Rukuku At Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools Show And Tell

On December 4, I had the honor of showing Rukuku’s toolset at Kevin Kelly‘s first ever Cool Tools show and tell.
bl3I like to think of Rukuku as a tool for customizing one’s education, and that makes it a Cool Tool as defined by Kevin Kelly in his latest book Cool Tools: A Catalog Of Possibilities “A cool tool is … Anything useful that increases learning, empowers individuals, does work that matters, is either the best, or the cheapest, or the only thing that works.”


And check out the very cool Styrobot, which Kevin Kelly made together with his son.


If you have an hour and a half to kill, here’ s the recording of the Google Hangout broadcast:

Rock Enroll: Fewer people enroll in post-secondary education

College costs are going up. Everybody’s talking about it, including us. The tricky thing is, if prices are going up, and enrollments are going up, then shouldn’t that be a sign that college is not overpriced. I mean, people are still willing to pay for it. Just simple economics, right?

College, University Enrollment, Students

Enrollment in Post-Secondary Education Falls

It is actually not simple economics, as there are all sorts of arguments on the societal benefits of having a well-educated population as well as arguments that education is not your typical consumer good. I’m not going to get into those in this particular post.

Instead, I am going to highlight an interesting stat released by the US Census Bureau a few weeks back. After more than a decade of rapid growth, college enrollments are going down. In 2012, the total number of students enrolled in college fell by half a million from the year before, according to their figures.

Why did that happen? I don’t know but that’s not going to stop me from pointing out some possibilities.  The most obvious of those is price. As we’ve pointed out before, educational costs grew by 165% from 1993 to 2011, faster than general inflation and medical costs. The pace of increase is slowing, luckily, with prices at public four year universities up only 2.9% in 2012, according to the College Boards.

On the other side of that same coin is the job market. Job prospects are dim and have been for many years. A college degree will make that job search easier, but high school kids are likely shaken by the uncertainty, especially when looking at college price tags and average debt loads.

The prospect of being young and jobless is scary. The prospect of being young and jobless and tens of thousands of dollars in debt is terrifying. The average graduating senior this year was in seventh grade when the economy tanked. That’s a lot of years to let the idea of a crappy job market sink in.

Students over 25 are even more sensitive. In that that group of older students, 419,000 fewer people enrolled in post-secondary education in 2012 than in the year before, accounting for almost 90% of the total decrease in enrollment.

Luckily the continuing conversation over college costs has brought more awareness to the issue. Already, rankings on affordability are becoming more prominent, and colleges are marketing their financial value to prospective students as well as their academic rigor.

Meanwhile, companies like Rukuku are utilizing technology to bring more affordable options to students. This will put even more pressure on the colleges to justify their prices tags.

You Better Recognize: LinkedIn adds Online Class Completion to Profiles

The internet has opened up avenues for people around the world to learn. Very cool, huh? But wouldn’t it be even cooler if employers actually noticed that you’ve been studying computer science or accounting or ancient Greek mythology in your spare time.

Online education, Linkedin,

LinkedIn agrees to show completed online classes in personal profiles.

Accreditation is a big obstacle to getting that recognition.  Few accredited universities and colleges want to give their stamp of approval to an online program with few measures of the students’ progress. Plus, giving away that stamp of approval too easily, or inexpensively, could damage reputations and revenue.

LinkedIn may have found a middle ground.  In a recent blog post, the company announced an agreement with several online education providers to display successfully completed online courses in user profiles. In other words, if I take a computer science class on Coursera, and I meet all the requirements for completing the class, then I can choose to have that information displayed on my LinkedIn profile.

This opens up a lot of new possibilities on the value of online classes. Accredited universities have been the gate-keepers of education for a very long time. I don’t think this change will mean that a massive open online course (MOOC) is as valuable as an accredited class, but it will be more valuable than nothing. Employers can see that.

The more difficult issue behind online classes, MOOCs especially, is evaluation. Online providers need to manage their brands carefully. If not, the value of a completed class on LinkedIn could become as meaningless as an endorsement for astrophysics from that guy that you used to hang out with in that one bar five years ago. Nice gesture from the guy, of course, but hard to believe NASA will come calling after seeing it.

Most course providers already have some mechanisms in place to make sure that students actually do complete their courses. That’s important because most students don’t finish their courses, especially for large MOOCs. You can check some more detailed information on completion rates here. But many online formats can only do so much to verify that students are doing their work and doing it on their own.

At Rukuku, of course, we think classes should be kept small to allow teachers to properly invest in and evaluate their students. When those students put in the work, they should receive recognition, even if does not come in the form of traditional college credit. LinkedIn took a big step in that direction with its announcement last week.

Back to School: The Adult Version

Parents and policymakers often voice concerns over the educational system for children in the US. Rarely, though, do we hear much about the educational system for adults. In fact, you may read this and wonder, what educational system for adults? According to a report released earlier this week by the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), adults in the US perform significantly weaker than peers in other developed countries across several measures.

