‘Bootstraps’ podcast series on educational equity

I’m leading this narrative podcast series, Bootstraps: Merit, myths and education, which is a collaboration between EdSurge and Open Campus.

There’s a longstanding tradition of prizing “merit” in deciding which students get access to the best educational opportunities in America. The narrative goes that a merit-based system allows anyone “to pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to land a slot in a selective public magnet school or an elite college. But does the current system achieve equality? Are there potentially better—or at least fairer—ways to allocate educational opportunity?

This 6-episode podcast series aims to explore those questions through in-depth reporting and compelling audio storytelling. Each episode will tell the story of popular myths and assumptions of education, and along the way we’ll look at experiments in distributing educational opportunity. The goal is to introduce listeners to the complexities of the issues through rich characters struggling to balance their own needs and dreams with those of the broader community.

New Podcast Series: Pandemic Campus Diaries

What is life really like on college campuses (or remote learning) during this pandemic? All this semester, we’ll be following profs and students on 6 campuses to hear their stories on this podcast series on the EdSurge Podcast.

Listen to episode 1, which focuses on the question: how can you prepare for a pandemic semester?

The stakes for professors feel high: “What I’m most concerned about is that one of my students will get sick enough that they are forever affected, or sick enough that they don’t make it,” says Rachel Davenport, a senior lecturer at Texas State University, in one of her audio diaries. “And then if that happens, will I wonder, did they catch it in my class? Could I have done something different to have prevented it?”

Meanwhile, students are having a campus experience that some colleges are even comparing to a minimum security prison, like one Syracuse freshman who describes his quarantine in his dorm. Online students, too, face challenges, like the first-generation student who talks about her struggle to find a quiet place to study with two kids at home.

You can find the EdSurge Podcast wherever you listen… I hope people find it helpful to understand issues facing campuses today.


We’re thrilled that the podcast series won support from the Education Writers Association through a reporting fellowship.

I talked with Higher Ed Geek Podcast about our new series and what we’re learning so far.

The Chronicle of Higher Education noted the launch of our podcast series.

I sat down with the TeachLab podcast at MIT to talk about what we’re learning so far from our series.

The podcast series has been reviewed in a couple places, including at eLiterate and the PhilOnEdTech blog.

I also joined this new online event series, Blursday Social, to discuss issues raised by the podcast series.

Podcasting during the pandemic

A lot of my focus is covering colleges. Before COVID-19 swept across the globe, it was easy to see college life, which happened in busy classrooms and spacious libraries and lush campus quads. Now with campuses temporarily closed due to the health emergency, the activity of professors and students has shifted online. And that makes it hard to know just what is going on right now in higher education—and in so much of American life.

How many students just can’t get to online classrooms because they lack technology or Wi-Fi access? What other economic hardships are students and professors facing due to the crisis? Are people staying healthy?

For the weekly EdSurge Podcast that I produce and co-host, we’re trying to create a space where people can share their stories, and at least hear each other during this time of social distancing.

If you’re teaching a class online for the first time, suddenly taking your courses digital or helping lead an institution through this crisis, we hope you’ll share a short one- or two-minute anecdote or observation about how that is going. What does it look and feel like to live through this time in higher education? Just open the voice memo app on a smartphone, record a short message and email it to jryoung@gmail<dot>com. Please do keep it short, and share a moment that surprised or challenged you. We’ll compile some of them for a future episode of our weekly podcast.

Producing a Weekly Podcast

There’s an explosion of podcasts these days, including plenty on education. But there aren’t too many strongly-produced weekly shows focusing on the intersection of education and technology. So we’re trying to fill that gap with the EdSurge Podcast, which I produce and co-host.

We try not to lead with the tech—in fact, we think of it as a place to tell stories about how education is changing, and about big questions faced by educators in their work and how those are often tied up in big questions about the role of education in American life. It’s a fertile and fascinating space.

It means I get to explore how educators struggle with how to teach students to live a good life, about how the high cost of colleges is changing life for middle class Americans, and why there are so many novels and movies satirizing college life. The podcast also gave me an excuse to go back and interview one of the most influential teachers in my life, John McPhee.

I’m not doing this alone. While I host most week’s episodes, my colleagues take the microphone some weeks to bring their best stories. One checked in with teachers who face increasing feelings of burnout (well, actually, more like demoralization), another talked with a Yale professor about why social-emotional learning is suddenly in the spotlight.

We’re doing more to get the word out these days. We’ll be on stage for our first live taping of an episode at the SXSWedu festival in March. And my college alumni magazine did a nice piece recently about the show.

