Some great pictures of the early days at Kepler from the photographer on assignment from the Chronicle of Higher Ed
Kepler just launched its search for a Chief Executive Officer! We’re looking for a bold and innovative leader who has run a high-performing organization and is passionate about the opportunity to shape and deliver on Kepler’s ambitious vision.
A full job description can be found at: http://www.on-ramps.com/jobs/891
This job doesn’t always drink beer, but when it does . . .
Please help us spread the word!
Much more interesting week this week than last!
1) Interesting piece in Scientific American about the increasing evidence base and new techniques for what many educators and students have known for a long time — that it’s possible to enhance cognitive ability (and specifically our ability to learn, or ‘fluid intelligence’). The tone of the article is a bit ridiculous, as if the author were proving the whole world wrong. But interesting nuggets — eg, hadn’t come across the Robert Sternberg stuff yet, which is worth checking out. Main thesis of the article:
1. Fluid intelligence is trainable.
2. The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent—meaning, the more you train, the more you gain.
3. Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.
4. The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don’t resemble the test questions.
2. The results from the OECD’s inaugural — and crazy-large — Survey of Adult Skills are in. Best write-ups I’ve see are this one by Eduardo Porter in the NYT and another in the New Yorker with some striking charts about how the US is falling behind virtually all OECD countries in its ability to produce highly-skilled workers. Both are US-centric.
3. Here’s a course I’d love to see MOOC’d and I’ll be among the first to enroll — an Ancient Chinese Philosophy class that’s one of the top five most popular undergrad courses at Harvard. One example student take on it: “the class absolutely changed my perspective of myself, my peers, and of the way I view the world.” And another excerpt: “’We are what we repeatedly do,’ a view shared by thinkers such as Confucius, who taught that the importance of rituals lies in how they inculcate a certain sensibility in a person.” E.g., if you smile and make real eye contact with everyone you interact with, including the convenience store clerk, you’re more likely to be or become kind and generous. During my time at Excel, a high-performing charter school network, I saw how important reinforcing and routinizing the smallest positive/respectful behaviors was to building character.
4) Want to go start a college from scratch? Learn from Patrick Awuah (one of our advisors at Spire) who started Ashesi, the best liberal arts college in Ghana. The story about how the regulatory authorities rejected Ashesi’s proposed honor code — and how the whole Ashesi community rallied behind it and decided to put their accreditation on the line by insisting to the regulator that they be allowed to keep it — is inspiring.
5) Harvard starting to roll out more limited-enrollment MOOCs. Er, “SPOCs”: small, private online courses. When a 500-student class started to qualify as small I couldn’t say . . .
6) Significant new study out on the effectiveness of direct, unconditional cash transfers (“UCTs”) to the poor — a la Give Directly, which is run by our friend (and an early Kepler/Spire contributor) Joy Sun. Economist thinks UCTs are good but that conditional cash transfers (“CCTs”) with strings attached — eg, tied to kids attending school — are generally a better instrument, especially for governments. Haven’t yet looked closely enough at the evidence to weigh in, but I’d back anything Joy’s leading.
7) Looks like Ted Mitchell is going to be taking over Martha Kanter’s role as U.S. Dept of Ed Under Secretary responsible for higher education. I don’t know Ted personally but have heard great things and judging by the caliber of the rest of the leadership team at New Schools, this seems like good news. It’ll be nice to have someone driving higher ed policy who has spent many years thinking about how the system screws kids from low-income families.
8) One of the more fascinating ed tech seed rounds of the year — Zuckerberg, Google Ventures and others backing Panorama Ed which was founded by a few Yale undergrads and is based in Boston.
9) Tom Friedman on what makes Shanghai schools (at least the ones he visited) successful. He says there’s no real secret ingredient — just good old-fashioned execution and particular investment in teacher development. News flash: this is at the center of any school’s success anywhere in the world.
10) Controversy over the slow ramp the $10K college degree programs have shown in the early going
11) World Bank getting into the MOOC platform game. As much as I love Jim Kim, if the key to good education is good execution, I wouldn’t put my money on the Bank
12) Enjoyed this piece on paying it forward by covering the cost of the Happy Meal of the people behind you in the Drive-Thru lane. I’m totally doing that next time I go get my daughter McNuggets, but don’t try to tail me — I’ll give you the slip.
At Kepler and Spire, we believe that lower income students with few, if any, other opportunities represent the greatest potential for impact – both social and business – in higher education in Africa. A recent blog in The Guardian highlights how there is also a growing opportunity students with greater means. The social impact from serving these students will be lower, but they can help drive the economics of new models early on before scaling with the much larger population of low income students.
