The Declining Value of the College Degree

This post is based on this article

It is important that we are having this discussion. But, as the article says, it’s not black and white. In some areas, demand in the workplace is high enough where a full 4 year degree is not necessarily the best option. Somewhere in this discussion has to be the nature of the 4 years degree itself. We spent our time in K-12 experiencing liberal arts where we explore all subjects, then in college we still spend the first 2 years doing that again. I would be interested in seeing options for the a degree 1) full degree as we have always done and 2) just the in-subject core classes required for graduation, 3) core-classes + x optional classes. Employers and society can decide which is most effective. It may be that some degrees do require more general education coursework, while others such as engineering might just focus on core subjects. Perhaps the core subjects are offered for the main degree, then if needed, students can “add on” course work after gradation to enhance their degree, kind of like a la carte. Either way, the traditional model of college will soon be dead. Just like every industry, it must adapt to stay relevant.

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The Future of Education

The United States is slowly coming out of these crazy covid times….scarred badly, but alive and kicking. Education, typically a slow-moving and change-resistant institution, saw that it can actually pivot quickly…and in many cases, effectively.

What did we learn?

As a country, we learned that remote education is possible, and in some ways, highly effective. Will it replace in-person school? Absolutely not. But, we don’t really have to choose one or the other. As in business, the best way forward is not one answer, but instead a hybrid approach that takes the best of many worlds.

There are also some powerful questions to ask

  • Do we really need a full school year to teach a class?
  • Do we really need the volume of content that we had pre-covid?
  • Is the 7-classes-a-day, changing-every-hour model effective for learning?
  • Can we please please please reconsider the role of standardized tests?
  • Even after students return to the classroom, should some classes remain online?
  • Should schools require some level of online learning as a regular part of the curriculum?
  • Are students forced to attend only schools physically located near them?
  • Is there a place for entirely online high school education?
  • Can students learn on their own using resources such as Udacity and
  • Can we finally get rid of bulky and heavy textbooks?
  • What new tools and strategies will teachers bring back into their classrooms?
  • Can we accept that there are numerous ways to evaluate besides a traditional test?
  • Is the lecture, homework, lecture homework, quiz, test pattern of education finally seeing its irrelevance?
  • Can students learn with the teacher not at the front of the classroom?

    Remote education allows schools to reach students outside of the traditional 8:00am-3:00pm school day. What does this mean? Some communities may find value in having school available 24/7/365. That does not mean your teachers are working 24/7/365, but the learning is available. This also means we are not necessarily bound to a Sept-June school year, with a spring break, summer, vacation, and holiday break. For the in-person environment, it means the doors can be open evenings, weekends, and during summer break. There may be students and teachers who prefer a non-traditional schedule. Maybe there is night school, weekend school, a true summer school, but that are equal and comparable to any other education available,

    We learned that some types of classes can be effectively done asynchronously, where the class material is prepared in advance and students can access it any time, anywhere. Extra help, additional resources, reinforcement activities can be effectively done without a teacher present. Amazing tools such as Khan Academy allow students to learn new content without the need for a teacher to deliver. Many teachers spent this last year generating huge amounts of online resources and learning tools. We can take advantage of this. Some educators even learned that they enjoy this challenge and will take some of these new tools back into their physical classrooms. Some students thrived in this world and learned some self-reliance tools to enable them to learn on their own.

    “Money” by thethreesisters is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    At the college level, we saw the high cost of college finally get challenged. Is the value there as it once was? We saw online learning become not only a realistic option but a highly effective instrument of change. Many colleges are offering online options, and in some cases, entire degrees. With most k-12 schools being liberal arts-focused, where students explore a wide variety of classes, do students still need to spend an extra 1 or 2 years at the college level to complete “general education” requirements? That alone can reduce the cost of higher ed by tens of thousands of dollars.

    “Leica test shots, 06 – Aug 2015” by Ed Yourdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    We learned that lecture, note-taking, and multiple-choice tests as the main instrument of educational delivery no longer have a place. Online learning opens up the possibilities and potential for cheating. Designing assignments and evaluations which are generic in nature, purely objective, and repeatedly used, are ineffective. The role of project-based learning has gained traction and acceptance, as educators realized not only can it work online, but when planned correctly, can be a highly effective instrument in both in-person and online learning. Educators over the last year saw the value of changing it up to keep the engagement factor alive. In remote learning, teachers quickly learned that they have to break up the learning. 60 minutes of passive learning will put your students to sleep. Hmmmm…wasn’t that also true in the classroom as well? Teachers quickly learned that students want and need to collaborate together. Hmmmm…wasn’t that also true in the classroom as well? Teachers quickly learned that providing a variety of experiences, including multi-media, taking advantage of individual time as well as group time, shorter and longer assignments, summative and formative assessments–all of these lead to a more engaged classroom. Hmmmm…wasn’t that also true in the classroom as well?

    Remote learning did not necessarily introduce new problems, but it brought existing imperfections(and opportunities I might add) in our educational systems to the surface. Things that we have known, or should have known, to be true simply came to the forefront. And it was also front and center on the news.

