Education

I was asked this this question on Quora. Here’s my answer:

Writing an original dissertation.

Anyone who makes it into graduate school has had at least 16 years of learning and, as a result, most graduate students are good learners. A dissertation, however, requires the creation or discovery of new knowledge. On the day you finish your dissertation you have to know something that no one else in the world knows. That is a tall order.

After their course work ends, many students find themselves at a loss. They have done a lot of learning and not much creating or discovering–skills that not only are different than learning but that may even be at cross purposes. A learner has to trust that what he or she is being taught is true and valuable. A learner with too much skepticism won’t pass the final. But a dissertation writer without enough skepticism will never advance beyond previous knowledge and never discover that something previously learned was false.

It’s an odd necessity that the more you know the more skeptical you must become to know more. Not every student navigates this evolution in attitude.

FYI, Quora seems to be growing very rapidly. I first noticed this when my followers on Quora started growing faster than and soon exceeded my followers on Twitter, a fact I found surprising. According to Alexa, Quora has leaped in the popularity rankings 42 places in just the last 3 months. It will be interesting to see how they handle the growth especially keeping the quality of the questions high.

“A good start…”

by on April 19, 2015 at 1:53 am in Education, Science | Permalink

Mike Irvine is set to make a splash in the dry world of academe. The University of Victoria student is getting ready to defend his masters thesis in education from below the surface of the Salish Sea off the coast of British Columbia.

And lest you think he’s not taking his thesis defense seriously, he’ll be wearing a pinstripe suit over his wet suit.

…Irvine’s thesis, “Underwater web cameras as a tool to engage students in the exploration and discovery of ocean literacy,” will be streamed live on YouTube as well.

His thesis defense will take about 15 minutes and, following his presentation, he’ll face two rounds of questions from his advisors. He expects to be underwater for about an hour.

The link is here, with illustrative videos, via Jodi Ettenberg.

Today I am at the NBER annual macroeconomics conference as an observer.  The program and papers are here, and they look very interesting.  You may be hearing more about this later; I am allowed to blog the presentations but not attribute specific comments to individuals.  The Bernanke talk I cannot cover at all.

Where do pickpockets strike?

by on April 12, 2015 at 3:19 am in Education, Law, Science | Permalink

Kevin Beirne reports from an FT chat with James Freedman and tells us:

I ask if there are certain hotspots where pickpockets strike. Tourist spots, Freedman tells me, especially places such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, where people’s attention is directed upwards and away from their belongings. He says that many pickpockets also operate near signs warning us to beware of pickpockets. The irony is that when people read the signs, they check their pockets or bag, thus alerting the lurking pickpocket to where their valuables are.

File under “Law of Unintended Consequences.”  And if you can get through the gate, the piece is interesting more generally.

Compensating Differentials

by on April 8, 2015 at 7:28 am in Books, Economics, Education, Film | Permalink

The latest section of our Principles of Economics course at MRU is up today and it covers price discrimination and labor markets.

In this video, The Tradeoff Between Fun and Wages, we introduce the idea of compensating differentials in wages, an idea that goes back to Adam Smith.

Sharp readers will notice a homage near the beginning in what might otherwise appear to be an odd scene setting.

A live stream version is posted here, slide to 6:00 to start, YouTube and podcast and transcript versions are on their way.  I thought Jeff did just a tremendous job.  We covered the resource curse, why Russia failed and Poland succeeded, charter cities, his China optimism, how his recent book on JFK reflects the essence of his thought, why Paul Rosenstein-Rodan abandoned Austrian economics for “big push” ideas, whether Africa will be able to overcome the middle income trap, where he disagrees with Paul Krugman, his favorite novel (Doctor Zhivago, he tells us why too), premature deindustrialization, and how we should reform graduate economics education, among other topics.

And at Utah Valley University in Orem, the school developed its own early warning system, called Stoplight, which uses academic and demographic details about students to predict their likelihood of passing specific courses; as part of the program, professors receive class lists that color-code each student as green, yellow or red.

The article, on anti-cheating software, is of interest more generally, via Michelle Dawson.

In my TED talk I said that if India and China were as rich as the United States is today then the market for cancer drugs would be eight times larger than it is now. Larger markets, both in size and wealth, increase the incentive to invest in R&D. Larger markets save lives. As India and China become richer, they are investing more in R&D and investing more in educating the scientists and engineers who produce new ideas, new ideas that benefit everyone.

The WSJ reports on this trend:

Chipscreen’s drug, called chidamide, or Epidaza, was developed from start to finish in China. The medicine is the first of its kind approved for sale in China, and just the fourth in a new class globally. Dr. Lu estimates the research cost of chidamide was about $70 million, or about one-tenth what it would have cost to develop in the U.S.

…China’s spending on pharmaceuticals is expected to top $107 billion in 2015, up from $26 billion in 2007, according to Deloitte China. It will become the world’s second-largest drug market, after the U.S., by 2020, according to an analysis published last year in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.

China has on-the-ground infrastructure labs, a critical mass of leading scientists and interested investors, according to Franck Le Deu, head of consultancy McKinsey & Co.’s pharmaceuticals and medical-products practice in China. “There’re all the elements for the recipe for potential in China,” he said.

We have much to gain from increased wealth in the developing world.

The YouTube version is here, the podcast version is here.

