Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hollow Schools

The emerging trend in the high tech economy is to provide unemployed or underemployed workers, college students, curious teens and others, with many "hollow school" options, meaning the exercises are canned, and no teachers are present.

Work through an automated textbook (web-based), and you'll pop out the other end of the pipeline with the needed skills.

That's a theory, quite unproved.  It'll work for some people, as most fad diets do, and those are the people you want giving glowing testimonials. "I did the WorkForce Training [tm] and now I'm making one hundred K!"

Is academia the source of this dream? I'd say more it's from publishing. We need students / customers to "work through" our material. The teachers are no longer in real time, just look it up on Stack Overflow if there's a problem, or maybe we set up bandwidth for students to help each other, perhaps awarding them extra credit somehow for so-doing.

The messy business of keeping a faculty alive is what's left to the university in this picture.  The publishers siphon off students and furnish some credential based on "working through" their offerings.  States find it easier to work with publishers, which are businesses, than with universities, which are not as eager to get behind self-gutting platforms.

Where a more intelligent government + university system might step in, is with experiments to reverse the model, and pay students, instead of making students pay. If learning JavaScript + HTML + CSS is so vital to the economy, then lets bleed out a stipend, an allowance, could be to cyber-currency wallets on the cellphone (university provided?).

Pay teachers and students both, as they'll be exchanging roles all this time anyway. I may learn React and/or Angular from you (both JavaScript), but then I'm a Python teacher and will teach you Flask.  Besides, it's work to study.  Work-study is what we do for recreation, cradle to grave.

"Where does the money come from?" you ask.  That's a question for general systems theory, the answer being "from the sun" (current = currency at the root of it all). Some economists may have competing answers but GST is more of a science than Econ is.

If you want to limit how these work-study program credits might be used, that's what FinTech is all about.  Pay students to learn JavaScript in currency exchangeable for groceries but not booze. If you're studying biology, earned credits might be towards a catalog of microscopes and related equipment.

At the O'Reilly School of Technology (OST), our PR was contra-MOOC in the sense that we didn't think a 1:10000 teacher-student ratio was all that workable.

Not that there's anything wrong with watching Youtubes. One may learn plenty from passive viewing, as well as from reading. But when does another human evaluate the quality of your own work? Are you tested only by machines?  What's the workflow?  Is the school you're in hollow?

Do you think by watching doctor shows you become a doctor?  Do we get computer programmers from robograders? What's the fail rate? What's the theory?

At OST we were more wanting to duplicate the Renaissance 1-on-1 apprentice model, where, in joining the JavaScript guild, one gets paired with a guru, a guide, someone who will work with you directly and think about your code with you. A co-programmer of sorts.

The whole thrust of Extreme Programming + Agile was "those who work alone don't develop as team players."  Which is not to say working alone is unimportant. There's no either/or here.

The irony in this picture is hollowed out schools are scrambling to deal with the unemployment problem created by letting go of all the teachers by hollowing out all the schools.

We think faceless bureaucracies are now in position to roll over the apprentice model.  Finally, we don't need to worry about teachers i.e. innovators and researchers, people who study for a living.

We can freeze our pot of gold curriculum into that end of the rainbow skills training we believe is out there, and all our unemployed will get their $90K full stack developer jobs. Solution provided!

Yeah right. Count me a skeptic.