Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Video That Led to UVa President's Departure

The video above features a talk ("Higher Education 2.0") by former Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of the new, low-cost (mostly free) online university Udacity, and originally appeared on CD in January.  It was this video that was partly responsible for the downfall of President Theresa Sullivan at U-Va, because it seems that the U-Va. Board of Visitors wanted the university to move more rapidly in the direction of innovative, open-course, online education (with Udactiy cited as one model), and weren't getting enough support from the president. 

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

"In the weeks leading up to the resignation of Teresa A. Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, the leaders of the board that forced her out of office traded a number of e-mails with attached articles about the forces transforming higher education, telling one another that the articles illustrated "why we can't afford to wait."

In many of the e-mails, which were obtained by The Cavalier Daily [through a FOIA request], the rector and vice rector of the Board of Visitors—Helen E. Dragas and Mark J. Kington, respectively—commented on articles about online education and the open-course ventures in which top research universities like Harvard, Stanford, and others, are engaged.

The exchanges included one about Udacity, the free education platform that grew out of a Stanford University professor's course. In an e-mail on June 3, Jeffrey C. Walker, a member of the Board of Trustees for the foundation of the university's McIntire School of Commerce, urged Ms. Dragas and Mr. Kington to check out a video of a talk by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford computer-science professor who founded Udacity.

Mr. Walker said the Berklee College of Music was going to have its board, of which Mr. Walker is a member, watch the video 'as a signal that the on-line learning world has now reached the top of the line universities and they need to have strategies or will be left behind.'

In the e-mails, Ms. Dragas, Mr. Kington, and others appeared to believe that Ms. Sullivan was not doing enough to embrace change, or to press for it quickly enough at the University of Virginia.

On June 10, Mr. Kington sent Ms. Dragas an e-mail in which he forwarded a statement that Robert F. Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business, made about Ms. Sullivan's departure. In Mr. Bruner's statement, which he sent to faculty, alumni, and other supporters of Darden, Mr. Bruner said that the "philosophical difference of opinion" between Ms. Sullivan and the board, cited as the reason for the president's resignation, had to do with 'the rate of change and progress in the face of long range challenges to the University.'"

MP: Professor Thrun is co-teaching the free, 7-week Udacity course "Introduction to Statistics," which starts next Monday.  


At 6/21/2012 2:57 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> MP: Professor Thurn is co-teaching the free, 7-week Udacity course "Introduction to Statistics," which starts next Monday.

Dr. Perry: Small typo there, "Thrun"

At 6/21/2012 3:42 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

I'm not clear, how did this lead to Ms. Sullivan's resignation?


Also -- we've only seen the beginning of the switch to an IP and Services economy, as well as the effects of ubiquitous computing, which isn't fully here yet but it's been getting much, much closer in the last decade.

At 6/21/2012 4:35 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

Also, his comments about grades and school harken back to comments by Persig in Z&tAOMM:

...That sounded right, and the more he thought about it the more right it sounded. Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything – from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The above quote comes from ZAMM, found here, and it's part of a much longer discourse on grades, and the idea of a gradeless school -- an excellent part which starts at:

"Today now I want to take up the first phase of his journey into Quality, the nonmetaphysical phase, and this will be pleasant."

BTW, don't stop at:
This time he developed the argument that the whole grading system and degree should be eliminated, and to make it something that truly involved the students in what they were hearing, he withheld all grades during the quarter. -- there's a paragraph or two of the surrounding story in which the "conversation" takes place, then he gets right back onto what happened in his class when he did, in fact, implement a sort of "gradeless" system.

The book is phenomenal, but this part is very OT for this thread.

At 6/21/2012 4:35 PM, Blogger Moe said...

There's nothing like the face-to-face learning experience amongst peers and the socializing aspect that would be missed online.

There's also nothing like sitting in your car and having a guy pump your gas, check your oil and wash your windows - we all know those days are long gone.