    “Left in the Dust” by Bill Gracey 25 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Covid did not cause our schools to fail. The schools that will fail going forward from this point will be the ones that go back to the pre-covid status quo. If there was ever a time to redefine what we want in our schools, now is the time.

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    The Value Proposition in Education

    What happens in before and after classes is where the real value is

    No question that schools earn their tuition when students are on campus. There are great academics, clubs, service projects, sports, study groups, friends and peers, amazing learning experiences in the classroom, fun gathering places, assemblies, speakers, cool research projects, activities, groups, student government, career search assistance, art exhibits, school newspapers, intramurals, student demonstrations, practices, games, extra help, and of course amazing faculty, and staff who will drop whatever they are doing to help a student or parent. The energy on a school campus is electric.

    In great schools, it is what happens outside of class that makes them great. Of course great academics are the foundation upon which all that happens, but these “extra” elements are where the real value comes from.

    As we look to finish out the year virtually. As we look to fill our summer programs virtually. Even as we consider what the fall semester will look like, private schools, universities, and colleges must be asking a different question: What is our new value proposition?

    Online learning, in some ways has leveled the playing field. Within the schools that are able to offer online education to its student population, most are getting by teaching math, science, history, art, computer science, language, and even physical education. And yes some creative teachers have found ways to be more effective than others in that teaching, but overall the new learning is relatively equal. What I mean is that there are not really any visible way to distinguish features, at least not enough to distinguish excellent learning vs good learning.

    Private schools K-12, private and public universities and colleges, suddenly have to define what it is that they can offer that distinguishes them from their competition. In some cases depending on where you are located and who your audience is, just offering classes online might be enough, or at least minimally enough. Or is it?

    What are you doing above and beyond to earn tuition dollars

    Tuition, whether to a K-12 private school, public university, or private college can go from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Our traditions, extra-curriculars, intangibles, and activities that go on inside of the buildings on campus are what justify that amount.

    How can you justify that amount when those elements are no longer part of the equation?

    You have to define your value proposition. Why would people pay you money, especially when that money is hard to come by… especially if there is a similar product elsewhere for less, or even free. What are you doing for your constituencies that others are not? Are online classes alone worth the value of the tuition? Are you able to offer the exceptional quality of learning online? Better yet, do you even know how you will determine that? What else are you doing?

    There are 2 things you have to do right now.

    Make it clear to your constituencies that you are trying hard, pushing the envelope, reaching out, thinking out-of-the-box, experimenting, taking advantage of every tool you can. You are doing everything in your power to earn their tuition dollars. Your community must be aware of everything that you are doing. Communication, marketing and advertising are vital. Get the word out. Get in the paper. Get on TV. Get on the radio. Get on social media. Send regular correspondence via email. Make phone calls. Send out newsletters, surveys, and brochures. Let the name of your school be in their mind throughout this. The best complaint you can have now is that you are communicating too much. Let your school be a known in the middle of these unknown times.

    Go back to your mission statement. Read and re-read it, and then get your best team members together and figure out how your school can accomplish your mission given the new circumstances. Think hard, study the words, what can you do right now, think in-the-box and think-out-of-the-box, what is at the core of the mission. And by the way, failure is an option here!! Meaning: it is OK to try things. Some of those ideas may not work out as planned, but your students and families will appreciate the attempt. Get back up and try again.

    In times like these with more unknowns than knowns, schools have to re-define their value propositions.

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    Virtual Reality in education and business

    This morning I went to an art gallery that was completely empty.–and loved it. It was empty until I put on my Halolens. Then the entire gallery came to life as it filled with vibrant 3D colorful artwork, moving statues, and interactive explanations. It was 100% immersive augmented reality…and amazing. I could not help think of what this would look like in the office and the classroom? Imagine taking a potential client through an entire 3D experience of life with your product/service. They don’t just hear your pitch, they feel it and interact with it. What if students could actually be inside the heart as it was beating. Students could stand next to a great leader as they delivered a famous speech. They could watch hydrogen and oxygen atoms come together or explore real math as they build a bridge. No limits to the possibilties.

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    Is the college model relevant?

    I was intrigued by a recent Linked In post commenting on the irrelevance of the current college model. This speaker was actually referencing yet another talking-head whose point was that the current college educational model was an excellent preparation tool for the world. Hmmmm…I don’t think either person’s point of view is “correct”, because there is no single answer. What I do think is that the current model of traditional “high school to college” model, while it is not necessarily broken, is just in need of a makeover.

    Typical college lecture

    “sunway university college” by T|ng~ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    I get it—It’s scary to take a system which has been around for 100+ years and mess with it. If you change it, and it fails, the institution which took decades to build, could fall in ruins. It could take years for the system to change. What families want their children to be the guinea pigs for that transition. Then again, there might be many willing and even eager to take part.

