Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

David Wiley

July 28, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 2 Episode 9
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
David Wiley
Show Notes Transcript

Original intro/outro music: 
"'Till I See Stars" by The Parachute Brigade

John F. Kennedy:

The sun does not always shine in West Virginia but the people always do and I'm delighted to be here.

Brandon Dennison:

These are historic times in Appalachia, a lot has changed. A lot is changing now and a lot still needs to change. In our podcast we talk with change makers right square in the middle of all of this, working to ensure the change is for the good. You're listening to Change in the Coalfields, a podcast by Coalfield Development. I'm your host, Brandon Dennison. Welcome to Change in the Coalfields. My name is Brandon, I'm your host. This is a podcast by Coalfield Development, reflecting on change in Appalachia, talking to change makers. Today, we have a change maker that I have a lot of respect for. And his innovations actually touch on a lot of the work that Coalfield Development is doing with our crew members as well, we have David Wiley, who's the chief academic officer and co founder of Lumen Learning. So David, welcome to the podcast.

David Wiley:

Thank you, Brandon, it's awesome to be here, it's great to have a chance to talk with you like this.

Brandon Dennison:

Tell us about Lumen Learning, maybe we'll start at the end of the story. And then we'll take the podcast to go back to the beginning and see how you landed here. But at the top for our listeners, tell us about this extremely innovative and important organization that you co founded?

David Wiley:

Well, Lumen Learning is a company that works, as you said in higher education inside the U.S. And we're focused really on improving outcomes for at risk students, students who traditionally might have been underserved, racially minoritized students, low income students. And we work on that primarily in two ways. One is by creating what we would call a digital courseware, that something that you would use instead of a textbook that a faculty member might assign you to use in a college class, this would be something that's online that's more interactive, that can give you practice and feedback and things like that. And then secondly, through professional development work, where we're working with faculty to help them further develop their skills as teachers help them be more impactful teachers, because part of our thesis is it takes successful faculty to have successful students.

Brandon Dennison:

So talk us through so on both those that sort of like a two prong strategy, would that be a fair way to, give us a couple examples of each.

David Wiley:

An example of each would be say are on the courseware side, you were focused specifically on the courses in higher ed, that are simultaneously going to enroll the most students, but that the highest proportion of students are likely to fail. So that would be things like college algebra, English comp. If you think about all the things, the different kind of categories in general education, you're required to take a math you're required to take an English, social studies, a science, or you know, an art class, if you think across those categories. And we have several in each of those categories. We're trying to provide more effective course materials that will give students a better chance of succeeding in the class, I'm going to give you a specific example, I'm sorry, I'm giving you a little more background, I have an example.

Brandon Dennison:

This is helpful for context.

David Wiley:

But you know, for a class like college algebra, when you go to college, regardless of what your major is, there's typically one math class, you're required to take and pass in order to earn your degree, even if your degree has nothing to do with math. And so you're pretty likely to end up in a class like college algebra, which several students will take twice or three times. And each time they take it, they have to pay tuition again, they've got to pay for those course materials again. It delays their graduation by a semester or two, or three. So these, these kind of gateway classes really serve as gateways to success and graduation for students. Because if you can't pass that one math class, then no matter what you do in the courses in your major, you're not going to graduate, you're not going to get the degree that you need to go on and do what you want to do in terms of employment and supporting yourself and supporting your family. So an example on the courseware side would be something like our Introduction to Psychology courseware. So Intro to Psychology is a super popular course lots of people take it to fulfill their social sciences requirements in their general education sequence. And when you, if you've ever taken an online course at university, you log into a Blackboard or you log into Canvas or you know, one of these kinds of tools. And then you would see all of your course materials inside, in Marshalls case, let's say Blackboard, you know, because we're affiliated with Marshall University, so...

Brandon Dennison:

In the iCenter, yes. Entrepreneur and I should have said that at the top, we're fellow entrepreneurs in residence at Marshall.

