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There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about sweatshop conditions in technology companies, for example, Amazon.com, and while some people just don't care, others have advocated remedies such as unionization to address these conditions, as for example is happening at Gawker. This post is a poorly informed argument against unionization. Here are its major arguments and my responses:
- "It's impossible to take individual performance into account when attempting to set collective compensation practice" - nonsense. I work in a unionized environment where people have very specialized skills and pay and promotions are based on performance, not time served
- People opposed to the working conditions "would quickly be displaced by another person willing to make those sacrifices" - not true. In a unionized environment individuals are protected by the possibility of collective action by everybody. You aren't on your own in a union.
I am in favour of unionization. Historically, non-union workplaces feature lower pay, harsher working conditions, fewer benefits, and weaker job security. People arguing against unionization are either uninformed, like this person, or they are advocating on behalf of company owners and management. They stabilize the economy, create wider social benefits, and increase productivity.
This is a review of an open source alternative to Premiere or Microsoft Movie Maker. It's called OpenShot and the only real drawback is that it is only available for Fedora and Ubuntu Linux - though if you're using an open source video editor you probably already use Linux.[Link] [Comment]
Paul Fain has written a really good, nuanced article at IHE covering the update that Essex County College gave of their developmental math adaptive learning pilot at a recent conference in Washington, DC. We did a two–part case study on ECC in our e-Literate TV series). The headline results are as follows:
- In the first year, the pass rate was worse than in the traditional classes. (The first semester was “disastrous.”)
- This year—the second year—the pass rate is coming closer to the traditional class but is still underperforming.
- The article seems to imply that students who earn a C in the personalized learning class do better than students who earn a C in the traditional class, but the article is not explicit about that.
There is no magic pill. As Phil and I have been saying all along—most recently in my last post, which mentioned ECC’s use of adaptive learning—the software is, at best, an enabler. It’s the work that the students and teachers do around the software that makes the difference. Or not. In ECC’s case, they are trying to implement a pretty radical change in pedagogy with an at-risk population. It’s worth digging into the details.
Let’s start by reviewing the basics of their situation:
- ECC has a 50% pass rate in their lowest level developmental math class, and a 50% pass rate in the next developmental math class up. Since a substantial majority of ECC students place into developmental math, a big part of ECC’s college completion problem can be traced to students failing developmental math.
- ECC believes that a big reason they have a high failure rate is that students come into that class with an incredibly wide range of prior skills and knowledge—wide enough that a traditional lecture-based class would not address the needs of a majority of the students.
- They decided to try a radical change in the way the developmental math course was structured.
- Students would work self-paced on a mastery learning curriculum in labs using McGraw Hill’s ALEKS adaptive learning software. Students could ask each other or the roving instructor for help.
- Students also met with a teacher each week, separately from the lab sessions, to report their progress of the week, assess the success or failure of their learning strategies, and set new strategies and goals for the next week.
So why does ECC think that they are not getting the results that they hoped for? Doug Walercz, ECC’s Vice President for Planning, Research, and Assessment, offered a few observations. From the article:
- “[A]daptive courses provide less “accountability.” That’s because students move through content at different paces and it’s harder to make sure they master concepts by a certain point. ‘There is no classwide mile post.'”
- “[T]he college leaned heavily on graduate students from nearby Rutgers University at Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to teach parts of the adaptive courses during the first year.”
- “’We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content,’ he said.”
- “Faculty buy-in has also been a challenge. In adaptive courses, instructors do not give lectures or teach in the traditional format. Instead, they circulate among students who are working on computer-based courseware, offering help when needed, much like tutors. That feels like a job ‘below faculty status’ for some instructors, Walcerz said.”
Putting this all together, here is what I see:
- ECC is starting with an at-risk population, a large portion of which probably has not been taught good meta-cognitive skills or help-seeking behaviors.
- They are putting those students into a curriculum which, whatever its other virtues may be, puts a higher demand on those meta-cognitive and help-seeking behaviors than a traditional class would.
- The burden of addressing that weakness in the course design falls on the faculty. But ECC has been working with untrained and inexperienced adjuncts—in, fact, graduate students—as well as some faculty who may be hostile to the project. (ECC has since moved away from using graduate students, according to the article.)