    The cost of college has become unrealistic for many; getting through college for most without a loan, is simply not an option. Now,that being said, I will also suggest that there are ways to do it; of course if you want to go to an elite private school with no scholarship opportunities, then yes that is going to be incredibly expensive.And for some the name recognition and status symbol of some schools will continue to be a draw. But a good state school, especially with scholarship opportunities, is within reach for those who really want to make it work. My family was able to find a way to pay for college in cash semester by semester. It was not easy, but we did it. Our gift to my son is a college degree with no loan for me or him. So don’t tell me getting a loan is a given.

    A variety of college students

    “Fall 2010 hackNY Student Hackathon” by hackNY is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    What does college do well? They bring lots of people together from various backgrounds. Unfortunately, especially in the first couple years, classes tend to be the exact same as the high school curriculum. The first two years of most degrees are full of non-major classes. The meat and potatoes of most degrees really start to kick in junior and senior years. I am not suggesting that in-major classes should be taught exclusively, but a college major could easily take 3 years, not 4. That would shave $10-$50K off the cost of college. And would probably increase graduation rates, which by the way for a 4-year degree are < 60% nationwide. Some colleges are riding their own coat tales and are becoming irrelevant with their resistance to change and evolve. Many are still stuck in an outdated mindset which is starting to be tested in new ways by students with new perspectives. For those colleges, it is vital that they consider their value proposition.

    Is the value of a traditional degree still worth it? Are there other options?


    “3D Shackled Loans” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As a high school teacher for 20 years, and as a parent, I became familiar with the marketing and selling points made to seniors from the colleges. One thing for certain, academics was not the primary selling point for many schools; the campus tour and highlights were more aligned with lifestyle, extra curriculars, community, and sports. Nothing wrong with any of those, but not as the major reason for attending a college at the price they are charging. What 18 year old is not attracted to a parentless Disneyland? Many parents just assume they will take a loan, or worse require their child to take a loan. But, quite simply, an 18 year is not capable of understanding the impact of a college loan. I have friends who 10-20 years later are still paying for college. Another important element to consider is that for many people, the degree that they work so hard to get from their college experience does not necessarily dictate what type of job, or even what industry, they will find themselves. Passion, interest, flexibility, and the ability to adapt may be just as important.

    OSMCS at GT

    Georgia Tech Online Masters of Science in Computer Science

    The speed of internet, and proliferation of high tech has been foundational for e-learning platforms and on-line college degrees to move from what was once perceived as a scam, to on-line learning being a tool used by pretty much every college in the United States. COVID has surely moved that along. Whereas some colleges made assumptions their classes could not be done well online, the last several months have found that there are some disciplines that have found that they totally can. We still have a lot of figuring out to do in making those classes effective and engaging online, but the initial fears are gone. Suddenly, those schools have access to new revenue streams as students can be from any place in the world. Universities and colleges that innovate over the next few years might not only survive, but thrive. But, even with these new students, keeping the engagement high while teaching true career preparation skills will prove to be a challenge.

    For-profit colleges, such as Apple co-founder’s Woz U , are experimenting with a new style of college model. Completely new approaches such as Make-School are disrupting as we speak. Time will tell to see if these models can be self-sustaining. Boot camps are providing technical skills in months, not years, and for a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree. In fact, in some areas, Youtube for free can provide enough learning for an entry level position in some industries. Google is experimenting with this space by providing a career-tracked certification program, for hundreds of dollars, that is viewed equivalent as a college degree. Many people are quick to cancel these, and yes if you use traditional models of education as your evaluation tool, then yes they do not accomplish the same goals. Of course that is exactly how and why they might actually succeed…because they are not the typical path. Especially in industries where supply and demand are so out of sync, these explorations may very well be an alternative answer. These are not liberal arts degrees with all the “extras”. There is no Greek system, exploratory basket weaving classes, or rock climbing walls.

    For the mid-career professional, companies like Udacity are offering on-line upskilling , not to replace college, but as a tool for the mid-career professional to redefine their career in a reasonable amount of time and money, in other words–level up. For many people with full-time careers and families, going back to college is simply not an option, financially or logistically.

    Higher Ed is facing challenges unlike any they have seen before. This has nothing to do with COVID, but the COVID situation has certainly brought the topic to the forefront. Students have more options than at any point in our educational history. As we start to look with different eyes, we will start to see that there is no longer just one way to the top, but many ways to many tops.

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    Inclusion and Diversity in the Engaged Computer Science Classroom

    I was honored to have been asked to present as part of Microsoft’s Hack the Classroom: Change Maker series.

    It focuses on engagement being the key factor towards attracting a wide variety of students

    Here is that video

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    The silver lining of corona in education

    Schools are infamous for slow change. Yes, most schools have made more change in just weeks than they made in years. Of course there were mistakes, gaps, failures, and challenges….but there were also surprises, problems solved, advances, and tremendous successes.