David Wiley:

Yeah, I get to work together there. So you'd log into your Blackboard. And then instead of having some stuff in Blackboard and some things in a textbook that you're over here reading, where some things in Blackboard and then you're clicking a link that's taking you off to a different website, where you're interacting with some online material, all this material is inside of Blackboard. And the student is going through and doing some of the reading is happening. They're watching videos is happening there. A lot of what we call formative assessments or practice opportunities, things that would look like a quiz, except they're not graded, that are giving you just a chance to check to see if you really understand yet and get feedback, if you don't understand. A study plan that is kind of tracking the work that you're doing and giving you some visibility into, say in this chapter, there are seven topics. And the study plan can tell you based on your work, with the practice opportunities at the end of each topic that you really have mastered these four, and you need to spend more time on these three before you go on to take the quiz at the end of the chapter. We also are super big believers in what's known as mastery learning, which is an approach where, well maybe it's easier to define by what it's not. In a typical approach, you know, you do a chapter a week and a class on Friday, you take the quiz, and if you fail the quiz, it's too bad because Monday we're doing the next chapter and things are really driven by the schedule that way.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, I connect with that.

David Wiley:

Sound familiar?

Brandon Dennison:

Speaking for a friend. Yeah.

David Wiley:

In a mastery learning approach, we're more concerned about, you know, you can have multiple attempts on that end of Module quiz because or the end of chapter quiz, we're less concerned about your ability to get it right the very first time than we are about your ability to say, if you take that quiz the first time and you don't achieve mastery, which we would typically peg around 80%. If you don't achieve mastery, then we're going to give you very detailed feedback about the specific items that you missed and the topics that those are related to and direct you back into the material. So you could do a really targeted review, and then come back and take that end of chapter quiz a second time. Because we, we really care more about you learning the material and being prepared to go on than necessarily kind of forcing you through based on the calendar. So there's the study plan is kind of tracking what you're doing, letting you be able to see as a student, what I've mastered what I haven't mastered yet, am I ready for the quiz or not? When you take the quiz that will further update the study plan and give you more feedback about what you still need to be focusing your time and energy on with the goal of getting you up to the point where you actually understand all the things in that unit, you're able to pass that into the unit quiz, and move on. So that's a bit about what it would look like on the courseware side.

Brandon Dennison:

Give us a sense of like the scale of this work that you're that you're doing at Lumen, how many students access this, how many campuses access this?

David Wiley:

Yeah, in 2021, it was somewhere 350,000 students, something like that 500 campuses in terms of kind of ballpark numbers.

Brandon Dennison:

A lot, like legit nationwide.

David Wiley:

Yeah, legitimately nationwide, and also something else that we do, which I haven't talked about, yet. But that courseware is all built from content that is open source content, it's content that's not traditionally copyrighted, where we need to keep it behind a username and a password. Because every time someone looks at it, we owe royalties to an author somewhere. This is all open source content that can be among other things, can be made available for free for anyone to come and look at. So in addition to the courseware that you would use inside Blackboard that has the study plan, and the assessments that give you the feedback and the multiple attempts, all have the kind of static content, the words, the pictures, even the video, we also make available on a public facing website, where even if your a faculty hasn't chosen to use our courseware, if you're on Google, and you're searching, you know, for homework help, and you're looking for something about psychology, you're very likely to end up on our website, on the free public facing version of that content that doesn't have the bells and whistles of the study plan and the personalization and the assessments and quizzes. It's just really good, clean, clearly written content. And in 2021, we had 350 million page views of those resources so that the free version is getting visible. And that's from all over the world, India, China. You know, people that are Google searching on topics they come. They visit one page, they stay for a little over a minute, you know, they scan around until they find the piece of information they needed to do whatever it was they're trying to do. And then they go on with their life. That's a very separate use case from the use case of a student whose faculty member is assigned for them to use the courseware. And they have access to the more advanced features. And they're really using that to drive their study towards success, you know on end of chapter quizzes and then a final grade in the course.

Brandon Dennison:

How have you not gotten sued by the textbook companies?

David Wiley:

By never violating their copyright. Because you know, the way that you can get sued by publishers is you take their material and incorporate it into what you were doing all the material that we're using, we create some of it ourselves, then when we create it ourselves, then we put what's known as a Creative Commons license on it, which is kind of an open source style copyright license for...

