Monday, December 28, 2009

degree inflation

This Time article is worth repeating:

“Employers and career experts see a growing problem in American society — an abundance of college graduates, many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a degree that doesn't mean much anymore.

“The problem isn't just a soft job market — it's an oversupply of graduates. In 1973, a bachelor's degree was more of a rarity, since just 47% of high school graduates went on to college. By October 2008, that number had risen to nearly 70%. For many Americans today, a trip through college is considered as much of a birthright as a driver's license.

“Marty Nemko, a career and education expert who has taught at U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, contends that the overflow in degree holders is the result of many weaker students attending colleges when other options may have served them better. "There is tremendous pressure to push kids through," he says, adding that as a result, too many students who aren't skilled become degree holders, promoting a perception among employers that higher education doesn't work. "That piece of paper no longer means very much, and employers know that," says Nemko. "Everybody's got it, so it's watered down."

“What's not watered down is the tab. The cost of average tuition rose 6.5% this fall, and a report released on Dec. 1 by the Project on Student Debt showed that the IOU is getting bigger. Two-thirds of all students now leave college with outstanding loans; the average amount of debt rose to $23,200 in 2008. In the last academic year, the total amount loaned to students increased about 18% from the previous year, to $81 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for recent grads rose as well. It is now 10.6%, a record high.

“The devaluation of a college degree is no secret on campus. An annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute has long asked freshmen what they think their highest academic degree will be. In 1972, 38% of respondents said a bachelor's degree, but in 2008 only 22% answered the same. The number of freshmen planning to get a master's degree rose from 31% in 1972 to 42% in 2008. Says John Pryor, the institute's director: "Years ago, the bachelor's degree was the key to getting better jobs. Now you really need more than that."”

Read the rest here.  

Posted via email from hacking edu

rate my professors' iPhone app

College classroom iPhone apps are hitting the app store in growing numbers.

Article on the trend on cNet.

Posted via email from hacking edu

accelerated tracks pays off

“A new study of Massachusetts middle schools contends schools that don’t track students of the same grade into multiple course levels based on their achievement have fewer students scoring at the advanced level on state standardized tests in mathematics.”

Via education week.

Posted via email from hacking edu

a free education

I have been following the University of the People since its inception. I was reminded of it again recently when I read an article on its progress.

From the article: “University of the People's inaugural class included 179 students who took web-based college courses free of charge, only paying between $10 and $100 to process exams taken at the end of the semester… nine out of 10 students who took classes in its first term said they would recommend the university to family and friends.”

Read more at eCampusNews.

Posted via email from hacking edu

Opportunity knocks

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” - Thomas Edison

Posted via email from david blake

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kindle's Newest Rival

Five of the nation's largest publishers of newspapers and magazines plan to challenge Inc.'s Kindle electronic-book reader with their own digital format that would display in color and work on a variety of devices.

Time Inc., News Corp., Conde Nast, Hearst Corp., and Meredith Corp., whose magazines include Time, Cosmopolitan, and Better Homes and Gardens, announced a joint venture on Dec. 8 to develop the format that rivals Kindle's gray "electronic ink." It promises to emphasize visuals, retaining the distinctive look of each publication, as compared to the text-oriented Kindle.

The format would incorporate videos, games, and social networking, along with a classic magazine layout that can be flipped through with the touch of a finger.

Via eCampusNews

Posted via email from hacking edu

Friday, December 4, 2009

No More Teachers? No More Books? Higher Education in the Networked Age

Take away from the Harvard panel on technology in the classroom: when students keep laptops open in the classroom, they learn less.

My thoughts—the traditional role of teachers and the current role of technology don’t mesh—I concur.  Looking into the future I believe that the role both play will drastically change to yield great efficiencies. I think the teacher will come to be more mentor and guide and less of a knowledge base. You just cannot compete with technology as a knowledge base. And I believe that technology will come to displace—not compete with—teaching more and more. Right now it is a distraction because the teacher is teaching, technology is a peripheral distraction. In the future, the technology will teach, and the teacher will be a peripheral guide.

You can read the highlights of the panel here.

Posted via email from hacking edu

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

YouTube meets Wikipedia

Cool new site,, launched by Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, that aggregates educational videos for students ages 3-18.  Its library currently includes 11,000 videos.

Posted via email from hacking edu

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

... but the lighting of a fire

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. - Margaret Fuller, Journalist

Posted via email from hacking edu

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NYC's School of One makes Time magazine's Top 50 inventions

“This past summer, in a sixth-grade math class, New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein piloted a small program in which individualized, technology-based learning takes the place of the old "let's all proceed together" approach. Each day, students in the School of One are given a unique lesson plan — a "daily playlist" — tailored to their learning style and rate of progress that includes a mix of virtual tutoring, in-class instruction and educational video games. It's learning for the Xbox generation.”

Via Time.

Posted via email from hacking edu

Monday, November 9, 2009

Make higher ed more accessible

Colleges should consider accrediting web-based programs offered at free or low-cost online schools, making higher education more widely available to populations with little access to post-secondary classes, a former official from the United Kingdom's Open University told a gathering of technology advocates Nov. 6.

Brenda Gourley, vice-chancellor of The Open University from 2002-2009 and a longtime advocate for education's role in social justice, spoke to hundreds of IT professionals at the annual EDUCAUSE conference in Denver, which ran from Nov. 3-6.

