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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: 3, Informative) by VLM on Tuesday May 16 2017, @12:59PM

    by VLM (445) on Tuesday May 16 2017, @12:59PM (#510511)

    Strang's linear algebra videos encoded from the 80s VCR tapes are pretty good. They're from a long time before non-linear video editing, when he makes a mistake on the blackboard he gets flustered but the "show must go on" although sometimes I think he inserts mistakes to get the audience thinking. From memory when he's talking about subspaces of a matrix (ya know, row space, column space, null space...) he tries to invert a non-invertible matrix (or something like that, something like the matrix was supposed to be 3x3 but degenerated to 2x3 or something) and he gets all distracted about it for probably 15 minutes. Frankly you'd probably learn more in 50 minutes of studying his textbooks than watching him write on a chalk board, but its an interesting experience to veg out in front of a TV while eating dinner and remember stuff I forgot about 5 minutes after I learned it 30 years ago. If you don't use math you forget it extremely quickly but at least you can relearn it by watching some TV.

    Hopcroft and Ullman have a pretty famous automata theory textbook, at least I think its decent, and I think Ullman has a set of videos for it somewhere. I vaguely remember watching him try to prove 3SAT or something like that over the course of about an hour, its a minefield, one second of lapsed concentration and you lose it and its all turbo-encabulator from there out.

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