Brandon Dennison:

Can you, just in case somebody's listening, when you say open source? What do you really mean by that?

David Wiley:

Yeah, well, let's go into that for a second. So, open source is a phrase that I think is a more popular phrase, or more broadly known phrase for it really describes software. The term of art in education is open educational resource or, which is too much to say. So we say OER all the time, open educational resource. And an open educational resource is characterized by kind of five specific things about the way that its copyright license works. And it's weird that it's all about copyright. But it really is all about copyright. And this different approach to copyright just unlocks a ton of innovation, up and down the value chain. So the copyright license associated with, say, a textbook, for example, if we're going to say that that textbook is an open educational resource, the license that it uses has to give anyone and everyone permission to make copies of it for free. So you can make all the copies of that resource that you want to make, once you've made that copy, and you've downloaded your own copy, you have legal permission granted to you by the copyright license to make changes to it. You can translate it into Spanish, you can pull chapters out, you can add chapters in if you want to do that. You can take pieces from several different open educational resources and combine them into something new, like make a mash up or kind of like a quilt sort of where you're pulling different pieces together to make a new whole. You have to have permission, then, whether it's the verbatim copy that you made, or the copy that you edited, or the mashup that you created, whatever that resulting thing is, you have to have permission to use it publicly, to post it on a website where anyone can see it to include it, you know, in a display of some kind to use it in a classroom. And then the fifth permission that you have to be granted is permission to give other people permission to download the new thing that you made and start the whole process over again. Okay, so we refer to these as the five R's which are retain, which is being able to make your own copy. Revise, which is being able to make edits. Remix, which is being able to create mashups. Reuse, which is being able to take the thing that you've made, and actually do something with it, and redistribute, which is letting other people download that copy and then go and do whatever it is that they want to do with it, as well. And so there are lots of people who have downloaded copies of OER that we have on our website, they've downloaded made their own copy. And you have chosen to go do other things with that as well. So when I say that all of our all of our courseware is based on OER or based on open source content is what I said before, but I'll say OER from now on that we've talked about it, right? I mean that every word, every picture, all that kind of content in there, is licensed in this way that makes it so that it can be free to access, we don't have to keep it behind a password, we don't have to keep it locked up, we can share it broadly with the whole world. And maybe in a little bit, we'll talk about this. But almost more importantly than that, it means that we have permission to make changes to it. So as we see students interacting, yes, students using the courseware. When we see places where students appear to be struggling, we can use data to identify that place where they you know, that topic that they're struggling on and say, you know, they're doing all the readings we've asked them to do. They're doing the practice, they're doing all the things we that we've asked them to do, and they're still struggling on that topic. We need to make some changes and improvements to what we're giving them on that topic. Because everything we're using is OER, and has this copyright license that allows us to not only make copies but make changes that unlocks then the ability for us to do a very data driven, continuous improvement process where we can make the content better semester, after semester, after semester as more people use it. And we're able to understand where people are struggling where they're succeeding.

Brandon Dennison:

I mean, if somebody's listening to this and they went to college, this open source version of higher ed probably sounds pretty different from the experience that they had, I mean, a lot of what I remember of college, it's it's about protecting intellectual property and, you know, extreme citation and not that we not that you're not doing that, but you're, it's just a very innovative, it just it sounds very different. And it makes me wonder if part of the goal of Lumen isn't really looking at the overall systematic changes that might need to happen in higher ed to get better outcomes for marginalized populations.

David Wiley:

other people, you know, in this space that are taking a similar approach. But very much thinking about content, you know, the words and the pictures, the videos, the things that, that make up the content of of a textbook or courseware, like I'm talking about, thinking about that just as infrastructure is a very different way of thinking about it. Because you're right, traditionally, the thought process would be, that's my intellectual property, nobody can copy it, no one can do anything with it. I mean, we've even seen cases in the United States, where faculty have sued students, for a student comes into class takes notes during class, shares those notes with someone else, and then the faculty has sued the student for violating their copyright because they shared the notes that they took during the class. That just completely boggles my mind, I don't understand how that's supposed to work right? Am I not allowed to use anything I learned in your class publicly after I leave? But the I've worked on...