Gourley, who became South Africa's first female vice-chancellor in 1994, stressed that colleges and universities that cannot afford to launch web-based classes should evaluate courses offered at ventures such as The Open University and allow students to take the class for school credit.

"Especially in these economic times, we have to find a more optimum outcome to balance with financial necessities," she said, adding that the global economic slump should spur campuses to look for alternatives to expanding course offerings as college enrollment spikes. "It may well be more sensible to accredit particular courses offered elsewhere than to provide them in house."

Gourley warned against trimming back college offerings as campus operating budgets shrink and endowments dwindle, reminding IT officials gathered at EDUCAUSE that this could be a chance to bolster online education that would keep campuses financially afloat and serve non-traditional students whose schedules don't allow for on-campus lectures.

"I don't think these . . . times should be some kind of excuse for putting that on hold while we sort something else out," she said. "Exactly the opposite. … If your strategic thinking of technology isn't combined in your holistic strategic thinking, I think you're in trouble."

Closely tracking informal web-based communities of researchers and potential students, Gourley said, should be a priority for online schools and brick-and-mortar institutions.

"What we see on the web are all sorts of people creating communities of interest," she said. "We must not underestimate the sophistication of those learning communities. … What we need to do is [understand] how we harness that energy and recognize some of that learning."

The Open University's history can serve as an example for expanding web-based learning, she said. The idea of a distance-learning program in the 1960s drew scorn and criticism from officials in higher education and government, Gourley said. But accessible education proved popular once it was introduced in Britain and eventually, to other European nations.

The school now has 150,000 undergraduates and 30,000 graduate students, about 70 percent of whom have full-time jobs. Most Open University classes require no previous qualifications, and students must be 16 or older to begin a course.

Gourley said the social and political tumult of the 1960s contributed to a desire for non-traditional forms of education -- an idea that gained acceptance in official circles in the 1980s and 1990s.

Civil rights battles and the Vietnam War "fed a yearning for a different order," she said.

Gourley said a wider embrace of education technology -- especially among the oldest, most well-established universities -- will require a dramatic shift in the traditional roles of professors and students.

"We need to go from teacher-centric to student-centric," she said. "The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage but rather the guide on the side."

via eCampusNews

Posted via web from hacking edu

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Did you know?

This is from 2008… how quickly the world turns.


Posted via email from hacking edu

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Canadian's Take on US Healthcare Reform

I got this message from one of my Canadian friends this morning, unsolicited, commenting on the US healthcare "reforms". I thought I would share with everyone:

So Dave you must be pissed. If the leftists get their way you are going to have another Canada on your hands. Tina tried to see a specialist about her feet. She has to wait 4 to 6 months. Last time that I was sick in the good ole state of Utah a Doctor actually came to where I was staying. It blew my mind. A house call. I'd never seen one before.

What I do see is Canada's top doctors dealing with waiting rooms full of people who need a sick note because they missed work. When things are free everybody wants one. My other favorite is my 4 hour stay in an emergency room on the verge of my apendix exploding and screaming my lungs out for nurses who wouldn't come. I guess they were too busy taking care of all those coughs and colds.

I would love private coverage and so would most of my family. Just imagine paying 46 cents on every dollar to the government of Canada. The same government that just gave public funding grants to Toronto's Gay Pride parade. As well, in most cases abortions are free without previous consultation, one of the only operations that you can get here without waiting 4 to 6 months.

Fight it and fight hard because as soon as the leeches start sucking they won't stop till all the blood's gone.

On a brighter note I talked to Craig Walker. He said he might move to Oklahoma. I told him not to wear his Cougars jersey for awhile. Their probably still sore about the loss.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Education 2.0 vs Harvard 2.0

As a freshman on campus in the Fall of 2002 I stayed awake at night dreaming about how different college could be.  One B. Sc. degree, a two-year service mission, three internships, one corporate job, and two startups later I cannot say how excited it makes me to see headlines like this one: "Yahoo! U".

Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which “going to college” means packing up, getting a dorm room, and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges can’t survive.

This article did a good job at distilling down the forces behind this coming change in education, though I don't agree with everything said.

In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States, and online faculty will administer classes with many students but relatively little individual contact...

The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabi and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.

I believe hacking edu means hacking three things: the professor, the textbook, and the classroom. This is where this article falls shortsided.

  • The Textbook. The explosion of ebook readers and online textbooks was actually not even mentioned in this article--fine.
  • The Professor.  "The typical 2030 faculty will... be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments" and "online faculty will administer classes with many students but relatively little individual contact."  I think that many see things this way--that the emergence of the dominance of online education will bring the student-to-teacher ration into the tens of thousands and that videotape will kill the radio star.
  • The Classroom. Though it doesn't say it outright, this article, like all others, hint at social media being the new classroom.  I think this will both happen and that it is a good thing, but I don't think that it will be the most successful classroom of the future. 

This article correctly identifies that education 2.0 will separate the "class from the college".  It foresees the aggregation of online content that will bring education efficiently to the masses at low costs.  It also correctly identifies that learning is not the only end goal of college and that the role of certification and degrees are at the core of the college's product offering.

Not all colleges will be similarly affected. My bet would be that the more endowed a school and the more its name carries a cultural value independent of its ability to offer a degree, the less likely it is to change. Like the New York Times, the elite schools play a unique role in our society, and so can probably persist with elements of their old revenue model longer than their lesser-known competitors.

