Kepler in the Chronicle

Exciting Kepler news—we were one of the feature articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. The article just came out from behind the paywall, so now’s your chance to read the complete and unexpurgated edition.

For those of you who have been following Kepler from the beginning, the piece is a good refresher on the basics of the model as well as what’s at stake. Most interesting is commentary like this from the U.S. higher ed perspective:

“[Kepler] could become a model in the United States, because we have not yet developed a way in which students can take [online courses] and turn those into degrees or academic credentials.”

Magic powers

Kepler is featured in a piece in Scientific American this week. The author, Jeff Bartholet, really gets at the stakes for each student that applies:

Kepler received 2,696 applications for just 50 slots in the fall program. Six hundred students were invited to take an exam in April, of which 200, including Uwituze, made it to a final round of cuts. Those 200 were interviewed in person and took part in group activities observed by Kepler staff to gauge personality traits such as leadership qualities, ability to work well with others and problem-solving skills. The aim was to put together a class that combined a range of personality types: outgoing and shy, funny and earnest, creative and conscientious. The stakes were high. Jean Aime Mutabazi did not make the first cut for the fall session and felt adrift. Most of his male relatives, including his father, were killed in the genocide. He lives with his mother, who has a mangled leg and sells charcoal from a cement hutch to earn a living. “Can you imagine what it’s like when you have a problem, and there is no one to turn to for help?” Mutabazi asks. “Education is a kind of magic power that can open any door in the world. If you are educated, you can control the situation you are living in.”

Multiple that by a million (not an exaggeration), and you get a sense of why developing world higher ed desperately needs a new, more inclusive model.

The second-best alternative is nothing

The always-great Matthew Yglesias on the real disruptive potential of MOOCs:

That’s the hallmark of real disruption. The new thing is not as good as the old thing. But it’s cheaper and more flexible. And the power of the decreased cost and increased flexibility is that it lets you serve markets that were not previously served.

He also makes a great point about the previous down-market alternative, i.e. nothing:

Personally, I’ve learned a great deal from pre-MOOC online education offerings—Brad DeLong’s economic history lectures and Robert Shiller’s finance lectures, both available for download on iTunes. My second-best alternative to those things wasn’t to enroll at Berkeley or Yale, it was to just not hear what those professors had to say.

As always, the entire post is worth a read.

Protect the shield

The San Jose State University Department of Philosophy published an open letter this morning to Harvard’s Michael Sandel in response to being asked to pilot a class using content from his Justice MOOC on edX:

It is in a spirit of respect and collegiality that we are urging you, and all professors involved with the sale and promotion of edX-style courses, not to take away from students in public universities the opportunity for an education beyond mere jobs training. Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.

Full text of the letter here.

Is socialization the killer feature of the American college system?

Danah Boyd has a great post on how Facebook is upending college dorm life before it even begins:

It’s high time we recognize that college isn’t just about formalized learning and skills training, but also a socialization process with significant implications for the future.  The social networks that youth build in college have long-lasting implications for youth’s future prospects.  One of the reasons the American college experience is so valuable is because it often produces diverse networks that enable future opportunities.  This is also precisely what makes elite colleges elite; the networks that are built through these institutions end up shaping many aspects of power.  When less privileged youth get to know children of powerful families, new pathways of opportunity and tolerance are created.  But when youth use Facebook to maintain existing insular networks, the potential for increased structural inequity is great.

The entire thing is worth a read.

Weirdos in the workplace

Matthew Yglesias writes:

A summer intern who’s just finished up her third year at Yale doesn’t have any kind of particular credentials, but we know that she probably has very good SAT scores and sounds like an exceedingly normal person. A young woman who got a 1600 on her SATs and has been spending the past three years working at 7-11 and watching Open Yale Courses videos sounds like a huge weirdo.

And employers seem to genuinely value that “you’re not a weirdo” factor.

Probably true, though I wonder if signaling is more important for less technical and outward facing fields. Design and software engineering are full of successful weirdos.

Home cooking

Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias wonders whether online education could be useful but not very profitable:

For a skeptical comparison, I would look to cooking. There’s no doubt at all in my mind that the Web has changed how people cook. It is much cheaper and easier than ever before to look up a recipe for just about anything. Digital technology is also very helpful with weight and measure conversions. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s learning cooking techniques in part by watching videos. So online learning with regards to cooking is a huge success. But it’s not a huge business success.

Sure, but then let’s also assume that 99.9% of people want formal training as chefs, but few can afford culinary school. How’s business development at Cook’s Illustrated looking then?


Kris Amundson at The Quick and the Ed checks our expectations over MOOCs:

MOOCs serve a slim minority—a population with the energy and time to take free, non-credit-bearing courses. But the majority of today’s postsecondary students are balancing jobs and families, while trying to earn a degree to get ahead; this leaves little leeway to access courses that, in the end, don’t count for anything.

But disruptive technology is sneaky like that: it’s trivial until it’s suddenly not. Or as Paul Graham put it:

Don’t be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that’s a good sign. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. At this point, when someone comes to us with something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.