Chelsea Green Publishing

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Artisanal U.: The Radical Potential of College Without the Classroom

From GOOD magazine. Published December 2, 2011. Joyce Alcantara grew up in Rhode Island with her mom, three sisters, two nieces, and a cousin. Her dad, incarcerated in Florida, isn’t really a part of her life. Alcantara had trouble with classes her senior year in high school and almost dropped out; her saving grace was a strong interest in social work and clinical psychology, fostered by an internship at a family services drop-in center. This fall, she started her freshman year at Southern New Hampshire University as part of a new program called College Unbound. “I have made the best with what I have. If not for the struggles, if not for the hardship, I would not be as strong as I am today,” she wrote in her application. But even with all she has going for her, even after beating the odds just to get her high school diploma, a student like Alcantara, the first in her family to go to college, has only an 11 percent chance of graduating. Dennis Littky thinks that’s not good enough. “An 89 percent dropout rate? That’s absurd. Typically we blame the students, but it may not be all the students’ fault— it may be the colleges’ fault,” he says. “Colleges have to be student-ready rather than students just being college-ready.” Over the past two years, Littky has launched College Unbound as a prototype for how higher learning can cater to kids, instead of the other way around. Students live in small, tight-knit communities, work one-on-one with advisers to fashion individualized learning plans built around a job or internship that speaks to a personal passion, pursue independent research related to their fields, and cover the humanities and math together in seminars. It’s an update of the educational model Littky has been refining over three decades, tailored to meet the needs of college students like Joyce Alcantara. Yet despite his track record of success with the nation’s toughest learners, funders have balked. Littky’s artisanal, hands-on approach—he often uses the slogan “one student at a time”—flies in the face of the prevailing vision for education reform. Typified by Khan Academy’s short math videos and adaptive learning software, which were lauded by Bill Gates himself from the TED Conference stage this year, the new model calls for cutting-edge technology, millions of users, and massive amounts of automatically generated data on student outcomes. “Everybody wants to see the numbers, everyone wants results and they want them now,” says Ray McNulty, a former senior fellow at the Gates Foundation who has followed Littky’s career for 15 years. (Full disclosure: I received funding from the Gates Foundation for my latest book.) A perpetual risk-taker, Littky is entering a whole new realm of education, about which he admits he’s “naive.” In the middle of a historic recession, he’s committed significant resources from his own foundation toward a new, untested model, and he’s fine-tuning and redesigning the car while it’s on the road. Littky’s trying to scale up his model fast enough to prove its merits, incorporate technology, and start generating the kind of results that can convince big donors while making it financially sustainable. Even more importantly, he’s put his legacy on the line: his core belief that you can transform the lives of students like Alcantara by connecting to their passions. “Everything we’ve done has been learning and leading up to this,” he says. Anya Kamenetz first encountered College Unbound while researching her book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Read the rest of the article over at GOOD.

Columbia, Brown, and 15 More Universities Join Coursera’s Free Online Platform

Coursera, the platform for “massively open online courses” founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Stanford, announced today that it has doubled its number of university partners. The new roster includes several global institutions. Since its debut earlier this year, 1.3 million people have signed up for a free six- to ten-week Coursera class, […] Read More..

Why College Is Not A Bubble (Except For The University Of Phoenix)

The college-is-a-bubble meme just keeps growing. Student-loan debt surpassed credit-card debt for the first time in history last year. Tuition is rising at three times the rate of inflation, and there are growing concerns about the quality of education offered at even our nation’s fanciest schools. Meanwhile, prominent venture capitalist Peter Thiel is paying young […] Read More..

Top Ways to Save Money at College

College tuition at public universities is up 24 percent in just the last five years. With graduation right around the corner, many high school seniors and their families are wondering how they can save on one of the biggest expenses they’ll face. Assuming you’ve already made your choice of colleges, here are some top ways […] Read More..

Obama’s Lessons for Leadership in A Time of Change

The President’s speech to the nation last night was primarily billed as his chance to plead his case to the nation for the ongoing military intervention in Libya. But slipped into his remarks was a primer on 21st century leadership in a time of change, a topic Life in Beta is particularly interested in. Here […] Read More..

My Latest Presentation; A Little Piece in the Times

This is the first time I’ve put up a set of slides for DIY U on Slideshare, an omission which obviously violates the principles of intellectual openness that I go around promoting. The reasons I would give for not doing it until now would be the same that any professor would give, I imagine: that […] Read More..