I was very happy with how it turned out, as I deliberately set out not to copy the content of any of Peter’s other dialogues.  You can learn how he thinks we will leave the “great stagnation,” whether the AI hype is justified, how he would boil his thought down to the smallest number of dimensions, whether NYC is over- or underrated, why globalization is likely to decline and what that means for different regions, the parts of the Bible which have influenced him most, “the Straussian Jesus,” to what age he thinks he will live, why Japan is special, how his German background matters, his favorite opening chess move, how and why company names matter, and even his favorite TV show, which he calls “schlocky.”

And much, much more, with commentary and questions from me throughout.  A transcript is being prepared as well.

“What jumped out for me was the survey that revealed that in some cases as many as 39 percent of our learners are teachers,”

There are two ways to view this.  One is that educators are simply talking to each other.  The alternative — more likely in my view — is that on-line and face-to-face education are in fact complements, but also that our educators know much less than they sometimes let on.  They need MOOCs to learn the material, or more optimistically to improve their presentations of it.

And how is this for the law of demand?:

Across 12 courses, participants who paid for “ID-verified” certificates (with costs ranging from $50 to $250) earned certifications at a higher rate than other participants: 59 percent, on average, compared with 5 percent. Students opting for the ID-verified track appear to have stronger intentions to complete courses, and the monetary stake may add an extra form of motivation.

I’ve long thought the standard meme “Only [small number goes here] percent of starters complete free MOOCS” was a weak argument.  This shows you why.

The piece discusses other interesting results as well.

Vox reports on a study comparing taking notes by hand versus using a laptop

For the first study, the students watched a 15-minute TED talk and took notes on it, then took a test on it half an hour afterward. Some of the test questions were straightforward, asking for a particular figure or fact, while others were conceptual, and asked students to compare or analyze ideas.

The two groups of students — laptop users and hand-writers — did pretty similarly on the factual questions. But the laptop users did significantly worse on the conceptual ones:

Screen_shot_2014-06-03_at_4.55.00_pm

The problem appears to be that the laptop turns students into stenographers, people who write down everything they hear as quickly as they can. Students who take handwritten notes, however, try to process the material as they are writing it down so that they only have to write down the key ideas. Forcing the brain to extract the most vital information is actually when the learning happens.

The laptops resulted in worse learning even under the study conditions when they were actually used to take notes. In the real world, the laptops are a tempting distraction. I am reminded of the day my son came to my class. He sat in the back and afterwards he said “Dad, I can see why you are so interested in online education. Half of your students are online during your class already.”

New brokerage accounts have surged since China’s bull market got running mid-2014. The number of new trading accounts hit a five-year high in early March. But as you can see in the chart above, a lot of those new investors probably aren’t the savviest.

Some 67.6% of households that opened new accounts in the past quarter haven’t graduated from high school, according Orlik’s chart, which comes from a large-scale quarterly national survey of household assets and income conducted by Gan Li of the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. Only 12% have a college education. Among existing investors surveyed, only 25.5% lack a high school diploma; 40.3% have finished college.

From Gwynn Guilford, there is more here.

Timothy Hicks has a new and recently published paper:

It is argued in this article that the marketisation of schools policy has a tendency to produce twin effects: an increase in educational inequality, and an increase in general satisfaction with the schooling system. However, the effect on educational inequality is very much stronger where prevailing societal inequality is higher. The result is that cross-party political agreement on the desirability of such reforms is much more likely where societal inequality is lower (as the inequality effects are also lower). Counterintuitively, then, countries that are more egalitarian – and so typically thought of as being more left-wing – will have a higher likelihood of adopting marketisation than more unequal countries. Evidence is drawn from a paired comparison of English and Swedish schools policies from the 1980s to the present. Both the policy history and elite interviews lend considerable support for the theory in terms of both outcomes and mechanisms.

There are less gated versions here, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Facts about MIT economics

by on March 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm in Economics, Education | Permalink

1. It is believed that MIT graduating Ph.d. students are more likely to stay in academia than those from any other school or field.

2. Across 1977-2011, MIT economists made up 34 percent of the members of the CEA, and Robert Solow supervised one-third of that group.

3. Even in the early days of MIT, Paul Samuelson was not a major thesis advisor, and his students were not so likely to return to MIT as faculty.

4. Out of 35 J.B. Clark medalists until 2012, 47% of them have some affiliation with MIT, either a degree from there or teaching there.

5. As of a few years ago (I am not sure of the exact date), there were 1316 holders of an MIT Ph.d. in economics.

6. In the 2000s, Daron Acemoglu was the most active thesis advisor at MIT.

That is all from “MIT’s Rise to Prominence: Outline of a Collective Biography,” by Andrej Svorenčík.  There are various versions of that article here, the jstor version here, and it is reprinted in MIT and the Transformation of American Economics, edited by E. Roy Weintraub.

Education in Mao’s China

by on March 28, 2015 at 3:02 am in Books, Education, History | Permalink

Advancement in China’s school system was highly competitive, and the odds of reaching the top of the educational ladder were very steep.  Of the 32.9 million children who entered primary school in 1965, only 9 percent could expect to enter junior high school.  Only 15 percent of junior high school entrants, in turn, could expect to graduate and enter high school.  Among the highly selected groups that graduated from academic high schools, only 36 percent could expect to enroll in a university.  Of those who entered primary school in 1965, only 1.3 percent could expect to attend an academic high school, and only one-half of 1 percent could expect to attend university.

Of course the Caplanian point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation.

That excerpt is from Andrew G. Walder’s China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed, my previous post on this excellent book is here.