There are many problems with how we do higher education. There is a disconnect between what’s studied and the actual skills and knowledge needed for success. There are a lot of inefficiencies. Why aren’t we leveraging technology to make education more affordable and accessible and adaptive to student needs? How can we use data and data science to address some of these problems? Have you ever heard of Learning Analytics? How does all of this tie in to the focus of my YouTube Channel? We’ll discuss in this video.
“Hey, guys! Sylvester Morgan here with SylvesterMorgan.com. More and more people are starting to realize that there are problems with how we do education, with how we do colleges and universities. And last week, I learned about a very interesting field of study that attempts to address some of these problems using data and data science. So, let’s talk about that in this video.
So, for those who don’t know, I am an engineer on the business intelligence team for my company. Last week, our company had a business intelligence summit which I regret not attending now. My team leader told us about one of the speakers in particular that was really good. His name is Tim McKay and he is a professor of physics, astronomy and education at the University of Michigan. He did his talk on this really interesting field called learning analytics, which is an attempt to measure and collect and analyze data on learners and the context in which learning happens and to try to find better ways of doing education. So I did a search for Tim McKay and learning analytics and I found a few videos, a few talks that he did. I watched those and they were really interesting. Tim points out that the way we go about doing education, the methods we use, are really outdated. They may have worked many years ago, but now they’re outdated. He’s trying to answer the question, “How can we do better? How can we leverage technology? How can we make the learning experience more adaptive to the needs of students?” For example, with learning analytics, they try to collect data on what classes a student is taking, what courses they take and how well they do in those courses, and how they did in those courses effects how they do in more advanced courses. When you have a lot of data on this type of thing, you can start to see patterns. Maybe if they could choose class A or B before taking an advanced class, they can see how those students who took class A did vs. those who took class B. They’re also trying to collect data on the behavior of students. If you have a leaning system, some kind of learning platform that the students can log in to and interact with for studying or for interacting with professors or with other students, you can collect data on how the student behaved in terms of logging in, interacting with these systems, and how that behavior may impact how well a student does. There’s a lot more to it, and I’m interested in learning more about it.
Learning analytics is very interesting to me for two reasons. One, I’m a business intelligence engineer. I work on the business intelligence team for my company. We have a data science team within that BI team and these are the kind of things that we focus on. The second reason why this is very interesting to me is that this is why I started my YouTube channel and why I’m passionate about doing the work that I do here. Problems with the educational system, higher education, even back through public schools- there are problems that leave many people feeling like a failure, feeling like they’re not sure that they can accomplish much in their life or that they’re not going to accomplish much, leaving people really confused and unsure what to do. It’s not that these people don’t have much value or that these people are broken, but they’ve been pushed through a system that is broken. I didn’t need to see the data to know that there’s something wrong, to know that there is a disconnect between what you study to get a degree, in this case a computer science degree, and what you need to know and the skills you need to be a successful software developer. I’ve had many conversations with developers and engineers who have said the stuff that they learned in their computer science program, it was much harder than anything they’ve ever had to do in a real job, that most of the stuff they learned they forgot it, they don’t use it, and the stuff they did need to know and do need to know, they learned that stuff on the job.
Even in my own experience with the customized learning plan that I built to become a software developer, I kind of went through the computer science curriculums and looked at what courses I need to study. I did customize it so that I can try to avoid some of the content that’s not relevant. But even in my own experience, studying a lot of the stuff that I did study, I still found that when I got real jobs, a lot of that stuff I did not need to know, and some of it doesn’t become relevant until many years of experience, when you get in senior positions and architect positions. Learning it when you learn it is not the most efficient time to learn it. And then we all know that there is a lot of content that you have to study in order to complete a program that has absolutely nothing to do with what you’re focusing on. I’ve heard the argument about it’s really about a complete education, but there are a lot more inexpensive ways to get knowledge in some of those other areas.
