The yearlong theme of the New York State Regents Technology Policy and Practice Council (TPPC) is data. Given the Regents’ responsibility for education, the council’s focus is on data in education, but not just data arising from schools. Beyond education, they are thinking about data that is or could be offered through libraries, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, and the like.
With this background, Nate Hill, Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and I (in my role at METRO’s board president) have been asked to make a presentation on this subject when the group meets today. That is partly because of METRO’s role as the umbrella organization for all kinds of libraries, museums, archives and, more generally, information professionals in the New York area.
Here in a nutshell are some of the main ideas that we are presenting today:
-> There has already been the start of big data and analytics in K-12 education. Unfortunately, all of the tests that kids take is one manifestation of this application of analytics. But there are other good sources of data for the classroom, like that supplied by NOAA.
Data has another use, however. It can motivate students and encourage them to be curious. How? If instead of using the standard, remote examples in texts for most subjects, the examples were drawn from data collected and about their own community, where they live.
Drawing on themes from my Beyond Data talk in Europe, “Is Open Data Good Enough?”, it’s important not to just depend upon the data that some governments publish on their websites. There is a world of data that is of public interest, but is not collected by governments. And data alone isn’t insightful – for that, analytics and human inquiry are necessary, both of which students and older scholars can provide.
Libraries have been the curators of digital content and increasingly can be the creators, as well. Whether this is through mashups or linked data or the application of their own analytics skills, libraries will be extending and making more useful the raw data that has already been made public.
Libraries have historically been community centers where issues could be discussed in an objective manner. But when so many people are not satisfied with merely being consumers of content and instead act as producer-consumer, libraries can offer the intellectual resources, the tools and the platform for citizens to play a role in investigating data on public issues and in co-creating the solutions.
Our hope is that METRO can help to show the future paths for the open data movement in all of its venues and, maybe even provide the platform we envision in our talk today. If you’d like to join in this effort, please contact Nate Hill or myself.
This week is the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum, where I’m Senior Fellow. Although there are workshops and meetings of the more than 140 intelligent communities from every continent, the events that draws the most attention are the discussions with the Top7 of the year and the ultimate winner.
These intelligent communities are leaders in using information technology and broadband communications for community and economic development. They represent the next level up from those cities which label themselves “smart” because of their purchases of products from various tech companies to manage the infrastructure of their cities – like street light management.
But intelligent communities should not to be satisfied with merely going
beyond vendor-driven “smart city” talk and they should instead
to the next level – create a community that is always
For a bit of background, consider the efforts over the last two decades to create learning organizations – companies, non-profits and government agencies that are trying to continuously learn what’s happening in their markets or service areas.
The same idea applies to less structured organizations, like the community of people who live and/or work in a city.
It’s worth noting, that unlike many of the big data projects in cities, this is not a top-down exercise by experts. It’s about everyone engaging in the process of learning new insights about where they live and work. That volunteer effort also makes it feasible for cash-starved local governments to consider initiating this kind of project.
In this sense, this is another manifestation of the citizen science movement around the world. Zooniverse, with more than a million volunteer citizen scientists, is probably the best example. Think Zooniverse for urban big data.
There are other examples in which people collect and analyze data. Geo-Wiki’s motto is “Engaging Citizens in Environmental Monitoring.” There’s also the Air Quality Egg, a “community-led air quality sensing network that gives people a way to participate in the conversation about air quality.”
Drones are already used for environmental sensing in rural areas, but as they become a bit safer and their flight times (i.e., batteries) get better, they will be able to stay up longer for real time data collection in cities. A small company in Quebec City, DroneXperts, is already making use of drones in urban areas.
Indeed, as each day goes by, there is more and more data about life in our communities that could be part of this citizen science effort — and not just environmental data.
Obviously, a city’s own data, on all kinds of topics and from all kinds of data collection sensors, is a part of the mix. City government’s even have information they are not aware of. Placemeter, for example, can use “public video feeds and computer vision algorithms to create a real-time data layer about places, streets, and neighborhoods.”