This article even correctly identifies that the Harvards of the world play a special role and have a third core product offering--"a cultural value". But where this and other articles are short sided is that they assume students want to learn and that they want a degree and that education 2.0 will revolutionize those two things. This article states that because of the ivys special third product offering--the cultural value--that they will survive longer than most.

Education 2.0 will bring revolution to both learning and certification, but what this article fails to foresee, is the revolution that will come to that third product offering--the cultural value.  That intangible element of networking and social interaction amongst elite sets of peers under the tutelage of pipe-smoking, sweater-vested professors--these articles all seem to think that innovation and the future will come at the cost of that third element. 

But why should it.  People don't really want degrees--they want what degrees yield and what they mean. They yield jobs and they mean status.  They are, for now, a differentiator.  Many entrepreneurs will profit in this revolution that will make a B.A. a commodity open to the masses and online learning the norm, but the real winner is he who can replace and innovate, not inundate, on what the Harvards of the world offer--that third product of higher education--the cultural value.

And that will never happen with adjunct professors alone in their apartments, with little interaction amongst their students.

Posted via web from hacking edu

Friday, August 21, 2009

digital rights management and edu

What lessons edu needs to learn from the mistakes of big media:

There was a blog post a few days ago, “The 10 Stupidest Tech Company Blunders”.  Sixth stupidest ever, the music industry fighting Napster instead of using Napster to change and innovate their own model.

“Today, of course, music-subscription businesses and streaming services such as Pandora dominate digital music. Had the record companies partnered with Napster,, or any of the other file sharing networks instead of suing them, they might control digital music sales today--without nearly as many problems with piracy.”

Edu and music are not exactly the same.  Institutional edu doesn’t seemed embittered by open education reform, such as MIT’s open courseware.  There is however, a disdain and stigma for online education and the textbook industry’s growing threat of the ebook.  There is tension between the traditions of the past and technologies potential innovations of the future.  And in those tensions, there are some lessons to be learned from the mistakes of big media.

(1)    Napster vs. Labels.  Napster changed the world.  It was a seed of innovation that had just began to sprout in a big way.  And instead of adapting, adopting, partnering, mimicking, or in any way trying to learn from, embrace, or grow the innovation, the big labels felt threatened and just tried to crush the sapling that was Napster under its big boots.  Largely it worked, killing what Napster might have become, but shoots spread and rose up in  the hundreds, just delaying the march of progress and leaving the big labels outdated and now outmanned and out positioned to win the fight in the long run.
I see this in the world of edu—one recent case is the WA teacher unions fighting the Charter movement.  Edu needs to adapt and adopt not fight and delay. 

(2)    Hollywood, Blockbuster, Netflix, and Red Box.  In high school, every video I rented was from Blockbuster video.  In college is was Blockbuster online. Two years ago it was RedBox and these days it is streaming from NetFlix on demand.  There is an interesting story behind the evolution of the movie rental evolution that applies to edu.  Hollywood Video is every university who still doesn’t offer online courses.  Blockbuster is arguably those who do offer online courses as a bolted-on extension of their otherwise unchanged business model.  In this analogy, I think edu is about where the movie rental business was while I was in college, so it is too early to say who is really the Netflix and the RedBox are here, but I will venture with this.  RedBox is the online universities of today, Phoenix, Kaplan, DeVry.   They are the 50% solution. I believe that RedBox is a 10 yr business model and then it will be forever gone.  Streaming will mark its death.  The online colleges bring great convenience, steal serious market share; they are the 50% solution. They brought convenience and arguably cost savings to the old business model.  The NetFlix, and by NetFlix I really infer the NetFlix on demand (streaming is the future and they are the ones positioned for that market), is the real innovation.  It is a change in distribution, technology, and business model.  It is the disruptor.  Whoever this is in the edu market, I think it’s too early to say.   

(3)    BluRay vs. HD DVD.  Akin to the Napster lesson. With Napster, it was a fight against innovation.  With BluRay and HD DVD they fought for the rights to the future of innovation, not against it.  The problem was, they spent more time and more money fighting each other, that they lost the market entirely.  BluRay finally pulled ahead, but so late in the game, they have won little share over DVDs and the market is soon to go the way of streaming.  Billions of dollars lost and half a decade wasted.  If BluRay and HD DVD had partnered at the very beginning, the market would have gone high def years ago and money would have been plentiful on both sides of the fence. I see this being akin to the fight between the traditional and the for-profits.  They both want to educate students, they just both want to do it in their format.  If they fight each other long enough, they will waste time, energy and efforts that could be spent innovating and blazing ahead.

(4)    Digital Rights Management.  I watched a interesting documentary on DRM in the music and film industry:

It was interesting to learn about how Disney ripped off works in the public domain and made them relevant to our day and age.  “His work was a remix of the stuff that came before. He was a mashup artist”.  For example, from the video (which is queued to the this portion of the movie) is about how Steamboat Willie was a direct ripoff of Steamboat Bill.  But then towards the end of the 20th century, Disney had all of the public domain and copyright laws rewritten to protect their work for ~100 years rather than the previous 14 years as it was when Disney got his start.
The simple point I was to make here, is that education is built upon the works of those who have gone before.  I am an economist and I believe in giving people incentives to produce works.  I believe in copyright laws. But, it is important that the author/creator is protected and given incentives—not the marketplace or distribution channel. 
A case from recent history that exposes what is wrong with music rights today is the Boston University student being sued for file sharing; he has been ordered to pay $675,000 for illegally downloading 30.  That is because so many layers of labels and producers have rights to those songs.  Protect the artist, but the way that iTunes and most recently, the Kindle, lock up their owners information is bad for education

Posted via email from hacking edu

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Stereotypical S. America Bus Ride

So I brushed the dust off of my external hard drive and pulled it back out to finish posting a few picks from the Peru trip. Consider the lost archives.

