Tag Archives: education

What skills are needed by graduates . . . and employers?

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist, predicts that “college education is headed for a huge disruption”.

Tom Friedman portrait image
Tom Friedman

According to Friedman, “High wage/middle skill jobs are disappearing”, leaving a different employment landscape. Graduates “won’t need to find a job. They’ll need to invent a job.” He claims that “Bosses look for people who are relentlessly entrepreneurial.” Employers don’t care what you know; “they will pay you only for what you can do with what you know.”

loudspeaker image22 minute audio interview published two weeks ago by Innovation Hub.

In technology, Tempus fugit

A few months ago, while emphasizing the importance of data network reliability to college-age students, I stressed that users expect information systems to be as reliable as their telephone. Me:

When we pick up a telephone handset, we expect to hear a dial tone.


What’s a “dial tone”?

How’s that for realization of how quickly technology changes? And for how old we are?

More recently while introducing DNS to the same group, I compared the Domain Name System to a phone book. Their response:

What’s a “phone book”?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695


I’ve found a new fave site with dozens of short, funny, yet educational video clips. It’s about mathematics and is called numberphile.com. It’s produced in the U.K..


The videos are less than ten minutes long. Most of the presenters are college professors. Wait! Wait! Don’t hold that against them! These guys are informal and Brady Haran masterfully edits and produces them with simple graphics so that they’re fun and easy to follow.

Have you wondered how modern public key cryptography works? Watch http://numberphile.com/videos/RSA.html.

Two entertaining videos discuss the WW2 German Enigma machine. Watch the inner workings of a real one in action:

  1. http://numberphile.com/videos/enigma.html
  2. http://numberphile.com/videos/enigma_flaw.html

I’m sure that somewhere in their table of contents you’ll find at least one video clip worth watching.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Academic Challenge on local TV

I watched a recent Academic Challenge competition on Palm Beach County’s education channel. Teams of 6 students from Palm Beach high schools were simultaneously presented with academic questions by a quizmaster. The first team to answer correctly scores a point. The questions were challenging! The better teams beat me every time on the math questions; I had better luck with the other questions, but still my score was pathetic.

Just based on this tiny sampling, I hold great hope for the future. These kids knew their stuff!

I gather that within each county only the team from the winning school advances to the finals at Disney World. I have no idea why neither Broward nor Dade County schools participated. (The Dade school board worries about providing native language instruction in dozens of languages — a waste of resources. Most of the Broward school board is usually under indictment for accepting bribes from contractors. I guess that they’re busy.)

Florida Commissioner's Academic Challenge
Florida Commissioner’s Academic Challenge
Walt Disney World, 2013

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

All about college, in 140 seconds

Ian Shoales bookIan Shoales (ianshoales.com) refines everything that he learned during 12 years in college into this two-minute video clip filled with his rapid-fire instructions. It concludes:

If you’re dumb enough to get stuck in a class that requires a term paper, sprinkle your essay with these words: interface, relevance, dialectic, discourse, disturbing, and amorable.

Remember kids, all great art is boring.

Dress well and drink a lot. That’s what college is for. As for a major, go with law or medicine. Everything else is just too iffy. I oughta know. I gotta go.

Ian Shoales is the alter ego of writer and performer Merle Kessler. Ian and Merle both currently reside in San Francisco.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

LMS = Learning Management Systems

The proliferation of Internet access has encouraged the growth of LMS (Learning Management Systems) over the last decade and competition is hotter than ever. Why? LMS can provide a walled garden for students to learn. Many LMS vendors have priced their LMS products cleverly: they’re available gratis for a single classroom, but require substantial payment when deployed throughout a school district. The profit motive is alive and well in the LMS market.

lms-300wToday’s LMS leaders are

  1. Edmodo
  2. Schoology
  3. Haiku
  4. Moodle
  5. Blackboard
  6. Canvas

In my neighborhood, the Palm Beach County school district has committed to Edmodo.

