Value Added versus Liability Sponge

Someone who always gets me thinking is danah boyd.  Her post “Toward Accountability: Data, Fairness, Algorithms, Consequences” is the latest to prod my brain!

liability spongeHer post raises the issue of how data collection and data manipulation are not neutral activities…that the decision to collect or not collect and the thought process behind the analysis of data have value implications.  An example she used was around open data and how the transparency of data about segregation in NY schools led many to self-segregate, leading to more segregation, not less.  In another example, she noted how Google’s search algorithms picked up racist biases by learning from the inherently biased search practices of people in this country.

danah noted toward the end of her post:

“But placing blame is not actually the same as accountability. Researcher Madeleine Elish was investigating the history of autopilot in aviation when she uncovered intense debates about the role of the human pilot in autonomous systems. Not unlike what we hear today, there was tremendous pressure to keep pilots in the cockpit “in case of emergency.” The idea was that, even as planes shifted from being primarily operated by pilots to primarily operated by computers, it was essential that pilots could step in last minute if something went wrong with the computer systems.

Although this was seen as a nod to human skill, what Madeleine saw unfold over time looked quite different. Pilots shifted from being skilled operators to being liability sponges. They were blamed when things went wrong and they failed to step in appropriately. Because they rarely flew, pilots’ skills atrophied on the job, undermining their capabilities at a time when they were increasingly being held accountable. Because of this, Madeleine and a group of colleagues realized that the contexts in which humans are kept in the loop of autonomous systems can be described as “moral crumple zones,” sites of liability in which the human is squashed when the sociotechnical systems go wrong.”

These two paragraphs seem to provide some context to the chapter I am currently reading in Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In “Turning AI into IA”, Friedman suggested that a part of the solution to dealing with the triple accelerations of technological change, global market change, and environmental change, lies in leveraging artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance, intelligent assistants, and intelligent algorithms.  Friedman noted that in this age of accelerations, we need to rethink three key social contracts – those between workers and employees, students and educational institutions, and citizens and governments.

I totally agree that the status quo is not the answer, whether we are talking corporate structures, higher education, or government.  I worry though the extent to which some would push technology as an answer to higher education.

I firmly believe that integrating digital technology into teaching and learning makes sense…if one starts with the learning outcomes first and chooses the technology for the right reasons.  TPACK still resonates with me!  Smart technology could easily take the place of repetitive practice work, freeing faculty to focus on the underlying critical thinking skills that students must develop in order to succeed in tomorrow’s world.  My worry would be faculty that see the opportunity to place their courses on autopilot while they pursue their research interests.  Like the pilots above, teaching skills could atrophy…setting faculty up as liability sponges if students fail.

Friedman made an interesting observation – that when ATM’s became common in banks, there was an assumption that they would replace bank tellers.  Instead, by reducing the cost of operation, ATM’s made it possible to open many more branches…and the number of tellers increased.  They no longer handled as much cash, but they became instead points of contact with customers.

If one visualizes the higher ed equivalent of an ATM, one might see a future for higher education that involves lower cost, more locations, and more faculty….but faculty “teaching” in new ways.  Now is the time to have those conversations about the future of higher ed, the future of faculty, and the future of learning.  We need to be proactive before we find ourselves in a moral crumple zone of our own making.

{Graphic: Mishra & Koehler}

Got My Attention

Over the weekend, I continued reading Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  I have to admit that the second section on accelerations – technologies, globalizations, and ecologies – scared the crap out of me!

In a methodical manner, Friedman laid out his case that we as a planet have reached a tipping point.  Moore’s law has reached the point where connectivity worldwide is basically fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity has at the same time become fast, free, easy for you and invisible due to the cloud.

In his 2005 book The World is Flat, Friedman was widely quoted for stating:

.

In this book, he discusses a global cloud based company that originated in the eastern part of Turkey – not China or India.  In the 12 years since The World is Flat was published, we have gone from competition residing in big countries to competition residing anywhere.  The market economy has shifted from one based on products to one based on flows, which harkens back to the Goodwin quote from a couple of posts back:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.  Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.  Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has not inventory.  And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.  Something interesting is happening.”

