focused on the application of sport to academic subjects. These modules were entitled Sports and Health (Biology of Sport), Sports and Science (Physics of Sport), Sports and English, Sports and Leadership, and Sports and Education (Psychology of Sport).

First, the program helped equip youth with some of the intangible skills from sports which are translatable into other domains. The overarching idea is that skills like perseverance, determination, setting and achieving goals, and overcoming setbacks, all of which can be learned through sports, are the keys to success in education as well.

The second way the program sought to prepare youth for college was by providing them information about college, both in America and Vietnam, from the “experts” (current college students in the two countries). This information was provided through a 30 minute class on Higher Education at the end of every daily camp session, reinforcing the main goal of the program.

For youth in Vietnam to go to college, they must pass the university entrance exam. In order to be in a position to pass the exam, they must do well in their subjects in school, particularly the ones they hope to study in college. Thus the third way the program sought to prepare the youth for college was by teaching traditional academic subjects with examples from sports. Studies in neuroscience have shown that getting people excited enhances learning, even if the excitement is not strictly related to the material being learned. Hence by connecting academics, which is not always enjoyed by youth, with something they view as fun, like sports, we felt that we would be able to get the kids excited when learning traditional academic subjects, excitement which could eventually turn into passion for the academic subjects themselves. Once they became engaged in learning these subjects, the kids would hopefully be more motivated to learn these subjects during the school year and get good grades in them. Furthermore, excitement for academic subjects often leads to an increased desire to stay in school.

The fourth way the program sought to prepare youth for university was by providing them with ample opportunities to interact with a variety of role models. In many ways, because they were from similar cultural, geographical, and socioeconomic backgrounds (69% grew up in low income, rural areas), had faced similar obstacles (such as lack of money to pay for college), and had achieved the educational goals the program aspires for the youth to attain, the Vietnamese college students were perfect role models for the youth in the program and were well positioned to maximally impact the youth in a positive direction. The Vietnamese high school students functioned as “next step role models” whom the youth can emulate on their path to higher education. The American student-athletes showed the youth how to translate lessons learned from sports into success in the classroom; they were able to draw from their own experience to show the youth how the same skills needed to go far in sports can be used to go far in education. For each of these role models, youth can learn from their example and apply it to their own lives.

What have been two of the most important individual lessons you have taken from the enormous challenges associated with creating the Coach for College Program?

First, that anything is possible. A lot of people were skeptical at first and thought that I was too young, that this was too big of an idea, and didn’t know if I could pull it off. I think I was able to succeed by setting concrete goals, identifying key supporters early on, and using their advice and support to make steady progress towards my goals, one step at a time.

Second, my experience in setting up the Coach for College program reinforced the value of sports in transmitting key life skills. I found myself drawing upon some of the same skills – persistence, work ethic, setting goals, overcoming setbacks, etc. — that I had used to make progress as a tennis player. At the NCAA National Student-Athlete Leadership Conference last May, I tried to convey to the student-athletes there that they all had similar skills, simply by virtue of their experience with competitive sports, and could utilize these to make a difference in their local and global communities.

Who do you think got more out of the program last summer – the students from America who were involved or the youngsters that you worked with?

Usually, in these types of civic engagement programs, people will say that the American students benefit the most. I really tried to devise the program in such a way that the youth and coaches (American student-athletes and Vietnamese high school and college students) would each derive significant benefits. Each group filled out surveys at the end of the program, and based on the information they provided, each group seemed to obtain the benefits that I had intended for them. Personally, my primary goal is to help the middle school youth, and I intended the benefits to the coaches to come as a natural by-product of their participation in the program.

We have read where you want to involve more American colleges and bring students to additional countries. What progress have you made thus far towards that goal and what is in the works for the future?

The goal is to utilize Duke and UNC student-athletes to continue the program at the Hoa An Secondary School year after year, so that Vietnamese students can participate in the program during their middle school years, become a coach in the program as a high school student, and receive support to continue onto college, where they can again participate as a coach in the program during the summers. Coach for College will also seek to raise money for scholarships that will allow program participants to attend high school and college. In the summer of 2009, a program will again be held at the Hoa An Secondary School. After the recommendations for improvement from those involved with this summer’s pilot program have been implemented, it is hoped that the next program can include more student-athletes from Duke and UNC and impact more youth from the Hoa An Community. Currently, the 2009 program is being financed by a $175,000 International Sports Programming Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of State, along with $85,000 from Duke University ($75,000 from the Office of the Provost and $10,000 from the Athletic Department).

In the summer of 2009 programs may also be set up at other middle schools in Vietnam, involving student-athletes from other rival American universities, such as Virginia Tech and Virginia and Oklahoma and Texas. I have been talking to student-athletes at Virginia Tech and Oklahoma about developing programs with their student-athletes and student-athletes from a rival school (UVA for Virginia Tech and Texas or Oklahoma State for OU). I also gave two 20 minute presentations to 400+ student-athletes and administrators from universities across the country at the NCAA National Student-Athlete Leadership Development Conference in May of 2008. At this same conference I had a table set up at the career expo, and 100 student-athletes signed up to help bring the program to their schools. Things are farthest along with Virginia Tech. My liaison there has already met with several key administrators and I already have a site picked out for the second program, in Vietnam’s Ben Tre province, which I visited last March during an advance planning trip for the program.