This blog discusses LMS deployment from a teacher’s perspective.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Frontline “Poor Kids”

“People can’t stop you from believing in your own dreams.” Those words were spoken by 9 year-old Kaylie at the end of the powerful PBS Frontline documentary, Poor Kids. Because her mother is poor, Kaylie is moved from one improvised shelter to another, missing school, so Kaylie’s education is a mess. She tells us that she’ll need an education to escape poverty. All of the kids are malnourished.

Poor Kids by PBSThere is no voice-over narration. All the kids speak candidly and their words are haunting. You can view the entire documentary at Poor Kids.

1 of 5 kids in the U.S. lives in poverty.  Disgraceful.

Update, January 2016: Read the comments to this video. You’ll find not only empathy, but wisdom borne of suffering and overcoming impoverished childhoods. Some amazing stories.

Raspberry Pi: cheap tiny computer

Do you hunger for a cheap computer for learning programming? How does 25 dollars sound? Do you want a tiny computer that you can use to browse the web? It’s yours for 35 dollars.

Raspberry Pi and Eben UptonA group from Cambridge University has designed and developed a credit-card size computer that can run Linux on an Arm processor. Their Raspberry Pi computer targets the student and low-income family markets, but has industrial controller applications as well.

The $35 version of the tiny computer includes 512 MB RAM, 2 USB ports, 100baseT ethernet adapter, and HDMI video output. Its sales numbers have been huge since it began shipping in February.

While in charge of undergraduate admissions to the computer science program at Cambridge, Eben Upton (pictured) first envisioned what eventually became Raspberry Pi. He and five colleagues founded the Raspberry Pi Foundation as a UK-based charity whose goal is to promote computer science study in schools. Eben now works at chip manufacturer Broadcom, who produce Raspberry Pi’s “computer on a chip”.

Excellent The Guardian article: Everyone wants a slice of Raspberry Pi

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

University of the People

University of the People (UoPeople) sounds like a terrific idea: use the Internet to provide university level education and ultimately American Associates and Bachelors degrees to anyone around the globe (who can access the worldwide web).

The faculty consists of retired university professors. So far, they’ve provided the teaching gratis. They expect that soon they’ll charge $100 per class test. UoPeople was founded by Shai Reshef and occupies small offices in Pasadena, California.

UoPeople is part of what Stanford’s president called “a tsunami” that’s about to crash into the American education system. Academia created the tsunami by allowing education costs to spiral out of control. There are two segments of the American economy whose costs are insane: education and healthcare.

It’s time to correct the education cost imbalance in America.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Wacky video illustrates our flabby education system.

I give this guy a score of 0 for his rhythmic gymnastics routine.


Michelle Rhee, on NBC-TV’s Meet The Press program today showed a hilarious Olympics-themed 30-second ad for her StudentsFirst (“a movement to transform public education”) organization. StudentsFirst advocates education reform, including the ending of teacher tenure.

I had no idea who Ms. Rhee was, before today. Thanks to Google, I learned that she was chancellor of Washington DC’s school system from 2007 to 2010. According to her entry in Wikipedia,

Rhee inherited a troubled system; there had been six school chiefs in the previous 10 years, students historically had below-average scores on standardized tests, and according to Rhee, only 8% of eighth graders were at grade level in mathematics. The D.C. schools were performing poorly despite having the advantage of the third highest spending per student in the US.


That last sentence confirms my contention that just throwing money at our broken education system won’t fix it. As a nation, we spend more money per student than any other country — and on math and science tests, our students score lower than most of them.


Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A few more steps toward on-line education

drawing: Krzysztof Szymański
Education may be the Internet’s killer app.

I’m very excited to see that the Internet may allow us to unlock the doors to education. Salman Khan’s Khan Academy took a giant step forward, and now some prestigious universities are following. It’s just in time, because the cost of higher education is out of control. Why?

Salman Khan, at a recent Wall Street Journal Executive Conference (The 19 minute video is worth watching) explained why top universities charge $60,000 per year:

There is a fundamental disconnect happening between the providers of education and the consumers of education. If you ask universities what they are charging the $60,000 for, they’ll say, “Look at our research facilities. Look at our faculty. Look at the labs and everything else.” And then if you ask the parents and the students why they are taking on $60,000 of debt, they’ll say, “Well, I need the credential. I need a job.”