    What we experienced from March – June was(is) not necessarily what school is going to be long term. However, technology allowed us, in many areas, to continue some level of learning despite a deadly virus all around us. This would simply not have been possible 10 years ago. Yes, there were some areas where connection and technology was limited, but that was also the case before this all happened. In many cases, teachers were able to provide that vital and needed connection with school. I am not talking about teaching Shakespeare, Boolean variables, causes of the War of 1812, or Pythagorean theorem; I am referring to that idea that education—for many students— is part of the path to their future. It is one of the places where students learn the skills to become active contributors to society. Teachers providing that connection with school, without knowing it, were helping keep that dream alive. That is what we experienced from March – June.

    Tough times like this do not necessary create new types of learning, but instead simply take what was already there and amplify it. What that means is teachers that were at least willing to try , think out of the box, and be thoughtful were able to make much more progress than they ever imagined. Schools that were proactive were able to provide learning when many thought not possible. Educators did not simply throw up their hands. Instead, quite the opposite– it was all hands on deck. Teachers in all grade levels found that regardless of their level of comfort with technology….online learning and project-based environments were in fact able to enable them to offer authentic learning experiences. And if you asked these teachers what they would do different or better next time, they already have new ideas in mind. Most of the teachers I talk with already have numerous nuggets to take back to their face-to-face classroom as well. Many are ready for(or at least expecting) what will come next.

    That is why the fall semester need not be something we are afraid of, but instead excited about. Will it be different? Yes. Will it be like school in the past? No. Will there be failures? Absolutely. Will there be huge wins? Without question. Will we have to make adjustments on the fly? Yep. Will it be easy? No. But education has never been easy.

    As I said before, times like these amplify what was already happening, but instead of spending a year transitioning into a new pedagogy or trying out a new project idea, we are doing it in weeks or even days.

    Tools like Microsoft Teams help us connect remotely

    Why is this working? Mainly because students are resilient, flexible and adaptable. Educators who are willing to be open minded have also been resilient, flexible and adaptable. Schools that charge tuition, including higher education and private education, have no choice in the matter; they must adjust their value propositions (read my thoughts on this vital realization) to justify the dollars coming in. Those schools that do not adjust will not survive. This is nothing new…these crazy times have simply sped up the process.

    What am I excited about in the coming “future” (which has already arrived) of learning?

    Higher education will have to change how they sell college life. Parents and students over the last decade who went on admission tours were given glimpses of rock climbing walls, new construction, football stadiums, dorm rooms, and Greek life housing. Little was discussed about the academics. Yet now with a limited campus, the academics are all that they have. And isn’t that what college is supposed to about anyway? The pursuit of learning?

    Interactive learning is the new norm. Projects, problems, hands-on activities have taken the place of worksheets, multiple choice tests, and even exams. How we spend our time when we are physically or virtually with students has changed dramatically. What we want students doing with the limited time we are allotted out of class has also changed. Lecture simply does not work in virtual learning.

    We are learning that testing is not the only way to evaluate learning.

    The time table of learning is finally a discussion we can have. 7 periods a day for 5 days a week is incredibly not conducive to good learning.

    The traditional schedule of school running from August – June is also a discussion we can have. Is our current model the best model to take advantage of the world, as it will be the next couple of years?

    Doing the even problems at the end of the chapter style of homework is dead. Using homework as real tool outside of class…as opposed to busy work is what has replaced it.

    What is considered a core class is now not clearly defined. This is a good thing. Students are demanding that classes like art, music, and physical education are a regular part of their virtual day. These are the classes that offer a complete different experience than traditional core subjects. They provide a needed change of pace, while being incredibly valuable in ways that traditional “academic” classes cannot be. Are we finally realizing that these classes are possibly even more valuable during times like these. Mental and physical health are far more important than solving for x.

    High school graduation requirements in high schools are finally on the table for discussion

    College admission requirements and the admissions process itself is finally changing.

    Standardized testing is finally not a top priority in schools. This may be the best news of all. Standardized testing, in the way that we do it and use it, drains the life out of our schools.

    We are finally transitioning from occasionally incorporating technology in the classroom…to technology just being a natural tool that allows us to interact with students and student to interact with subject material.

    The place of traditional textbooks in education is finally a topic for discussion

    Digital portfolios, presentations, and artifacts are being used as a legitimate tools to document learning. This is an indicator that we are looking to demonstration of learning as opposed to regurgitation of content.

    One of the side dishes of silver that is also coming along with this craziness is that parents are now having an appreciation and understanding of school, learning, and teaching….in ways they never have before. The fact that ‘it takes a village’ is now more true than ever.

    We are reevaluating what grading means…and where and how it fits into learning.

    Innovation, exploration, and experimentation have become required skills in successful teaching.

    So, while there are many unknowns in the coming months for all of us in education, this is not necessarily a negative. After all, isn’t learning itself just helping people learn about unknowns?

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    Learning in post-covid times

    After 12 long months, education is starting to re-open, teachers are finding their way back into the classroom, and students are re-experiencing in-person classes again. From a technology perspective, schools have made more headway in the last 12 months than in the last 12 years. From a pedagogical point of view, we have some serious questions to ask and some decisions to make.

