The Open Syllabus Project Gathers 1,000,000 Syllabi from Universities & Reveals the 100 Most Frequently-Taught Books | Open Culture

Fantastic resource, and interesting to see so many syllabi.  We see other syllabi in #connectedcourses but this is the first time I’ve seen them collected anywhere else.  For those who still feel their syllabus is “their IP”  this is a a big step.  Helpful for any educator.  At first I was surprised at the use of the phrase “frequently taught books,”  but they are referring to works like Plato’s Republic.  Not the text book assumption I made when I first read the article.


<<Now comes the Syllabus Explorer, a new website created by the Open Syllabus Project at Columbia University. Impressively, the Syllabus Explorer has gathered 1,ooo,ooo+ syllabi published on university websites, then extracted and aggregated the data found in those documents, all for one reason: to determine the mostly frequently-taught books in university classrooms.>>

Source: The Open Syllabus Project Gathers 1,000,000 Syllabi from Universities & Reveals the 100 Most Frequently-Taught Books | Open Culture

This is How Some of America’s Best Teachers Spend Their Time — Bright

“Teaching is one of the most important roles in our society.”

People don’t realize how much teachers actually do – but they fit incredible amounts of work into each day.   This Medium post from TNTP introduces five winners of their Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice and it is important to read.  How many people realize that more than half of a teacher’s time is spent on non-instructional duties?  Link to full article below.

Source: This is How Some of America’s Best Teachers Spend Their Time — Bright — Medium

What Does Higher Education Provide?

The cost of higher education and its implications have been discussed, challenged, and criticized repeatedly over the past several years.  Rightfully so.   As the price of attending college has increased, it has left many wondering what higher education actually provides. Kwame Anthony Appiah recently wrote a thought-provoking New York Times Magazine article posing this very question –  What Is the Point of College?

In the United States alone, there are over 17 million undergraduates enrolled in classes at “institutions small and large, public and private, two-year and four-year, online and on campus.” While each student is pursuing a college degree, this degree will undoubtedly mean something different to each student.

When it comes to attending college, there are many trains of thought.  Appiah focuses on two.  1) You attend college to improve your value in the workplace by learning practical skills. As Appiah calls it, a student on this path would be attending Utility U.

2) You attend school to learn about values. A liberal arts or humanities curriculum urges students to question topics such as societal injustice, and helps prepare students for the real world by building their soul as much as their skills. These students are would be attending Utopia U.

Neither Utility U. nor Utopia U. has the full run of any one campus. “There’s the performance-studies major who is putting up fliers for the Naomi Klein talk, collecting signatures for the fossil-free petition and wondering whether the student alliance for gender equity is as racially inclusive as it claims,” writes Appiah. “Then there’s the engineering major, first in the family to go to college, traipsing across the quad with a discounted, two-editions-out-of-date version of the material-science textbook. All that identity stuff is a dimly perceived distraction in this student’s light cone, readily tuned out.”

These students will cross paths on campus, but only physically. An exchange or discussion between them tends to be infrequent. It is almost like these students are attending two different schools.

A degree from either Utility U. or Utopia U. will put students on the right track for success in their future endeavors. However, each of these degrees has very different metrics for success and different potential outcomes.

An emphasis has been placed on the return on investment of a college education. As the cost of higher education has increased, students and parents want to be sure the investment is worthwhile. This mindset will often push students down the path towards a degree from Utility U.

It is important that society does not overlook the importance and practicality of the lessons learned from Utopia U. While the return on investment from a class at Utopia U. may not as immediate or tangible, these classes are often a once time chance to think deeply, challenge thoughts and values, have questions, and engage in meaningful discourse in a safe environment.

As Appiah puts it, “there is something to be said for the intellectual discipline for second-guessing what you thought was true. And that wasn’t just good for them. Who would want to live in a nation of people without doubts?”

In addition, a rich liberal arts education gives students the ability to think – to make connections between silos.  Critical thinking, creativity, and the capacity to learn outside of one’s comfort zone are ingredients in any success.  So the argument can be made that while Utility U. is giving students the skills they need for today, Utopia U is giving them the ability and learning agility to be successful in the future.  We know that we are not aware of many careers that will be available in 10 years.   Web designer?  Data Analytics?  Ten years ago these were a glimmer in someone’s eye, and now they are coveted careers.  What will the students from Utility U do when disruption comes along and they need to learn something new?  Some will be fine.  Others will panic.  Students need to learn how to learn – whenever and however needed.  A love for learning is invaluable.

Perhaps we do not want to separate the opportunities and skills that Utility U. and Utopia U. provide. While it is important to take classes that foster practical workplace skills, it is equally meaningful to learn about the “qualities of your soul.”  Higher education provides a unique environment where learners can find answers. College is a place for students to learn both what they can do and who they can be.