Probably most unsettling is what he called the black elephants – a cross between black swans (low probability events with major implications) and elephants in the room (problems visible that no one wants to acknowledge).   Friedman then went on to discuss in detail nine such black elephants:

  • Climate change (we have already tipped beyond the recommended 350ppm for CO2 in the atmosphere – so we are getting hotter)
  • Biodiversity (the annual loss of species)
  • Deforestation (down to around 62%, where 75% is the level needed to maintain healthy atmosphere)
  • Biogeochemical flows (the addition of chemicals to the water system)
  • Ocean acidification (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Freshwater use (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading
  • Introduction of novel new entities (nuclear, plastics)
  • Atmospheric ozone layer (the only limit we as a planet addressed and have moved back from the brink)

Compounding all of these is the continuing growth in human population.  Looking at humanity as a whole, we have increased life expectancy and dropped mortality rates, but not decreased birth rates.  When one looks at all of the black elephants noted above, and then adds the compounding element of adding even more humans to the mix, it paints a dire picture!

So Friedman got my attention…now I need to read the next section to see just where the “optimist” in his title comes in!

Balancing Optimism with Pragmatism

Audrey Watters this week posted a talk she gave at Coventry University earlier this year entitled “The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’).”  Good talk by someone I like to follow in my feeds…primarily because she is the contrary voice I sometimes need to hear.  Now I am trying to balance the optimism of Friedman (and me) with the pragmatism of Audrey.

Since 2010, Audrey has published a series of articles covering the trends of the past year in educational technology – a huge undertaking!  She summarized her flow of trends in her talk.

trends2010-2011

trends2012-2013

trends2014-2015

trends2016

Audrey offers her yearly well-researched articles as a counter to the short bulletted list of “must have new cool” technologies that seem to roll out every December and January.  As her list illustrates, her trends are more ideological than technological…which in some ways aligns with Tom Friedman’s mega-trends of simultaneous accelerations of technological change, market change, and climate change.  In both cases, as Audrey noted so well:

“They’re not “trends,” really.  They’re themes. They’re categories. They’re narratives.”

…and as she noted, they are US-centric and even California-centric.  She discussed the narrative flowing out of Silicon Valley…the “dream factory” of California.  This narrative supports an optimism for science as the solution for all the world’s problems.  The focus on skills, personalization, learning to code, disruption … all flow from the California Ideology as described by Watters.  Audrey noted that she chose “the platforming of education” in 2012…and wondered if 2016 saw the failure to platform emerge as a theme.  An interesting observation, as I recall the 2012 optimism associated with A Domain of One’s Own and personalized platforms as the vehicle to lifelong learning.

In many ways, Friedman shared this optimism when he noted that we had entered a world in which”…connectivity was fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity became fast, free, easy for you and invisible.”  Any problem could now be solved through the combination of fast, free connectivity and fast, free crunching of data in the cloud.  And that is probably true for technological problems.  Within the agriculture economy, the decline in immigrant field workers will probably be solved with automated field workers.  Friedman noted that we have reached an age where you only have to dream about a solution and you can achieve it.  You can build the platform to make it happen.  But Audrey closed her talk by noting that platforms are not substitutes for communities.

Both Friedman in Thank You For Being Late and Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable make an optimistic case that as technology displaces workers, it also creates new jobs requiring new skills. But Friedman also noted that when the Industrial Age displaced the Agricultural Age, it took about a generation for old ways to die off and new ways to surface.  While the rate of change has accelerated since 2007, will our rate of adaptation – both as individuals and as educational systems – match that change rate?  Audrey quoted Neil Selwyn, who identified three contemporary ideologies intertwined with the technological ones – libertarianism, neoliberalism, adnd the ideology of the new economy…to which she added a fourth – technological solutionism.  These four align with concepts of venture capitalism, the gig economy, the shared economy, the attention economy…all happening fast, free, easy for you, and accelerating.

To riff off of the video below, have we become so enamored with personalization that we have lost sight of the person?  One of my students shared this video by Prince Ea with the class…and it is worth a listen.

It is another way of saying…balance optimism with pragmatism…

{Graphics: Watters}

Only Been One Decade

Freidman bookI loved the second chapter of Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  The chapter title is

“What the Hell Happened in 2007?”