    During these same crazy times, we have seen tremendous growth in the professional up-skilling and digital transformation fields. Mid-career people across the planet realizing that there are powerful tools available on-line to help them break out of their current role and build a path to that next job. Companies like Udacity have seen tremendous growth.

    Over the next couple of months, I am going to lead you through some must-have conversations starting with this post looking at the current landscape by diving into 2 of the major types of learning that people are experiencing:

      Asynchronous learning
      Synchronous learning

    We’ll also look at some best practices in both arenas.

    How am I defining asynchronous and synchronous learning? For the purposes of this post, I am defining synchronous as regular face-to-face learning where the teacher and student are interacting in real-time in the same space. While there are some variations of asynchronous learning, for the purposes of this post, I will define it as the course/course content is already created and available and students are working through that content with no human instructor.

    This post is not necessarily simply about differences between online and in-person.

    My background
    I have worked in education for most of my life. That includes 20+ years teaching in the in-person (synchronous) Computer Science classroom where the pedagogy was 100% student-centered / project-based learning. Students learned skills through the actual doing of the projects themselves. In my current role with Udacity, I help build courses for the asynchronous environment. Asynchronous learning can happen both in schools or in professional learning.

    Let’s take an in-depth look at both.

    In-Person synchronous
    Let’s start with the environment that is more familiar because it reflects learning for many people.

    The classroom atmosphere and feedback

    One of the most immediately clear benefits is the various types of direct and indirect reactions and feedback you get from being in front of the people you are teaching. This comes from various places including sensing the atmosphere in the classroom, expressions on student faces, hearing off-the-cuff student comments, overhearing peer-to-peer feedback, walking around seeing where students are getting “stuck” and also what they seem to be mastering, listening to the kinds of questions you get, and noticing when a concept or skill needs an extra example or an alternative explanation.

    From the teacher perspective: Questions
    The types of questions students ask during class are incredibly valuable to the perceptive teacher. The language of their questions gives you a clue as to how they are interpreting the content. As the lesson goes along, students can ask clarifying questions. Additionally, you can actually ask students what they think. “Does this make sense?” “Can you explain this back to me in your own words?” As a teacher, you can make changes and tweak on-the-fly, even class-to-class. After class , students can come by and ask for help, where you get to re-explain, re-demonstrate, or partner them with other students. Better teachers learn to answer questions with more questions to get students thinking for themselves; this is a vital element of that student-centered environment. From the emotional side, an intangible reward of teaching is seeing the “aha” and “YES!!!” moments. Sure they happen asynchronously, but we do not get to enjoy that with the student. Perceptive teachers will pay attention to what helped get the student to that point–and that then incorporate that going forward.

    In face-to-face environments, the flexible teacher can adjust the types of presentation(abstract, concrete, visual, multimedia, interactive, etc) based on immediate feedback. Responding to a specific question or class need, the instructor can create resources on the fly that enhance the learning experience. Impromptu discussions and elaborations are gold in person because they happen in the moment; the effective teacher uses current events that pop up in the news.

    From the student point of view, students get responses to questions in real-time when they need it. Students can help each other by asking and answering questions from peer students. There is an art to managing a class of multiple abilities and intelligences; one of the techniques is allowing opportunities for all students to get recognition and have some wins, both privately and publicly. Teachers develop skills in handling the typical day full of student mood swings, bad days, and stressful times.

    All that is possible when you are in front of the students in a synchronous environment.

    Asynchronous Learning

    Learning online has gone from a couple MMOCs to an entire education ecosystem. This has the capability of serving students in dramatically different ways. There are no borders or limits to who can access. Students can learn 24/7/365. Students can work and learn at their own pace and are not tethered by the pace of slower or faster fellow-learners. This environment allows students to rewatch lessons as oftern as they like. Students are truly in control of their own learning.

    For the instructor, it involves a very different approach than in-person. Every element of the learning experience has to be prepared in advance. Not only do you have to anticipate the communication of knowledge and learning content, but also anticipate the students themselves. Students in this environment may be from anywhere in the world and thus incredibly diverse. You do not have the luxury of tweaking, adding, and making changes once the course is released.

    Importance of questions

    You have to anticipate the questions in advance. Where do students typically get blocked or struggle? That struggle is not necessarily bad, in fact it might even be vital to learning, but you have to plan for it….so when students encounter that point in the learning, the struggle does not become a blocker. If you were in-person, what guiding questions would you ask the struggling student? How can you do that in advance? Let those questions be part of the original content delivery. Ask the questions aloud as you introduce the topic in your videos or in your supporting resources.

    Curriculum is not as dynamic…once it is posted live, it is “up there”. You have to anticipate that you only get to explain/present/show once, so you have to convey your ideas in the way that most students will get it. You even need to think about the kinds of examples a struggling student needs and what kind of example the more advanced student needs. You might have some examples from the perspective of ability or progress, instead of content “if you are here” or “if you were able to figure this out” or “still struggling with this?”