There are non-governmental sources of data, like Waze’s Connected Citizens exchange for automobile traffic are also available.
data from social media feeds is another source. Even data from
individual residents could be made available (on an anonymous basis)
from their various personal tracking devices, like Fitbit. For
background, see John Lynch’s talk a year ago on “From Quantified Self to Quantified City”.
all of this data about a community can be an exciting part of public
school classes on science, math and even social studies and the arts.
Learning will become more relevant to the students since they will be
focused on the place in which they live. Students could communicate and
collaborate with each other in the same or separate classrooms or across
the country and the world.
The Cities of Learning
projects that started in Chicago a couple of years ago, which were
primarily about opening up cultural and intellectual institutions
outside of the classroom for K-12 students, were good, but different
from this idea.
So “communities that learn” is not just for students. It is a way for adult residents to achieve Jane Jacob’s vision
of a vibrant, democratic community, but with much more powerful and
insightful 21st century means than were available to her and her
neighbors decades ago.
Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on this subject when massive open online
courses (MOOCs) were beginning to be the hot item of discussion. Not
surprisingly, some disillusionment followed the hype as people realized there
was a low completion rate for these courses and services, like Udemy, felt it
was necessary to do some course correction.
Some of the disillusionment came
from the expectation that this form of education would be just an electronic
version of what has gone on in traditional classrooms for hundreds of years.
I call that “horseless carriage”
thinking – when people don’t realize that there’s a new thing, a car, which is
like what was in the past, but is sufficiently different that it’s not just a
carriage powered by something other than a horse. If you thought “horseless
carriage”, you wouldn’t have anticipated the growth of suburbia and all the
other changes wrought by automobile ownership.
Anyway, despite the disappearance of
MOOCs from the hype-o-sphere of the general news media, the number of MOOCs
continues to grow.
“The critics are right that most
people who start a MOOC don’t finish: just 4% of Coursera users who watch at
least one course lecture go on to complete the course and receive a credential.
However, given the large number of users involved, the absolute reach of MOOCs
is still significant. For instance, more than one million people have completed
a Coursera course since its inception in 2012, with over 2.1 million course
completions as of April 2015.”
It is also interesting that
educators are disproportionately the users of these courses. Daniel Thomas
Seaton and colleagues reported:
“Surveys of 11 MITx courses on edX
in spring 2014 found that one in four (28.0 percent) respondents identified as
past or present teachers. … Although they represent only 4.5 percent of the
nearly 250,000 enrollees, responding teachers generated 22.4 percent of all
discussion forum comments.”
As I wrote last time, one reasonable
analogy to the problems facing higher education is to compare it to the
challenge faced by theaters in the 19th century. During that period, every city
of any consequence had one or more theaters that were the venue for actors,
singers and other live performers.
Then along came recorded music,
later the movies and ultimately television. Those technological innovations
made it possible to deliver performances from the best actors and singers
without requiring them to be physically present. In addition, the revenue that
this form of recorded entertainment could generate was much greater than that
of any local live theater. Movie and record companies used that extra revenue
to provide “production values” and elaborate staging that wasn’t
possible in the local live theater.
The result: most of those live stage
theaters disappeared or became movie theaters (or car parks, like this one in
Now, technology makes it possible to
deliver on a large scale at least that part of a college education that
consists of watching a professor deliver lectures in front of a classroom.
Again, it is unlikely that the local university or college will be able to
match this global delivery or the “production values” that could
enhance these online courses.
Of course, we still have Broadway
plus a few successful regional theaters. So too there will be Harvard, MIT,
Princeton, Stanford and the like. But most colleges may find it increasingly
difficult to justify their continued existence using the current approach.
We’re already seeing the pattern set
by theaters replicated in higher education among the providers of MOOCs. Online
Course Reports described the pattern this way:
“Twenty percent of massive open
online courses offered by U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 National
Universities are offered by the Top 5 universities on that list. Over half
(i.e., 56%) of MOOCs offered by those National Universities are offered by
schools in the Top 20. Almost 90 percent (i.e., 87.6%) of all MOOCs available
are offered by schools within the Top 50.”
“Course offerings per institution
drop off exponentially at a rate of -700% after those Top 50: that’s an average
of 21 MOOCs per university in the Top 50 decaying to an average of 3 MOOCs per
university in the bottom 50. Comparing these averages, we see a massively
unequal distribution of massive open online courses toward some of the most
expensive, highly valued, and heftily-endowed universities in the world.”