Good question.  It has only been a decade since 2007, and given that I joined the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in late 2006, it sort of marked my start in faculty development.

Friedman noted how in a short period right around 2007, the following occurred:

  • The iPhone was introduced
  • Facebook opened up to non-college users
  • Google bought YouTube and launched Android
  • Amazon released Kindle
  • Michael Dell returned to Dell to run the company (again)
  • Intel added non-silicon materials to chips, which helped Moore’s Law to continue
  • The beginning of an exponential rise in green energy – solar, wind, and biofuels
  • The cost of DNA sequencing began dropping to rates anyone could use

Friedman noted that he first began writing a book about how technology was driving the world…and the world’s economy… back in 2004, which became The World is Flat.  He updated the book in 2006 and issued version 3.0 in 2007, at which point he stopped thinking about it.  I noted in previous posts that this book was very impactful to me personally.  In fact, my presentation during my interview for a job at the VCU CTE was on how Friedman’s 10 flatteners were changing our view of what it meant to teach.  A version I loaded into Slideshare a year later has now been viewed over 18,000 times, which is just one more example of how the world of teaching has changed!

Yet, in 2010, Friedman picked up his first edition and scanned the index, noticing that Facebook was not in it.  Twitter was not in it.  Big data was not in it.  Skype, LinkedIn, 4G…none showed up in his book about how the internet had changed the world.  That was when he realized the extent to which these changes were indeed accelerating.

As I think back on this last decade and my evolution within the VCU CTE … and later on to Northeastern’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning through Research (CATLR), I realize how fortunate I have been to have had the opportunity to play at precisely that inflection point in history when our concept about teaching and learning in a digital world changed.  I also got to play in a wonderful team led by Jeffrey Nugent, with Bud Deihl playing alongside.  2007 marked my first year as a learning specialist at the CTE, and during that year, Koehler and Mishra published their first paper on TPACK – Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge, which shaped much of my work with faculty.  We began paying attention to work Stephen Downes and George Siemens were doing around the concept of connectivism, as well as the first MOOCs.  I sent my first tweet …even misspelling it as “twit” … in January 2008.

I also started this blog in January 2008.  Three hundred-seventy-five posts later…here we are…

It has only been one decade!

Friedman ends the second chapter noting that the rate of technological change has increased for the first time above the rate at which humans adapt.  He suggests that we have to now enhance our ability to adapt…which will lead to the next series of chapters.

This need to enhance our adaptability as we deal with the constant acceleration of technology, globalization, and climate change was again on my mind as I continued exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. Over the past seven posts, I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the fifth trend yesterday.

The sixth and seventh trends involved Digital HR and People Analytics, which are not only closely related…but tie in nicely to the accelerating technological changes of the past decade.

The report noted that HR now is dealing with a digital workforce, a digital workplace, and so must be digital as well.  The tone has shifted from “doing digital” to “being digital.”  Companies are shifting from rigid place-bound organizations to networks of networks.  Processes are expected to be more transparent, and new tools are needed.  “Standard” HR practices are becoming anything but standard as organizations fluidly shift in order to optimize productivity, engagement, teamwork, and career growth.  Analytics are now being mined to help drive performance.

The concept of being digital aligns with faculty development as well.  In a conversation this past week with a colleague, she noted that online teaching is no longer seen as an add-on…that being digital is part of teaching today.  We lag behind corporate America when it comes to using analytics…but that is changing as well.  One only need look at the sales pitches by companies for the various LMSs to see how analytics are now in the lexicon of education.

If change is indeed accelerating, one wonders what the next decade will bring.  I plan to shift the textbook for my Creighton Leadership and Technology course from Dave Weinberger’s Too Big to Know to Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable, but I can see that by Spring 2018 when I next teach this course, Friedman’s book may also be part of the course.

Maybe that is inevitable…

{Graphics: Deloitte Press}

 

The Pause Button

The Pause Button…

If you have used technology as long as I have, you really do not think about the symbology associated with certain actions.  We all have grown accustomed to the two vertical bars that indicate PAUSE:

I have started reading Tom Friedman’s new book Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In many ways, Friedman helped solidify my thinking about the digital world in his previous book The World is Flat.  I considered that 2005 book then (and still do) to be paradigm shifting.  Friedman’s latest book seems on target and just as insightful.

