Lessons From Online Higher Ed In A COVID-Infused World

I don’t think I have ever written about my teaching duties before.  But circumstances change, so here goes.

I have been teaching online since before COVID forced most classes online.  Each semester I have an online class I try to experiment and improve.

But the COVID pandemic has forced an extra dose of creativity and a re-thinking of ideas – some new and some old – about education. Here I want to share with other educators some of what I have learned in the process.  I’ll keep it general as I hope it will contribute to a discussion about how education will occur going forward.

Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom is not a new idea.  But since long lectures in Zoom taxes almost everyone’s powers of concentration, we made the move to a completely flipped classroom for the completely online courses that are the norm now.

What used to a live (synchronous) class that combined a lecture and some student interaction has become a workshop this semester.

The Overview “Lecture”

The lecture material, really an overview of the week’s topic, is now a recorded video that students watch before they go to the live class.  This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending upon where we are in the course and the topic.

As before, I tend to use video of other speakers to break up the experience so that the students don’t just watch me or my slides.   This also lets the students see that some of the ideas they are being taught come from other human beings, not just textbooks – and they can see those other folks, in all their glory and with their tics, quirks, etc.  Video is also useful to practice the old adage that it is better to let someone see the story than to relate it to them.

Making The Lecture More Interactive

Because the “lecture” is a recorded video, we can lose the opportunity that students have in synchronous classrooms to ask questions, make comments and contribute to each other’s knowledge.  After creating a video in PowerPoint, we don’t just post the video online.  Instead, we use VoiceThread which enables more interaction.  Students can insert comments, questions, replies of any kind – using text, voice or video.  My students have generally stuck to text.  Then the faculty and other students can reply.

It’s not quite the same thing as a lecture in a live, synchronous classroom, but it comes close enough.  In the first three of these videos, we have averaged about 50 comments each.  That is a good level of engagement, in fact much more than was the case in the face-to-face classroom equivalents of these lectures.

Although VoiceThread integrates reasonably well with the learning management system we use – Canvas – it has its limits for this purpose.  We can set up an assignment that requires students to watch the whole video, but VoiceThread only seems to enable this to happen if the students look at all the comments that have been inserted into the video.  From the perspective of increasing their learning, that’s not such a bad idea, but it would be nice to require them just to see the video.  Apparently, that feature is coming sometime in the future.

And Zoom, Of Course

Like many others, we use Zoom for the synchronous class sessions, which are workshops in our case.  A typical session starts off with a review of any issues that arose in student assignments in general.  Then we turn to the draft of an assignment the students worked on before class.  That assignment is usually the completion of an analysis in a workbook which is relevant to the topic of the week.

By now, most people are familiar with Zoom so there is a little learning curve.  And, as software goes, it is stable.  Even when it runs into a problem, it will reboot itself and pick up in the meeting where it left off.

From the teacher’s view, there are at least two benefits in comparison with the traditional classroom.  First, you can more closely scan the faces of students to see if they are engaged.

Second, it is easy for students to show their work to the whole class by sharing their screen.  In traditional face-to-face classrooms, it would take a couple of minutes for a student to get up and make the transfer to some device that everyone could see – and in that process the momentum of the discussion would be broken.  Now, it happens in a second.

With this ability, we ask two or three students to show their work to the whole class in Zoom.  Then both the faculty and other students ask questions and provide feedback on that work.  This not only helps the students who are getting this feedback, but it helps other students to realize what they too might have missed or need to do.

Breakout Groups

Then the students are put into small breakout groups where they present their work to each other.  This is very useful especially for the rest of the students who weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the class-wide presentations.

We use Zoom breakout groups with random assignment.  When students are only paired, there can be a lot of breakout groups.  Zoom can handle this number.

However, it has its limitations which in part reflect the challenge the company faces in addressing its diverse markets.  In our situation, we have more than faculty member and want each to drop in and out of these break out groups to see how things are going.  We finally figured out that we need to make them co-hosts before the break out, but it still isn’t the smoothest process.

We had hoped to use BigBlueButton (BBB) for breakout groups.  BBB is video software specifically designed for education.  Frankly it wasn’t great a few years ago, but it has been much improved recently.  It looked like a better way than Zoom for us to do class breakout group and its user interface and features were better.  But unfortunately, BBB has a hard-coded maximum number of breakout groups, which is 8 – too little for our purposes.

Music

We all face that period on Zoom before class starts and the students are straggling in.  (This behavior seems to be a carry over from physical face-to-face classrooms. ?) What do you do to get the attention of students, maybe even encourage their on-time attendance?