This pic is dusk on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake located on the boarder of Peru and Bolivia. Though the landscape looks serene the journey getting there was not.

We decided to catch a midnight bus from Cusco to Puno (the major Peruvian city on Lake Titicaca). The bus was surprisingly, but deceptively nice. Before pulling out of the bus station, they took a mug shot of everyone on the bus, so if we tried robbing the bus or something, we were already on the police files.

My seat was next to a native. She fell asleep as soon as she hit her seat. We got off to a nice start and I dozed off. What had to be about an hour later, I awoke to the sound of metal clanking metal. The bus was stopped and the driver was gone, apparently outside the bus wacking at the engine. Looking around, I saw no lights, and at 1:30 am in the middle of nowhere Peru, there were no other cars to be seen on the highway. For almost an hour, with no word or explanation the driver clanked around outside with the engine. Finally, he got back on the bus, and with some struggle, but no further explanation, he started the bus up and we were once again off.

I dozed again only to be awaken the second time. This time I awoke with more of a startle--about 7 Peruvian SWAT team members were on our bus. They started at the front, saying nothing, reaching above our heads to open and inspect our bags. They moved slowly, front to back; when almost to the very back they apparently found what they were looking for. They grabbed at a bag of a Peruvian lady, who grabbed back and clutched the bag with everything she had. She refused to give the bag up and more and more of the SWAT members started grabbing at it and at her. She started screaming and crying but wouldn't let go of the bag. Finally, they overpowered her and without a word, marched to the front of the bus and left. They took the bag, but left the woman unquestioned on the bus.

We fired back up, and this time it is harder to fall back asleep. And just when I thought we had to be through the weeds, about an hour post-SWAT, we arrive in a small city located on the highway, to find that the highway is blocked by a bus and a semi-truck that tried to pass on the narrow building-lined road, only to find that they didn't both fit and had wedged themselves between the two buildings.

This "highway" was not wide enough for two large cars to pass at once, and there were only about two options for side roads. But they were both dirt, skinny, and windy. Many buses, blockaded and less determined, had already given up for the evening and were sitting in park waiting for the morning to come. Our bus driver, I think flustered by the course of the night's events, decided to brave one of the side roads.

These side roads would have been rough on a 4x4 pickup, and I confidently say, no bus had ever driven on these roads. I had 0% confidence that there was even an outlet for our bus along this road, but determined, our bus driver went for it. It wasn't more than 20 feet that a turn in the road required, literally, a 20 point turn. Another 20 feet, and the same thing again. This road winded through this little city, turns at every block that required people to get out and to guide the bus through several point turns. At one point a car was parked on the road that blocked us from getting by. Without the faintest possibility of being able to retrace our path in reverse, our only option was to bounce the car off the road--so that we did. Several people got the car bouncing and tossed it far enough out of the way for the bus to get by. At one point, the street narrowed so much that one set of wheels had to descend a staircase, while the other set descended the road.

It was hairy.

Two hours of effort, and we finally did make it past the barricade. Those hours managed to get us an effective 100 yards closer to our destination. But... the story ends well enough, as we did make it in to Lake Titicaca, alive and well.

The famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Those are man-made floating islands that people live on. Very cool.

City center in Lima at night.

Machipichu as seen from the peak of Winachi Picchu. Amazing.

Myself, Justin, and Dan in front of Machipichu (the peak behind us is Winachi Picchu).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Ruins about 3 hours outside of Machu Pichu.

Temple where the Spaniards found a statue of Jesus Christ. BofM anyone?

The Sacred Valley. The Incas used these tiered planters to acclimate their potato plants to altitude.

Dead guy we found. Still wearing his tuque.

The guinea pig we ate for dinner.

The Shaman Priest giving an offering to Mother Earth.

Filming in the Andes.

The valley of the community we stayed with.

The NorthFace tents they put us up in.

Cuzco city center. This Catholic church is the biggest building in town.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Impact International Trip to Peru

I just returned from a trip to Peru and Bolivia with Impact International. Impact was founded by my younger brother Daniel with the purpose of involving students in support of other worthy, established non-profits that don't have a student arm. The purpose of the trip was to document and create marketing materials for the non-profit Deseret International, a medical non-profit that supports local third-world doctors in performing corrective surgeries on cleft lip, cataracts, and clubbed feet. We also shot footage for a piece that Impact will be doing on food and starvation.

The trip was awesome. We made stops in:
  1. Cuzco, Peru
  2. Puno, Peru
  3. La Paz, Bolivia
  4. Lima, Peru
I will post some pics of the sites and the cities, but first I wanted to drop a few of our pics of the children we saw that were being treated:

I grew up serving within the ranks of Operation Smile, another non-profit dedicated to fixing cleft lips in third world children, and though I have seen thousands of pictures just like these, it was incredible to actually get to see the children and hear the stories of pain told by the mothers when others treat their children so terribly. To see the surgeries was incredible, that in a few hours and at the cost of a few hundred dollars, a person's entire life can change so drastically.