A premise that he lays out in the first chapter (and will expand as the book unfolds) is that the three largest forces on Earth – technology, globalization, and climate change – are all accelerating at once…and this state of constant acceleration is difficult for our brains – instruments that John Medina in Brain Rules would suggest are geared for linear thought – to wrap around and make sense.  Friedman would suggest one way to deal with this constant acceleration would be to hit the pause button.

For 20 years, I smoked a pipe.  If someone asked me a difficult question, my reaction would be to take my pipe out and go through the ritual of cleaning it out, filling it with fresh tobacco, and lighting it.  I quit smoking in 1988 and would not suggest anyone start … but I miss that reflective time I took filling my pipe before answering the question.

Friedman takes his title from the response he gives people who show up late for an interview.  Rather than being mad, he is delighted to have had some “found time” to reflect … and so he says “Thank You For Being Late.”

One chapter down and many to go … but I am feeling an excitement I have not felt in awhile (thought Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable was almost as exhilarating!).

So I paused today to explore where this icon came from.  According to Wikipedia, the main symbols for digital electronics date back to the 1960s, with the Pause symbol having reportedly been invented at Ampex for use on reel-to-reel audio recorder controls (and I had a reel-to-reel tape player when I was at the Academy), due to the difficulty of translating the word “pause” into some languages used in foreign markets. The Pause symbol was designed as a variation on the existing square Stop symbol and was intended to evoke the concept of an interruption or “stutter stop”.

Who knew?

This balance between constant acceleration and pausing was in my mind as I continued exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the first three trends last week, and looked at the fourth trend yesterday.

The fifth trend involved performance management.  The report noted that organizations have radically changed the way they measure, evaluate, and recognize employees.  It noted that much of what employees do today involves teams …and I would add digital teams, and so annual evaluation processes focused on individuals seem outdated.  The report noted the employees:

  • Want more regular feedback
  • Expect continuous learning
  • Expect decisions on promotions and raises to be based on data

The report suggested that rather than talk about people once a year, organizations should talk with people routinely…and work to strengthen aspects of team productivity, such as trust, inclusion, and clarity of roles.

I had lunch today with a former student who now works with businesses…and the word “trust” came up in our conversation.  Another conversation I had today with a colleague revolved around the use of term faculty rather than tenure-track faculty.  Academia is going through these same accelerations of change, and the old rules need changing.  Of course, that may be difficult, as the ones now in charge came up through the old rules.

Definitely issues to pause and reflect on…

{Graphics: Deloitte Press, SmokingPipes.Com}

The Metaphor of Sloths

 

Thinking Outside Box

Back in 2014, one of my colleagues, Enoch Hale, posted the following blogging challenge:

“I want to pose an open challenge: Post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.

What followed was an amazing six weeks (we decided to do 30 work days) of out-of-the-box brainstorming.  Our collective questions were captured here.

Yet, while it was fun and intellectually stimulating, did it change me?  Maybe…it certainly flavored my teaching.

I thought of this thought-exercise as I was reading Joe Brewer’s Medium post “The Look and Feel of 21st Century Science.”

Brewer noted that humanity is going through unprecedented global change.  And while some processes adapt to change very quickly (our use of smartphones for instance), other things move more slowly.  He noted historical sloths such as academic disciplines at universities and libraries.

His point about libraries reminded me of Dave Weinberger’s earlier book, Everything is Miscellaneous.  Weinberger noted that in a digital age, there is no one way to classify information.  Rather than trying to put books in one place (like the Dewey Decimal System does), he suggested that information can live in multiple places.  This premise of information and knowledge living in multiple nodes and the concept of networked knowledge was expanded in his book Too Big To Know, which is the textbook for my ILD-831 classJoe BrewerBrewer noted that “…libraries are “going digital” and building up a network ecology framework for organizing the knowledge of societies.”

Brewer suggested that science is currently in crisis alongside the political and economic systems of the world.  He points out:

“So we must envision a look and feel for science in the future that is networked, agile and ever-evolving, relevant to the pressing issues of the day, and deeply, DEEPLY ecologically human.”

