Cost of college

The election season has encouraged the candidates from both parties to make comments about the debt associated with college costs and to offer vague comments to address the issue. The promises in some cases have gone so far as to eliminate the cost of tuition.

The following comments are my thoughts about college costs. I will limit these comments to the college environment I know – state institutions, with a teaching, research, and service missions, including graduate work as well as a medical school. My comments focus on undergraduates attending such an institution within their own state.

I think the general public fails to recognize the sources for the cost of college and too often attributes their negative reactions to institutions providing the education. Tuition costs while the cost politicians can most easily influence make up a relatively small part of the total cost of an education. This may not be the case if you are attending a private college, a college in a different state, or a graduate program. Universities likely encourage increasing tuition costs because this is such a key part of their revenue and end up at odds with politicians as a consequence. To make up for the lack of tuition, institutions may attempt to attract more students. Of course, this puts any given institution in competition with other institutions. As is the case in most competitive markets, you spend money in an attempt to make money. Great dining hall food (in contrast to what I remember from my college days), fancy health clubs, competitive athletic programs (with free or very low ticket prices for students), etc. contribute to these costs. It is difficult not to take on some of these expenses as it seems they are so popular with students and they will consider access to such opportunities in making their choice of where to become e.

So, where does all of that money students spend go?

  • Tuition (see previous comments)
  • Books (not under the control of the institution)
  • Equipment – computers for most, specialized equipment in other situations (institutions provide some as part of tuition costs, but often this does not meet student needs or desire for convenience)
  • Food and lodging (real costs and must be competitive if run by the university)
  • Entertainment (part of tuition in a few cases, but seldom limited to this in the behavior of most students)
  • Transportation
  • Interest fees associated with loans

I wish anyone interest in college costs would consider this or a similar list and recognize who gets the money. If you want to blame someone, at least recognize who gets the money associated with your resentment.

Is education expensive? I guess this depends on what it takes to provide the experience, what proportion of the expenses are truly necessary, and what is the benefit from the experiences. Will politicians reduce the cost of education? I do not see how they will make significant differences. They may be able to influence tuition costs and perhaps the interest on student debt, but these costs are first only part of the cost of an education and second someone must cover these costs. Political relief would essentially spread these costs across the general population, but this will take a tax increase. We seem to not agree on even more basic human needs such as universal health care so I am not certain I see the public agreeing to free tuition for all.

A reminder – The return on the education investment tends to be quite significant on average so the cost incurred must be considered against this typical long-term outcome.

Educational impatience

I have been thinking about this post for a while. It is an attempt to explain a general trend I think I see and find flawed. I call it educational impatience.

This problem is reflected is such issues as taking college credits in high school and an early  focus on occupation. I believe breadth before depth is far more practical. Yes – I said practical. If there is a trendy thing you require, I would suggest it is the “gap year”. Speeding up things that take time to develop has many negative consequences.

If you prefer to read a different interpretation with a similar conclusion, I suggest this recent post from the Washington Post.

I support of my reaction I offer two observations.

1. Students seldom have the background to make career choices when they begin college. Most students do not have enough life experience to know their particular aptitudes and passions.

A personal reflection – I started my education wanting to be a high school biology teacher and coach of some yet to be determined type. Looking back this was a product of the only world I knew. No matter how sophisticated you think your kid is this is still likely true of him/her as well.

Who goes to college to become a psychologist? I didn’t. I still remember explaining to my parents that I wanted to declare a psychology major. We made a deal. I would continue my biology major, add a psychology major, get a teaching certificate, and they would pay for summer school. I loved it. The combination ended up providing great long-term opportunities.  Who knew there were psychologists who studied the application of cognitive theory to learning and became competent computer programmers in order to investigate adaptive learning techniques? Who knew that students and college professors would have computers of their own? The computer science I could have studied was completely irrelevant and often still is.