One of my colleagues suggested using music in the three minutes or so before class starts.  She had in mind some strong, percussive music to wake up the students.

That seemed like an idea worth trying.  But I didn’t want just any music. I thought it might be useful to have a song that was appropriate to the topic of the class.  And a couple of months ago, I spent more time than I should have searching for just the right percussive, but appropriately themed, music to use.  It was a mix, although mostly classic rock.

And it worked!  Students show up early chatting with each other about what the song might be and about the song when they hear it.  In my last class, I even got a request to set up a Spotify playlist of these songs.

The Results So Far

Overall, the results so far have been very encouraging – better than expected and in many ways better than traditional classrooms.  Students seem to grasp the subject matter better, which is the primary aim of course.

But they are also engaged much more.  Attendance has been near perfect.

Another measure tells the story better.  The online class is officially 90 minutes long, ending at lunchtime on a Saturday.  At the official end, I tell the students that they are under no obligation to stay longer.  Yet, in the three classes we’ve had so far, a majority of the students stay for more than a half hour to an hour more.  Several stay on in Zoom longer than that – some for two hours (when I told them I had to shut it down).

Your experience may vary, since each class and cohort of students is different.  These were about sixty students in a master’s degree professional program at Columbia University.  But before you jump too quickly to the conclusion that these lessons aren’t relevant to your students, you might want at least to try them.

Do your own experiments and contribute your own observations to this discussion about teaching in a COVID-infused online world – and the world that will be changed after COVID is controlled.  After all, it is not just the people in front of you who are students, but all of us are lifelong learners.

© 2020 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

The Second Wave Of Capital

I have been doing research about the future impact of artificial intelligence on the economy and the rest of our lives. With that in mind, I have been reading a variety of books by economists, technologists, and others.That is why I recently read “Capital and Ideology” by Thomas Piketty, the well-known French economist and author of the best-selling (if not well read) “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. It contains a multi-national history of inequality, why it happened and why it has continued, mostly uninterrupted.

At more than 1100 pages, it is a tour de force of economics, history, politics and sociology. In considerable detail, for every proposition, he provides reasonable data analyses, which is why the book is so long. While there is a lot of additional detail in the book, many of the themes are not new, in part because of Piketty’s previous work.  As with his last book, much of the commentary on the new book is about income and wealth inequality.  This is obviously an important problem, although not one that I will discuss directly here.

Instead, although much of the focus of the book is on capital in the traditional sense of money and ownership of things, it was his two main observations about education – what economists call human capital – that stood out for me. The impact of a second wave and a second kind of capital is two-fold.

  1. Education And The US Economy

From the mid-nineteenth century until about a hundred years later, the American population had twice the educational level of people in Europe. And this was exactly the same period that the American economy surpassed the economies of the leading European countries. During the last several decades, the American population has fallen behind in education and this is the same time that their incomes have stagnated.  It is obviously difficult to tease out the effect of one factor like education, but clearly there is a big hint in these trends.

As Piketty writes in Chapter 11:

The key point here is that America’s educational lead would continue through much of the twentieth century. In 1900–1910, when Europeans were just reaching the point of universal primary schooling, the United States was already well on the way to generalized secondary education. In fact, rates of secondary schooling, defined as the percentage of children ages 12–17 (boys and girls) attending secondary schools, reached 30 percent in 1920, 40–50 percent in the 1930s, and nearly 80 percent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In other words, by the end of World War II, the United States had come close to universal secondary education.

At the same time, the secondary schooling rate was just 20–30 percent in the United Kingdom and France and 40 percent in Germany. In all three countries, it is not until the 1980s that one finds secondary schooling rates of 80 percent, which the United States had achieved in the early 1960s. In Japan, by contrast, the catch-up was more rapid: the secondary schooling rate attained 60 percent in the 1950s and climbed above 80 percent in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the second Industrial Revolution it became essential for growing numbers of workers to be able to read and write and participate in production processes that required basic scientific knowledge, the ability to understand technical manuals, and so on.

That is how, in the period 1880–1960—first the United States and then Germany and Japan, newcomers to the international scene—gradually took the lead over the United Kingdom and France in the new industrial sectors. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United Kingdom and France were too confident of their lead and their superior power to take the full measure of the new educational challenge.