Brewer suggested that part of the problem lies in our adoption of systems thinking…the “illusion of separation between machines and living things.”  He pointed to the need to adopt instead ecological networks.

“…The look and feel of 21st Century science will be human through and through. There will be holism and integration; emotion and reason recombined in resonance with findings from the cognitive and behavioral sciences. And it will be ecological; embedded in human networks which are themselves embedded within physical and social geographies.”

Weinberger in Too Big To Know captured some of that library thinking when he concluded:

“…We thought that knowledge was scarce, when in fact it was just that our shelves were small.  Our new knowledge is not even a set of works.  It is an infrastructure of connection…”

Coming back to our 30-Day Challenge, Enoch had us questioning our teaching in ways that surfaced holism and integration…that surfaced integration of human and technology.  I have tried to bring aspects of that thinking into my current courses – Creighton University’s ILD-831 – Technology and Leadership – and Northeastern University’s EDU-6323 – Technology as a Medium for Learning.  In both classes, I struggle to move past the sloths of old…of hierarchical thinking in leadership…of classrooms based on scarcity of knowledge.  Yet, I am encouraged and even buoyed by ideas surfacing from my students in our blog aggregation for ILD-831 and our Twitter hashtag discussions in #edu6323.  The first stirrings of ecological networks appear to be developing!

I would be interested in your thoughts.  How do we move the sloths of academia and leadership in our digital age?

{Graphics: Bud Deihl, Brewer}

Two Weeks, Three Books, and A New Role

In that short period between end of Spring semester, our Online Course Development Initiative, and the start of my summer teaching, I dove into some books:

summerbooks

The first was assigned reading.  The VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in which I have been a member for the past 8 years is merging with our Online@VCU staff to form the Learning INnovation Center – LINC.  Our new tag line for LINC is “Connected Learning For a Networked World.”  It is not coincidence that LINC was the forerunner of the modern personal computer.  🙂

So last week, our new LINC staff held a retreat with our Vice Provost for Learning Innovation – Gardner Campbell, to begin the process of growing our new organization.  It was a good day to help align each of us with Gardner’s vision for LINC.  As part of the retreat, each of us completed the Clifton Strengths Finder online assessment to find our top five strengths out of a possible thirty-four that we each brought to LINC.

As might be expected, we were a diverse group…though ten people shared the strength of “strategic”:

Strengths List

My own top five strengths – which did not surprise those who knew me – were:

  • Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  • Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  • Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  • Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  • Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success

LINC themesSo I had no unique strengths…but rather shared my strengths with at least two others…though no one had my combination.

LINC will have four areas of focus – Faculty Development, Student Engagement, Communities of Practice, and Technology Enhanced Active Learning.  Jeff Nugent and I will be acting as the research arm of LINC.

Moving from a role of faculty consultant to one of active research is quite a change!  It was with this change in mind that I read the other two books noted above.

The late Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (1998) was the right book to set a frame of reference for this change.

As Anna Muoio of FastCompany magazine explained:

“…A hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior. It’s bureaucracy, which doesn’t allow much space for original thinking and creativity. It’s the corporate tendency to rely on past policies, decisions, and processes as a formula for future success.

All of this creates a Gordian knot of corporate normalcy — an entanglement that grows over time. As its mass increases, so does its gravitational pull. And what does gravity do? It drags things down. But hairballs can be effective. They provide a necessary stability. It’s not the job of the hairball to be vibrant, alive, and creative…”

By this definition, higher education is as clearly a hairball as the corporation MacKenzie worked at – Hallmark.  MacKenzie suggests that the path to creativity and innovation is to orbit the hairball – benefiting from what it has to offer in terms of stability and resources without being sucked in to its gravitational pull.  As Muoio noted, “…It’s a symbiotic relationship: without the hairball, the orbiter would spiral into space; without the orbiter’s creativity and originality, the hairball would be a mass of nothing.”