I spent much of academic career as an administrator. As department chair, I followed the numbers and the numbers told me a lot. The number of psychology majors grew drastically from the freshman to senior year. Why? There were many factors. First, like I said few go to college to become a psychologist. Few understand the diversity of field beyond the strange understanding of what psychologists do. Most take a course or two as a requirement for many other majors and find they like the topics more than they like the topics of what they thought they wanted to study. Second, many were unrealistic about what they thought they were going to be able to do. Their preparation to the point of entering college had not offered realistic insight into their aptitude for various things. They thought they wanted to be a physician, but found they did not really like or could not handle physics, calculus, or organic chemistry.

The data are clear on one thing. More students change majors than retain their first major. Some of these changes are to a similar field, but clearly the original plan is often rejected. I still think the “freshman college” option makes a lot of sense. Take the basics and explore for a while first. The “wasted credits” some students accumulate and parents complain about because of the cost are likely the credits specific to a specific major. Maybe wasted is the wrong word – finding you are not interested in something early is a good thing.

2. Accepting stages of development

I used to teach James Marcia’s theory of ego identity (a brief Wikipedia explanation). The theory proposed two processes – crisis and commitment – that resulted in various “stages” of the development of the ego. Commitment is what is sounds like – investment in certain beliefs,  values, etc. Crisis does not sound like what it means. Crisis implied a personal, careful consideration of various beliefs, values, etc.

The four stages of ego identity resulted from various combinations of crisis and commitment. Strange as it might seem it is possible to be classified as a combination of commitment without crisis. This stage (called foreclosure) results from a tendency toward commitment without crisis. I used to explain this reality using religion (probably the only time I talked about religion in class). Some make a commitment to a specific set of religious beliefs because this is what they have always known and are told this is what is essential to accept. You might see how something similar would happen with vocation.

This theory has resulted in some interesting applied research. Using a methodology requiring students to explain their positions of multiple issues, students are classified into a stage and then other factors are related to this classification. What life factors make it more likely someone is classified in one stage vs another. What does being in a specific stage at a given point in time predict about the future. Researchers in college personnel fields (e.g., career counseling, advisement, student retention) used such methodologies to investigate student behaviors related to their fields.

In general, being foreclosed is not a good thing. It tends to be associated with self-doubt, resentment, leaving school, etc.

One interesting area of study has concerned the relationship between identity status and the reaction to life set backs (think divorce, losing a long held job, finding out you are not going to get into ned school). The popularized term “grit” might be a way to translate some of the findings. Grit might be described as weak when identity has been foreclosed. Accepting the  priorities of others rather than exploring and making personal commitments to priorities of your own is not a good thing.

Patience grasshopper.

Collecting with Google Keep

I have long been an Evernote user and I make heavy use of Evernote in collecting and organizing information for the various forms of writing that I do. I have a Premium account which costs me $50 a year (through iTunes). This is among the most expensive annual tech commitments I make, but I use the service daily and I use many of the advanced features. Unless the company makes a drastic change I am likely to stay a loyal customer.

I am writing this tutorial on the use of Google Keep because I am a fan and I understand that many may not want or need to use a service such as Evernote. In addition, Evernote recently announced that it is reducing the capabilities of its free version and increasing the cost of the paid versions. At $70 per year, I may downgrade my own commitment to the lower cost version and adapt my typical work flow to include different tools to accomplish similar ends. I believe in paying for apps and services, but I do apply a personal cost/benefit analysis.

What follows is an explanation of how I would use Google Keep to collect and organize Internet content as part of my writing process. This description does not explore all of the capabilities of Keep and you may find personal value in other capabilities as well. Google Keep works across platforms, but does work a little differently and offers some different tools depending on the platform. What follows describes the use of the chrome extension on a desktop computer.

If you have the Keep extension installed, you should see this icon in the top of the Chrome browser.


Selecting the icon will store a link to whatever web page is active. You can add a descriptive title at this point.


The content will appear within keep as a “card”.


You can store specific content from a page (text or image) by selecting the content and then clicking on the Keep icon.