Brandon Dennison:

This class that I paid for.

David Wiley:

Yeah, that I paid to be here. I've always worked under the assumption that education is sharing. Right? What it means for me, as an educator, say, if you were my student, for me to be a successful educator would mean I would have successfully shared with you the most of my knowledge, skills, expertise, attitudes, values, ethics. Like, if I don't succeed in sharing those with you, I'm not succeeding as an educator, the whole enterprise comes down to sharing, right? So when we can take that that content, the basic words and pictures and things that you know, that you're going to read before you come to class, or however you're going to use those, when you think about those just as infrastructure that are openly licensed, everyone has permission to do whatever it is that they want to do with them, then you can scoop those up. And you can say, you know, what might work better would be if we took all this and built these courseware features around it, that might help students be more successful, somebody else might say, well, what if I scooped that up, and just did print on demand and sold printed textbooks for $5. Maybe that's what we really need to do. Somebody might take that content and scoop it up and have a third idea about what they want to do with it. But it just becomes this infrastructure that enables all this experimentation that can happen in higher ed. And honestly, there's not enough of it going on. There's very, there's very little real innovation happening in the space right now. But I do think it takes a kind of turning over of your mind to think about content, not as being intellectual property that we want to lock down as tight as we can possibly lock down and control. And I need to make, you know, 1/3 of a penny every time somebody views it, or whatever that model is, and just says no, this is open, shareable infrastructure that we all can take advantage of, and build on and try to leverage to do different things that we hope are going to improve student success. Because if you're going to find a breakout approach to really improving student success, you need 1,000 experiments going on. Right, the first one isn't going to get it, the second one is not going to get it you need massive parallel kind of experimentation. And the only way to have that much experimentation going on is to decrease the cost of experiments, and to decrease the complexity of them. And if you can take out all of the copyright licensing, all of the fees associated with that. It just makes it so much less expensive and so much easier. Our system for content management doesn't have any access controls. We don't have to, like a traditional publisher spends time and money making it so that content you read in your web browser, you can't copy and paste out, because they don't want you making copies of it. So they have to spend effort to build tools that keep you from copying and pasting. They have to spend effort, figuring out clever ways to disable printing and your browser because I don't want you to print it because that's a copy like all the games that a traditional publisher plays, which are all cat and mouse games, because students figure out eventually how to subvert them. And then they have to go develop a new technology. So it's an endless spend on their part. Luma doesn't invest any money in that at all, because all of our content is open. The idea is to share.

Brandon Dennison:

Two thoughts. One, I'm so interested in higher education for a couple of different reasons. One, I grew up in a family that's very higher ed oriented. Two you know, we Coalfield Development really does think higher ed is important to the future of Appalachia, even if how that higher ed gets done needs to look very different. So folks know our number 33, six, and three model, the six is higher ed, all of our crew members are either community college or advanced vocational program students, too. I love your sort of systems thinking, which is why we're fellow Ashoka Fellows, fellow fellows of us have this global network called Ashoka. So I'm curious, you might just talk a little bit about what the Ashoka fellowships meant to you and then transition into the long version of your Appalachian entrepreneurship experience and how you got to where you are as a co-founder of this incredible organization.

David Wiley:

Well, the Ashoka fellowship for me has really been about, about networking and getting to meet people like you and work together with people like you. When I found Ashoka and applied for the fellowship, we were far enough along in the work we were doing at Lumen. You know, we didn't qualify for grant funding or any kind of financial support like that. So I think, many people have a different experience with the Ashoka fellowship, because it's the money that they used to really get their idea up and going. We were we'd already been running for a couple of years. And so the fellowship to me really has been about networking, meeting people getting to collaborate getting to just really be inspired by the different kinds of work that people in the network are doing.

Brandon Dennison:

It's a global network, right? So a sense of all over the world.

David Wiley:

Yes, 3,000 fellows something around the world, some some number like that. And my class, the year that I came in, in the U.S., there were 10, a dozen something fellows that year and it was everything from higher ed, what I was doing to people who are working on supporting the spouses of people whose other spouse was in incarceration for in a long term kind of setting, like so much different work in so many different sectors, and just...