It was an amazing experience and I am grateful for how lucky I am to be blessed with a healthy body, a beautiful and healthy family, for the ability and freedoms to work and provide for ourselves, for a brother who is so proactive in making the world a better place, and the many factors that facilitated and allowed me to participate in this trip.

Those interested in supporting Impact International can do so by making a donation here. For $20 a complete surgery can be performed, changing a child's entire life. This cost per surgery is the lowest I have found anywhere in the world, and is facilitated by a genius and well executed model used by Deseret International. Through the use of donated American medical supplies, supporting the local doctors, Deseret is able to support these doctors in doing the surgeries for just a few dollars.

Find more videos like this on Impact International

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hacking the EDU Trifecta

Education is already free. Certification and degrees are not.

Liberating knowledge is useful in that it brings convenience to education, but the nut that really needs cracking is how to make certification, courses, grading, textbooks, teaching, and degrees, scalable and cheap.

There are three main components that need to be hacked to make this happen:
  1. The University
  2. The Professor
  3. The Textbook
There are efforts underway to hack each of these components and I just wanted to share some things I had found this week regarding each point:
  1. The University. The advantage of the university is that there is power in proximity, communication, and interaction. But with technology, it will no longer be required that we are in the same room. Tech University of America is bringing college courses to Facebook. Now I honestly would not want to complete an entire degree over Facebook, but as someone in between my undergrad and grad schooling, I would be interested in taking a course or two. Just one example of a scalable solution driving The University to continue losing its relevancy.
  2. The Professor. Read a great blog article by the VC, Fred Wilson. The article is titled Let the Student Teach. He references another post and quotes this great story:

    Then in Grade 12, something remarkable happened: My school decided to pilot a program called "independent study", that allowed any student maintaining at least an 80% average on term tests in any subject (that was an achievement in those days, when a C -- 60% -- really was the average grade given) to skip classes in that subject until/unless their grades fell below that threshold. There was a core group of 'brainy' students who enrolled immediately. Half of them were the usual boring group (the 'keeners') who did nothing but study to maintain high grades (usually at their parents' behest); but the other half were creative, curious, independent thinkers with a natural talent for learning. The chance to spend my days with this latter group, unrestricted by school walls and school schedules, was what I dreamed of, so I poured my energies into self-study.

    To the astonishment of everyone, including myself, I did very well at this. By the end of the first month of school my average was almost 90%, and I was exempted from attending classes in all my subjects. I'd become friends with some members of the 'clique' I had aspired to join, and discovered that, together, we could easily cover the curriculum in less than an hour a day, leaving the rest of the day to discuss philosophy, politics, anthropology, history and geography of the third world, contemporary European literature, art, the philosophy of science, and other subjects not on the school curriculum at all. We went to museums, attended seminars, wrote stories and poetry together (and critiqued each others' work).

    As the year progressed, the 'keeners', to my amazement, found they were struggling with this independence and opted back into the regular structured classroom program. Now our independent study group was a remarkable group of non-conformists, whose marks -- on tests we didn't attend classes for or study for -- were so high that some wondered aloud if we were somehow cheating. My grades had climbed into the low 90% range, and this included English where such marks were rare -- especially for someone whose grades had soared almost 30 points in a few months of 'independent' study. The fact is that my peers had done what no English teacher had been able to do -- inspire me to read and write voraciously, and show me how my writing could be improved. My writing, at best marginal six months earlier, was being published in the school literary journal. On one occasion, a poem of mine I read aloud in class (one of the few occasions I actually attended a class that year) produced a spontaneous ovation from my classmates.

    The Grade 12 final examinations in those days were set and marked by a province-wide board, so universities could judge who the best students were without having to consider differences between schools. Our independent study group, a handful of students from just one high school, won most of the province-wide scholarships that year. I received the award for the highest combined score in English and Mathematics in the province -- an almost unheard-of 94%.

    Another great way to make great teaching scalable is to open access. This can mean larger classrooms or as is the case in Korea, letting the best teachers speak in sports arenas. Let the teachers become super stars.
  3. The Textbooks. Found an interesting company this week whose goal is to make etextbooks free to students. FlatWorldKnowledge is bringing great texts digital and think they have a model to make it sustainable. While the ebooks are free, their revenues come from students paying to print the book, softcover versions, quiz banks, flash cards, and other study aids. They are venture funded, having raised $8M from Greenhill SAVP, High Peaks Venture Partners and Valhalla Partners. Here is a their clip explaining the product.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Little Sunday Treat

Jon Schmidt is a local Utah talent. I live like 5 minutes away from this guy. Great talent and an awesome entertainer. Enjoy. (Embedded video stopped working - here is a link).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Feeding the EDU Monster

Our education system is problematic.

Now, I believe in education. I work in education. I, like most of you, believe that education, more than any other factor, is the force that can raise a man from ignorance and poverty to empowerment and opportunity.

Because of this belief, I (personally) work to get students access to scholarships, we (Zinch) donate to create scholarship funds, and the government donates millions a year to higher education.

But that is all part of the problem.