The blog cites that there are more than 35,000 Africans currently studying in the UK alone. The British Council and others have predicted that demand for spots in UK universities will grow in the coming years. Supply is simultaneously being constrained by increasingly tight restrictions on visas. That leaves the growing number of aspiring students with means with two options: pursue an institution in a country with lower barriers (eg, Asia) but likely less brand appeal or attend a new, high quality institution at home. The latter are largely lacking currently, creating the opportunity for new players.
The article notes two other interesting bits about higher education in Africa. First, that there is no branch of a UK university currently in sub-Saharan Africa since the only attempt to date (in South Africa) closed in 2004. This is inaccurate as we know of another UK branch that recently closed in Uganda. That only reinforces the broader argument: UK universities are 0 for 2 in operating in Africa.
Second, it reports that over one million students who are qualified are not able to find spots across the continent. Like most sweeping statistics such as this, it is broad guess. But it is generally in line with the huge unmet demand we have seen in each of the countries we have examined.
There is little doubt that equal or better learning can be delivered by institutions in Africa. It is now up to entrepreneurs to show the students currently hoping to go abroad that the value they can deliver significantly outweighs the – often unwarranted – prestige of the foreign institutions they plan to attend. As with so many aspects of higher education globally at the moment, watch this space.
Kepler students have been working in teams on business ideas to improve Kepler over the last three weeks. Big shout-out to the Kepler team for coming up with this idea — I love the cultural message this sends, similar to the spirit in which Olin College drew its first-year students into co-creation as “Olin Partners.”
The students’ work culminated in an event on Wednesday where one student from each team gave a panel of four judges the team’s “Rocket pitch.” Then each team fielded questions from the judges about how they’d think about expanding their market, paying back investors, funding their operating costs, etc.
Here are some great pix from Wednesday’s event
At Spire and Kepler, growth mindset is right at the core of the special sauce we want to cook up. By growth mindset, I mean what Carol Dweck has written about so compellingly — a belief that our mind is a muscle that can be developed, that our talent for something is malleable rather than fixed. People with strong growth mindset are hungry for feedback and coaching to improve themselves. We want to select for that hunger, cultivate it, and feed it. It will be core to our organizational culture and DNA if we do things right.
We believe, as Dweck does, that growth mindset itself can be developed. After all, it would be weird to be a proponent of growth mindset and then to see growth mindset itself as something that you’re either born with or you’re not. But having the beginnings of it certainly helps. So we’ll be looking for it in the students we recruit and, even more so, in the staff we hire.
But how do you actually hire for growth mindset? One of my favorite blog posts ever addresses this squarely with a simple but deceptively powerful approach. It’s written by a guy named Ben Marcovitz who runs Sci Academy, a great charter school down in New Orleans. He emphasizes to candidates how they’ll love Sci Academy if they thrive on frank, constant feedback, but burn out quickly if they’re threatened or depressed by it.
The key insight, though, is one ingredient in the hiring process: incorporate a feedback cycle. Have candidates do the same task twice with one round of concrete feedback in between. And rather than evaluate based on the absolute quality of the performance on whatever the task is, look for relative performance — on the specific aspects that you gave the candidate feedback on.
Ben does this by having teachers film a video lesson, giving them feedback on it, and then having them re-do it. But the beauty of this approach is that it’s very task-agnostic and could be used in almost any industry.
Have you seen any creative applications of this kind of approach or anything else that might be a good way to select for growth mindset?
This week feels thin — did I miss all the interesting stories this week? Please flag what I missed! At least a few things worth sharing:
1) Great piece by University Ventures on the need for making apprenticeships more central to the higher education experience. Not sure this will ever take off at the elite level, though I think it should there too — learning on the job (with support!) is often the best way to learn, and this may be the single most important feature of Spire & Kepler over the long run.
2) The UV piece in last week’s Friday roundup was one of my favorites — and I promised to do some follow-up to dig into it. The underlying stuff they cite comes from Merrilea Mayo, whom we had a great conversation with — here’s an example presentation summarizing some of the key insights
3) More concrete evidence that — shocker! — meaningful individualized support to students during college improves persistence rates substantially. One of the main programs cited is interestingly a volunteer-based on in Tennesse
4) An INSEAD professor weighs in on Harvard Biz Review blog with a thoughtful (but missing key points / counterarguments) take on why he isn’t down with MOOCs and won’t be producing one anytime soon
5) Coursera thinking that if MOOC completion rates are low, might make sense to shorten the courses! Six-week courses is what gets highlighted, but imagine how high completion rates would be if you shortened to a single lecture
6) Think I may have shared this one called The Improvisers awhile ago, but it’s a great piece on entrepreneurship and the informal economy in Kenya — and how the education system is undermining real opportunity
7) Awhile back I shared a piece on the jellyfish explosion that is one of the best articles I’ve read all year (ordering the book!) — and now it turns out there’s an emerging war between robots and jellyfish. Jellyfish are also one of the biggest reasons to think twice about swimming from Cuba to Florida