I know even the founder of Tree House- Tree House is one of the largest online learning platforms to teach people how to code. The founder of Tree House, Ryan Carson, tells his story about how he got a computer science degree and then he saw that disconnect when he actually started working in the field. To make this even worse and more frustrating for a lot of people is the student debt crisis. It’s bad enough if the program you’re going through is not preparing you that well for what you actually have to do, but the fact that you’re paying tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, if you went into a lot of debt, then you’re going to be pretty frustrated. I’ve actually heard developers who have spent tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars getting a computer science degree and when we’re having these kind of conversations, they are giving reasons for why it was still valuable, such as that it teaches you, going through the degree program teaches you perseverance, or it teaches you how to learn, or it teaches you how to work in a team, or it teaches you communication skills. This is crazy to me that they’re giving those kind of arguments for justification for spending that much money on this degree program that’s supposed to teach them computer science and software engineering. Number one, there are many ways to learn those same skills for a fraction of the cost or for free. Number two, the people that I’ve worked with who gave some of those reasons don’t have any advanced communication or teamworking skills. They work just as well and about the same level as those I’ve worked with who don’t have a degree.
One of the big problems is the cost. I see it as a huge problem that we are not leveraging technology to make education more inexpensive, to make it more flexible and accessible and more adaptive to the needs of different students. In one of the videos I watched with Tim McKay, he was asked a question at the end, what has been the most frustrating thing about your study so far. And if I remember correctly, his answer was that some of the research, some of the findings that they had were not implemented quickly enough. That’s one of the problems I see with colleges and universities- that it’s really slow for things to happen and they can’t really keep up with the pace of the industry, especially not the pace of the software development industry.
So, this is a very interesting topic to me- learning analytics. It’s something that I’m going to look more into. But I think in the research that I did very quickly, it seems like they’re talking about improving the process within the context of higher education or university. And my focus is more stepping back even further and looking even wider and saying, “Do we even need university?” This would be much more difficult to collect data on, but how well someone does in school, what GPA they have, how they do on standardized test does not, I don’t think, accurately reflect how well that person is going to do in life, how they’re going to succeed. This is the goal of my YouTube channel, this is the focus. To step back and say, “What is the purpose of education? What are we trying to accomplish out of it? Are we trying to prepare people for jobs, for careers? Are we trying to get a holistic education, to be educated and informed in many different areas? To be a productive citizen and a productive contributor to society?” And then once we a definition of what the goal is of our education, then how can we go about it most efficiently and most effectively? We live in a very unique time where we have so much information at our fingertips. You don’t have to go to a university or college to get that information, to have access to it, to learn it on your own terms. My particular focus is how do we get people a software development education prepared for a career in software development or writing code as efficiently as possible, without having to go into debt, and without having to waste a bunch of time of irrelevant things.
In closing, I do have one request of you all. In addition to doing more research on learning analytics, I would like to start collecting some of this data myself. I’m thinking about putting together a survey that my viewers can take. But for now, if you’re interested in this topic, please subscribe to my channel and follow. And right now, please leave a comment in this video. I would like to hear what your experience has been and everyone can comment. I want to hear from people who have a degree and those who don’t have a degree. I want to hear from those who are going to get a degree and those who don’t plan on getting a degree. I want to hear why you’ve made your decision and what your experience has been so far. If you have a degree and then you got work in that field, did you experience a disconnect there or did you find that all of the knowledge, the stuff that you learned was very relevant? For those who don’t have a degree or don’t plan on getting a degree, what are some of the things that you struggle with? What are some of the struggles you have? What mental roadblocks have you dealt with or are you dealing with? Why have you chosen not to get a degree? Have you noticed some of these same problems with the educational system? I want to hear from you guys. This will really help me improve the content that I produce to help you guys and it’ll help us all to find a better way to do education.
So, thank you guys for watching. Please like this video if you like it. Click the thumbs up. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the channel and leave your comment on this video. Thank you guys for watching and I’ll see you in the next video.”