Or as MacKenzie puts it – The Hairball is a twisted mass of “policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity and submission to status quo, while Orbiting is originality, rules-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation”.

paradoxOver the coming month, we will all be developing our new job descriptions within LINC.  I loved MacKenzie’s approach when told to develop a job description.  The word “paradox” came to mind, and he looked up the definition.  He turned it in and said, “These are the definitions of the word I would like as my job title.”  MacKenzie thus became the Director of Creative Paradox.

Now, no one knew what a director of creative paradox actually did, but they assumed it was something meaningful.  So people at Hallmark would take ideas to him … and he would validate them.  With that validation, they would then make it happen!

So as part of the research arm of LINC, I see a bit of creative paradox playing out here at VCU.

As I was reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball, I spotted Levitt and Dubner’s latest book at Barnes and Noble – Think Like a Freak.  It was also a fun read, though not as relevant (for me) as MacKenzie’s book.  As noted in their Freakonomic’s website, thinking like a freak means:

  • First, put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Find the root cause of a problem—because attacking the symptoms, as often happens, rarely fixes the underlying issue.
  • Take a master class in incentives—because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
  • Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.

Good lessons…but not as captivating (or innovative) as MacKenszie.  As I move in to my new role, I will hope to orbit the giant hairball, being more of a creative paradox and less a freaky sideshow!

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Re-Imagination of Everything

Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, recently presented at Stanford University on web trends.  Her presentation contains eighty-eight slides full of interesting and thought-provoking information.  Her message is that the evolving web forces us to re-imagine everything.  For those of us in faculty development, it is suggestive of changes that will impact our classrooms – however “classrooms” are defined in the coming years.

Several trends stand out to me:

  • USA adults who own tablets or eReaders has grown from 2% to 29% in three years
  • Mobile internet traffic has surpassed desktop internet traffic in India.  When will that happen in USA?
  • During the recent Black Friday shopping, one-quarter of shopping traffic was on mobile devices rather than desktops, up from only 6 percent two years ago.

This presentation focuses on business, but if the world is moving to “beautiful, relevant, personalized, curated content for consumers,” will not the same be expected in higher education for students?

Meeker has some interesting before and now visualizations in her “Re-Imagine” section.  I do not know that any by themselves are earth-shattering, but taken together, they certainly suggest a world that is evolving at an ever increasing pace, which raises questions on how we adapt.

As always, I would be interested in your views.  What stands out for you?

 

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The School of Me

nookbookI just finished reading my first ebook on my new NookColor: Nick Bilton‘s I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works.  It was an interesting experience, done primarily on the Nook, but thanks to the B&N apps, I also could read it on my PC and on my Droid phone, which I did.  I will definitely be reading more books this way.

Bilton’s book continues themes surfaced by Shirky and others that I have discussed in this blog, but he had some interesting nuances.  One of the fascinating glimpses of the not-too-distant future in his book was that every chapter had a QR code under the chapter title.  Using my Droid, I could snap from the chapter code to supplemental websites that provided additional background information for the chapter as well as videos of Bilton discussing the chapter.  I could easily visualize the future textbooks having similar functionality,qr01 with our students actually using their smartphones for learning!

After reading a book, I like to go back and thumb through it.  Having it now on my PC makes this just as easy to do, and I found that areas I highlighted either on the Nook or on my Droid showed up highlighted on my PC … so the three screens were sync’ed.  Bilton talks about the three screens in Chapter 8, where he discusses the concept of 1:2:10.  You tend to hold your smartphone one foot from your eyes, look at a desktop or laptop screen two feet away, and watch your TV from about ten feet.  Bilton suggests that in the future, we will engage with content seamlessly across all three screens, though designing content to do so raises interesting challenges.  For instance, Bilton imagines a scenario where I could be watching this weekend’s Army-Navy game (GO NAVY!) on TV and have to leave at half-time for an engagement.  Under his scenario, my phone would know that I was leaving my TV and begin automatically providing updates on my phone until I got to my destination and fired up my laptop, where the information would shift over seamlessly to that screen.  I cannot automatically do this now…but Bilton suggests this will be the norm before too long.

In other words, my view of the Army-Navy game would be customized for me and delivered as an experience, not just content.  This individualization and customization theme permeated the book.

