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posted by martyb on Sunday May 14 2017, @02:33AM   Printer-friendly
from the dv/dt dept.

Higher education is generally a poor deal. A good course at a good institution will boost a career but the vast majority of higher education options are worthless or detrimental. Despite this, people are willing to get themselves into maybe US$100,000 of educational debt. Meanwhile, Ivy League faculty salary often exceeds US$150,000. What do students get for a lifetime of debt? Weed-out classes with a 50% failure rate then top grades awarded with abandon. An increasingly long-tail of third-tier academic journals which are full of bogus results. (A racket within a racket.) Deluxe gymnasiums and student accommodation with en-suite bathrooms. And, in some cases, pressure on staff to ignore plagurism; often due to financial or cultural reasons.

Yes, there's the social aspect and in-person interaction but why is online education seen like a poor substitute along with correspondence courses, vocational courses and community colleges? And here's a humdinger: Why don't the best educational establishments have ISO9000 certification? Are the inputs too variable or is the process too scattershot? Actually, how efficient is education? Are these guys with the US$150,000 salaries even 1% efficient at teaching? I doubt many of them care.

So, what's the Shannon channel capacity of education. Who knows? That's a really poor state of affairs. In the 1940s, telcos knew more about their operational efficiency than educators know now. So, how effective could an education be? How much can we accelerate learning? With CAL [Computer Aided Learning] running since the 1960s we should achieve small miracles. Well, it works brilliantly in limited domains, such as numeracy and vocabulary but the bulk of CAL, educational videos, are a sea of unending dross. So far, I've sat through 18 out of 42 hours of Buckminster Fuller and nine hours of Stanford cultural history. Computer history was the most enjoyable. There's no shortage of content. It ranges from whizzy edutainment to excruitiating virtual blackboards.

As a comparison, I took the small and concise topic of buffer bloat to see what had risen in popularity. Jim Gettys (who you may know from RFC2616) remains dull but at least I didn't have to look at him. The remainder seemed to be aimed at online gamers wanting to reduce latency. I repeated the exercise with Hamming codes. The best by far was also the longest by far: Richard Hamming explaining how he formulated the most important idea of his life. The worst was from the Neso Academy and could easily be mistaken for the Fonejacker mixed with Look Around You.

How much of these presentations consist of dead time, reading text aloud or drawing diagrams? At best, about 30% - which is shocking when presentations have 100,000 views or more. The more polished Kurzgesagt takes more than 1000 hours to produce one hour of output. CGPGrey takes more than 120 hours per hour of output. But many of the Khan Academy clones take one hour to produce one hour of output. That's an externalized cost when basic structure and editing would save significant viewing time.

So, is it possible to make dense, factual content which is fun, informative and structured? Yes. Have slides with concise text and diagrams. Remove silence. Remove "um" and "ah" sounds. Even if it takes 120 hours per hour of output, students will be almost 50% more effective and, for any given presentation, *total* exertion reaches break-even before the 500th viewing.

Excluding assignments and practical experience, 400 hours of structured presentations would take someone from high-school to graduate. If skimming, it wouldn't even require 400 hours of viewing. That's because the cool kids watch video at 1.5 times speed or double speed. So, a minimum of 200 hours would be required. That could fit around a full-time job; maybe during travel on public transport. So, it may be possible to get from layperson to physicist within 10 weeks.

What would happen if we had thousands of hours of presentations and millions of students? The curious? The unskilled? The unemployed? The imprisoned? Stuck in a refugee camp with 100,000 people? Well, 1080p video consisting of slides plus speech requires less bandwidth or storage than pop music. Yes, it is less than 1MB per minute. So, 400 hours of presentations requires a network file server with less than 24GB of storage. 40 courses with no common content require less than 1TB of storage and zero external bandwidth.

The faddish blockchain enthusiasts suggest that digital education can start from a foundation of digital identity but I'd start from digital education alone. Regardless, I hope you consider accelerated learning as practical in some form even if you dispute the details. The best part is accerated learning can be organized by volunteers who never meet. Retirees with a lifetime of experience. Agoraphobics. People in remote locations. People with illness or disability. Or just people who love to share the details of our technological society.


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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Sunday May 14 2017, @03:43AM (5 children)

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Sunday May 14 2017, @03:43AM (#509335) Journal

    I'm completely with the submission/summary on a few points. (Is it actually a "summary" of one of the multitude of links, or is this actually all written by the submitter? SN has a lot of great things, but I notice a lot of summaries begin with "SN user X writes:" followed by a long quotation from a linked article, rather than something actually written by the submitter. It makes cases like this really hard to figure out what's going on.)