How did the United States, which pioneered universal access to primary and secondary education and which, until the turn of the twentieth century, was significantly more egalitarian than Europe in terms of income and wealth distribution, become the most inegalitarian country in the developed world after 1980—to the point where the very foundations of its previous success are now in danger? We will discover that the country’s educational trajectory—most notably the fact that its entry into the era of higher education was accompanied by a particularly extreme form of educational stratification—played a central role in this change.

In any case, as recently as the 1950s inequality in the United States was close to or below what one found in a country like France, while its productivity (and therefore standard of living) was twice as high. By contrast, in the 2010s, the United States has become much more inegalitarian while its lead in productivity has totally disappeared.

  1. The Political Competition Between Two Elites

By now, most Americans who follow politics understand that the Democratic Party has become the favorite of the educated elite, in addition to the votes from minority groups. This coalition completely reverses what had been true of educated voters in most of the last century, who were reliable Republican voters. In the process, the Democratic Party has lost much of its working-class base.

The Republicans have been the party of the economic elite, although since the 1970s some of the working-class have joined in, especially those reacting to increased immigration and civil rights movements.

What Piketty points out is that, in this transition, working-class and lower income people have decreased their political participation, especially voting. He thinks that is because these voters felt that the Democratic Party has been taken over by the educational elite and no longer speaks for them.

What many Americans may not have realized is that this same phenomenon has happened in other economically advanced democracies, such as the UK and France. Over the longer run, Piketty wonders whether such an electoral competition between parties both dominated by elites can be sustained – or whether the voiceless will seek violence or other undemocratic outlets for their political frustrations.

In Chapter 14, he notes that, at the same time that the USA has lost the edge arising from a better educated population, it and other advanced economies that have now matched or surpassed the American educational level, have elevated education to a position of political power.

We come now to what is surely the most striking evolution in the long run; namely, the transformation of the party of workers into the party of the educated.

Before turning to explanations, it is important to emphasize that the reversal of the educational cleavage is a very general phenomenon. What is more, it is a complete reversal, visible at all levels of the educational hierarchy. we find exactly the same profile—the higher the level of education, the less likely the left-wing vote—in all elections in this period, in survey after survey, without exception, and regardless of the ambient political climate. Specifically, the 1956 profile is repeated in 1958, 1962, 1965, and 1967.

Not until the 1970s and 1980s does the shape of the profile begin to flatten and then gradually reverse. The new norm emerges with greater and greater clarity as we move into the 2000s and 2010s. With the end of Soviet communism and bipolar confrontations over private property, the expansion of educational opportunity, and the rise of the “Brahmin left,” the political-ideological landscape was totally transformed.

Within a few years the platforms of left-wing parties that had advocated nationalization (especially in the United Kingdom and France), much to the dismay of the self-employed, had disappeared without being replaced by any clear alternative.

A dual-elite system emerged, with on one side, a “Brahmin left,” which attracted the votes of the highly educated, and on the other side, a “merchant right,” which continued to win more support from both highly paid and wealthier votes.

This clearly provides some context for what we have been seeing in recent elections.  And although he is not the first to highlight this trend, the evidence that he marshals is impressive.

Considering how much there is in the book, it is not likely anyone, including me, would agree with all of the analysis. In addition to the analysis, Piketty goes on to propose various changes in taxation and laws, which I will discuss in the context of other writers in a later blog. For now, I would only add that other economists have come to some of the same suggestions as Piketty, although they have completed a very different journey from his.

For example, Daniel Susskind in The End Of Work is concerned that a large number of people will not be able to make a living through paid work because of artificial intelligence. The few who do get paid and those who own the robots and AI systems will become even richer at most everyone else becomes poorer. This blends with Piketty’s views and they end up in the same place – a basic citizen’s income and even a basic capital allotment to each citizen, taxation on wealth, estate taxes, and the like.

We will have much to explore about these and other policy issues arising from the byproducts of our technology revolution in this century.

© 2020 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Libraries As Platforms For Big Data

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.

They also want to know about METRO’s leading role in working on data and digital content, even open data. (And Nate Hill’s work on an open data platform at the Chattanooga Public Library, before he came to New York, is also relevant.)

Of course, this is not a new subject to me either as I wrote more than three years ago in “What Is The Role Of Libraries In Open Government?

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.

image

->

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.

image

->

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.

image

->

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.

image

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.

image

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

The Next Level: Communities That Learn

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.

image

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
ascend

to the next level – create a community that is always
learning.

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.”

image

Similarly, there’s the Smart Citizen project to create “open source technology for citizens political participation in smarter cities”, that was developed in Fab Lab Barcelona. The Sensible City Lab at MIT has even equipped a car for environmental and traffic safety sensing.