So one party thinks they’re selling a very kind of an enriching experience, and the other one thinks that they’re buying a credential. And if you ask the universities what percentages of your costs are “credentialing,” they say oh, maybe 5% to 10%. And so I think there’s an opportunity if we could decouple those things—if the credentialing part could happen for significantly less.

John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, replied:

We put some of this stuff online and then all of a sudden we got 100,000 students around the world signed up. We’ve learned a bunch of things. One of the phenomenal things we saw in our experiment was how quickly the community would answer questions when students in the class posed them. What I told my colleagues is there’s a tsunami coming. I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to break, but my goal is to try to surf it, not to just stand there.

Now Stanford’s on-line experiment (initiated by Google’s Sebastian Thrun, not Sanford’s administration) is joined by some heavy hitters:

  • In May, Harvard and MIT announced edX, slated to offer full-blown online courses this Fall, apparently at no cost. In the announcement of edX, its president claims “This is the biggest change in education since the invention of the printing press”. Credentials? “Certificates of mastery will be available for those who are motivated and able to demonstrate their knowledge of the course material.”
  • Coursera, partnering with Stanford, the University of Michigan, Princeton, and University of Pennsylvania, will offer courses at no cost, but will charge money for still undefined additional services. (Do these include accredited degrees? I have no idea.).
  • Udacity has grown out of Stanford and is beginning to offer free online courses. It’s headed by Sebastian Thrun (who led Google’s driverless car project). In a Wall Street Journal interview, Mr. Thrun says “The dialogue always focuses on what’s going to happen to the institutions. I’m totally siding with the students.”

Do you remember the effect that email had on hierarchies? It flattened them. Maybe e-education will have the same effect. Victor Hugo (1802-1885) said it best: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

The American education system is a bad joke.

“It’s ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different.” – Bill Gates


The Wall Street Journal published an article titled Was the $5 Billion Worth It?, about the Gates Foundation’s efforts to improve education in the United States. Five billion dollars sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the billions of tax dollars that are wasted on our fundamentally flawed education system(s) each year.

I’m happy to see that Mr. Gates agrees that the idea of locally-controlled curricula is stupid. I ragged about this a few months ago (It’s time to rationalize school curricula). One national curriculum for all is the way to go. Bill puts it simply, “This is like having a common electrical system. It just makes sense to me.”

Then, what exactly does the U.S. Department of Education do, other than extend the layer of self-appointed government employees, whose benefits far exceed those of private-sector workers who pay for their salaries, benefits, and insanely generous pensions?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Charlie Rose scores a hat trick

The founders of Netflix, Web-based training company, and author of In the (Google-)Plex . . . all interviewed.

Yes, I’m shilling for Charlie Rose again.

hastings1. Reed Hastings founded Netflix in 1997 and is its CEO. He reports that Netflix continues to move away from mail delivery of plastic DVD discs to on-demand streaming of video via the Internet. They’re also slowly moving toward content production — not just delivery. He reports that they have 23.4 million subscribers, and a 70 percent growth rate(!).

Mr. Hastings claims that Microsoft’s Windows 7 is wonderful, and is now the best selling operating system ever. I take this with a large grain of salt, since he sits on Microsoft’s board of directors, and many of those copies that filled up channel pipelines aren’t actually being used.

Watch this interview

khan2. Salman Khan is focusing on providing web-based training. Until now, he’s working outside traditional academia, but wants his Khan Academy training courses to gain the same standing as more traditional teaching methods. I liked what he had to say and think that he’s moving in the right direction regarding the need for easy to understand instruction even for complex subjects. (See my recent article, It’s time to rationalize school curricula.) Bill Gates told Parade Magazine that he uses Khan Academy when he homeschools his own children.

Mr. Khan views Khan Academy as filling in gaps in students’ understanding.

