The Pain Test

Write down exactly what I think the problem is. This gives me something to test. Do this specifically by answering the following questions.

1 The problem

Tuition fees for higher education are rapidly increasing. Many people are asking if formal education is worth the cost and subsequent debt and are looking elsewhere for their education.

2 What causes the problem?

(To answer this question well, channel your inner four-year-old and ask a 5-question “why” chain: “Why is there a problem?” “Why is that the cause?” “Why is that the cause of the cause?” and so on.)

Lots of people want a higher education, a degree, but feel they can no longer afford it. Also, the benefits that a degree affords – a better job and standard of living – no longer materialise, so a degree is no longer worth the expense.

Higher education has always been the aspiration of ordinary people as a means to improve their log in life. For many years university tuition fees were state funded, making access independent of cost. Recently, fees have been introduced and have now increased to a prohibitive level.

Mass higher education, in the view of many, has become financially unsustainable by the public purse, i.e. taxpayers. When there is increased strain on the public purse, as there is in these times of economic recession, taxpayers and politicians are asking whether the cost of state funded higher education is acceptable.

3 Think about the people with the problem. What are they currently doing, or willing to do, to solve it?

The people with the problem are usually young people looking to start on their lives independently of their families. The current options they have are to: take out a student load for fees and maintenance, embark on-the-job training in the career they wish to pursue, work full time to fund a part-time degree (this option has become less attractive since the recent increase in student fees), rely on family money to subsidise their university career, or just not pursue a university education.

4 What are all the current solutions to the problem?

The only official solution, and the only one really viable, is to take out a student load to pay for tuition and maintenance. Of the options stated above, the only other viable option, and only open to the very few, is to rely on family money. On-the-job training in one of the professions is just not available, and working to pay for a part-time degree is no longer financially viable – degrees are just too expensive now.

Prospective students are looking at a £40k-£50k debt on leaving university. For many, the rewards of a university degree will not cover this debt.

 5 Why aren’t the current solutions good enough?

The current solutions are not good enough because they entail individuals having a massive debt that they will never be able to repay. This prospect is just too daunting for many people to consider.

 6 How long has it been a problem?

The problem has only been so acute since the current government introduced the new level of fees. However, the problem has been steadily growing for the past twenty years when nominal fees were first introduced. Many people opposed to fees have been predicting the current situation but their arguments have largely fallen on deaf ears as the majority don’t see the long term value of free at the point of use higher education.

 7 How easily could  something change to make the problem go away?

This is not a problem that will go away with a little change. The current format of higher education in this country – full-time, campus based, university higher education – does indeed cost a lot of money to sustain, especially if we want a high quality, highly trained workforce. Alternatives to this model are seen as inferior and second best, especially when the use of technology and the World Wide Web are seen at part of that alternative.

The problem will go away quickly if voters and governments are willing to pay for mass higher education through taxes. This is unlikely. The alternative to is to start the long process of changing attitudes, and centuries of prejudice  to prove that alternative methods of mass higher education are just as good if not better than the existing model.

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The Ed Tech Startup Space

My thoughts about companies and emerging trends.

I’m playing catch-up here, so please bear with me.

Having worked in the eLearning sector for more years than I care to remember, most of these Startups are variations on themes that have been discussed in my institution for some time.

The Clever Startup seems to be a technical solutions for back-end systems that has little interest for me.

Most of the other Startups are versions of delivery systems with their own particular take on how eLearning works. ClassDojo markets itself as a classroom management tool and seems to my mind something of an update of the Victorian schools’ monitorial system. CodeAcademy focused on the teaching and learning of coding and if very much and interactive platform. Coursera is one of the new breed of MOOCs, along with Udacity and edX for example, with close affiliations with established universities and with an approach to pedagogy based on hard research. Dreambox and Knewton have unique selling points based on their approach to individual adaptive learning. Similarly, Goalbook’s approach to eLearning is to focus on Individual Learning Plans. Instructure seems to market itself on its ease of use to teachers.

What most interested me though was Degreed. It struck me as and ePortfolio Plus with its tag-line of “Jailbreaking the degree” by validating lifelong learning whether it’s from an accredited institution like a university, or from non-accredited learning. I think its represents an attitude shift that is most definitely needed and will become increasingly necessary.

