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:

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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!

Digital Leadership

westermanbookI have read about half of a recent book from George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfeeLeading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation (2014).  Their premise is that the innovations of the past decade have been nothing short of astonishing – yet they are just the warm up acts for what is to come.  They suggest that those that master the digital playing field will be able to combine big data, machine learning, and visualizations such that their organizations will make smarter decisions, see the future more clearly, drive out inefficiencies, and better understand their customers.

This book was published by Harvard Business Review Press…and is certainly geared towards business professionals.  They note that the elements of the digital world – software, hardware, networks, and data – are “pervading the business world, and they’re doing so quickly, broadly, and deeply” (p. 5).  The first half of the book focuses on two driving capabilities – digital capability (customer engagement, operational processes, and business models) and leadership capability (vision, governance, and infrastructure).

The authors matrix these two capabilities to suggest four levels of digital mastery:

  • Beginners
  • Fashionistas
  • Conservatives
  • Digital Masters

Plotting these by industry gives the following graphic (p. 22):

DigMastery

Noteworthy (to me) is the absence of higher education.  Yet, as I considered this, it struck me that it is more difficult to pin down any university (or college or department within universities).  There are programs and faculty just beginning the digital journey.  There are programs and departments that jump on bandwagons but do not have a compelling vision for where they are going.  There are definitely conservative programs that are carefully considering their digital future.  And there are higher education programs that seem to have successfully made the digital transformation, and there are numerous centers for teaching nationwide that focus on facilitating this digital transformation.

My colleague Jeff Nugent over the past few years has suggested three “truths”:

  • We live in a networked world where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is literally accessible at our fingertips.
  • There are unprecedented opportunities to create, share and interact on the web.
  • We are witnessing the increased digitization of the university.

If one agrees that these are true, one would naturally cultivate both the digital capability and leadership capability necessary to succeed in this digital world.  Yet, the lack of urgency in developing these capabilities across much of higher education seems to suggest that some of our colleagues do not hold these as truths.

It brings to mind research conducted by Carol Dweck and others that has identified two distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that’s that.  In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.  One wonders if faculty – many of who achieved success in a pre-digital era – are operating from a fixed mindset when it comes to digital literacy?

It raises the question of whether one can focus on digital mastery without first tackling the issue of mindset?

The second half of the book provides strategies for framing the digital challenges, investing in actionable ways, mobilizing and motivating workforces, and sustaining the transition.  This book has me thinking … which is good.  I would be interested in your thoughts around the digitization of the university – faculty and students – and the mindset associated with that transformation.

DIYU, Probably Not, But Use DIYU Resources, Definitely!

Over the weekend, I started a little project that will last a LOOOONNNNGGGG time.  My daughters have given me a scanner so that I might digitally scan some of the 2400+ 35mm slides that are sitting in storage up in the attic.  Works great, though it takes 8 minutes to do 4 slides.  (You do the math…)

slideboxSo to get started, I went shopping for something I used to have – a lightbox to sort slides.  No one locally had them anymore, and those online cost over $100.  But a little research on the web and $30 of materials from Lowes, and I built my own in a couple of hours.

It works great, I have started sorting through and digitally scanning slides that are 40 years old…and I did it myself, but with ideas sparked through the web.

It is symptomatic of learning today.  We live in a DIY world.  If we are curious, we can find the answer to almost anything by digging into the internet.

And is that not what we want our students to do?  Gardner Campbell has talked about the need for students to learn at the meta level, and he stated this weekend, “…teaching must refocus from teaching the explicit to teaching strategies for recognizing and accessing tacit knowledge.”  I never took a course in lightbox construction, but I had the skills to knock it out when I need it.

DIY USo I believe in DIY.  Given that, I was disappointed in Anya Kamenetz‘s new book, DIY U.

This was my vacation read, and as such, it had to compete with three grandkids, but after a day with 2 to 3 year olds, Grandpa was ready for a book.  This book is on a topic about which I feel pretty strongly.  Anya quoted many in my personal learning network, such as Jim Groom, George Siemens, Laura Blankenship, and Gardner Campbell.  And she writes for one of my favorite magazines, FastCompany.  So it should have been a hit.

But it left me feeling like she had hit a base hit instead of a home run.   In many ways, Anya has jumped on the open source / open access bandwagon others have blogged about for the past few years, and to her credit, she turned a profit doing so (at least, I assume that is what “bestseller” means…).

CogDog gave a good review of his impressions of the book in his post, “The Gaping M Shaped Void for DIY Education;” impressions that mirrored mine.  He asks two good questions:

  • What is going to motivate the large swath of a society to become educated or to learn something in a self-directed fashion?
  • What is going to drive people to learn what they don’t think they need to learn?

The motivation question is spot on.  Anya seems to equate success with salary, and therefore writes off the potential of higher education to contribute to the democratization of society (though she does lament a bit about the need for such).  In the end, she suggests that formal higher education is really only for ten percent of people, while the other ninety percent would be well served using informal learning networks and just-in-time training (page 136).

I am not sure where she gets her figures, because the latest Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac shows that nearly 28% of Americans complete a four-year degree or more (though granted, that means 70% do not).  Nearly a quarter of Americans also complete some college or complete a two-year degree.  I studied community colleges during my doctoral studies and spent ten years working in community colleges, so I do not denigrate these colleges as less than four-year institutions.  They have a mission that differs from research universities, but both are needed in this country to both provide access to learning and create the new learning that drives our country.  So currently, a little more than one-third of Americans complete a two-year or better degree, and better than half have some college (and for many community college students, that meant they obtained enough skill training to get a job without necessarily completing the degree).

Anya is correct that current society expects a higher yield.  College is listed by politicians across the land as the right of all Americans.  She just does a lack luster job of describing how this country might generate that increased yield.  She is the latest in a long list of authors who suggest that disaggregating learning from credentialing is the answer, with technology as the means by which this disaggregation will occur.

For other views on the book, check out Jon Becker’s curation of reviews in this Google Doc.

Yet with all that was wrong with her book, Chapter 7 – Resource Guide – contains a lot of good information.  She lists some pretty good web resources for students to use to help align their studies with their interests.  She provides a rich list of open educational resources.  Given the strong economic flavor of her book, she gives future students good tips on keeping their education affordable.  Finally, she advocates strongly for both physical and virtual networks as key to employment.

So this is not necessarily a book that I would recommend to education colleagues.  Rather, it is one I might recommend to my grandkids in twelve years as they begin contemplating their academic journey.  However, given how much the world has changed in the past ten years, who knows what I will be recommending a decade from now!

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