One of the most intriguing concepts in this book was in Chapter 6.  Bilton notes that when you take out your smartphone and click “locate me”, a map appears with you in the center.  Maps and charts (maps used at sea) have been part of my life for years.  Mercator came up with the projection used by most map makers over 400 years ago, but maps always were based on places and landmarks.  You would go into a store and buy a map of Richmond VA or Nebraska or the subway system.  You would never go in as Bilton suggests and ask, “Oh, excuse me, can I buy a map of me?”

Yet, when ever I use FourSquare on Facebook, that is precisely what appears, a map of me!

4sq

Bilton uses this image of being in the center as a metaphor for life today.  Rather than getting news from mainstream sources, we now use Twitter and Google Reader to customize our news experience.  For many of our students, their main source of news is the “news feed” from Facebook (an application correctly named from their perspective!).  We listen to our own collections of songs on our iPods or customized channels on Pandora rather than using CD’s or radios.  As Bilton describes it, digital will more and more mean “immediate” and “infinite” and “extremely personalized” in the digitally narcissistic world where the customer is always at the center of the map.

It should not be too great a leap to take this shift from content or subject base to personal base and visualize it in the classroom of the future.  Our students are growing up in a world where they are always at the center of the map…everywhere except in the classroom.  In listening to some of the frustrations expressed by my students, I hear of too many teachers continuing to try and keep this personalization out of teaching.  A doctoral student last week defended her dissertation (and did a nice job), but her study of eighteen high school teachers who had been in a 1:1 laptop initiative for EIGHT YEARS found that 15 of the 18 continued to teach as they always had with no demonstration that they had integrated technology into their teaching.  Sad but not surprising.  My students want to change as well, but express concerns that too many administrators and fellow teachers continue to view digital media as simply new ways to do the same old things.

Outside the classroom, our students are experiencing a rich world centered around themselves.  When they buy applications, they do not buy content, they buy experiences.  Driving around town, they can use their phone now to locate local shops or restaurants on the fly..or with Foursquare, locate their friends.  Some are now suggesting that the majority of our access to the internet will be via our smartphones, and when you couple access to information with yourself in the center of the map, all sorts of possibilities explode.

What if we took this concept to education?  What would a school of me look like?

If the student was at the center of the learning process, then instruction would be personalized based on that student’s prior knowledge and abilities.  Personal learning networks would be more the norm, and through networked learning, students would create their own knowledge base (and content).  Students could access not only facts off the internet, but connect to others with similar interests and passions about the learning topic they are studying.  I have used her before, but Wendy comes to mind when looking at a school of me.

One also gets a glimpse if one looks at the nominees for this year’s Edublog Awards. The nominees across the 23 categories are out on the cutting edge when it comes to using digital media for learning (and be sure to vote for this year’s winners).

What would it take to move schools towards a school of me?  Leadership.  Vision.  Risk.  Yet, could a “school of me” be an answer to the challenges facing education…particularly the challenges in which we seem to be falling behind much of the world.  The Asian dominance in this year’s PISA test scores suggests that continuing to educate as we have is a prescription for further failure.

Bilton’s final chapter says “they’re not coming back.” He is talking about traditional consumers, traditional media, and traditional brands.  Yet, while our students have evolved and continue to change, education has for the most part not changed.  How can you worry about going back if you never left?

What are your thoughts?  Can technology deliver a School of Me?  Is it the right direction to take?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

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Learning Swarms?

coverWired Magazine in the August issue has a cute article discussing the future that never happened.  When I was growing up, I watched the Jetsons and Johnny Quest every week, but the cold reality is that my flying car and jet packs just have not materialized.  But while that is true, the world has changed in ways George Jetson would never have imagined.

I was thinking about that as I read a new article from the Gartner ResearchTom Austin gives his predictions in “Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years”.  I am not saying that I disagree with Tom when I said I thought about the future never happening.  Tom is a group VP, Gartner Fellow, and research area lead for applications that augment how people work.  A smart guy who I think is on target.  My concern is with higher education.  I am worried that higher education will continue to assume the future looks like the past and will not readily adapt to these coming changes.

