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  • Starbucks to provide free online college education for its workers
    Vasugi Balaji

    Starbucks, an American global coffee company has announced that it will provide free online college education for its workers. The education is open to any of the employees in USA, without any requirement that they remain with the company post their college education. It has been made possible through an arrangement with Arizona State University. The workers are to work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. The company will pay full tuition for those with at least two years of college credit. For those with fewer credits, it will pay part of the cost, but even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid. The company invites its workers to study online whatever they like. Howard D. Schultz, the company's chairman and chief executive believes that educating employees will lower attrition rates and will also increase their performance. It is expected that thousands of the company's employees will take advantage of the online program. This sounds like a boon to Starbucks' employees.

  • A University built by Industry

    Thats what Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity calls the Nanodegree, a six to twelve month online course costing $200 a month offered by Udacity in collaboration with AT&T. The course, based on the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course format, is designed by business for the specific skills required for high demand jobs in the technology industry, say as a data analyst at AT&T.

    MOOCs may or may not take the place of college education, but they serve multiple purposes. They help those already employed acquire new skills to advance in their careers. Anyone anywhere in the world can pursue their interests in an interesting way through the online courses. They give everyone an opportunity to interact with others pursuing the same subjects in other parts of the world. The niche area of corporate training has adopted online learning successfully. Hybrid learning that combines class room teaching with MOOCs is proven to improve learning in students.

    AT&T will recognize the nanodegree, and has reserved 100 paid internship slots for these online graduates. It is expected that other companies will follow the model.

  • The many Rs of education

    The son of a sea biscuit manufacturer, Sir William Curtis is credited with having framed the trifecta, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Sir Curtis was elected a Member of Parliament for London city in 1790, and stayed in parliament for over 35 years. At a Board of Education dinner, he is said to have given a speech in which he defined the three Rs of education, which have for long been the foundation of traditional school education. It is not known whether he drew his inspiration from St. Augustine, a 5th century theologian who described in his autobiography his first lessons of reading, writing and arithmetic.

    Today we have many alternative Rs. Author James Burns believes that in order to teach, parents and teachers must develop Respect and Responsibility in their children, and build positive Relationships with them. It is after this that the traditional Rs can come. The study by the American Psychological Association and the James S. McDonnell Foundation identified Reasoning, Resilience and Responsibility as key problem solving skills that, teachers can teach, and when learned, can benefit students’ success in academics and life. In order to keep with the changing times and evolution in education, Haywood County schools in North Carolina, US have upgraded their teaching methods to focus on another set of Rs, Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. They believe that these are key to promoting an in-depth understanding of a subject.

    Really, there’s something about R that’s to do with education, Right?

  • Artificial Intelligence - What will happen when doors begin to talk?

    Reinventors gathers top innovators in virtual roundtables, to fundamentally reinvent our world to fit the new realities of the 21st century and meet new challenges. Experts, entrepreneurs and thinkers from around the globe connect through interactive video to hold conversations and come up with solutions. Each 90-minute session is streamed live to an audience who can ask questions and add their own ideas to the discussion.

    A roundtable in April 2014 on Artificial Intelligence explored the subject - its commercialization, consequences, ethics and the future. Future generations may live in a world where even inanimate things think and talk. Doors will know the residents of the house, exercise machines will adapt to their preferences, televisions will anticipate the viewers’ wishes. We already see evidence of AI in action today, electronic stores make suggestions based on our buying or browsing history and home appliances adjust their functioning to the environment. But in future, AI will be like electricity, invisible but connecting everything. In the process, it may also displace jobs and pose challenges to our laws and institutions. Should AI be developed with ethics? What will happen when machines become smarter than humans? How will humans change? The Reinventors Roundtable discussed such questions. It may not be clear how different AI will make our lives, but one thing is certain, the change is closer than we think.

  • MOOCs provide learners what they want - says CEO of edX
    Vasugi Balaji

    Lately, the discussions about MOOCs focus mainly on the completion rate of the learners. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX in his article states that learners in edX are diverse, coming from many cultures across the globe and all ages and backgrounds with goals as diverse as they are. The data collected from edX courses has shown that approximately 56% of learners rated “gaining understanding of the subject matter for lifelong learning,” as an extremely important reason for taking an edX course, and another 57% cite “learning from the best professors in the world.” However, only 27% rated “earning a certificate of mastery to add to my professional credentials,” as an extremely important reason for enrolling in a course. Agarwal writes that "Data points from Harvard and MIT’s The First Year of Open Online Courses show that from fall 2012 to summer 2013, 43,196 registrants in the 17 edX courses analysed earned certificates of successful completion, while another 35,937 explored half or more than half of course content without certification." Most of the learners do not fit in the traditional mode of learning. So, there should be a change in how we view them. MOOCs give open access to world class education that may otherwise have been out of reach for many.