Brandon Dennison:

Some work with the immigrant community, some work in tech.

David Wiley:

Right? Yeah, just all over the place, politic political reform. So just sitting in that circle, and going around that first day, because we got together face to face at some point early on, and just listening to every person tell their story of what they're working on, I just thought, 'I cannot possibly be more impressed or inspired than I was by what you just said,' and then the next person, take it off, you know, a level and it's like a dozen of those people all in one room. And it makes you want to up your own game. You know, I think I think all entrepreneurs feel this way, I think everybody feels this way that you look around at everyone else, and you think, 'Oh my gosh, they're crushing it, they're killing it. That's super impressive work. And then inside, you're thinking about all the things that are you're currently struggling with that are going on the risks to what you're trying to do. So it's fun, both to be inspired by the other people in the network, but also to think, you know, people are getting these things done, like change can be made, we can have a positive impact, you know, keep, keep going.

Brandon Dennison:

Not just waiting around for some new law to pass.

David Wiley:

For somebody else to take care of it and maybe die. So there is a lot of inspiration in the network as well.

Brandon Dennison:

You are a fellow Appalachian entrepreneur as well. And I'd love to just again, the long version, start from the beginning for us.

David Wiley:

I was I was just back from a two year mission trip in Japan. I had gotten married. And I was an undergrad martial artist studying music ed[ucation], and my dream was to be a high school music teacher. I mean, I'm a musician, no real skills to speak up, necessarily. Right. So what am I going to do? So I joined the band. And I was playing in this band. First year, year and a half we were married, it was the only support that there was the only job that I had was playing in this band.

Brandon Dennison:

Trusting spouse you found there.

David Wiley:

Yeah! She had a lot of faith. Yeah! But on this, so this would have been like '93-'94, I was also discovering the internet on the side and really getting into the internet and making my own webpages and doing things that were it turned out, there were not a lot of people in the region that were working in that space, right. And so when I finally kind of had it with the band, and realize I just couldn't keep living that life anymore, I should, when you, when you don't drink, you don't smoke and you're married, a lot of the benefits of playing in a band, you know, free drinks for the band and whatever else... there's not a lot of fun for you to have.

Brandon Dennison:

Seltzer water is only tasty so many times. Right?

David Wiley:

So anyway, at some point, I'd had it with the band, like, I gotta quit the band and figure out something else to do, and that would have been, it would have been like '95. And I thought, you know, this internet thing is really amazing. I don't know a ton about it. But I have the sense that I know more about it than a lot of the people around me. And so I got together with my uncle, who was teaching on the business faculty at Marshall. And we used his connections to rent out on Saturday afternoon, some space on campus. We started advertising around Huntington, you know, come learn how to use this new thing called the internet. And largely what it ended up being was like people from the newspaper and from TV stations coming down to learn how to search the Internet to...

Brandon Dennison:

Crazy to think that's right, like searching on the internet. Now, it's like my, he's five now. But at two, he could find his favorite YouTube videos, it's like it native knowledge now, but there was a time where that was

David Wiley:

There was a time. Right? So I did a bunch of that

Brandon Dennison:

That's part of the entrepreneurial experience. training. And that kind of evolved into different requests to come and do different things. And I realized that there was a company to be made there. And so started a company called

InterSpec:

The Internet Specialists, which is not the greatest name ever that anybody ever made. But we worked on a lot of really fun projects. And we did the first website for the city of Huntington, which at the time was huntington.gov, which is crazy that we got the .gov domain name, it just shows you nobody knew what was going on back in those days. You know, setting up back in the days of dial in setting up dial in internet connections at the county school board so that they can offer free internet connections to teachers at home. So they have a place to dial into to connect to the internet. And every time one of these job opportunities would come along and say, hey, could you do this for us? I'd say, Well, of course I will. And then I go home and say I have literally no idea how to do any of any of these things.