There are forces at work that are squeezing the economic value from higher education. From my observations, we are feeding the problem--a problem that is becoming a monster. Here is what's happening:

Education has historically had a high return on investment. Competitive forces always incentivizes schools (or anyone else) to capture as much value out of a product as possible. Because students are willing to pay up to the point that their marginal return from attending school equals the marginal benefit that they will get from attending, this has allowed schools to eat into the returns of their students by raising tuition year after year.

Said another way (simplified example ignoring opportunity costs), if you knew by investing $100 (NPV) you would receive back $120 (NPV) you would do the deal. If you knew that by investing $110 (NPV) you would receive back $120 (NPV) you would do the deal. If you knew that by investing $119 (NPV) you would receive back $120 (NPV) you would do the deal.

People are willing to invest up until the marginal costs (MC) equals your marginal benefit (MB), i.e. where investing $120 (NPV) gets you back $120 (NPV). While I have heard different figures, I recently read that a college grad can expect to earn approximately $300,000 more than a non-college grad over their lifetime.

This means that colleges can and will continue to raise the cost of tuition. Because as long as there is still a positive return to the experience, people will continue to line up at the door.

But the hikes in tuition do not affect us all equally. There are those of us who, while knowing that the return on education is still positive, don't have the capital to start, or to finish, the process of a 4-year degree. It is not that the economics don't work, it is that they don't work for all of us. With each hike in tuition, some of us get left behind.

But we are a nation that believes and supports higher education. There are a lot of good people and foundations at work donating scholarships and grants to help students pay for an education.

But subsidies, in any market or industry, create inefficiencies in the market. In education, it is important to understand what these "subsidies" of scholarships are doing to the market. (My undergraduate degree is in economics, and using the tools of the trade, I will attempt to explain this the best that I can using my handy dandy supply and demand curves.)

This first chart depicts a market, such as our education market, in equilibrium. We have a price (p1) of tuition and a quantity of education (think the number of chairs in all universities) given the equilibrium between supply and demand:

This second chart depicts a market where a college is given a subsidy (such as grants and scholarships for enrollment--note there is a technical difference in scholarships which are provided to individual students and grants that are provided directly to colleges, but the basic concept is the same). These subsidies potentially create a new lower price (p2) of tuition and a new higher quantity (q2) of education (still thinking the number of chairs in all universities):

Chart number two is what we fool ourselves into thinking with every scholarship cheque that we write. We like to think that every dollar donated and gifted away is making education cheaper for students. We like to think we are helping keep tuition costs down while allowing more students the opportunity of higher education.

This third chart depicts what is really happening in the market when colleges are given subsidies. The thing is, colleges have constraints, both physical (buildings, class rooms, and chairs) and non-physical (exclusivity, keeping acceptance rates low). Quantity is constrained while the effective price is being driven lower by the subsidies.

Chart four depicts the impact of the prices being held down by subsidies while constrained by the inability to increase quantity. This effect is an over-demand for the product of education at that given price. At the subsidized price, more people want the product than universities can supply. Universities continue to provide at some quantity less than Q2, leaving unfulfilled demand for the product.

This over demand means a lot of people want a college education. The historically high ROI continues to drive demand. We are a nation that loves education. And increasingly, we are a nation that demands education. Every middle-manager, gray-collar worker in America is expected to have a degree. It has become a base-line hurdle and pre-qualifying filter.

That is the concept of degree inflation. The value and expectations that we once held of a high school diploma we now hold of a bachelors degree. This occurs for a number of reasons, one of which is the over-demand for education. As we award more and more degrees, the exclusivity and ability of that degree to differentiate a person diminish.

The combination of over-demand for the product of education created by the subsidization of scholarship and grants continues to allow for creep. As mentioned above, students will purchase up to the point that their marginal benefit of education equals the marginal costs of receiving the education.

The subsidization causes over demand. Over demand does not leave pressure on universities to remain competitive on costs. If you know that their is a line of people waiting to fill any open seats at the price, there leaves little pressure to try and drive costs down. Additionally, it drives little pressure to keep the product of education competitive and innovative. Same logic, when there is a line of people waiting to fill any chair, innovation is not required. Over time this has led to universities shifting funds away from teaching and into institutional research and fringe activities while allowing costs to continue to creep.

The marginal costs of education has been allowed to creep. While degree inflation has allowed the marginal benefit to decrease.

This leaves us in danger of a few things:
  1. Subsidies create over-demand. Over-demand eliminates the need to be competitive and innovative.
  2. These forces are allowing the marginal cost of education to rise while the marginal benefit to drop.
  3. As marginal costs rise and the marginal benefit falls we will see many left behind, with diminished ROIs for those who do make it through the system.
Given this analysis, there are a few things that I predict will break the cycle or hack the system.

First. One of the major constraints is constrained ability of universities to educate more people. There are the physical and non-physical constraints to how many people they allow into their university each year--regardless of the costs. The system was not built to scale.

But in today's world of technology, where information is free and fluid, this wall, this constraint will be torn down. Allowing the quantity to adjust with prices, subsidies, and demand will create equilibrium in the market that will eliminate our mentioned problems.

Second. As new models of education are introduced that allow for equilibrium in the market, competitive forces will return to education. (Don't get me wrong, there is competition today, between Harvard and Yale, but it is competition that is all within this model.) The competitive forces will come to be between models of education. This will drive innovation and cost effectiveness amongst all to win the business of the student.