Watch this interview.

levy3. Steven Levy seems like an old friend. (I’ve never met him; I’ve just read his books and articles.) His 1980s book, Hackers, is a classic. His most recent book, In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives is about Google. This is a broad subject: Google’s annual revenue is 30 billion dollars — all from advertising(!). He reports that Larry Page’s recent return to the CEO position is intended to continue innovation. Google continues to allow its employees to use 20 percent of their time (one day per week) to pursue subjects that interest them — not necessarily Google. Larry and Sergey are both products of Montessori schooling, which encourages original thought — and according to Mr. Levy they both prize creativity within Google. The job ahead for Larry Page is to keep Google agile and innovative, even though it’s now a huge company.

Charlie asked Mr. Levy about Google’s ambivalent relationship with China, and its policies regarding user privacy: this is fascinating.

Watch this interview.

I recommend all three of these interviews. (All 3 images are from http://charlierose.com.)

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

It’s time to rationalize school curricula

Central School, Livingston, New Jersey
We spend more money per student than any other country and our kids are dumber.

From Wall Street Journal, JANUARY 26, 2011: Students Score Poorly on Science Test.

Obviously, throwing more money at school boards isn’t the answer. Something is fundamentally wrong with the American public school system. In Broward County, the school board vacuums up more tax revenue than any other government entity and wastes millions on corruption and mis-management. I’ve lost track of how many school board members are under indictment for accepting bribes from contractors and which federal agency is investigating them.

My sad experience jumping from one school system to another

I have something of an axe to grind on this topic. My family moved constantly when I was in school: from 4th grade until 10th grade, I never completed the school year in the same school in which I had begun the school year. Some of these moves were within the same school district, and some were across state lines. The moves between states were the hardest for my schooling: each move meant totally different teachers, curriculum, texts, etc. After the third or fourth move, I was completely lost. I was always the new kid in school. I fell from being one of the best students in my 4th grade class to being one of the worst in my 10th grade class. By that time, I had become interested in (obsessed with might be a better description) electronics and amateur radio, and since school was such a mess, I treated it like a nuisance. This is not a formula for success.

In any country other than the United States and Canada, a kid could move from province to province with little disruption of his/her education, since most countries follow one national curriculum.

If schools across the country followed the same curriculum, these moves would probably have been much easier for me. At least the texts and curricula would have been consistent, so I’d have had a prayer of keeping up with the coursework. Today, families are more mobile than ever: parents who care about their kids’ education would want to provide as much educational continuity as possible when they’re forced to move.

I understand the desire to keep school curricula under local control, as they’ve always been in the United States. But what we’re doing isn’t working. Look at these poor showings of American students compared to students in other countries. It’s scandalous: in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades our kids score toward the bottom in math and science when compared to other countries’ students . . . and we’re spending more money!

This makes no sense. Who’s to blame? Teachers unions? Maybe. Petty politicians who control local school boards? Possibly. Bloated administrations? Probably. I found a report that claims that GW Bush’s No Child Left Behind program resulted in states’ lowering standards. Yikes!

Common Core State Standards Initiative website

There is hope.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is partially supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, seems to be our best hope. I’m pleased to see that most states have adopted this initiative and have agreed to implement it by 2015. Maybe some of the cash that we all spend on Microsoft products will bail us out, rather than just pay for more insourcing via H-1B visas (of which Bill Gates has been fond). That would be ironic!

Japan will teach English in English

Japan to emphasize English fluency. (Why doesn’t America?)

I heard a story on NPR’s All Things Considered about Japan’s increasing emphasis on the use of the English language by its corporations and citizens. The Japanese government acknowledges that English is the world’s language for commerce and technology. They have mandated that by 2013, all high school English classes will be taught not in Japanese, but in English.

Why don’t we resolve to teach only in English in the United States? We’ve been wasting money for decades: in Dade County, Florida, the school board requires that if there are at least 3 students who speak another language, the county must provide classes for them in their native language. This is nonsense. If you expect to thrive in the United States, you must learn English. (I recently ranted about Spanish language broadcasting within the United States. Teaching in anything but English is a similar waste of resources and actually harms the students.)

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695