For long term plans, as additional sites are included, the program will provide “gap year internships” to recently graduated college student-athletes who participated in the program. They will serve as U.S. based site coordinators who will help with the administration of the program. As additional sites are included, the program will also allow the summer program’s host country coaches and participants who have graduated from college to help with the administration of the program as in-country site coordinators.

The sports targeted in this program are standard and follow universal rules. They can also be played, enjoyed, and understood by a wide variety of people, regardless of their native language or cultural background. Therefore modules designed applying sport to subjects such as science, language, and leadership can easily, after being refined and efficacy assessed, become a standard curriculum for the Coach for College program. This will hopefully allow for replication throughout the Phung Hiep District, the Hau Giang Province, and eventually throughout all of Vietnam. If the program proves to be successful in Vietnam, it may also be useful in other countries, with necessary adjustments for culture.

The efficacy of the program in achieving the desired objectives will be assessed over time utilizing research methodology developed in conjunction with professors at Can Tho University. The results of the research will be used to improve and refine the program so that it has maximum benefit for everyone involved but particularly for the middle school students it is designed to aid.

Based on the success of the pilot program, Coach for College would like to partner with professional athletes, sports related companies such as Nike, and the local government of the Phung Hiep District in providing a sports court (with a set/standardized design and cost) for all lower secondary schools in the District by matching 50% of the funds to build sports courts at each of the District’s other 13 schools. The building of the sports courts would coincide with the standardization of the schools by the government. Under this plan, an all sports court would be built for a school at the same time the government moves to bring the school’s infrastructure up to the standard level (since the same materials used to make improvements to the school’s infrastructure could also be used to build the sports court). The proposed court construction program would be for the Phung Hiep District only as a pilot, with potential expansion to the Mo Cay District, then others through the provincial level (beginning with the Hau Giang province in particular) based on the success of the program. In addition, utilizing professional athletes to provide funding for the material costs of one or more sports courts can help raise the profile of the program, provide resources for the construction of further courts, and create a list of sponsors who will feel personally connected to the Coach for College program and the partner middle schools it serves.

The all-sports court built next to partner middle schools in combination with the summer camps can be used to facilitate the development of sports leagues during the academic year, consisting initially of teams of students from the same school and eventually of teams from different schools which compete against each other in a commune, district, or province wide sports league. The sports leagues can be designed in conjunction with international and United States sports experts. If these sports leagues are successful, they may be eventually transferred to the university and college level, as in the United States. There is great potential for this as sports leagues of any kind outside of state-sponsored professional teams do not exist in Vietnam. There is also considerable room for entrepreneurial development of junior and community sports leagues in both rural and urban areas, facilitated by the American and especially the Vietnamese summer camp coaches.

In the coming years, other universities will be asked to become a part of the Coach for College Network, spearheaded by Duke University with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, by inviting them to send student-athletes to participate in the Coach for College program. Universities which are athletic rivals will be invited to sponsor Coach for College programs at new sites, utilizing the existing conference structure present in intercollegiate athletics. Conferences can sponsor programs in particular regions of the globe, with partner rival universities working at the district or provincial level.

In the future, Coach for College will seek to raise money to pay the high school ($225 per year per student) and college ($1218 per year per student) fees for youth who have participated in the summer camps, who excel academically, and who exhibit the sportsmanlike qualities of cooperation and leadership skills and motivation to stay in school.

Eventually Coach for College will be linked to Peacework’s Village Network to integrate the program into a larger community development context. Peacework most often begins its initiatives in rural villages via assistance to schools in the form of infrastructure improvements and educational enhancement. Peacework then matches these communities with universities who engage in a variety of disciplines such as agriculture, engineering, social work, education, medicine, and business to systematically meet that community’s comprehensive development needs. This cooperation would lead to a rollout of the Coach for College program in Peacework partner communities around the world. In turn, should Coach for College begin in a new site outside of Peacework’s network of partner communities, Coach for College and its beneficiary schools could feasibly become an entry point for larger community development via the Peacework Village Network.

If you were to select one person (family member, teacher, coach, professor) as your primary role model in life thus far who would you select and why?

I’ve always been very much an individual and have sought, for the most part, to do things differently from others, as a means of trying to create my own unique impact. A quote I’ve always liked is “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Thus I wouldn’t say I’ve ever really had a role model but there are definitely people I admire — Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach for America, Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health while a student at Harvard Medical School, and “Greg Mortenson, who builds schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan (described in the book Three Cups of Tea). I try to pick and choose from the experiences of different people like that to guide my own thinking. That said, I’ve been blessed to have had dedicated mentors throughout my life — my AP U.S. History Teacher and AP Latin teacher in high school, several professors in college, particularly within the fields of neuroscience and education, and most recently, several administrators who have been involved in helping me launch the Coach for College program, such as the provost at Duke and former Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill. The importance of such mentor figures in my own life influenced me to make mentor-ship a key feature of the Coach for College program.

Next up, Parker Goyer earns a Rhodes Scholarship.

December 2, 2008   1 Comment