And in the meantime, don't be fooled. With every scholarship, we are helping the one, but hurting the all. We are feeding the monster and enabling the creep. The solution is not to continue to pour money into our education system.

The solution is to drive a change. I believe that the change is coming that will tear down the walls of education. I believe that technology has given us the opportunity to better educate at a fraction of the costs.

And I intend to help bring about this change.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Found a website that identifies your personality profile by the content from your blog. Its analysis of my personality was good. Give it a try for yourself: Typealyzer.

David's Type is "Mechanic":
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
It also maps your content to areas of the brain:

Monday, March 16, 2009

What is

Zinch is a technology that is helping to change the way that students are discovered and recruited by colleges, grad schools, scholarships, and other opportunities relevant to high school and college students.

Students are given a platform to create an online portfolio and profile of themselves. This profile is meant to be robust and holistic and help facilitate past the stigmas that surround students and their tests scores. Students are able to showcase who they really are and what they are best at, and be discovered on those terms.

Colleges have been anxious to be able to reach students on personable grounds based upon parameters beyond the traditional ACT/SAT score, GPA, & zip code. In just two years since the launch of Zinch, over 650 colleges have signed on to recruit through Zinch as well as almost 3/4 million students.

Zinch was founded by Mick Hagen @mickhagen, his older brother, Brad Hagen @bradhagen, and Brad's partner-in-crime Sid Krommenhoek @krommenhoek.

Recently, some students have sounded off with what their interpretation is of Zinch. Enjoy--they are impressively made movies. Sign up for here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Impact International

My brother, Dan:

Many of you who know me have heard me speak of my brother, Daniel. He is the middle of the five Blake children and displayed quintessential middle child symptoms from a young age. For example, he comes from a family of avid skiers and to make his own way in the world became the first Blake to ever snowboard.

But unlike most middle children who takes up deviations to define themselves against the canvas of their family or in order to gain attention, Dan began to chart a truly atypical and unique course, one which, I am sure, will end with him saving the world.

In high school Dan made an impact. His platform was Operation Smile. He became involved at a young age through the local chapter. In time he transformed what OpSmile was to our school, Lone Peak, and our community. It went from being a well intentioned, quite, non-profit chapter that students involved themselves in to stay well rounded, involved, and college-ready, to being a formidable force in the community, known by all students and most adults. In high school he raised $200,000 for medical surgeries for the organization, served a medical mission to Jordan, and lead and trained thousands of other students on how to make an impact.

And now he is at it again. This year Dan returned from his two-year LDS mission in Puerto Rico. He immediately got to it again. This time he started his own non-profit, Impact International. Its mission is to empower students to change the world in leveraged ways through partnerships with highly effective non-profit missions. And so far it is working.

Impact was recently featured by KBYU. They don't have a link to embed the video, so you can see the feature be following this link. Please share these links with any high school or college students that you know that might be interested in learning more about how to get involved. Impact is starting school-based chapters throughout the nation and is already truly creating significant opportunities for students to change the world.

You can comment here or contact me at david.blake (at) for more information.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Harvard Learns What it Means to be Mormon

I am Mormon.
Being Mormon means a lot to me. It is my faith but also a large part of my heritage, culture, and lifestyle. I, as many Mormon young men do, served a two-year proselytizing mission when I was 19 years old. I served in Toronto, Canada where I was able to share my faith with thousands. Most are cordially uninterested, some are mean, few even cruel and ill intentioned, while yet some others find in the faith God and truth and are joined to it.

Even after two years of evangelizing, or after a lifetime of living it, faith is not always an easy thing to articulate. Mitt Romney, himself a Stake President in the LDS (Mormon) faith, did not always explain the faith or himself as a Mormon that well. It is difficult, especially in a world that often engages one's religious views in secular context.

It's easier to talk religion to the religious. Much harder to talk religion to the political, or religion to the academic, or religion to the media.

But this last Sunday I was shown this video of Rachel Esplin, a Harvard undergraduate studying East Asian Studies, and president of the Latter-day Saint Students Association, being interviewed by Washington Post journalist, Sally Quinn.
It was for a panel of five students explaining their diverse religious backgrounds--Presbyterianism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Esplin is articulate, informative, and direct in her responses, giving a solid introduction of what it means to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traditionally called Mormons.

Esplin succeeds at the challenge of engaging the religious in secular environment and lays a terrific groundwork in what it means to be Mormon.
If you want to view the other four students, you can find them here: Harvard Hillel "Day of Faith".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Movie Design That Wins

Because creating something truly fresh, a little bit awe inspiring, that moves the industry and our expectations forward is hard to do, it is worth noting when it happens.

Three incredible feats of late:

(1) Australia. Because making every shot postcard worthy is not easy.

(2) Coraline. The mix between stop-and-go animation with real materials (mud, water, etc.) mixed with the 3D rendered graphics was a lot of fun to watch and truly a first-ever, gutsy kind of move .

(3) Perseopolis. The black and white design and animations from this movie made for many shots I would consider framing as art.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

St. Valentines Day

The story of mine and Mikel's love is that great things often come together last minute and unexpectedly. That's a lot of how this weekend came together--after having all of our initial plans not pan out, this weekend came together, last minute with tons of fun.