    Anyhow, higher ed has a lot of problems. College debt is out of control. College costs are frequently out of control. I disagree with a lot of the implications in the first couple paragraphs though.

    A good course at a good institution will boost a career but the vast majority of higher education options are worthless or detrimental.

    Citation needed. Even supposedly "worthless humanities degrees" will generally boost a salary significantly and create a better shot an employment compared to a high school education. See here [aacu.org], for example. Stats there: bachelor's degree unemployment in 2013 was 4.6%; for those with only a high school diploma, it was 9%. Median salary for those with bachelor's degree: $57,000; for those with high school diploma, $35,000. Even for humanities degrees, unemployment was 5.4% and median salary was $50,000.

    SOME higher ed options are likely "worthless or detrimental," but there's little evidence that the "vast majority" of them are so.

    Meanwhile, Ivy League faculty salary often exceeds US$150,000.

    "Often" is an interesting term here. Unfortunately the first link is clearly so ignorant as to not realize the difference between "full-time professor" (as in full-time employee) vs. "full professor" (as in the highest academic rank). They mistakenly equate the salaries of the latter with the former, as you might figure out if you look at the second link.

    And Ivy League salary averages are highly skewed upward by professional school faculty. Doctors, lawyers, business leaders, etc. command VERY high salaries in the private sector, and universities have to compete for their time and interest. There are obviously exceptions, but if you actually look at salary lists of professors at any institution, you'll realize there's often a huge discrepancy between what the business school or med school faculty are being paid compared to guy teaching you physics 101 and definitely compared to the instructor teaching you history or English lit. In fact, tenured and tenure-track faculty ("full-time professors") become a smaller and smaller percentage of faculty each year at most universities, as administration realizes they can generally hire adjuncts to teach courses for an average of $3000 per semester-long class [chronicle.com].

    Again, I'm not at all saying that you can't find overpaid professors. But this idea that everyone is making $150k is just bunk. (For the record, the average salary, still skewed by the high salaries of professional faculties, is a little less than $80,000 [insidehighered.com]. Adjunct faculty, on average, earn $16,700/year; granted, many of them are part-time, though generally not by choice. IMHO the discrepancy of pay rates between full-time professors vs. adjunct faculty is one of the most disturbing aspects of higher ed finances.)

    Deluxe gymnasiums and student accommodation with en-suite bathrooms.

    Now we're getting a little closer to main college price increase issues. You may ask: "Huh, with college enrollment going higher and higher, and with most universities refusing to hire more full-time professors and depending on cheap adjuncts, why does college cost so much?" Some of it is still due to instructional staff costs, but a lot of it is also administrative growth, which has massively outpaced instructional staff growth over the past few decades. Combine that with facilities costs for that expensive dorm with the climbing gym, and you're getting close to explaining the internal factors for tuition skyrocketing.

    But there's also the external factors, particularly for public institutions, which have seen huge losses in public funding support in recent decades. That's driving the majority of tuition increases at many public institutions.

    And, in some cases, pressure on staff to ignore plagurism; often due to financial or cultural reasons.

    Uh, the link doesn't actually support that claim. Yes, some international students don't understand formal academic guidelines for appropriating others' work when they arrive, but the reaction from faculty is either to (1) report them formally for plagiarism to a school disciplinary board, or (2) explain the error to the student and handle it internally depending on the severity of the infraction. The linked article there explicitly says that this is a SMALL problem "at most, a few per semester per school" and that NO school has official guidelines to deal with international student plagiarism differently. So I have no idea where you're getting this claim of "pressure to ignore plagiarism."

    Are these guys with the US$150,000 salaries even 1% efficient at teaching? I doubt many of them care.

    To be clear -- full-time professors at most institutions aren't generally evaluated much in their job performance for teaching. Research is generally priority #1, regardless of discipline. You can complain about that (and personally I think it has really screwed up higher ed), but the incentive if you want to keep your job or get a salary increase isn't to perform better teaching -- it's to publish more. So yeah, most of them don't care as much about teaching. But that's the screwed up system. University rankings frequently incorporate research production strongly, and administration wants to drive that research because it drives prestige and allows the grant money to flow faster if you're on the "right lists" of high-ranking research institutions. Those who WANT to care more about teaching frequently don't have time to, since they're under pressure to publish more.