David Wiley:

Exactly. I started asking around or searching the internet or trying to find somebody who can give me some advice. At some point, Marshall University reached out to me and said, 'Hey, we're looking for a webmaster. We don't have a university webmaster, we want to get more serious about what we're doing online. Would you join us as the webmaster?' And so I started working at Marshall as the first webmaster there. And then really started thinking more about kind of the connection between the internet and educationi n that role as the university webmaster, and I had this I had this experience one day, which really is one of those experiences where like the clouds part and a single beam of sunlight, light comes down and shines on you. And it sounds so hokey, but this moment, completely changed my life. I was I was sitting in my office, which was a closet with like an old style radiator against the wall. And working on... I was coding up a calculator in JavaScript, so a calculator that you could use in the like embed in a webpage. And you could do some calculations in a webpage, which is like crazy advanced at the time, right in '96 or whenever this was. And, I just had this realization that once that calculator was put on the web, then it became different from other calculators in this really fundamental way. So like the calculators at my elementary school at Davis Creek Elementary down here on Route 10 in Barboursville.

Brandon Dennison:

RIP, because Davis Creek's in a flood zone, right?

David Wiley:

It always was.

Brandon Dennison:

That's not new.

David Wiley:

The number of times we lost our kickball in the creek, at least once a week, right? Anyway, just remember in a setting where like there might be five calculators in the classroom and you'd wait your turn kind of for it to come around to be able to use it. When you take that calculator and put it on the internet, literally a million people can use that calculator at the same time. Like it's, it's different in this really important way. And it turns out that of course economists have a word for this. It's called non rival risks and the difference between rival risks and non rival risk resources have been understood for a very long time. But it was new to me just having that moment of understanding. Wait, if If something's online, then everyone in the world can access it all at the same time. And that changes everything, instead of having to buy physical copies of things. What if you just put something online and then everyone had access to it, and it would be free. You know, it's it's impossible to imagine. Well, but you can, you can remember a time when maybe you went to, you went to the video store, or maybe more recently, you went to a red box, and you're looking for a movie and they're gone, wasn't there, somebody else had already rented it, or maybe went to the library to get a book already checked out. And you have to wait for it to come back. Imagine going to YouTube and being told, sorry, somebody else is watching this video right now. But if you wait, you know, a minute, then you'll be able to watch the YouTube video. Like, that's not how digital works, right? Digital changes that so that you don't have to wait anymore, everyone can have access all at the same time. And that idea that if you can figure out a way, way, either with volunteers or with grant funding, or however you did it, if you could just figure out a way to make a thing and put that thing online, maybe nobody would ever have to buy another copy of it, a physical copy, again. It just seemed so completely like world- changing to me. Like, you know, that ray of light coming through the clouds that I was talking about. That that really then inspired all the rest of the work that I've done since then. I applied for graduate school, went to graduate school, got a PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology, which is really around using all different kinds of technology, but to support and improve student learning and support and improve the quality of teaching. Kind of took off from there spent about a dozen years Well, I did a post-doc, I spent about a dozen years as faculty member first at Utah State and then at Brigham Young, which is also in Utah. And during that time, the majority of my research was on these OERs talking about a minute ago, open educational resources and make sense of how we how we can bring them in higher ed and how they can make a difference. And, you know, I met my future co founder at a conference that she had organized. And I gave a I gave a talk in the morning. And if you're familiar with these conference setups, there's a lot of times there's a talk in the morning, and then a little break with coffee and whatever and then you go into some concurrent sessions. And I gave them morning talk and I came out for the break, and this break was set up with these big tables out in the in the break area, just stacked with plates stacked with chocolate chip cookies, which upon approaching and it turned out, we're still warm. And then interspersed among the plates of warm chocolate chip cookies were these big mugs of milk that you can tell had been in the fridge all night long. You know, and so about my fifth chocolate chip cookie, and second glass of milk, I'm thinking who organized this? Like I want to know this person, I want to work with this person is my kind of person. So I sought her out and found her name's Kim Thanos, and we hit it right off and decided that we're going to find a way to do some work together at some point in the future. So fast forward a couple of years 2010, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a competition that they're running that they called the Next Generation Learning Challenges grant program. So they're looking for proposals about how to improve outcomes for traditionally underserved students. And Kim and I saw that opportunity to work together and got a group of people together and said, let's go we found eight colleges and universities around the country that were willing to partner with us. And what we proposed to the foundation was that we would we would replace traditional textbooks in at least one class on each of those campuses with OER. And there were seven or eight people who won grants out of that competition, we were one of the groups that won a grant. So we did that. learned a ton about every wrong way to possibly try to do that made faculty mad, got screamed at by faculty and cried out by faculty, we learned a lot of really hard lessons about trying to support faculty through the transition from traditional materials to open materials. And at the end of the grant, the foundation came back to us and said, 'Well, you said you're going to do one course at each of these eight campuses, you ended up doing 10 courses and actually over delivered. We're really interested in scaling up the work that you just did, because it was hard and awful until it was successful. And then you kind of figured it out. We'd love to invite you to write another grant to talk about how you might scale this workup.' So we put our heads together and said you know we should do is we should write a bunch of white papers and peer reviewed journals. articles because that's what people care about. And, you know, in higher ed and do video recordings and interviews, just like capture everything we learned all throughout this process, and then put it all out in open access formats, and everyone will know everything that we know. Then the problem will be solved. Like, basically we'll make a website, and then the problem will be over higher ed will be fixed. And so we sent this proposal into Gates, and God bless him, our program officer came back and said, that is literally the stupidest grant proposal I think we have ever seen at the foundation. No, you may not have money to do that. It's a terrible idea. Let me be more specific in my request. If you had additional funding, could you do what you did with eight schools with 30 schools? That's what we're really interested in seeing. And so at that time, I was still full time faculty and Kim had a full time job that she was doing. And we were running this project, this grant project and off the side of our desks, right, and it was already kind of killing us. But when the foundation offered us more money as an opportunity to take that to scale, then we had to have that conversation, you know that there's no way we can do this with our current jobs. But it feels like it's really important work that needs doing if we don't do it, who's going to do it? Would you be willing to quit your job? I don't know. Would you be willing to quit your job? You know, we had to do the cofounder dance, right. But eventually, we decided up, we decided that we would and we both left our jobs. And we took that first grant from the foundation as the money that we use to start Lumen. And that's the kind of the long-arc Lumen origin story. So October 2012, which is just a couple months away from being 10 years old now. Is when we founded Lumen.