My idea of a Startup is quite woolly and vague. I hope to have a better idea about how to develop something more substantial by doing this course. However, a quick review of this list of startups has led me to believe that the Degreed approach is the only one that is substantially different and offers the most scope for future growth. The others seem to be, although well intentioned in themselves, normalised thinking and offer little that is new.

What I have in mind is something based on the methods of Free Software that have worked so well for developing and building knowledge in the software world. You’ve almost certainly used Free Software without even knowing. If you’ve used the Internet then you’ve used Free Software, that’s how ubiquitous it is.

What I hadn’t expected was the dearth of new thinking. I don’t mean to be rude about the Startup but there was very little there that I didn’t already know about. I think it’s a case of the research and theory being so far ahead of actual deployment.

It’s similar to the situation I face in my day job. I work in a research university and the research into eLearning that I deal with everyday is in far excess of how the University deploys eLearning on the front-line of teaching and learning.

I guess I was expecting to see something of an attitude shift from the norm of eLearning deployment.

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This is my Introduction video for Ed Startup 101, the Massive Open Online Course.

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P2PU School of Webcraft

I’ve just completed the P2PU challenge DIY U: Build a Personal Learning Plan (my badge application is awaiting review if you’d like to take the time to do that for me) and heard about Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative, so I had a look at the School of Webcraft in P2PU and started this Beta Challenge.

I’ve been interested in Open Education for a long time and think that this Edupunk movement is very important, and coupled with something like Open Badges as a means of peer review for accreditation could well be the way forward for mass education.

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Build a Personal Learning Network

Here is my initial effort at charting my Personal Learning Network.

I decided to do it using Freemind, a free mind-mapping application available for all the leading operating systems.

So far I’ve listed news-feeds, websites, Twitter and LinkIn, but I’m sure I shall be adding considerably to this.

Poke around my PLN and let me know what you think.

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Intellectuals and the Masses by John Carey

An assessment of the attitude of literary modernists of the early twentieth century to ordinary people.

As befits the subject, every turn of phrase is loaded with meaning; ‘ordinary people’ would be see very mush as a derogatory term to most of the ‘intellectuals’ included in this book. The term settled upon by Carey’s subjects to refer to the majority of the world’s population is ‘masses’, and is used in a way to refer to people as a single, homogeneous whole, to in fact de-humanize them.

Carey is critical of intellectuals’ use of the term, as he is critical of them in general. While recognizing their literary achievements, on soci-political matters Carey shows them to be elitist – not is a good way, racist, sexist, xenophobic, ill-informed and hypocritical.

Carey shows intellectuals concluding that the masses are not capable of high intellectual operation, that intellectuals should control the world, democracy is wrong and akin to dereliction of duty to deal with the world’s problems.

The masses are seen by intellectuals as being incapable of being educated, and a special ire is reserved for those, especially the middle-classes, who aspire to greater intellectual achievements and recognition.

Intellectuals also had a disdain for the media, first of all the press, and later film, for feeding the masses baser appetites.

These intellectuals were not extremists or outside the mainstream, their names are a roll-call of the modernist literary cannon: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Gissing, Lewis and even Wells and Orwell. All well known names spanning the political spectrum.

These people did not hold political power, but they did wield influence and reflected a prevailing attitude among the ruling classes, indeed, many intellectuals considered their role as an intellectual as akin to being an aristocrat. I think we can add arrogance to their list if vices.

So, intellectuals espoused the rule of the few over the many, despised democracy and advocated only enough education for the masses for them to be useful.


Carey was writing about attitudes in the first half of the twentieth century, and his book was published in 1992, just before the World Wide Web exploded onto the scene.

Access to knowledge, and indeed, how to access knowledge, had always been controlled with numbers limited by cost and a restriction to those privileged by class. Knowledge has traditionally been held by the chosen few to be distributed to the chosen few.

With the steady growth of communications throughout the twentieth century education of the masses has steadily grown, but it was always in the gift of the academies.

What the World Wide Web has given us a world of unrestricted communication and an alternative network of knowledge creation. It is now beholden of us to use this gift properly and responsibly. We have an opportunity to create a true counter-culture.

Intellectuals and the Masses on Amazon

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