Around the Web: New Frontiers

Several recent news stories focused attention on the closely interrelated issues, in higher education, of technological innovation, rising costs, academic elitism, and personal, individualized small-class instruction. Apple entered the digital textbook market (prompting some skepticism); President Obama addressed the cost of higher education in his State of the Union Address; MIT announced that it would offer course credit to anyone who proves they mastered the material taught in the university’s free online courses; and Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, who made a splash last fall with a free online course in artificial intelligence, gave up his faculty position to focus on his online-teaching startup (meanwhile, Stanford announced a curriculum overhaul). At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeff Seligo thinks through what universities will have to do to adapt to the new era.

Changes may be afoot at the secondary level as well. At the Quick and the Ed, Kevin Carey offers an excellent write-up of an important new study of teacher effectiveness. In the New York Times, two professors critique not the teachers but the curriculum, reflecting on the role of statesting, reading, and the love of literature in their sons’ Language Arts Program, and eliciting strong responses from readers. Back in September, Harvard professor Helen Vendler proposed her own ideal elementary-school curriculum, designed to promote a love of, and facility with, reading. January 23rd was National Handwriting Day: at a summit in Washington, educators debated the importance of handwriting instruction in the age of the keyboard. At the Chronicle, Bethany Nowviskie argues for radical reform of the PhD program’s equivalent of Language Arts—the disciplinary methods course.

Students may be on their way to solving some of these problems themselves. A survey finds that this year’s freshman class is more studious, while Faculty Focus offers some tips on how to involve students not only in their own learning, but in their own assessment, with a great idea for collaborative quiz prep, and suggestions for making self- and peer-assessment effective.

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