Tuesday, January 26, 2016

UT Offers Gobbledeegook Education Program

Here's one for the Has To Be Seen To Be Believed file, or perhaps the Ugly manhandling of English Language file, or most especially, the Why Regular People Don't Listen To Academics file.

The University of Texas is launching a... well, to be honest, I'm not sure. Some kind of MOOC. A newly tech-based instructional delivery system. Probably a version of Competency Based Education.  But Marni Baker Stein, Chief Innovation Officer of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, is at Inside Higher Ed to plug the... whatever it is.

The entry is entitled "The Future Is Now." Treasure that phrase, because it's the last thing in the piece that will make plain sense (and was probably written by the IHE editor and not Stein). Can we figure it out?

UT is onto something new, and they've launched an initiative to "envisage" new models of delivery for a college education. For the first couple of paragraphs, one can almost make out some sense in the fog, some notion that a new workplace calls for new modes of preparation, and the UT campuses have been working on this in conjunction with certain disciplines and programs. But then we hit this...

These experimental sites disaggregate the post-secondary pathway as we know it into scalable and affordable verticals of connected educational experiences that can begin in high school and persist throughout a lifetime. In order to drive exponential increases in student engagement, retention and post-program success, our future models reinvent every facet of the learning experience, from the way that curricula and educational experiences are designed, developed, and delivered, to the services that support students along their educational journey, to how student learning is monitored and assessed.

You know, there's nothing I like better than a scalable and affordable vertical, though now that I think about it, that could also refer to an inexpensive rock-climbing wall at a gym, so maybe there are things I like better. But boy-- little old UT is going to reinvent every single part of the education process. How smart are they!?

What are some of the features of this Brave New Exponentially Disaggregated Cosmos of Educational Implementational Experientation?

Outcome focused. Well, you knew that was coming. And that outcomes focus will be, um, based on, um, "on the definition of the graph or scaffold of assessable outcomes that underlies each programming trajectory."

These graphs are complex and dynamic, often sketching out hundreds of outcomes across multiple levels of competency, and serve as the master blueprint over which we can then trace (and over time as the field evolves re-trace) the outlines of flexible program “packages” including foundational instruction, stand-alone modules, micro-certificates, stackable credentials, and degrees.

An atomic approach to design. This, sadly, will not involve plutonium or nuclear power plants. Instead, "atomic" refers to the high level of granularity in the pathway. Because the units will be extremely granular, they can be extremely personalized. Also, a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves.

The approach also allows for more efficient management, updating, and expansion of learning experiences as we analyze object-specific impacts on student behavior or performance and as the targeted learning outcomes graph continues to evolve.

Commitment to high-impact pedagogies. 

High impact pedagogies such as problem-, project-, and team-based learning underlie the better part of instruction across every learning experience, presenting students with authentic assessments and driving challenges that need to be actively investigated and that are social by design.

I am beginning to suspect that we have moved beyond buzzword bingo and are in some sort of dimension of jargon-infused slam poetry, a world where Sarah Palin actually finished a college education but only learned the words.

A focus on personalization and gamification. Oh, hey! This part makes sense, and is the worse for it. "As learners make progress toward short-term and long-term goals, they earn points and are credited for a wide range of academic, co-curricular, and professional accomplishments." So, your education will be a video game which you will keep paying until you level up into a degree of some sort.

A persistent progressive profile that builds a universal transcript. This will go on your permanent record, young man. And when we say permanent, we mean permanent.

A next generation digital learning platform. Good gravy. The sun will come out tomorrow. Stop talking about next-generation software because if you actually had it, if you could actually do all the things you say you want to do, it would be THIS-generation stuff. "Next-generation" means "available only in my dreams." Which is useless. Oh, but they have it-- and it has a cute name.

Among TEx’s distinctive features is its ability to collect and integrate data from a variety of silos (including the Student Information System, Learning Management System, content services, and a broad array of learning and assessment applications) that offer real-time actionable insights into student pace, engagement, persistence, and performance, as well as measures of self-efficacy. This infrastructure empowers faculty and staff to provide high-touch services to those students most in need of encouragement and to personalize support and instructional development efforts as never before possible.

Software that can measure "self-efficacy"!! And it will offer real-time actionables (unlike say, a next-generation software platform which would, by definition, be offering tomorrow-time hope-to-actionables). And I have't told you the best part-- this will be a mobile app!! That's right-- play your UT Bachelor's Videogame on your phone! Is that cool, or what!?

A commitment to research. And that appears to be the most creative way to say, "While you are playing your TEx Earn-a-Bachelor's videogame, we will be data-mining the living daylights out of you. Why, in TEx's first season, it collected over two million data events. I was invited to a data event once, but I wasn't sure what to wear. I had to settle for the data after-party.

This data collection will involve many partners. "This is a strategy that rests on strong partnerships between campuses and the university system, between the System and best-in-breed application developers and analytics service providers, and between solver teams of faculty and curriculum and instructional designers, educational technologies, assessment specialists, and data scientists. " I cannot wait to find out how solver-teams are chosen, though I imagine it must be hard to be the kid who gets chosen last for a solver team. Probably makes you want to just sit in the corner and play TEx games on your phone.

At the end, Stein allows herself to get a little verklempt and personal:

The work is fascinating, complex, and rife with both opportunities and challenges.

Well, it is certainly rife with something. I've been concerned what will be coming down the pike marketed as personalized, digitized learning, but if this is how they're going to sell it, I'm less concerned, because this is more likely to induce giggles than fear. An e-mail sitting here tells me that UT is offering all manner of MEd's on-line; maybe this is part of that, in which case heaven help the teacher who has to get through it with a straight face.


  1. The same sentence really got my attention when I read the linked article: "These experimental sites disaggregate the post-secondary pathway as we know it into scalable and affordable verticals of connected educational experiences that can begin in high school and persist throughout a lifetime."

    A bunch of buzzwords, but it adds up to nonsense.

  2. What's the guy's name who specializes in writing essays that are pure gobbelty-gook, but the computer scores them as perfect? Are you sure this wasn't written by him?

    1. Are you thinking of Les Parelman and his BABEL generator ?

    2. Julie - yes, that's it precisely. Thanks! I think he hired out his BABEL generator to write this, well, gobbletygook.

    3. Exactly my thought, Dienne!

  3. "My cookie was rife with chocolate chips"
    As they say, this would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.
    "The emperor's clothes were joined seamlessly into a robe of stackable hallucinations", and so on. if this is the language used in the "new" software, God help the poor users.
    I also remembered Liza, from the 60's, the fake computer psychoanalyst.
    Maybe we should all learn how to write like this, without a hint of tongue-in-the-cheek.

    Here's more for you, this time from Davos:

  4. On the plus side, the comments section of the article is starting to fill with like-minded criticism.