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.

Sentiment
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”.

Naturally,
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.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

Will Higher Education Repeat The History Of Theaters? [Updated]

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.

image

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.

image

It’s not just that the number of
courses has increased, but MOOC enrollment surpassed 35 million in 2015.

As for the course completion issues,
Harvard Business Review put this in context by
pointing out that:

“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.

image

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
Seattle).

image

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
[2015] 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
revenue”

Similarly, Georgia
Tech
has online Master’s degrees in fields like computer science, aerospace engineering and operations research.  As an example, the
online computer science website proclaims:

“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
$7,000.”

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?”

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights
Reserved

http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/151401475437/will-higher-education-repeat-the-history-of

Community Colleges & The Deep Changes That Challenge Them

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.

image

Here are the trends I described and the questions they provoked.

Virtual Presence Everywhere

With
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.

But the
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
presence anywhere.

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?  

As
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
place.

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.

Ubiquitous Technology

Many
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:

When
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

I
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.

Then
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
ourselves:

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

I
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:

Will
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
work life?

The Need For Lifelong Learning

Lifelong
learning has been a popular catchphrase among public officials and
educators alike, although they have mostly implemented the idea in very
limited ways.

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
need.

image

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.

While
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?

As
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
colleges.

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.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/147697356006/community-colleges-the-deep-changes-that]

Good Books Read In 2015

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.

I’ve
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.

image

Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

We’ve
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
artificially-intelligent devices.

image

Creating the Learning Society by Joseph Stiglitz & Bruce Greenwald

Joseph
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.

image

The End Of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey

Talking
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.

image

BiblioTech by John Palfrey

John
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.)

image

Too Big To Know by David Weinberger

About
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
thought.

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.

image

Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel

Despite
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:

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/134268683548/good-books-read-in-2015]

Some Counter-Conventional News

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.)

A suburban world: The emerging world is becoming suburban. Its leaders should welcome that, but avoid the West’s mistakes – Despite all the talk about people moving to cities (meaning downtowns), “[in] the emerging world almost every metropolis is growing in size faster than in population.”  See, for example, this suburb of Buenos Aires.

image

America’s New First Screen– “It has finally happened: Mobile has bumped TV as America’s first screen.”

The USPS spends far more on city mail carriers than rural ones – to be precise, “city carriers’ compensation costs averaged 58 cents per delivery point, while rural carriers’ averaged 49 cents”

Jack Ma explains why China’s education system fails to produce innovators – “Ma’s argument is that China’s education system doesn’t give students enough time or encouragement to just mess around, have fun, and experiment.”  (Jack Ma is the founder/CEO of Alibaba and now the richest man in Asia.)

Here’s the First Line of Code Ever Written by a US President – “Barack Obama just became the first U.S. president to write a line of computer code” in Javascript.

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.

Everything you think you know about the news is probably wrong – “Around the world, people have a pretty good sense of the life expectancy of their country’s inhabitants.  When it comes to most other social statistics, they have no idea.”

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.”

Voters Know Themselves Better Than the Pollsters Do– This fall’s “elections provide further ammunition for the idea that we should pay less attention to polls of voters’ intentions, and more to polls asking them who they think will win.”

How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality

Costa Rica is number one – “If you’re looking for a change of scenery and considering moving to a new country, you may want to consider Costa Rica. According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI), it’s the happiest country on Earth.”

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 🙂

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/105440573913/some-counter-conventional-news]

Are MOOCs Failing?

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 😉

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/72768461219/are-moocs-failing]

The Lever To Accelerate Education Reform?

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.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/55690941334/the-lever-to-accelerate-education-reform]

Will Higher Education Repeat The History Of Theaters?

According to various reports,  universities are beginning to take serious notice of MOOCs – massive open online courses.  See, for example, the New York Times article “The Year of the MOOC” at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html

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.

Thus it is interesting that in today’s New York Times there appeared an article “Free Online Courses to Be Evaluated for Possible College Credit” at  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/education/moocs-to-be-evaluated-for-possible-college-credit.html   The report notes that the the American Council on Education (higher education association) and Coursera (a MOOC consortium of thirty three universities, including Stanford and Princeton) will be evaluating whether to offer college credits for MOOC courses.  Another MOOC consortium, EdX, already provides a certificate of completion.

The change is starting to accelerate.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/35703961387/will-higher-education-repeat-the-history-of-theaters]