Please check out the podcast wherever you listen: Apple Podcasts, SpotifyStitcherGoogle Play Music.

Reporting Trip to China

The intersection of technology and education is big news in China these days. Families spend huge portions of their incomes on extra learning for their children, including online tutoring.

EdSurge sent me to Beijing for a week to cover the annual conference Global Education Technology Summit, thanks to our new partnership with the Chinese media company that puts on the conference, JMDedu.

Here are the stories I filed from the trip:

Education Looks Eastward: Snapshots from Beijing’s Global Education Technology Summit

In China’s Silicon Valley, Edtech Starts at the ‘MOOC Times Building’

In China, a Generation Raised by ‘Tiger Mothers’ Seeks a Softer Approach

How Much Artificial Intelligence Should There Be in the Classroom?

My Move to EdSurge

What’s it like to jump from a 50-year-old media organization to a 5-year-old Web pub that describes itself as “scrappy”? I’m about to find out.

I’ve joined EdSurge as a senior editor, to help expand its coverage of higher education. Big challenges ahead, and I’m excited for that, though I’ll miss my colleagues at The Chronicle of Higher Education, who had become like family over the years.

To follow my stories (and the rest of EdSurge higher ed coverage), sign up for the weekly newsletter.

Update: We’re still small, but we’re getting out there. A couple of my EdSurge articles have run in Slate—one on coding bootcamps and another on microcredentials. And I’m co-hosting our weekly podcast and a monthly video forum called EdSurge Live, in addition to writing news and feature articles.

Re:Learning Podcast Kicks Off

Today we’re launching a new weekly podcast on the future of education: The Re:Learning Podcast.

For the first episode, I sat down with Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, who talked about his ideas for how to change college. You can subscribe on iTunes or follow on Stitcher or Soundcloud. Look for new episodes each week (some hosted by me, some by my colleague, Goldie Blumenstyk). Subscribe on iTunes here! http://bit.ly/relearningpod

‘Professor You’ Talk at SXSW Interactive

Many people have an outdated view of teaching — believing that only high-level experts should teach at the college level or that only career teachers should offer instruction in schools. But teaching is now happening fast and informally online, and today anyone can teach using free tools to make courses. And a shadow learning economy has emerged online that students are increasingly turning to. Teaching is becoming a 21st century skill for all of us.

Below are the slides from my talk at SXSWinteractive:

And here are some of the articles that formed the background for the talk:
Here Comes Professor Everybody
The New Rock-Star Professor
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Boom in Online Tutoring Means Another Cost for Many Students
Beyond the MOOC Hype

Why Commercial Tutoring Could Be Called the ‘Grade-Enhancement Industry’

For-profit tutoring companies are targeting students with online ads these days, and the message is tempting. Why spend so long studying, the ads say, when paid tutors or study guides can help you get better grades with less work? One ad for Studypool, an Uber for tutoring that is one of many new for-profit study-help sites, shows a split screen of two photographs. On one side, a student sits in a library, under the caption “Didn’t ask Studypool”; on the other side, two students lie on the beach in bikinis, with the caption “Asked Studypool.” Students are buying it, sometimes paying hundreds of dollars a year in the search to better their grades.

Introducing the Re:Learning Project

We’ve just launched a new project at The Chronicle of Higher Education to track what we’re calling the New Education Landscape. Colleges are changing how they operate and how they teach, under pressure from lawmakers, parents, and students to respond to new economic realities. And new players are emerging—start-ups backed by record Silicon Valley investment, deep-pocketed foundations set on reform, and academic outsiders using platforms that let anyone teach courses.

I’m leading this ReLearning effort and writing a column for it — my first piece attempts to explain a big-data trend called “learning analytics” and explore how it might change the role of the professor. But the best part is that Re:Learning has a strong roster of other contributors, mainly ace Chronicle reporter Goldie Blumenstyk, as well as op-eds from key thought leaders.

We’re trying to make these pieces accessible and lively — inspired by NPR’s Planet Money. And we’re also trying to build a community of readers — hoping to be a digital hub for people at colleges as well as folks at ed-tech companies and foundations to talk to each other — and get past the hypers versus haters debates that often go on around these topics to talk about how to help real students succeed.

You can even vote on what we should tackle next.

And I’ll be co-hosting a podcast as well — which will kick off in February.

Please check out what we’re up to, and jump in to the discussion. And the biggest concrete thing you can do to help is Like our page on Facebook.