    For the student, there is minimal or no collaboration with peers, little chance to bounce ideas off peers, or no opportunity to ask on-the-fly clarifying questions to peers or instructors. How can students manage successfully in this space? Lots of resources, effective FAQ, opportunities to test their understanding throughout in small or big ways, and provide guided and unguided hands-on experiences.

    Wandering eyes
    In some places, local learning means there may not be a wide diversity in the class. The teachers knows the students in the school well in advance. Asynchronously, you cannot anticipate the diversity of the classroom, so in your content, you have to have make sure you use names, images, and stories that relate to a wide variety of people, trying hard to be inclusive but trying equally hard NOT to be exclusive. In a face-to-face classroom experience, students’ eyes are wandering around the room noticing what is on the walls, windows, and on the white board. How can you tap into this natural tendency asynchronously? Make sure the stories and examples in your prepared content delivery already represents types of people from different gender, ethnicity, culture, life style, and personality. And is what students are hearing, seeing, and experiencing representing people who are like themselves?

    We often hear that the best teachers meet the students where they are at. That is much easier done if the student is in front of you, but this can still be true asynchronously as well. There need to be lots of resources for students to use to be able to answer their questions. Recognizing that learning differences exist in advance, allows you to to address the various learning needs for students of all levels of skill. What the weaker student needs is far different than the go getter. Provide resources for each of these levels of student.

    From the student perspective
    A huge benefit of asynchronous learning is that students can skip ahead, skip over, go back, and go forward; the learning need not be sequential.

    This is vital to understand.

    Students do not get answers to their questions in real time. So how do we keep smaller questions from becoming learning blockers which cause frustration? Students have to be comfortable moving-on and coming-back. That there may not be as many options for peer-to-peer collaboration is one of the elements that bothers me the most because–experienced teachers know peer-to-peer learning is powerful and can be where some of the best learning happens. How can this be represented asynchronously? Student forums and discussion boards are one attempt, but these are only useful if many students value this. In my time at Georgia Tech in their OMSCS, I learned quickly that these forums were where I could find other students at the same points in the learning as I was. They were asking the same questions, which means the answers and responses we were getting were what we needed at that time. In some of the classes, professors encouraged students to use the student discussion boards, provided rewards, or even let it be a requirement. There is no perfect solution there, but the attempt is important. Other options are required student peer-to-peer feedback. Have student review other student work and give positive and critical feedback. This is valued by students in the classroom and will be valued by students asynchronously as well if done right. I am referring both to receiving and giving feedback; ideally students are getting some feedback if possible, but the act of giving it is equally valuable. Consider an assignment where students critique previously submitted student work.

    Take advantage of thoughtful rubrics, students can self-grade their work before submissions and keep their learning focused and on track. The rubric is going to be the exact instrument by which student work is evaluated. These can help guide students on what really are the important elements of the assignment, allowing them to focus effort and time where the instructor intended.

    From the teacher perspective

    In any subject area and in any class, one of the key elements is connecting the course to the world around them. When those moments pop up in real time, effective teachers take huge advantage of it. Asynchronously, there are no impromptu elaborations or discussions. You have to anticipate these in advance and include them as part of the content. Create assignments where students reflect on a world event related to the topic. There is tremendous value in students thinking about and articulating these thoughts. Don’t forget to updated every year to keep current.

    Don’t get caught up thinking that the only way something can be learned is by you telling them. Even in asynchronous learning, there can be discovery learning, where students, through the interaction with the content and assignments…actually learn. In fact, self-derived learning is as valuable as learning what they are shown.
    It is significantly hard to include humor and personality into a class, but you can and should. Include a funny story or joke, but know that your students are from different backgrounds, education levels, age, cultures, religions, and country. You don’t have the ability to explain or prepare, so consider jokes whose focal point is the topic itself, not the people interacting with the topic.

    The connection that develops between a student and instructor is an important one, regardless of how the course is taught. That you care about the student and their learning, that you are passionate about the topic, that you appreciate others wanting to learn more, and that you have put a tremendous amount of thought into the course—-all of that has to be clear to the student and represented throughout the course. The best courses will have students loving the course, connecting the instructor, feeling challenged but supported, and learning a lot.

    One powerful tool used in the classroom is using actual student-examples in your teaching. You cannot do that asynchronously as you would in person, but you can show sample examples of student work with common mistakes and use that as a spring board as part of the original content and learning itself, instead of as it as an add-on or an extra help option. This also make the content real and relatable to students.


    As with most solutions, it is not one or the other, but instead a blend of the best of both. What are the elements of in-person learning that are vital? How can those be represented online? And vice versa, what are some vital elements of asynchronous and how can they be represented in-person. Having designed curriculum for both environments, I believe creating curriculum for the asynchronous environment is the bigger challenge to do well, simply because there is not the chance to make real-time changes. So, be clear what the tool is, and why you are doing it, so students will recognize what you are attempting to do, and they will appreciate the effort as they engage with the content.

    If something I said makes sense to you or you want to follow up any of the ideas presented here please connect with me.

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    We have some choices to make right now.