Organization of the “cards” can be accomplished in a number of ways. Select the “edit” icon for various options.


If I am collecting content I intend to result in a blog post, I add a label to the content.


I use “blog” as the label for this content and the label then appears in the left side bar and on each note to which the label has been attached. Either the side bar or the embedded label can be used to retrieve the cards with the label.



As content accumulates and I want to retain some of the content without cluttering the Keep main page, I can either archive or save content to Google docs.



Archived content is stored within the Keep system and can be located using the label or looking through the archived content (link in left-hand side bar). Content saved to Google docs is accessed through Google docs and I use this technique for long-term organization (I add the material on a single topic to a unique folder) and long-term storage. I delete material from Keep more frequently than I delete content from Google drive.



Are there tech activities in high school?

The following comment is based on my personal experience in following a few hundred Twitter users and bloggers. It is possible what I have observed is limited to this sample and does not reflect the broader K12 population. It is an observation you can check against your own personal experiences.

Why is it educators and tech support personnel make so little online mention of technology applications in high school? It is possible high teachers or those who work with these teachers are modest and see no reason to share the activities of their students. With the exception of a few teachers who describe or support personnel who endorse flipping the classroom, one might think there is nothing going on.

There are so many interesting possibilities for older students. I would think science teachers would make heavy use of data collection (digital probes) and analysis (simple spreadsheet based statistics and graphical representation). How about GIS and GPS activities?  Writing activities of all types work at any grade level and older students should be capable of journalistic efforts at a level capable of informing and influencing the general public. Students should be eligible for course-length computer science experiences with some creating impressive products demonstrating what older students can accomplish. Online access to primary source content should be a boon for the multiple history courses students take and place-based historical inquiry could allow a contribution to the resources that are available.

I am not discounting the instructional opportunities technology makes available, but I would think all of the pro making, project-based, problem-based, and computational thinking proponents would be showcasing what is happening in high school classrooms. 

Coding vs argumentation – final segment

This is the final segment of my exploration of the argument contrasting the value of teaching coding vs. teaching argumentation in K12 classrooms.

Reasons to support argumentation

First, to review, the following were my proposed reasons to support the “teach argumentation” position.

  • Capacity to analyze reasons and evidence essential when information sources must be evaluated
  • Process of science involves reasoning from evidence
  • Argumentation is a productive social process increasing understanding when positions differ

There is a large body of research exploring argumentation skills, whether educational interventions can develop these skills, and whether specific techniques are successful in developing argumentation skills. The reasons I have offered in support of argumentation would require that evidence of this type exist, but would also require that the general skill of argumentation be applied in specific areas to specific ends. I would regard the demonstration that these skills can be developed as equivalent to the reasons that there are jobs for computer programmers. If you value the outcome, then the development of the skill is important.

Support is easy to find.

Kuhn, D., Goh, W., Iordanou, K., & Shaenfield, D. (2008). Arguing on the Computer: A Microgenetic Study of Developing Argument Skills in a Computer-Supported Environment. Child Development, 79(5), 1310-1328.

Kuhn, D., Hemberger, L., & Khait, V. (2016). Argue with Me: Argument as a Path to Developing Students’ Thinking and Writing.

Kuhn, D. (2015). Thinking together and alone. Educational Researcher, 44, 46-53.

Reznitskaya, A., Anderson, Richard C., & Kuo, L. J. (2007). Teaching and Learning Argumentation. The Elementary School Journal, 107(5), 449-472.


What about source evaluation as an outcome? Think of this as being able to evaluate the information arguments we encounter daily.

Lin, T.-J., Horng, R.-Y., & Anderson, R. C. (2014). Effects of Argument Scaffolding and Source Credibility on Science Text Comprehension. Journal of Experimental Education, 82(2), 264-282.


Importance of argumentation in STEM areas – the process of science involves the key processes of argumentation hence the development of argumentation skill is important in appreciating science or taking a scientific perspective.