Children learn to write by teaching robots

This is a good article about using teachable agents to help learners with writing skills.  Learning by teaching, or using teachable agents, has been around for some time.

What is a teachable agent?  Thousands of years ago philosopher Lucius Seneca stated, “We learn by teaching”. This idea evolved to the modern educational theory called “Learning-by-Teaching”. It has been widely observed that when students teach their peers they learn much better than they learn for themselves (Allen & Feldman, 1976; Gartner, 1971) since they no longer passively receive knowledge from teachers.  They are performing as tutors to actively master the content.  The success of this method led to a new type of pedagogical agent, the Teachable Agent (TA), in 1990s. Teachable agents are computer agents that allow students to teach and improve their own learning (Biswas, et al., 2005).


Children learn to write by teaching robots – Daily Genius.

How MOOCs Could Reform Education Completely by Accident

When we saw the first reports about MOOCs and lack of  completion, many of us were not surprised.  We were also not surprised to see the demographic statistics – more than half of the learners in most courses had undergraduate degrees, and a large percentage had masters degrees and many even higher.  This article from The Atlantic discusses something that may be happening subliminally (or purposefully) – my suspicion is that teachers don’t think “I’m going to do some professional development now” or “I’m going to watch a master teacher teach my class” as this article suggests.  I do think that getting new ideas for classes is important, and both teachers and professors are probably  participating in MOOCs for that reason, to a degree.

I would also propose that they participate for the social aspect – to meet other educators and like minded people who like to learn.  I wrote an article in Medium over a year ago making an analogy between MOOCs and large scale online games (MMORPGs) because I saw learning as enjoyable for this population, much like games.

It’s a good article, and worth reading.

“What jumped out for me was that … as many as 39 percent of our learners [in MOOCs overall] are teachers,” said Isaac Chuang, one of the study’s lead researchers. In some of Harvard’s MOOCs, half the students were teachers. And in “Leaders of Learning”—a course out of its Graduate School of Education—a whopping two-thirds of participants identified as such.

via How MOOCs Could Reform Education Completely by Accident – The Atlantic.

Blended Learning, Digital Equity, Skills-based Economy

When I started reading this article by Jim Shimabukuro, I didn’t agree with its premise.   “Still, he states, the biggest problem with blended approaches, innovative or not, isn’t as much its effectiveness but its impact on completely online courses.”    No, I thought.  That’s not right.  Blended courses  are, in terms of efficacy research, optimum but really modality and delivery should not matter at all.  A course is a course – it’s the pedagogy that matters.  Whether a course is online or face to face – the same problems and challenges exist.  Good learning is good learning.   And then he said, when referring to blended learning:

“This seemingly innocuous perception is arguably the greatest impediment to the development of completely online courses and programs. The F2F imperative, whether 20 percent or 1 percent, instantly eliminates the possibility of disruption that defines online learning. In other words, the door for nontraditional students who cannot, for whatever reason, attend classes on campus remains closed. ”

And that statement is absolutely right.  Even when an online program has a small residency component, there are some people who will not be able to participate.  In terms of quality of course, modality doesn’t matter.  Access is a different story.


via Blended Learning, Digital Equity, Skills-based Economy | Educational Technology and Change Journal.

Are you Ready to Teach Online? Readiness Surveys Aim to Help Faculty Prepare

Excellent article from Debbie Morrison discussing the instruments we have available for assessing faculty readiness to teach online.    Penn State and University of Washington both have surveys, but Debbie adds some of her ideas.   The article, with link at the bottom, shares good ideas.

A. Parasuraman’s Technology Readiness Index is an interesting indicator as well, though not originally intended for online instruction.

1.  Technology and Social Media Skills: Technology skills are fundamental, and though social media skills not an essential, they enhance the instructor’s ability to connect with students. Skills include: ♦ basic computer skills ♦  proficiency with software applications ♦ installing/updating software and plug-ins ♦ internet search literacy ♦ proficiency with features and functions within the LMS including uploading files, grading tools and grade book ♦ LMS tools for asynchronous/synchronous communication ♦ familiarity with platforms for communication/engagement outside of LMS, e.g. Pinterest, Twitter, Google+

2.  Administrative and Organization Skills: Includes skills such as time management e.g. ability and willingness to respond to student questions with immediacy e.g. within  24 hours ♦ provide constructive feedback on student assignments in timely manner ♦ proficiency with grade book and ability to submit grades by required ♦ monitor/follow-up with academic integrity issues

3. Pedagogical Skills and Teaching Approach: ♦ student focused learning model ♦ instructor focus on supporting and guiding learning not delivering content and instruction ♦ providing constructive feedback ♦ establishing and sustaining online presence

via Are you Ready to Teach Online? Readiness Surveys Aim to Help Faculty Prepare | Online Learning Insights.