Given that I spent twelve years in community and technical colleges, it should not be surprising that I see a strong role for higher education in preparing our students for the world of work that Austin discusses.  One could argue that higher education has a mixed record when it comes to the efficacy with which it has performed that role in the past, but with the world changing so radically, it is becoming more of an imperative.

In the article, Austin notes the following changes that are coming:

1. De-routinization of Work
Every job can be described in terms of skills required. Austin suggests that routine skills will be automated, and increasingly, jobs will be marked by the non-routine; areas like “discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning.”

2. Work Swarms
Austin labels a new form of teaming “swarming”, which form swiftly to meet a specific need, often with individuals outside the organization. David Weinberger might label this crowdsourcing.

3. Weak Links
With swarms, the strong ties of typical networks give way to looser ties.  I tend to visualize the nearly 500 people I follow on Twitter that way.  I would not be following them if there was not some connection to me and my work, yet I could not say those are strong links.

4. Working With the Collective
Austin calls the informal organizations that exist outside direct control of an enterprise, but groups that can impact the success or failure of that enterprise, “the collective.”  Increasingly, businesses will have to tap in to the chatter in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to ferret out business intelligence. An example of that occurred to me this past weekend, when Sears replaced my home air conditioner.  The work did not complete on time, requiring an unexpected motel stay.  When I tweeted my frustration to no one in particular, I was contacted by Sears social media group, who are now negotiating some compensation for my troubles.  Good on Sears for doing that…it is an example of a business tapping in to the collective.

5. Work Sketch-Ups
If work is becoming more non-routine and crowdsourced, then detailed plans will be a luxury.  Many plans will be done using informal sketch-ups and fly-by-the-seat-of-ones-pants.  Messy but agile, which will probably be the competitive mark of the future.

6. Spontaneous Work
Spontaneous does not mean reactive, rather it is a proactive attempt to identify new opportunities. Sounds like the work we do in our Center for Teaching Excellence!

7. Simulation and Experimentation
Austin suggests that the film Minority Report will illustrate the future of work, where individuals will seamlessly shift through a hyperlinked world to examine the analytics and look for new patterns.

8. Pattern Sensitivity
Spotting and adapting to new patterns will become increasingly important, because much that happens in the world can no longer be predicted by a linear model.

9. Hyperconnected
Hyperconnectedness not only applies to the ubiquitous nature of the web and its impact, but also to the multiple connections businesses will have with both formal and informal groups of people.  Relationships will therefore increase in importance.

10. My Place
People will still have a “place” that they think of in conjunction with work, but that place may or may not be affiliated with a formal organization.  The nine-to-five job will fade in favor of the 24/7 virtual worker.

So what do these ten changes suggest for higher education?  Some degree program seem to look to the past to predict the future.  Austin would suggest that is foolish.  Having said that, let me be quick to note that not all institutions of higher education think this way.  I love the  Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver advertisement campaign that ran last year, which they called The Top Ten Jobs of 2015 Don’t Exist Today.  They get it.  If one agrees that higher education should prepare students for the future, then we need to prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist.  Memorizing facts alone will not help these students…but learning how to learn and how to think critically will.

swarm2I like the concept of work swarms.  I can see a parallel with the Massive Open Online Course that George Siemens and Stephen Downes conducted last fall. With 12,000 learners in a single course, George and Stephen could not “teach” in the classic sense.  Instead, they facilitated and developed an environment in which the learners could take ownership of their own learning.  In the near future, I can see faculty members listing the facilitation of learning swarms on their CVs.

This fall, I will be having my grad students blog rather than use the safe discussion board inside the walled garden of Blackboard.  I have always enjoyed facilitating discussions in online classes and have done so for a dozen years.  But I increasingly feel that I am not preparing my students for life in the hyperconnected world…and if I do not prepare my students (who are all K-12 teachers), will they be equipped to prepare the next generation that is rising through our school system.  If my personal learning network is any indication, there is power in the swarm.  Our students need to experience that power.

I do not have the answers, but I feel that I have to start adapting and reaching out to others who are adapting, so that we can prepare our students.  What is your take?  Is your school system or college or university on top of these changes, beginning to react, or not even aware they are coming?  I would be interested in your views.

{Photo Credit: Wired Magazine, Chris Rudge}

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