    I know I haven't even gotten to the "meat" of the submission yet, but I'm going to quit with the nuances and actually looking at the submission's links here because I have better stuff to do with my time than responding to misleading claims.

    But just briefly -- the reason why a degree "within 10 weeks" is a terrible idea is because human learning works best when spread out over time. Breaks, sleep, periodically revisiting material, etc. are all ESSENTIAL to cement long-term learning. If you view a degree solely as a "credential" to get you in a door somewhere, then sure, do it as fast as possible. If you actually expect learning to occur, cramming doesn't work. It's for stuff that you want to memorize short-term and forget the next day. Perhaps some people feel college courses are mostly stuff that's worthless anyway, but if the submission is actually serious about improving teaching, etc., then the ultimate cramming session is NOT going to achieve better learning. As for why online learning isn't as good -- I don't even know what to say. Interaction is important to education. There CAN be good online courses (with various types of interactions built in), but watching non-interactive videos online may sometimes be entertaining, however it's also not an optimal learning strategy.

    Excluding assignments and practical experience

    Huh... you mean where most of the actual learning is accomplished? I'm done.

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by GungnirSniper on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:15AM (2 children)

    by GungnirSniper (1671) on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:15AM (#509362) Journal

    A college degree is both a class indicator and a quick way to weed out candidates. Like looking down on fat people, it's an accepted form of discrimination.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:46AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:46AM (#509370)

      It's not discrimination. You've shown that you can take instructions and follow through on at least one thing. You might also happen to know some things that are useful and have the ability to learn. Given how little time is available for screening, what would you suggest they use instead? Perhaps shoe size would be more to your liking?

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @10:14AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @10:14AM (#509413)

        You've shown that you can take instructions and follow through on at least one thing.

        You could also do that if someone ordered you to dig giant holes in the ground with a spoon for multiple years and you complied. I think you've missed the point of education, however; it's not to please lazy employers, and it's not so they can have an easier time of weeding out candidates. There are plenty of highly intelligent self-educated candidates who understand the theories in the field, but they are frequently overlooked merely because they do not possess a degree. There are also countless graduates who have absolutely no idea what they're doing because the vast majority of colleges and universities have abysmal standards, and they often slip right past lazy employers. The solution is to test potential employees properly, not just lazily rely on a degree. If there are too many candidates, then it would be better to randomly throw out resumes.

        You might also happen to know some things that are useful and have the ability to learn.

        Those two things might also be true if you don't have a degree. Either way, it's unlikely.

        Also, if someone didn't have the ability to learn, I have to wonder how they even made it that far in the first place. I'm surprised they didn't get hit by a car, not being able to learn anything and all. This looks like another misunderstanding of what education is, in the form of a oft-repeated and incorrect meme.

  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Ethanol-fueled on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:31AM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Sunday May 14 2017, @05:31AM (#509367) Homepage

    The problem with higher education is that the people on top make way too much goddamn money for what they do, and are accelerating creation and hiring of bullshit make-work jobs for token minorities, like "diversity compliance officer" and "societal correctness police."

    Recent SDSU president, Elliot "No-I'm-not-a-Jew-okay-I'm-a-Jew" Hirschman was paid an unprecedented $400,000 a year to be big boss of SDSU, then left for a gig more than doubly lucrative, probably a result of Jewish Nepotism. The UC regents make millions a year and are given perks like beachfront property. A good third of those are Jews. The rest are Beaners ("Wow, we're in the big-leagues now!) and a handful of plain ol' Whites. And don't forget that Janet "Crypto half-Jew" Napolitano was just caught hiding $175 million while simultaneously demanding more money from the state.

    Now, more money is always good, but it should go to the instructors and the students and infrastructure serving them. Fuck the top-heavy ivory-tower fucks, there are plenty of people who are willing to do those jobs and do them well for $200K. The nepotist thieves and embezzlers can kindly fuck off.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @10:20AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @10:20AM (#509414)

    Citation needed. Even supposedly "worthless humanities degrees" will generally boost a salary significantly and create a better shot an employment compared to a high school education.

    That might mostly be due to discrimination. But even if it is true, the fact that we look at education (or degrees) as a way to make more money is sad in and of itself. Most parts of our society do not value real education in the least, including the writer is this ridiculous article and many people in this comment section. What a shame.