Although the market for MOOCs is not
quite the same as the market for traditional higher education, it is hard to
imagine that enrollment in less “highly valued” institutions will not be
affected by the alternatives now open to others. This is especially likely to
occur as those institutions provide credentials that used to be available only
by paying high fees to attend college on campus.
As in my post of four years ago, I’d
note that one of the major obstacles to these changes being more widespread is
the fact that that colleges have had the combined role of both delivering an
education to their students and certifying that their students mastered that
education (i.e., they provide college degrees as credentials).
But things are changing even on that
front. As Class Central has reported
“One of the big trends last year
 was MOOC providers creating their own credentials: Udacity’s Nanodegrees,
Coursera’s Specializations and edX’s Xseries.
For Coursera and Udacity, these credentials have become a main source of
“With [the online degree in] CS, you
can join computing professionals from more than 80 countries who are earning
their M.S. on their own time, in their own homes, and for a total cost of about
Employers who used to shy away from
candidates with online degrees from for-profit organizations, like Phoenix,
might look differently on an online degree from a Georgia Tech or a Coursera
credential from a course provided by Princeton.
Overall, the way that MOOCs and
other innovations in higher education are growing and changing is a rising
threat to many not-so-prestigious, yet expensive, private institutions.
And it is only a matter of time
before uninformed (or even well-informed) public officials begin to question
the traditional model of higher education. Public institutions in states where
the government has dampened its enthusiasm for higher education spending, like Arizona
State, have in response taken the lead in online offerings even for
undergraduates – offering an online bachelors for about $12,000 a year. Of
course, many public colleges have not yet reacted this way.
Community colleges, which also
receive public funding but serve student populations that may not yet have the
talents and temperaments for online learning, may escape immediate impact of
these changes. But again, the question is “for how long?”
Colleges have long established the roles of those with superior,
perhaps absolute, knowledge (the teachers) and those who have much less
knowledge (the students).
But as a trustee of a community
college, I realize how often the leaders of these institutions – the
boards, the staff and faculty – are, or ought to be, learners as well.
Especially these days, we do not have certain and broad wisdom about
what we can do well.
This was, at least, my frame of mind going
into a recent board “retreat” focusing on the college’s strategy.
Because of my other work, I was asked to provide the lunch keynote
presentation about the changes that are happening and will happen around
us that can affect the future of colleges.
The trends are out
there to be seen, but the implications for traditional institutions are
still open to question. Although I’ve spent much of my career in
technology, unlike various Silicon Valley folks who seem to think they
have the answers too, I really have more questions, which is ultimately
what I wanted my fellow board members to think about. In any case,
there’s no way to get the leaders of those institutions to make changes
by lecturing to them.
Here are the trends I described and the questions they provoked.
Virtual Presence Everywhere
large numbers of people face down looking at their screens, some people
mistake texting, email and social media for real dialogue. But
scientific research indicates otherwise – text communication is
limited. As the saying “seeing is believing” indicates, the non-textual
part of our conversations is critical and that’s not yet part of most
everyday Internet communications.
The digital world is now at a
stage equivalent to where the telephone system was in 1920. This is one
reason I think that online courses are still limited, since many of
them are essentially just broadcast TV (on the web) combined with text
communications. It’s not really a virtual classroom.
visual aspect is growing substantially, with FaceTime, Skype and other
ways beyond even videoconferencing to create a virtual presence
anywhere. We’re even seeing demonstrations of conversations held using
mixed reality technology.
Google and Skype, among others, have
also made good progress in enabling us to communicate in different
languages – adding yet another dimension to being able to be a virtual
This oncoming capability to have visual
dialogues will intensify all the other the trends — although we are
still only in the early stages of its use.