There may or may not also be problems with the software. For what it’s worth, Walercz seems to think highly of the software and doesn’t believe that it is contributing to the poor results. Personally, I think the problems with the match between the student skills and the course design are sufficient to explain the problem. The kind of burden that a self-paced program like this puts on these students is somewhat analogous to the burden that an online course puts on them. We know that the type of population that would be enrolled in a developmental math course in a community college in Newark, NJ typically does not do well in online courses. The difference is that, in ECC’s design, there actually are faculty there to intervene and coach the students personally. It stands to reason that the quality of that coaching would be a critical success factor.
Does this mean that ECC’s approach was a bad idea? I don’t think so. Differentiated instruction is a logical pedagogical response to a heterogeneous class problem. But it can only work in their environment if they have appropriately skilled, trained, and motivated faculty. ECC made substantial investments in software and facilities, but this result highlights the fact that the critical success factors in many cases will be making a substantial investment in providing faculty with appropriate professional development and a motivating compensation and promotion plan. It sounds like they have come to realize that and are taking some steps in that direction.
Truly effective innovation in education is hard. As Phil likes to stress, it takes both brutal honesty regarding the results and a commitment to iterate when the results are almost inevitably not what we hoped for in the first try. A while back, I blogged about an interesting case study at MSU where they did exactly that with a psychology class. If you read the comments thread in the follow-on post, you’ll see that Mike Caulfield brought up a potentially new insight that the course’s DWF pattern may be related to interactions between the course’s absence policy and the blended format. Course problems (and course successes) can be subtle and hard to tease out.
There. Is. No. Magic. Pill.
To me this is old news because the model has been repeated frequently inside NRC to describe the organizational changes we've undertaken over the last few years. But it's worth posting this link because it's a lucid account from someone close to the source and because it describes a trend coming to an institution near you. It's based on a "‘ triple play’ framework of exploration-experimentation-exploitation seems to me to give us a working criterion for innovation as an overall process:
- Discovering new knowledge or ideas (including both invention and discovering what others may have begun to do)
- Translating and testing the new idea or knowledge as a working artifact (product, service or practice)
- Adapting and extending the artifact for wider use to generate organizational/social value."
The big change at our institution was move down the criteria, to shift from "discovering new knowledge" to "translating and testing" and even "adapting and extending". The view has been that there is no shortage of discovery (especially in Canada) but that there is a greater need to adapt knowledge to create social and commercial value. But I fear this will become a wider trend absorbing all our institutions.[Link] [Comment]
LinkedIn is the latest social network platform to shift its emphasis on keeping people in its sandbox. "LinkedIn used to be a steady referral source for many publishers. But that’ s changed as the social network for professionals has prioritized its own media and its contributor network. For the first eight months of the year, referral traffic to SimpleReach’ s 1,000 publisher base declined 44 percent." This despite the fact that users are still referring as many links as in the past. LinkedIn recently began building a publishing platform for professionals and now offers more than 130,000 posts a week, many written by managers and professionals.[Link] [Comment]
I first met Alec Couros among that amazing gathering of people at the inaugural PLE (Personal Learning Environment) conference in Barcelona, in 2010. Alec is Professor of educational technology at the University of Regina in Canada. I add him to my list of selfies and photos for many reasons (here we are larking about on the Barcelona Metro). Alec is very influential in the world of learning technology, and has a huge following on Twitter and other social media channels. Alec is what you would call a 'connected educator', and you can watch him talking about this in an interview with Howard Rheingold during a video webcast. Watch out in particular for his ideas around 'visualising networks' and how tools mediate connections.
When you hear Alec speak you realise just how passionate he is about openness in education. He is a true champion of web democracy, and he practising what he preaches by sharing all his content and resources freely. Time and time again he demonstrates how social media and personal technologies can be used to enhance learning, engage students, reach out to others and gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. He also has a wonderful sense of mischief, and makes you think deeply as he entertains you with his humour. I don't know anyone else in the field of learning technology who can pack so many fresh ideas into a keynote speech. Many of his talks and all of his slideshows are available online to download for free - and I admit to having used some of them in my own presentations over the years!
Photo by Joyce Seitzinger
Selfie number 5 by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
Internet. Me refiero a lo que tiene Internet. Que con esfuerzo y tiempo y con ayuda del correo electrónico se pueden saber muchas cosas. John P. Walsh y Sahra Jabbehdari presentaron hace unos días en la convención anual de la Asociación Americana de Sociología un estudio sobre “invitados” y “fantasmas” en los artículos científicos (1*).