Lin, T.-J., Horng, R.-Y., & Anderson, R. C. (2014). Effects of Argument Scaffolding and Source Credibility on Science Text Comprehension. Journal of Experimental Education, 82(2), 264-282.

Lee, H.-S., Liu, O. L., Pallant, A., Roohr, K. C., Pryputniewicz, S., & Buck, Z. E. (2014). Assessment of uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(5), 581-605.

Some thoughts on counter arguments.

Since the requirements for near and far transfer were surfaced as part of the evaluation of the coding research and the amount of time required for transfer of coding to other cognitive skill areas was considered, I think it relevant to note the amount of time invested in some of the argumentation research. For example, the Kuhn research (e.g., her book) involved studies of classroom programs that spanned two years. The practical implications here would seem similar to concerns raised regarding “hour of code” and other short-term efforts to develop computational thinking. A lesson on argumentation here or there is not what the research tends to evaluate.
I am also not certain I would argue that argumentation research assumes the goal is to demonstrate the far transfer expected of coding research (computer programming problem solving to other problem-solving tasks). The identification of reasons and reason related evidence or the capacity to identify these same factors in the positions taken by others might be more a near transfer task when applied in different areas (science, social issues, etc).

Evidence for coding

This post continues my coding vs argumentation prioritization debate. Here I am providing what I propose as evidence in support of the reasons I generated to support classroom coding.

Just as a reminder, my reasons include the following:

  • Programming is an important vocational skill
  • Coding is a way to gain greater insight into how technology works
  • Computational thinking transfers

While I have made a significant effort to locate quality data in support of these reasons, I must say that the task was not easy and this to me indicates a problem. As I provide the data I have located, I have decided to offer related comments and some counter arguments. In the system I am using, a counter argument weakens an argument. The intent in argumentation is both to offer arguments with sound evidence and to weaken the arguments of a competing position with solid reasons and/or evidence.

Coding is an important vocational skill

The Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook ( provides the following information.

Employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are expected to add about 488,500 new jobs, from about 3.9 million jobs to about 4.4 million jobs from 2014 to 2024, in part due to a greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, more everyday items becoming connected to the Internet in what is commonly referred to as the “Internet of things,” and the continued demand for mobile computing.

Thoughts on counter-arguments. The qualify of this evidence might depend on a couple of factors – a) what level of training is necessary to obtain such employment and b) what employment options would there be with a comparable level of training. Coding in the classroom can mean so many different things that relate to these factors. What training opportunities are available in schools (note that the short elementary and middle school experiences generate little progress toward the level of training that is necessary)? Do secondary schools offer CS courses?

Coding is a way to gain greater insight into how technology works

The benefits of coding for what used to be called computer literacy might be expected to be evidence rich. Again, work on making this connection (say in contrast to direct instruction of computer literacy topics) is difficult to locate. The topic seems close to some subtopics in the area Lye, et al (2014) call computational perspectives (one of three dimensions these authors argue make up computational thinking). The one example Lye offers to address this dimension is the observation that students can use some of the specialized coding environments to tell stories. To be fair, the focus was on the use of coding and not the insights coding might provide about issues such as privacy, the vulnerabilities inherent in code, etc. Counter argument – the issue of efficiency would seem relevant here. The use of software or learning about issues such as ethical practices or online vulnerabilities may not require that one have an appreciation of the code making online activities possible. If this were possible, it is then relevant to consider the level of coding proficiency that would be necessary for such insights.

Computational thinking

The long-standing debate regarding computational thinking (this is a newer term but the notion has at least a 20+ year history) seems to generate the most buzz. I suppose that unlike coding as a professional development investment, computational thinking promises a benefit for all. The interpretation of this vague term is important and varies a bit with theorists. I would point interested parties to Lye and Koh. (2014) for a nice summary. Since Papert in the 1980s, I have described the position as supporting debugging and problem solving. If you have ever attacked a substantial goal as a programmer, the notion of solving a problem should make some sense. One definition of problem solving can be translated as the situation in which the present situation is not the desired situation. Clearly, this is the case when beginning the process of taking on a programming challenge. The key issue here can be interpreted as one of transfer – does solving programming problems make it more likely someone with programming skills can better solve other types of problems?

