Mar 13, 2008

Changing education

Besides finalizing my thesis on the future of Delft Open Courseware (expect the final report medio-April), I am throwing out some bait to catch a PhD fish somewhere. I rewrote my earlier concept (which I posted on the LabSpace forum) into a 4 page draft proposal for the research I would love to conduct.

Read this doc on Scribd: ProposalMarch2008

I came across some interesting posts about the structural change that happens in education, or whatever, society. And these posts have much in common with the thing I want to research, which is the reason I post it here.

First of all, Stephen Downes speaks about "Open Source Assessment"...
What we can expect in an open system of assessment is that achievement will be in some way 'recognized' by a community. This removes assessment from the hands of 'experts' who continue to 'measure' achievement. And it places assessment into the hands of the wider community. Individuals will be accorded credentials as they are recognized, by the community, to deserve them.

How does this happen? It beaks down into two parts:
- first, a mechanism whereby a person's accomplishments may be displayed and observed.
- second, a mechanism which constitutes the actual recognition of those accomplishments.
Eventually, over time, a person will accumulate a 'profile' (much as described in 'Resource Profiles'). We can see this already in systems like Yahoo Games, where an individual's profile lists the games they play and the tournaments they've won.

In other cases, the evaluation of achievement will resemble more a reputation system. Through some combination of inputs, from a more or less define community, a person may achieve a composite score called a 'reputation'.

In still other cases, organizations - such as universities, professional associations, governments and companies - may grant specific credentials. In such cases, the person may put forward their portfolios and profiles for consideration for the credential.
The piece on "Resource Profiles" is recommended for people interested in the subject.

Then we have a discussion by Jeff Cobb about an online spoken presentation by George Siemens about a World without Courses (if you're in a hurry, start at slide 21). This interesting post deals with the difficulties of assessing value in the world informal learning that has proliferated on the Web. Siemens suggests two possibilities: reputation points and referral systems.

The first involves individuals gaining reputation points over time based upon their participation in learning conversations and activities. The process, as I understand it, would be similar to how sellers on eBay or reviewers on Amazon build reputation, though Siemens points out that we would need to know the identity and credentials of the person assigning reputation points in order for the value of points to be fully assessed. Reputation, in other words, should not be arbitrary.

The second has more to do with drawing connections between learning content and activities using a process similar to the recommendation system at Amazon, i.e., “The person who bought ‘x’ also bought ‘y.’” In the world of learning, this process might translate to “The person who read this, also read this” or “The person who studied this thinker also studied this thinker.” I’m not entirely certain I follow Siemens line of thinking here, but I believe the point is to ensure a certain quality, consistency, and intensity of learning in a particular subject area over time.

Jeff Cobb adds to this the possibility of old-fashioned assessment, certification, and testifying. He also mentions
An association with a strong enough brand within its particular niche may possess sufficient authority to play a valuable validation role on its own.
And that is what I think too. In a way, people are brands, and if someone's reputation (=brand) is high, his or her word is believed... He or she can then perform duties as assessment, and certification.

The main difficulty, according to Siemens and Cobbs, is how to put all the pieces together in a cohesive way.

We see some similarities in the described issues. This makes my proposal relevant, especially considering the question on how to create and assess a Virtual ID, something the above authors ask as well. Any suggestions, or rather, any good research question is much welcome.

1 comment:


    The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

    Methods Section
    Study Design
    Research questions and hypothesis formulation
    Development of instrumentation
    Describing the independent and dependent variables
    Writing the data analysis plan
    Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

    Results Section
    Performing the Data Analysis
    Understanding the analysis results
    Reporting the results.
    When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
    Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the methods and results section of their dissertation.
    This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
    This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
    Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

    On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formatting and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

    If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggest the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

    Distance learning, and the availability of programs, has increased exponentially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

    As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

    If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

    So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

    I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

    To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

    It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

    When their defense is successful, the question of "was the help too much" is answered.

    If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may email me at:


    Reference sites: