Inevitable Thresholds

Adam Barger wrote a post this week in the Educause Review blog entitled, “Educational Technology Leadership and Practice in Higher Education: The Emergence of Threshold Concepts.”  “Threshold” is an interesting term that grabs your attention!  Merriam-Webster defines “threshold” as (a) the plank that lies under a door, (b) the place or point of an ending or a beginning, or (c) the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced…a point or value where things become “true.”

In this post, Adam used Meyer and Land’s definition of threshold concepts “…as ideas or ways of thinking that transform the internal view of a subject.”  He noted three such threshold concepts for educational technology:

  1. Higher education is no longer about access to information; rather, it is about access to experiences.
  2. Use of educational technology in most higher education settings is standard practice rather than the exception.
  3. Educational technology both follows and fuels effective pedagogy.

I would agree that these are indeed points that have become true.  It is an easy leap to align them with Kevin Kelly’s 2015 book, The Inevitable, which noted twelve technological  forces (or verbs) that are inevitable for the future:

  1. Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions
  2. Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud
  3. Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything
  4. Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens
  5. Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times.
  6. Sharing: Collaboration at mass-scale. Kelly writes, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
  7. Filtering: Harnessing intense personalization in order to anticipate our desires
  8. Remixing: Unbundling existing products into their most primitive parts and then recombine in all possible ways
  9. Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement
  10. Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
  11. Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
  12. Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix

Adam noted that higher education is no longer about access to information, but rather it is about access to experiences.  Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I made that point in our 2009 White Paper, “Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.”  Kelly’s verbs of accessing, flowing, filtering, interacting, and questioning all weave into this threshold concept as well.

Edtech has definitely become a standard practice globally.  This is evident in our Twitter discussions at #EDU6323 and #EDU6333 where Masters students in Northeastern’s program share their realities and hopes concerning edtech.  In this standard practice, one can see Kelly’s verbs of becoming, cognifying, screening, sharing and remixing.  I like Adam’s note that:

“In essence, the saturation of technology use in higher education allows for more individualized approaches to educating all students.”

Adam’s final threshold places pedagogy before technology…and suggests that experimentation and play are worthy endeavors for education.  I agree, and have certainly attempted to embed a certain degree of playfulness in all my courses. Cognifying, filtering, and questioning all have pedagogical applications.

I have also attempted to embed a certain degree of optimism in my teaching as well.  I like Elsie’s image of “Threshold” at the top of this post…as it suggests moving from the darkness into the light.  That is a threshold worth crossing!

{Graphics: Elsie Godwin, Viking Press}

Futuremark

Something I tweeted earlier this week…but it keeps circling around in my head:

Harold noted in “the uncertain future of training” that training courses are artifacts of the past…when resources (and information) was scarce and connections were few.  Training courses efficiently collected people together to deliver the training…but that training always looked backwards to “how things were done.”   Shampoo, rinse, repeat…

As Harold noted:

“…Training looks at how people currently do work and then gets others to replicate this. These are described as competencies, made up of certain, skills, knowledge, and attitudes. The assumption was that what works today will work tomorrow. The training department assumed the status quo…”

Yet, we do not live in a status quo world…as Tom Friedman noted in his book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, it is a world driven by the acceleration of connectivity and cognitive technology.  Tomorrow will not look like today.

Harold provided a graphic that he has used several times…but it nicely captures this shift:

Work learning shift

So in thinking about training, Harold noted that “the notion of best practices still permeates the business of training. By looking at what is currently being done well we can replicate this and pass it on through training. Best practices, and even good practices, assume a state of order.”

In reading this, I thought of a presentation Tom Peters did in Atlanta over a dozen years  ago…that still resonates with me.  Around slide 282 (out of over 400) in his tenth chapter of The Works Powerpoint, he showed:

Future Mark

Don’t Benchmark…Future mark!  Peters goes on a few slides later to suggest:

  • “Benchmarking Rule #1: “Best practices” are to be learned from, NOT mimicked/treated as law. “Best practices” must ALWAYS be adapted to local conditions!
  • Benchmarking Rule #2: When pursuing “best practices,” DON’T benchmark. FUTUREMARK. Tomorrow’s stars are already out there. Find ’em!
  • Benchmarking Rule #3: DON’T benchmark. OTHERMARK. E.g., a tech company  can adopt “WOW” service practice from, say, a local restaurant or car dealer.
  • Benchmarking Rule #4: Make benchmarking EVERYONE’s biz. Everyone collect best “everyday life” practices. Share WEEKLY.”

A dozen years ago…yet Peters was already seeing what Jarche and Friedman now see.  Couple Peters’ four rules with social media, and you actually have a vehicle that makes “futuremarking” possible.

Soooo…as you put together your summer faculty development bootcamps and institutes, is the focus on best practices or futuremarks?

{Graphic: Jarche.com, Tom Peters}

 

Will AI Do Improv?

There has been a lot on the news lately about artificial intelligence and how it is impacting the future.  Already there are advice posts regarding how AI can enhance education, such as “7 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change Higher Education” or “Could Online Tutors and Artificial Intelligence be the Future of Teaching?”.

Yet, this morning as I was driving and listening to Fred Childs on NPR, something his guest said resonated with me.  A pianist noted that even though songs have very clear “rules” in the form of sheet music, whenever he plays a piece, there is improv, because how he plays depends on who he is playing with and what the mood of the audience is.

This idea of improv reminded me of an unexpected flow on Twitter this week in my Northeastern University class on Social Media at #EDU6333.  The current class is a little different than earlier classes I have taught, in that – feeding off each other – they love to add GIFs to their tweets.  Whereas this might have happened infrequently in past classes, it happens every day in the current class.  And I would suggest “feeding off each other” is simply another definition for improv.

Wednesday night, I was grading papers and watching the hashtag feed when the following began happening (I added a few earlier ones, but most posted between 7:45-9:15pm):

Granted, this was only a fifth of the students in the class…though others the next day lamented missing the exchange.  But this is engagement…and dare I say it

It reminds me of the improv associated with teaching…whether K-12 or higher education.  This week we explored constructivist learning and TPACK…yet the dialogue on Twitter went in lots of directions.

We are not at the point yet where AI is a threat to replacing teaching.  After all, scientist last year made a teen robot…and it got depressed.  We have not yet reached the point where machines can empathize with us…though in some ways they are now thinking in ways we no longer understandWith the massive data crunching afforded by the cloud, artificial intelligence may develop new ways to improv in the future.  If anything, we are approaching the time when it will be a natural enhancement to good teaching.  But just as good pianists improv when playing a standard set of sheet music, both teachers and students need to improv when learning together…which is what constructivism is all about!