Again, I must say that I was unable to locate much in the way of recent work substantiating this claim. I provide the best of what I was able to locate summarizing recent work. Reading of these summaries provides very little in the way of recent work (I provide citations for these reviews below and invite your own contributions if you think my search has been incomplete). One review, pretty much substantiates my own position that the best work in this area was completed in the past.

Cognitive aspects of children and novices learning computational concepts were studied extensively in the 1980s—issues such as development of thinking skills (Kurland, Pea, Clement, & Mawby, 1986); debugging (Pea, Soloway, & Spohrer, 1987); problems with transfer (Clements & Gullo, 1984; Pea & Kurland, 1984); use of appropriate scaffolds for successful transfer (Klahr & Carver, 1988), to name a few. That body of literature should be brought to bear on 21st-century CT research. [from Grover and Pea, 2013).

To be complete, Lye and Koh (2014) cite a study by Kazakoff and Bers (2012) indicate that experience programming a robot does develop improved sequencing skill that can be demonstrated in a very different type of task.

I do believe there is some support for transfer from extended programming experiences. I believe Salomon and Perkins (1987) best summarizes the original research. As a counter argument to the “hour of code” approach that is so widely supported, I would also point to this same review. This summary pretty much says that short term coding experiences accomplish little. Transfer comes either from a) substantial programming time applied to a variety of programming challenges or b) purposeful approaches that identify the skills involved in programming and how they also are involved in other problem solving tasks. Are educators willing to get behind either or these approaches? Do those involving students in coding tasks have the background and experience necessary to take the more direct instruction approach? How does efficiency apply the development of the skills that may transfer – variables, sequencing, debugging, modularization, etc.

Grover, S., & Pea, R. (2013). Computational Thinking in K–12: A Review of the State of the Field. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 38-43.

Lye, S. Y., & Koh, J. H. L. (2014). Review on teaching and learning of computational thinking through programming: What is next for K-12? Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 51-61.

Kazakoff, E., & Bers, M. (2012). Programming in a robotics context in the kindergarten classroom: the impact on sequencing skills. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 21, 371+.

Older work on programming and transfer

Palumbo, D. B. (1990). Programming language/problem-solving research: A review of relevant issues. Review of Educational Research, 60(1), 65-89.

Salomon, G., & Perkins, D. (1987). Transfer of cognitive skills from programming? When and how? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 3 (2), 149–169.


Evidence is the hard part


This is the continuation of my coding vs. argumentation debate. Argumentation requires that those involved consider more than their own positions. The capacity to recognize the reasons and rationale for competing positions is required and represents a developmental advance in reasoning/critical thinking.

Argumentation requires that those involved consider more than their own positions. The capacity to recognize the reasons and rationale for competing positions is required and represents a developmental advance in reasoning/critical thinking.


Reasons to support coding

  • Programming is an important vocational skill
  • Coding is a way to gain greater insight into how technology works
  • Computational thinking transfers

Reasons to support argumentation

  • Capacity to analyze reasons and evidence essential when multiple information sources must be evaluated
  • Process of science involves reasoning from evidence
  • Argumentation is a productive social process increasing understanding when positions differ

The identification of reasons is just the beginning. While reasons are not always identified, the validity of a reason must be established.

As my example advances and I try to do my best to take both competing positions, things get even more challenging. This would not typically be a requirement of a classroom exercise, but I am taking on this challenge to provide a more realistic example. I do have a personal opinion regarding the strength of these two positions (given my challenge that schools take on one addition to the curriculum or the other). I would certainly welcome additions if you feel your own position has been slighted.

What must be established:

Is there evidence to support a reason? What is the evidence?

When is one reason superior to another? What can be claimed to dispute the weight of a reason?

More to come.