So the first question I asked is:
How can we use these virtual presence technologies?
an example, many of our students are on very tight budgets and often
are working jobs to survive, in addition to going to college. Yet we
ask them to travel miles from where they live, often by slow public
transportation, to get to some main campus where their classes take
But many community colleges have locations aside from their
main campus which could become nodes in a virtual classroom. And
that’s not even including those students who could find other quiet, but
well connected, locations. Then the student could appear virtually in
the classroom, be seen and heard and participate. And the time and
money spent on travel could be devoted to study.
college leaders think of screens and keyboards when we talk of
technology. I showed the many ways that technology and the net are now
everywhere and in many things. Now any surface can be a keyboard, a
mouse or an interactive display. Walls, floors, clothing, armbands,
fingernails, earrings, shoes, your eyes are all means of interacting
with the net.
Moreover, people interacting with technology is only
part of the story in a world where already more devices are connected
to the Internet than people – the “Internet of things”.
The natural question for colleges in response to this trend is to ask:
the Internet is everywhere accessible in many ways, will our college be
everywhere accessible in our region or even the world?
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Analytics & Big Data
combined these topics because as they all develop they are often
intertwined and as a combined trend they will have an impact on how
obtain and use knowledge.
The best of these efforts are invisible
to their users. For example, speech recognition (like Siri) is an
example of machine intelligence. There are personal translators,
software that makes art, writes stories, acts as a legal assistant, etc.
there is the increased development and use of robots, leading to
concerns about massive future unemployment. While it seems to me there
will still be much to do after the robots have mastered the kind of work
we’ve done in the past, there is no doubt that we should be asking
How can we use these technologies? What is it that
our students need to learn in a future world of, at least, artificially
augmented human intelligence?
Changes In The Way People Will Make A Living
noted the dramatic shift in the last hundred years or more in the
nature of employment from most Americans earning a living by making
products or food to most Americans providing services and intangible
products. Along with this has been a disaggregation of the way that
corporations work, since they too take advantage of technologies that
enable remote collaboration. The latter trend is also associated with
an increase in freelance employment, now said to involve one-third of
the labor force and growing.
Most colleges still think about
preparing their students for traditional jobs in large companies –
especially community colleges which are concerned about the prospects
for their continuing education adult students and even degree students
who will not go on to four year colleges. Yet a 9 to 5 job in the same
big company, from age 25 to 65, is being replaced by earning income from
several sources in a freelance economy.
The questions this raises for colleges are:
our students be able to flourish in this new economy? Are we preparing
them, indeed all of the residents of the areas we serve, for this new
The Need For Lifelong Learning
learning has been a popular catchphrase among public officials and
educators alike, although they have mostly implemented the idea in very
But the people outside of our institutions of
higher education realize that they need keep learning in order to make a
living in an economy based on knowledge. This is not a matter of
taking a refresher course once every five years. It’s a continuous
That’s part of the reason for the popularity of the many
ways that the Internet offers people knowledge – college-like websites
(like Coursera and edX) and the many other websites that teach (from
Khan Academy to Lynda.com to YouTube to thousands of others). The
development of citizen science sites, like Zooniverse and Geazle even offer people the opportunity to both gain and help create knowledge.
much of college, even community college, is focused on the segment of
the population younger than 23, all the people older than that need to
continue to learn. These “older” people are finding the best and most
cost-effective means of lifelong learning because the traditional school
system is not geared to them. Should that be the case?
Do/can community colleges offer something to these adults that meets their continuing needs?
I said at the end of my presentation, I only scratched the surface of
the trends that are coming our way. For example, I didn’t even discuss
the development in bio-engineering.
The overall lesson for college
leaders is clear: in addition to our everyday work of keeping the
institution going, we need to start answering these questions. We need
to develop our strategies to figure out what this all means for
And, as part of a community of learners, community
colleges need to do research, to experiment and to analyze what works
and doesn’t work in a changing world.
At the end of the year, there are many top 10 lists of the best
movies, best books, etc. of the year. Here’s my list of the best
non-fiction books I’ve read this year. But it has only eight books and
some were published earlier than this year since, like the rest of you,
I’m always behind in my reading no matter how many books, articles, and
blogs I read.
Although some are better than others, none of these
books is perfect. What book is perfect? But they each provide the reader
with a new way of looking at the world, which in turn is, at a minimum,
thought provoking and, even better, helps us to be more innovative.
highlighted the major theme of each, but these are books that have many
layers and depth so my summary only touches on what they offer.
Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan
had a few scary books out this past year or so about how robots are
going to take our work from us and enslave us. Kaplan’s brilliant book,
published this year, is much more nuanced and sophisticated. It is not
just “ripped from today’s headlines”. Instead, Kaplan provides history
and deep context. Especially interesting is his discussion of the legal
and ethical issues that arise when we use more of these
Creating the Learning Society by Joseph Stiglitz & Bruce Greenwald
Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist, has been better known for
“The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them”
which was published this year and is a sequel to his earlier book on the
subject, “The Price of Inequality” (2012). While those deal with the
important issue of economic inequality, at this point, that’s not news
to most of us.
Less well known, if more rigorous as a work of
economics, is his 2013 book “Creating the Learning Society”. With all
the talk about the importance of lifelong learning and innovation to
succeed in the economy of this century, there have been few in-depth
analyses of how that translates into economic growth and greater
incomes. Nor has there been much about what are the appropriate
government policies to have a modern economy to grow. Stiglitz provides
both in this book.
The End Of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey
about lifelong learning, I found this book thought-provoking,
especially as a college trustee. Published this year, the rap on it is
that it’s all about massive open online courses (MOOCs), but it is
actually about much more than that. It provides a good history of the
roles that colleges have been asked to play and describes a variety of
ways that many people are trying to improve the education of students.
BiblioTech by John Palfrey
Palfrey was the patron of Harvard Law School’s Library Lab, one of the
nation’s leading intellectual property experts and now chairman of the Digital Public Library of America,
among other important positions. BiblioTech, which was published
earlier this year, describes a hopeful future for libraries – including a
national network of libraries. (Readers of this blog won’t be surprised
that Palfrey and I share many views, although he put these ideas all
together in a book and, of course, elaborated on them much more than I
do in these relatively short posts.)
Too Big To Know by David Weinberger
five years ago, I got to work a bit with David Weinberger when he was
one of the leaders of the library innovation lab at Harvard Law School,
in addition to his work at Harvard’s Berkman Center. When I was
introduced to the library lab’s ambitious projects, I joked with David
that his ultimate ambition was to do nothing less than organize all of
the world’s knowledge for the 21st century. This book, which was
published a year later is, I suppose, a kind of response to that
My reading of Weinberger’s big theme is that we can no
longer organize the world’s knowledge completely. The network itself has
the knowledge. As the subtitle says: now “the smartest person in the
room is the room” itself. Since not all parts of the network are
directly connected, there’s also knowledge yet to be realized.
Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel
the overheated subtitle this book, this book, published in 2013, is
somewhat related to Weinberger’s book in that it focuses on the network.
Using analogies from ant colonies and the neuron network of the human
mind, Stibel tries to explain the recent past and the future of the
Internet. As the title indicates, a key concept of the book is the
breakpoint – the point at which the extraordinary growth of networks
stops and its survival depends upon enrichment, rather than attempts at
continuing growth. As a brain scientists, he also argues that the
Internet, rather than any single artificially intelligent computer, is
really the digital equivalent of the human brain.
Previously I’ve devoted whole posts to two other significant books. Just follow the links below:
This will be my last post of 2014, so I figured I’d pull together a collection of some recent news items that you may not yet have come across. I’m not sure what these all have in common except to remind us that the conventional wisdom we so often hear is also often wrong. (To read the full story for any of these, just click on the embedded links.)
Estonian e-residency – “E-residency is a state-issued secure digital identity for non-residents that allows digital authentication and the digital signing of documents.” Considering how easy it is to do this kind of thing, we’ll start to see more of this kind of thing and it will really mess up traditional understanding of the nation-state and citizenship.
Obama Is a Republican – A view in the American Conservative magazine that many conservatives “saw in him a classic conservative temperament: someone who avoided lofty rhetoric, an ambitious agenda, and a Utopian vision that would conflict with human nature, real-world barriers to radical reform, and the American system of government.”
42.9 million Americans have unpaid medical bills – “Nearly 20 percent of U.S. consumers have unpaid medical debts, according to a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”
The Art of Not Working at Work – “At first, the ability to check email, read ESPN, or browse Zappos while on the job may feel like a luxury. But in time, many crave more meaningful — and more demanding — responsibilities.”