Adult Education, OECD

The US needs more options for adult education. Rukuku can help.

One of those measures is literacy. One in six adults in the US have low literacy skills, according to the study, compared to only one in 20 in Japan. Mathematics is another measure. There, one in three adults in the US performs poorly, compared to an average across the countries surveyed of one in five.  And the situation is not improving. Adults today scored at or below the levels of adults in the 1990s.

So what gives? The study offers a few ideas. One, initial schooling was not that strong. In other words, they didn’t learn this stuff the first time around. The good news there is that if we fix the school system for kids, then this factor will eventually correct itself. But there are other reasons, too. Socioeconomic correlation was much stronger in the US than in other countries, meaning poorer adults performed significantly worse than their more well-off peers.

Weaker educational skills mean dimmer job prospects, regardless of actual educational attainment. This was truer in the US than in other countries. It also goes beyond employment woes. Adults with low proficiency scores were four times more likely to have a low level of health than those with high scores. That difference was more than double the average across all countries surveyed.

But the news is not all bad. The US does do a good job of rewarding those with strong skills. Basic educational skills are more well-rewarded in the US, in terms of wages, than almost any other country surveyed. That means that the potential for getting a better job with just a little more studying is significant.

Another piece of good news is that most low-skilled workers in the US are still employed. That offers an avenue to reach these workers. Educational opportunities offered through the work place would benefit both the individual and his or her employer. Well, and society, too and also those of us who follow international test score rankings.

We can help. Rukuku offers lots of great content and course development tools as well as an innovative online environment to help adults looking to improve their academic and other skills. For employers, get in touch with us, too. We can set up easily deliverable educational programs for your employees, which will be great for them and great for your company.

Assess to Impress: Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Learning assessment is an essential ingredient of education in any form.  Teachers can gauge the progress of their students and identify topics and skills needing more review. Students also learn from the process by challenging themselves and determining their strengths and weaknesses. Assessment can come in several forms, all of which are easily transferable to online venues.

Online Teaching, Assessment

Assess to Impress:Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Homework is the most common form of assessment, and to maximize the benefit for your students, it is a good idea to put in some work of your own. First, communicate the goals or basic objectives for the homework, so students can see the bigger picture and understand the relevance of the work they are doing. Second, encourage students to pose questions to the class bulletin board rather than sending them to your personal email. In this way, other students, which may have similar questions, can see your responses and join in the discussion.

Once you’ve collected some of these questions and your responses to them, put them together in a single Q&A document and include it for reference with the homework assignment in future classes. Speaking of reference, include links in the homework for students to find further background information and/or illustrative examples of how students have responded to similar homework tasks.

Quizzes are another great form of assessment, and Rukuku plans to introduce a special quiz building feature to its Composer service in coming weeks. For online classes, teachers can take advantage of technology to randomize questions. This will reduce chances of students improperly working together but more importantly, it will allow teachers to offer multiple tests to a single student covering the same material. Students can solidify their understanding in this way and prepare for final tests.

Finally, personal interaction is a great form of assessment. Good old fashioned question and answer sessions help teachers determine how well students understand the class material. At Rukuku, we’ve made a point of emphasizing small, private, online classes, or SPOCs. With smaller class sizes, teachers can build a personal relationship with each student and hopefully get a sense during class time of his or her level of understanding. If a particular student is struggling, consider a private chat, where you can work with him or her on the material. Personal attention goes a long way.

Saved by the Bell: How long should online classes last?

A big step in structuring online classes relates to the duration of the lectures and the discussion classes. For both, the type of material and sophistication of the students influences that length significantly. A graduate student will likely be able to follow a longer lecture than a fifth grader, for example.

online classes, time

Teachers can break up lectures into 15-20 minute chunks to increase convenience and keep students’ attention.

One of the most important distinctions to make, when putting together an online class, is between lecture time and class discussion time. A big advantage of online classes is that lecture time can be recorded in advance and included for students to watch at their convenience. In fact, teachers can even utilize lectures from other sources, if they feel the lectures adequately cover the topics.

Even given this flexibility, it can be challenging to determine the proper length of time for a lecture. Traditionally, lectures last about hour, at least in most high schools and universities. Some evidence suggests, however, that lectures broken up into chunks of about 15 – 20 minutes are easier for students to process.

Again, online education has a big advantage here. Teachers can break up their lectures into smaller chunks of time more easily than teachers in traditional lecture halls and classrooms. Students can watch the lectures at their own pace, taking as much time as they would like between portions of the lecture.

As for the discussion portion of the class, this can vary widely, depending on the topic material and personal preferences of the teachers and students. Generally, it is good to plan for 50 minutes to an hour, even if the official time for the class is shorter.This will give you more time to let the discussion grow organically.

The most important thing to remember in this process is to keep the focus on the students, creating as many opportunities as possible for the students to talk or otherwise be actively involved in the class.