¿Sobre los “invitados”? Pues son esos que no han escrito una línea, no han revisado nada, no han participado en la investigación que se presenta, pero… sus nombres aparecen en la “cada vez más larga” lista de autores de un artículo.
Al menos un tercio de los artículos incluían como autor a una persona que no había participado en absoluto en la investigación previa o en la redacción del texto.
¿Sobre los “fantasmas”? Pues son los que sí que han colaborado en el texto, han participado en la investigación, han trabajado, ... Pero, ¡oh desgracia!, sus nombres no aparecen. Hay dos tipos de “fantasmas”: los que no “conviene” que aparezca porque existe un conflicto de intereses (ya saben, trabajan en una empresa etc. etc. etc.) y los, ¿cómo no?, becarios o estudiantes de postgrado que, además de llevar el café, también investigan. No hace falta decir que es una muy mala jugarreta para su desarrollo académico.
Al menos la mitad de los artículos no incluían como autor a personas que habían contribuido.La siguiente tabla la reproduce Jaschik y es tan sugerente que no necesita comentario. Nos muestra el porcentaje de “fantasmas” encontrados según las disciplinas, con especial énfasis en los estudiantes de grado fantasmales.
Disciplina % de artículos con estudiantes de grado fantasmas % de artículos con algún fantasma Agricultura 28% 67% Biología 15% 56% Informática/Matemática 30% 40% Química 23% 45% Ingeniería 50% 68% Ciencias ambientales 30% 66% Medicina 16% 55% Física 17% 42% Ciencias Sociales 30% 52% TOTAL 22% 55%
Y es que es lo que tiene. Internet. Que al final todo se sabe.
Walsh y Jabbehdari hicieron un estudio con 2.300 respuestas de autores “principales” de artículos académicos.
Su intervención ha despertado numerosos comentarios, por ejemplo:
Jaschik, s. (2015). Who Gets Credit? En ASA (24/8/2015).
Otro texto sobre el tema:
Distribuida bajo licencia CC
I don't see how reading a few pop philosophy business books gives you "a clear-eyed understanding of the world and how it works." So what would I recommend instead of these parochial choices? How about these:
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu - take the time to understand this and distinguish between the trappings we add to our understandding of the world as compared to the very simple reality underlying it
The Art of War, Sun Tzu - this classic is the textbook for competitive environments and makes it clear that being successful is as much a result of discipline and strategy as it is pure power
Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes - there are more modern books on scientific reasoning, but this work is a grounding on the mental approach needed to create aa systematic understanding of the world
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill - Mill writes from the perspective of having thoroughly understood Aristotlean and Kantian ethics, and drafts a model for society based on the happiness of the people actually living in it
The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker - this book faces life's ultimate problem head on and talks about how we find a reason to live in a world that is ultimately meaningless
I could add a dozen of so other essential books that will round out your life (including, yes, Machiavelli). But from the perspective of actually leading life and being successful at it, these are probably key.[Link] [Comment]
My long-term outlook for this app is not positive, but I think it's interesting in that it shows the importance of activities outside the classroom for success in college. These activities were certainly importance for me - everything from editing the student newspaper to being a referee in Campus Rec football games. The ideaa of using the game to ultimately pay poor people to participate in these activities by gamifying them probably won't work in the long run, first because the game creates extra overhead, distracting from the activities themselves, secondly, because of the cost of managing the funding, and third, because of disagreements over which activities qualify (I cannot imagine that my participation in campus socialist party politics would have been supported financially). But even though this particulaar app may fail, it will lead designers to think of how to include these extracurricular activities into the online college experience, and that is definitely good.[Link] [Comment]
This might not be intuitively true, but when you think about it for a bit it becomes more evidence. Technology, far from isolating us, is making us more social. "The days of being able to plug away in isolation on a quantitative problem and be paid well for it are increasingly over." The article suggests at the end that the push from business for social skills is not new. True. But it was not that long ago when the advice coming from the business sector was that schools should drop the 'soft' skills and focus on science, technology, engineering and math - the STEM focus that still holds sway in many quarters. The corporate sector thinks short term, and forgets very easily. That is why they should not design education policy.[Link] [Comment]