    We teachers have some choices that we have to make right now. Many of us have established some connection with students via technology, but what happens during those times of connection is tremendously varied. Social media has offered us numerous experts who can suggest ideas, strategies, and even best practices—and yes it is at least a start—but that advice is just as varied.

    What are your top 3?

    I don’t think it is really that difficult to provide excellence in learning, even when the element of “unknown” is overarching everything we do. First, let’s agree that we do not have a definition of what excellent in teaching looks like in this situation. What we are doing now is not true online learning, it is more of a stop gap measure—a temporary solution to get us through unprecedented times. So, we cannot expect these teachers to be providing the same caliber of education as they might in person. This is a CRUCIAL point to understand for teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, students, unions, and state leaders.

    So, what then can we do?

    Simple. I want you to do 2 things for me:

    1. think about what you do, why you do it, and what you love about your discipline, and what you love about education. Now, if I know teachers, you have a list a mile (sorry world outside of USA…I mean a kilometer) long. Now, prioritize that list with your most vital elements at the top….and you cannot list all of them for a tie at the top. YES, I know you well. Now, choose your top 3.
    2. Think about your discipline, area of study, skill area or subject area. You have 2 months left this year and you know how far along you were before Corona hit. What were you originally hoping to get through by the end of the “normal” semester? Now, prioritize that list with your most vital content/topics/skills at the top….and you cannot list all of them for a tie at the top. YES, again I know you well. Now, choose your top 3, but make sure these are specifics, not general topics like “history of the world” (Yes I know you well). And if any of you put the word “test” or “quiz” on any list, remove it immediately. If you put the word “grades” in either list, then also give yourself permission to remove it immediately. Now, choose your top 3.

    Ok, now you have your marching orders. Take your top 3 from each list and merge them together. This is all you focus on for the rest of the semester. I am not suggesting the other items are not important, but they are not going to be part of what you do. So, yes, grade level teachers should collaborate on one (or both?) of these lists. Yes, department chairs should help department members with these lists. But, I will also challenge you that it is 100% ok if your lists are different. In fact, I will suggest that is a good thing.

    Work your way UP the pyramid

    How to do that? My “expert” advice (you knew it was coming, right) is this: Make sure the time students spend focused on your class is a combination of multi-media and multi-stimuli experiences. Let them do some research, let them do some “problems”, let them discuss, let them debate, let them think out loud, let them present something, let them play a game, let them respond to a video, let them record their own video, let them analyze real world events related to your subject area, let them collaborate with other students to make something, let them read, let them draw, let them express their ideas, let them read an article, let them do some writing, let them peer review other student work, let them demonstrate their learning, let them use a camera to take a picture, let them interview someone, let them interview each other, let them teach another student, let them reach out to students in other parts of the world(PLEASE include this one). And if you can relate the current state of the world (aka corona) to your topic area, DO IT. If you are struggling for what to do, then you can always use (nerd alert) Blooms Taxonomy to give you some ideas–but try to work your way UP the list

    You can make online learning engaging, interactive, and valuable.

    For 2 decades, I have had a motto that I still believe holds true regardless of where and how learning happens:

    Immerse your students. Let them see it, feel it, engage with it, create something with it, struggle with it, and learn to love it. Find hands-on experiences that bring together their imagination, your passion, their passion, and their learning. Students don’t mind hard work if they connect with it.

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    The case against global catastrophe due to exponential technology

    Robots attacking humankind

    How is that for a title, huh!?

    I ran across an interesting article on LinkedIn this morning. It was about the possibility of a global catastrophic disaster because of exponential technology

    A.I. is going to find a way to do away with humankind. Genetically modified organisms will overrun our ecosystems . Nanotech will run rampant and destroy earth. Not sure if those are my top concerns right this minute—those things might happen someday, but I do feel like we have some time before then. However I do hear and see more immediate concerns, fears, and opinions about our current technologies that I wanted to address. Many of the thoughts from the public come from a misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, of technology. Often times simplified overreactions based on inaccurate assumptions and incorrect information.

    Robots can do repetitive work that humans don’t enjoy

    For example

    I am about as techno-techy as the come, but I consider myself lucky to have had the incredible opportunity of knowing a world before cell phones, without internet, without hard disks, without GPS, without Alexa and Siri, and without online shopping. We used actual bulletin boards as our social media “walls”. Mix tapes were our Spotify.

    Facebook and Instagram feed before Facebook and Instagram existed

    Then we started to see some cool, but still hard-to-use technologies. I remember my dad and I would drive 30 minutes to go to the Commodore Vic-20 users group every month. The movie War Games came out and shocked the world about a computer that could “think” and control military decisions, and yet it was a human that actually saved the world…by helping the technology understand how humans think. One of my friends had a part time job at Clemson numbering punch cards in a big stack. Dad and I spent hours typing in page after page of assembly language code(Adam will love this) from Compute magazine just to play a game. I was excited when the technology advanced so I could actually load a saved game—it took over an hour, so I used to start the load before school so when I got home, it was ready.