Friday night, @mikelb and I hit up the dance party with @mickhagen @rachelhagen @bradhagen @krommenhoek. It was a lot of fun and @mikelb suprised me with her sweet moves. Here is a short clip of @mickhagen doing soulja boy (tried getting footage of all the single ladies but turned out too dark):

On Saturday we went skiing at Sundance. Sundance is often regarded as the runt of the Utah ski resort litter, but it proved to be a great day. The canyon was a mess and they turned us away after getting almost all the way to Sundance because of an accident, but we braved the weather again an hour later and made it up. Good snow and not too crowded. Here is @mikelb tearing it up on the double blacks:

Afterwards we grabbed a quick bite, switched babysitters (thanks grandmas), and went to Thanksgiving Point to see shopaholics. Meh.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mining Talent & Employee Generated Content

Extracting value from people is not that different from extracting minerals and resources from the earth. Not that the process is ever simple, but there are some simple truths to mining that can help us relate to how we yield the most powerful results from our teams, companies, and organizations.

There are two basic types of mining targets: placar and lode.

Placar deposits are when minerals are distributed through gravel or sand; think panning for gold in a river bed.

Lode deposits are when minerals are found within large veins or layers within the earth; think of a gold mine, with mine carts and pick axes.

Think of people as having both kinds of resources, both placar and lode. When we are trying to fill a job within a company, the process is like trying to find lode deposits--you look for a concentrated pool of talent. Or, said otherwise, when you are trying to fill the job of accountant, your primary objective is to find someone who is first and foremost fantastically talented at accounting.

But people hired for their lode resources bring placar resources with them as well. These are the resources that in many cases we didn't hire them for, but if we can extract, can yield additional value for the company or team. In our example, our accountant might also be a great strategic thinker, know some html, have a powerful network, or have previous experience in PR--whatever the case, people bring with them a variety and breadth of ancillary skills.

There are two trends emerging that are putting more emphasis on this process of extracting the placar resources from individuals:
  1. Insourcing. I define insourcing as the delegation of tasks or operations to an organizations' current talent pool. In many cases, and how I most often think of the term, this means that tasks are being delegated to people who would not traditionally field the task or who it is beyond their job description to do so. It is much talked about these days and has become a mainstream buzz word.

    But to share an example of the power of insourcing, my brother Taylor recently told me of a BYU Marriott School lecture he attended where the CEO of a young company spoke. This CEO recounted the story of being hired to turn around this small, and at-the-time flailing company. The company was not profitable, high burn, and if things didn't change would not survive.

    The first thing that the CEO did was to gather all employees and ask them to list everything they thought was wrong or needed fixing with the company to make it profitable. He then reviewed and summarized the list, assigning a dollar amount to every item on the list. The following day, he posted the list with the accompanying dollar amounts, and told the employees that he would pay for every item on the list that the employees could create a solution for--didn't matter the task or the employees role--whoever created the solution got the cash.

    This CEO said that within a month and a half, everything on the list had been fixed, paid out on, and within only a few months more the company became profitable. Powerful. A much fresher trend I am really excited about is...

  2. Employee Generated Content. All are familiar with the concept and term UGC (user generated content), which today yields 27.9M google results, but just emerging is the concept and emphasis on EGC (employee generated content) which today yields only 421,000 google results.

    I define EGC as non-paid content created by employees of a company, regarding the company's product or services. This is content that is created outside of their paying role; content created on blogs, twitter, videos, etc., because these employees like to talk about what they do or believe in the product or company that they work for. This is often powerful and passionate content.

    And innovative companies are starting to capture this value by creating EGC portals where they aggregate all/some of their employees' content.

    Two fantastic examples of this are (1) The University of Chicago Law School's TweetChiacgo and (2) Best Buy's Connect.

    These portals bring all of the evangelizing that their internal people are doing into a hub that allows for an immediate, personable, and very real look into the company, or in these instances, the U Chicago Law experience and the many products of Best Buy.
I am a believer that most peoples' talents are rarely fully utilized a anxious to see how these trends will continue to shape the way that companies value and use their employees. Is EGC something that would be valuable to your company? Stay tuned to Zinch to see what we do with it...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Me Hitting the Airwaves

I was interviewed today with Kim Stezala, The Scholarship Lady, on her BlogTalk Radio cast regarding Zinch--who we are and what we are up to.

It is always interesting to hear how others sum up Zinch and I think Kim did a terrific job with it. Here is the intro that Kim gives Zinch:

"Wouldn't it be great if you could share your fabulous factor with 600 colleges and let them vie for your attention? College-bound students have a new tool in their quest for finding their dream college - it's The brainchild of a Princeton student, Zinch allows students to prove they are "more than a test score" and allows colleges to check out nearly half a million students - all online. It's a beautiful thing. Listen in as The Scholarship Lady chats with Dave Blake, Director of Student Finance at"

You can listen to the podcast by going to Kim's BlogTalk Radio station. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dreams Yet Future

  Dreams yet future
  Can weigh at one's soul
  That which is hoped and aspired
  And left un'tained
  Will yearn
  Then fade
  Yet all dream
  All hope
  But few obtain
  And the worlds is left to its yearning
  Only a few fight
  To live the life they dreamed
  Of stars bright and that happy life
  Against the gravity of our souls
  For dreams are sent from heaven's gate
  And one must fly to obtain
  Determined to fight I resolve
  My dreams to succeed
  My hopes to evolve
  'Till with Wrights' and Lindbergh's
  My name shall fall
  And amongst the stars I sleep
- David Blake, 2005