Brandon Dennison:

Congrats. 10 years. Not bad!

David Wiley:

Yeah, thank you.

Brandon Dennison:

You'd love technology. You're a tech entrepreneur, you're an Appalachian, I think the stereotype would probably be the Appalachia tends to be a place that's, that's behind the times behind the curve, just generally, but also specifically to technology. So I am curious — and we're we're coming up towards the end — so I wonder if you could just weave together some thoughts on Appalachia, technology in Appalachia, and higher ed and Appalachia, and, you know, what, what's, what has changed and what still needs to change and maybe just help our listeners have a different sense of what's possible here in Appalachia?

David Wiley:

Well those are such great questions. I wish I had a million great answers. If I did, I'd probably have a couple of additional side projects going on. But I mean, I do think higher ed... and higher ed can mean a lot of things, right? It can mean technical training, vocational training, community college could mean university if that's what it's supposed to mean for you. I do think that education is so so important. Globally, inside the US you, you could make a stack of research reports about a mile-high, showing the way that impact interrupts, disrupts intergenerational poverty, the kinds of problems that unfortunately we associate with Appalachia. One of the best ways that you can get into the middle of that whole set of problems and just disrupt that is by inserting education, and particularly, education of the mother. A mother's level of education is such a strong predictor for all kinds of quality of life outcomes for their children. How does that turn into a specific kind of recommendation for what we might do around here, and there are a bunch of ways to think about that. But I do know, I do know that the cost of higher ed is completely out of control. Tuition costs are increasing at a pretty good cliff, but one of the reasons that I work in the courseware and the course material side of things is that the price of textbooks have gone up over 800% in the last 30 years, so it's not uncommon to pay $150 or $200 for a textbook. I've seen a management consulting textbook that costs over $400, a printed book — it's just paper — $400. And for a lot of especially if you're a first generation student, you know you didn't have parents that went to college, all of your experience through school, your textbooks have been provided for you and so you might scrimp and save and try to get ready and just barely put together enough tuition money to be able to go to college and then you show up and find out. You need another $800, $1,000, $1,200 to pay for books for the first you know for the first year that you're going to be there. You know, open educational resources can do a lot to really improve affordability and to get people through the door. So I don't know that I ever said but the courseware that that we provide it Lumen's $25 a student which might be a as much as 90% off what you would have paid otherwise, right? So, so first, we've got to make it affordable, so that people can afford to be there. I think there's also work that we just need to do around the culture, that the degree to which education is valued. If people don't want education, you can't force it on them. Right? How do we help people see the value of education, see what it could do for them? What it could do for their children what it could unlock for them? I think when, when you're in one set of economic circumstances, like you're in or like I'm in, you can kind of get your head up above water long enough to think about the region, like, what can I do to improve the region? How can I help Appalachia? But when when you're living on 200 bucks a month, and you're choosing between electricity and water and food, or skipping rent for the third month in a row and getting evicted like you, you don't care about the region. You don't care about the state, and it's not that you don't care. I mean, you just don't have the luxury of being able to be you know, worried about something other than yourself and providing for your own basic needs for the basic needs of your family. How we communicate to Appalachians the value of education, and then once they see that value, and they want education, how do we make it possible for them, like your model, the 33-6-3 model where you're employed and you have an income and you're able to pay for those things you need, but at the same time, you're able to make time to go to school and get the training, you need something where you don't have to completely walk away from life to go be a full time student and not be able to earn and do the things you need to do. The model that Coalfield has developed is an amazing model that we need. We need more of that, you know, across the state, and across the country to I mean, in our recent national survey done by a group out of Temple University, they found that about one in five, college students are what they call housing insecure. So they don't have a permanent place where they're living. They're couchsurfing, they're sleeping in their car. And something closer to 30% of them are food insecure.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow.

David Wiley:

And if you don't know, if you don't know where you're going to sleep, and you don't know where your next meal is coming from, then even if you even if you got free tuition, free books, free everything else, you just don't have the headspace to focus. I'm gonna pull a book off the shelf here. There's an amazing book on this by Sara Goldrick-Rab called 'Paying the Price,' which if you're interested in kind of problems with higher ed and potential policy solutions, this is a terrific book. But Sarah tells us a story about one of the students that we're talking about who's sitting in class hasn't had anything to eat in three days, the student next to them casually opens up a little mini bag of Doritos, and it's kind of popping Doritos in class and that smell is wafting over toward them. And the student here didn't hear a single thing that was said whole class...

Brandon Dennison:

Right.

David Wiley:

Because just their hunger and food. And it's right there. And if we can't help students cover their bases, if we can't help people cover their basic needs, they can't be students. So there's really at some kind of holistic package that has to come together, that supports them in their ability to earn and support their family go to school at the same time. And it's like starting a business. At the beginning of a business, you need some kind of infusion of capital to give you enough runway to get going. And then it can kind of become self sustaining over time, right? It feels like in Appalachia, we need some kind of massive investment that would let us do something like that for so many college students where they could have, they could make a living wage or have a living grant or something so that they can live life while they go to school, and then they can get out and that flywheel can really get a start turning in a sustainable way. But it feels like we really need some kind of major investment to take something like what you're doing and take it to scale across the whole state before we're really going to make kind of sizable progress on that issue.

Brandon Dennison:

Lots of big issues to solve but but you are certainly doing your part in more than one ways and have over the course of your life and just appreciate you sharing some of your time and your wisdom and experience. And I guess I would just say keep it up and I look forward to continued collaboration with you here at the iCenter.

David Wiley:

Yeah, back at you. I echo back everything you just said. Keep up the good work you're doing, and I'm really looking forward to doing more of that together in the future.

Brandon Dennison:

All right, David. Thanks a lot. Changing the Coalfields is a podcast created by Coalfield Development in the hills and hollers of West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website www.coalfield-development.org. To make a donation, you can email us anytime at info at www.coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn by searching Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.