I wish you all happy holidays and a wonderful new year – and fun, fulfillment and more insights 🙂
There have been recent articles featuring primarily Sebastian Thrun, the earlier leader of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and founder of the company, Udacity, which specializes in developing and delivering MOOCs.
The first was a piece in Fast Company about how Thrun has been disappointed by the experience of MOOCs. This was followed by a more positive piece in the New York Times about changes in MOOCs that are being considered in order to address their failures. The failures turn out to be the small percentage of people who actually attend the full course and the fact that most of them already have degrees.
However, the discussion might be misleading. It not so much whether online courses are good or bad, but how it is very difficult to succeed with a new innovation by casting it as a minor modification of something that already exists. In this case, the idea that online learning should be very much like a typical college course, but just online, may not have been an innovative enough idea. For example, the Khan Academy, which packages learning into ten minute videos that anyone can access, is a much greater change from convention and has also been much more successful.
Indeed, the fact that many in the MOOCs already have degrees maybe should make MOOC developers reconsider their target. Perhaps MOOCs will be much more appealing as a cost-effective means of lifelong learning for those who cannot afford the time or additional money to attend college than for those who would be college students.
In a knowledge age, the biggest challenge is how to provide learning opportunities for all adults – all of whom need to continue to learn.
(Disclosure: While this blog has had previous posts on higher education, it is now more relevant since I was recently appointed to the board of the Westchester Community College. Of course, my views do not represent those of the College now, or as it may turn out, even in the future 😉
Although there has been lots of news this year about online education – such as massively open online courses (MOOCs) – as a proportion of overall spending on education these efforts are still quite small. What will accelerate reforms like these and other, perhaps even better, changes to the ways that people can learn?
It has struck me that before this acceleration of innovation can occur, we must cut the Gordian Knot of education – the fact that, in general, the same institutions that offer education are also the ones who certify that a student has mastered the material.
If we could break that combination, people will be free to learn in the ways that are best for each of them individually. Instead of one size fits all, each person could use one or more of these approaches: MOOCs, classroom, peer-to-peer, self-teaching, online video, hands-on or other ways that may be invented. Then an authoritative independent organization can certify whether or not the person has mastered the material.
So it was interesting to read in the New York Times, a few weeks ago, that:
“Working with Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and a consortium interested in virtual learning, former President Bill Clinton announced a project on Thursday to expand the use of Open Badges — online credentials that employers or universities can use in hiring, admissions, promotions or awarding credit. The badges serve as credentials that can help self-taught computer programmers, veterans returning to civilian life and others show skills they learned outside a classroom. ”
It remains to be seen how widely this particular initiative will go, but this or something like it – sooner or later – will provide that independent credentialing system that is needed for disruptive innovation in education to start happening.
Nearly every university administrator and many professors that I talk to realize there is a potential sea change occurring in higher education. There is, of course, tremendous uncertainty as to where this is all leading – and a hope that, wherever it leads, these folks will retire before they have to go there.
One possible analogy to the problem facing higher education is to compare it to the challenge faced by theater in the 19th century. During that period, every city of any consequence had one or more theaters that were the venue for actors, singers and other live performers.
Then along came recorded music and the movies and ultimately television. Those technological innovations made it possible to deliver performances from the best actors and singers without requiring them to be physically present in each city. In addition, the revenue that this form of recorded entertainment could generate was much greater than that of any local live theater. Movie and record companies used that extra revenue to provide “production values” and elaborate staging that isn’t possible in the local live theater.
The result: most of those live stage theaters disappeared or were converted into movie theaters. Now, technology makes it possible to deliver on a large scale at least that part of a college education that consists of watching a professor deliver lectures in front of a classroom. Again, it is unlikely that the local university or college will be able to match this global delivery or the “production values” that could enhance these online courses.
Of course, we still have Broadway (plus a few successful regional theaters). So too there will be Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and the like. But most colleges may find it increasingly difficult to justify their continued existence using the current approach.
One significant barrier that has been holding back this transformation is that colleges have had the combined responsibility of both delivering an education to their students and certifying that their students mastered that education (i.e., they provide college degrees). If that connection starts to break and there can be an independent respected institution that would certify whether someone has mastered a topic, we will see lots more experimentation and rapid change in higher education.