  • Gamification during the French Revolution

    Gamification, after a fashion, was used in education by an 18th century French priest. Abbe Aloisius Gaultier opened a school in Paris in 1786, where he educated children while amusing them. In the following turbulent years, he was forced to flee to England, where he continued to educate other French refugees. He advocated a method of instructive plays, where questions were asked, and according to the correctness or incorrectness of the answers, a scheme of gain or loss in credits stimulated the interest of students.

    One of the games he devised was for learning geography. One person thinks of a place, and the other finds it out by asking questions that can be answered with a single word. For example, if one thinks of a river, the other asks 'Is it land or water'. The answer given is 'Water'. The next question is 'Is it still or running water'. The answer is 'Running'. The next questions can be 'Does the river flow into a sea', 'Does it join another river', 'Is a town named after it' and so on, till the right answer is found.

    It was a great advance over the methods used earlier, and acknowledged the importance of students' interest in education. The Abbe's methods were commended by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He returned to France in 1801, and continued to teach and publish his educational writings. He believed that students could be taught entire courses through games, an idea that is echoed today, 200 years later.

  • The Campus Experience

    When online courses beam lectures from the classrooms worldwide, and some even offer degrees, why would a student go to the college campus? For the physical experience, of course. Attending the class in person, relating to the teacher, studying with peers, working on group projects, finding mentors, forging lifelong friendships, and also for all the fun and play. The acceptance rate in elite colleges continues to dip inspite of escalating costs and rising student debts. All the same, almost all colleges feel the need to evolve with advancing technology and changing student needs.

    Virginia Tech, US has commissioned a task force to study the future of the campus and come up with recommendations to enhance student experiences through physical spaces. It aims to strengthen the sense of community among students, faculty and staff that is generated in the residence halls, classrooms, labs, dining halls, student centers, libraries and outdoor spaces.
    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has developed MIT 2030: a flexible framework that helps MIT make thoughtful, well-informed choices about its physical development. MIT 2030 is a responsive tool that provides guidelines for envisioning—and inventing—key physical changes on campus and around.

    Many other universities are drawing up strategic plans for as long off as even 2050, with the goal of surviving the technological revolution, facing the challenges of the 21st century, and improving the teaching and learning experience.

  • What is preventing innovation in higher ed?

    In order to keep pace with technological and other developments, higher education needs to evolve faster than it currently does. But there are five major blocks to innovation, according to Mike Scheuermann, Associate Vice President of Instructional Technology and Support, Drexel University.

    • Shortage of funds: Innovation requires funding. When financial backing is absent, creativity is stifled.
    • Interest at the institutional level: Innovation at the grassroots level can flourish on its own, but it needs encouragement from the institution before any change is visible enterprise-wide.
    • Silo mentality: Interaction within and between departments will spur conversations, creativity and projects. But silo mentality makes the sharing of success and innovations a slow process.
    • Guardedness: The prevalent guardedness among colleagues in higher education needs to be replaced by collaboration.
    • Beleif in acquisition: To many, acquiring something new amounts to innovation and results. But acquisition does not equal adoption.
  • Taylor County doesn't give up on kids--not a single one!
    Vasugi Balaji

    Taylor Country School District in Kentucky, USA has achieved zero dropout rate by promoting performance-based education. They have created a self-paced, anytime and anywhere learning environment. The students advance through the courses at a rate they choose, with Individual Learning Plans that cater to their interests and career path. The school does not assign specific teachers to students and vice versa. Each day the students come with a list of standards to work and accomplish, and they choose their teachers with whom they will work. The coursework has been designed to meet the needs of each student, with no restrictions on students for choosing courses. Teachers use flipped classroom technology and the students have access to the videos of lessons twenty-four hours a day, every day. The entrance and exit examinations for each content area can be taken by the students when they have finished the course. They are given credits for successful completion and allowed to move on to the next subject. This has highly reduced the dropout rate of students, with the school achieving zero-percent dropout rate for the past five years and with 100% graduation rate in 2013.

  • From Mongolia to MIT: Looking behind MOOCs

    A 15 year old boy from Mongolia made it to the headlines when he got a perfect score in one of the first online courses, an MIT MOOC called 'Circuits and Electronics'. He was one of the 150,000 who enrolled in the sophomore-level course, and of the 340 who completed it with a perfect score. He took the course after school hours, and in what was to him a second language. This boy, Battushig Myanganbayar is now 17 and a student of MIT. A closer look reveals a few ideas for the future of MOOCs.

    Battushig was tutored in person too. His school principal, an MIT graduate himself, supplemented the online course with lab work after school hours. He had a friend from Stanford University, US visit Mongolia for 10 weeks, bringing with him 3 suitcases of electronics supplies, and conduct labs to go alongside the coursework.

    While taking the lessons, Battushig made lessons of his own too. He took notes, translated the lectures from English to Mongolian, and created videos for the benefit of his classmates. So he was not only learning but teaching too.

    The boy genius who made it from Mongolia to MIT was aided by MOOCs. And the online courses were aided by in-person tutoring and peer-learning.