At 6/21/2012 9:08 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

So the university thinks that conventional education should be reserved for the even fewer, while about everyone else should receive an inferior, online education?

That would definitely setup an even wider bifurcation in education - one between those who can get secure, benefit-laden jobs that require the conventional degree and those who end up with employers that find various excuses & dodges to avoid benefits. That, and it would be excused since it is what the Holy and Unquestionable Market bestows upon employers.

At 6/22/2012 8:35 AM, Blogger Scott Drum said...

I plan to enroll in the Intro to Statistics course to see what it's like. I took a LOT of stat courses in grad school, and while I would not suggest that for many people, I routinely encounter utter ignorance of basic statistical concepts among otherwise very intelligent people.
It seems to me that these sort of mini-education modules serve a very useful purpose. Someone could get a very low cost (in this case free) education in a lot of subject areas that wouldn't merit in-depth study (sort of like what high school used to do).

At 6/22/2012 9:46 AM, Blogger Krishnan said...

There is simply too much at stake for current administrators to institute fundamental change - their livelihood depends on the status quo.

Yes, there is much to be said about brick and mortar and a human being who can be present to teach, provide real time feedback and mentor. What we must acknowledge is the fact that the internet has changed what is available to students - and that we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we can keep doing what we are doing and not change.

If universities cannot demonstrate that coming to an actual class (i.e. a room in a building) and listening (and interacting) with an actual, live human being adds value to the education, students will ask why they should come. So, if some professor insists on droning on in class - and when similar material can be downloaded and viewed and studied - students will not come and will question what the university is doing.

I believe strongly that a live human being can add enormous value to any class - if that human being is indeed ready - an expert - and eager to share his/her expertise and do what videos or even live lectures on the internet cannot do.

The people in "charge" today (this includes not just Presidents - but Provosts and Deans and Chairs) have NO CLUE on how to deal with the rapid changes coming to education and how students learn. People who DO KNOW about these changes are not "administrative" material (i.e. they cannot speak nonsense to faculty and students and parents).

Change is here - universities that embrace these changes and adapt will thrive - most will not - and the process will be painful to watch for sure. People feeding off the tuition/grants trough will do their best to keep the status quo.

At 6/22/2012 10:07 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

The President of the University of Virginia was tasked with restructuring education and did not do so.

Teresa Sullivan could have driven about one and half hours to Virginia Tech for some insight. In an old shopping mall is Virginia Tech's largest classroom.

Virginia Tech's Math Emporium "has changed the way Virginia Tech's introductory math classes are taught".

"The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning."

At 6/22/2012 2:39 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning."

Thanks for the links, Buddy, great stuff.

At 6/22/2012 4:14 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>>> So the university thinks that conventional education should be reserved for the even fewer, while about everyone else should receive an inferior, online education?


THAT's it -- making access to classes taught by STANFORD PROFESSORS to anyone FOR FREE is a really, really BAD thing for all.

God, every time you open your mouth, you say something more abysmally stupid than the last time.

Will you ever plumb the bottom of that well?

I really am amazed by you. You have profoundly impressed me with the level of sheer, unmitigated dunderheadedness displayable by someone whose ancestors somehow managed to survive a time when lions and tigers and bears were a real threat. Your ancestors must have been the Gladstone Ganders of the primate world.

At 6/22/2012 4:50 PM, Blogger KauaiMark said...

Khan of "Khan Academy" had it right.

Now you can go all the way from elementary school to graduate school.

Just might go back to school and learn a thing or three.


At 6/24/2012 9:22 PM, Blogger Claire said...

1. As a point of information, while it may facilitate free education, Udacity is a Venture-backed company (per their website backed by Charles River Ventures).
2. Interesting point in the video about teaching science to women/ girls in a less threatening environment (online).
3. There is a lot more complexity to the firing of President Sullivan (governance issues, etc.) and I am not sure from watching the video what the link is to sustainability of UVA, since much of Thrun's (laudable) focus is on educating the world for free.


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