    Fast forward to 2020 to a dramatically different world. I have more power in my old cell phone than NASA had when they sent rockets to the moon. GPS can guide my navigation within just a few feet anywhere on the planet. Almost all knowledge is available online and searchable at my finger tips. The newest smart phones have cameras with better vision than my eye. I can see who’s at my front door while I am sitting on the beach in Hawaii. I can get an online masters college degree from one of the top schools on the planet without leaving the living room. You can take a class at M.I.T or Harvard for free or spend a few months earning a nano-degree at Udacity. I can communicate with my wife in real time while flying in an airplane. Cars can autonomously navigate and drive with accident rates thousands of times better than humans. Students in high school are learning how to write software programs in a Computer Science class that at one time would have only been possible to write by engineers. Survival rates for terrible diseases are improving. A.I. can detect and interpret data that would take humans decades to do.

    So I have seen the world before, during, and “after” (sorta) the emergence of easily accessible technology. Tremendous good has come from advancements in technology.

    Technology has allowed us to know things, detect things, understand things, respond to things, fix things, make things, learn things, ask things, relate things, predict things… ways simply not possible before.

    And yet the nay-sayers, haters, and trollers of our cancel culture seem to only identify what is wrong, or could go wrong, with technology. Many of these observations stem from fear of the unknown, lack of understanding, misunderstanding, or just an inability to see the world with different eyes. There is some truth to what they are saying though. While there is much that can go right with well managed and planned technology, there are also things that can go wrong with lack of planning and thoughtfulness.

    Model T

    Did people think the car was gonna ruin society?

    When Ford mass produced their car, I am sure there were those who said these automobiles would ruin society as they knew it. So, yes as that technology developed, society had to figure out new problems (which never existed before) such as accidents, traffic, pollution, road infrastructure, and fuel. Entire new industries cropped up as a result. Society had to adapt. Thousands of years ago, when we learned to write things down on paper or stone, were there those who thought we would stop talking to each other…that we would lose our connections with each other because the elders were no longer telling the stories to the younger generation?

    I have been in technology for 25+ years, the one thing I am sure of is that technology is less about hardware and software and gadgets and more about people that use it. Ultimately, the technologies we develop allow us to make a better world for people…so we can be healthier, be safer, have more fun, be more connected, be more effective, be more efficient, understand more about each other, and learn more about our planets resources. But as Spiderman says, “…with great power comes great responsibility…” I am not suggesting that technology is all glory and doesn’t come with great responsibility. In fact, quite the opposite—We have a huge obligation.

    Dr. Malcolm asks great questionsBut, we don’t have to be afraid of the amazing technologies that are changing the world around us.

    We do need to think deeply about it, be purposeful, ask lots of questions, be thoughtful, be ethical and moral, in other words manage the progression and incorporation of technology. Otherwise it manages itself—or worse—it just happens. Dr. Malcolm identifies this in Jurassic Park; he questions whether the scientists were ever asking whether or not they should, as opposed to whether or not they could. He suggests life will find a way. Hmmmm…will technology, too, find a way? It’s good question.

    lawlessness and thoughtlessness in technology

    We must ask questions like why , why not, how else, what if? When we turn a blind eye, when we have entire generations who don’t understand the world around them, when our schools are decades behind the world around them, when we don’t even know the questions to ask, this is when technology finds its own way. This is when things just progress with no foresight or intention. It becomes the wild west where laws and culture clash, and people are unsure of the world around them. Or you have entire technologies that exist, like A.I. in today’s world, when the majority of the human population has no idea what it is or how it can be used.

    Senate Hearings

    Zuckerburg was amazed at the lack of understanding of modern technology in business

    In the Senate hearings with Facebook, we saw a sad disconnect between the business world and politicians. How we handle privacy, business transactions, communication, information, transportation, and entertainment is completely different than 25 years ago.

    But we are the people. We get to decide what happens in our world. We get to make decisions about what we want and don’t want. We get to decide what and how we teach our younger generations(although be careful, they are also able to learn on their own). We get to decide what we buy. We get to decide who we support. We get to decide what questions to ask, and also how we respond. In short, we get to decide what technology we invest in, use, improve, buy, and promote. Businesses decide how they will incorporate technology into their products and consumers decide what they are willing to “allow” by voting with their wallets and votes and picket signs. I am not suggesting that technology is going to advance anyway, so we just accept it. Far from it. Technology will advance as much as we want it to…in the ways we decide, based on where we spend our research dollars, time, and effort. Our laws can help keep us moving forward but in ways that are fair, ethical, and legal. Our policies can help us decide which moral compasses we use to guide us. Our gut will help us do what’s right.

    We are truly in the infancy stages of the “Age of Digital Technology”, and we do not need to be afraid of it if we think about technology intentionally, and take advantage of the best that it has to offer us. But, we as a people, have to be better at understanding technology, so that we can manage it, as opposed to the other way around. If possible, I would prefer to avoid a global catastrophic disaster. That would ruin the weekend.

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