See you in 2019!

Thought Shrapnel will be back next year. Until then, unless you’re a supporter, that’s it for 2018.

Thanks for reading, and have a good break.

"Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition." (W.H. Auden)

Is the unbundling and rebundling of Higher Education actually a bad thing?

Until I received my doctorate and joined the Mozilla Foundation in 2012, I’d spent fully 27 years in formal education. Either as a student, a teacher, or a researcher, I was invested in the Way Things Currently Are®.

Over the past six years, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the scaremongering about education is exactly that — fears about what might happen, based on not a lot of evidence. Look around; there are lot of doom-mongers about.

It was surprising, therefore, to read a remarkably balanced article in EDUCAUSE Review. Laura Czerniewicz, Director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), at the University of Cape Town, looks at the current state of play around the ‘unbundling’ and ‘rebundling’ of Higher Education.

Very simply, I’m using the term unbundling to mean the process of disaggregating educational provision into its component parts, very often with external actors. And I’m using the term rebundling to mean the reaggregation of those parts into new components and models. Both are happening in different parts of college and university education, and in different parts of the degree path, in every dimension and aspect—creating an extraordinarily complicated environment in an educational sector that is already in a state of disequilibrium.

Unbundling doesn’t simply happen. Aspects of the higher education experience disaggregate and fragment, and then they get re-created—rebundled—in different forms. And it’s the re-creating that is especially of interest.

Although it’s largely true that the increasing marketisation is a stimulus for the unbundling of Higher Education, I’m of the opinion that what we’re seeing has been accelerated primarily because of the internet. The end of capitalism wouldn’t necessarily remove the drive towards this unbundling and rebundling. In fact, I wonder what it would look like if it were solely non-profits, charities, and co-operatives doing this?

Czerniewicz identifies seven main aspects of Higher Education that are being unbundled:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Resources
  3. Flexible pathways
  4. Academic expertise
  5. Opportunities
    • Support
    • Credentials
    • Networks
  6. Graduateness (i.e. ‘the status of being a graduate’)
  7. Experience
    • Mode (e.g. online, blended)
    • Place

As a white male with a terminal degree sitting outside academia, I guess I have a great deal of privilege to check. That being said, I do (as ever) have some opinions about all of this.

As Czerniewicz points out, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with unbundling and rebundling. It’s potentially a form of creative destruction, followed by some Hegelian synthesis.

But I’d like to conclude on a hopeful note. Unbundling and rebundling can be part of the solution and can offer opportunities for reasonable and affordable access and education for all. Unbundling and rebundling are opening spaces, relationships, and opportunities that did not exist even five years ago. These processes can be harnessed and utilized for the good. We need to critically engage with these issues to ensure that the new possibilities of provision for teaching and learning can be fully exploited for democratic ends for all.

Goodness knows that, as a sector, Higher Education can do a much better job of the three main things I’d say we’d want of universities in 2018:

  • Developing well-rounded citizens ready to participate fully in democratic society.
  • Sending granular signals to the job market about the talents and competencies of individuals.
  • Enabling extremely flexible provision for those in work, or who want to take different learning pathways.

That’s not even to mention universities as places of academic freedom and resistance to forms of oppression (including the State).

I think the main reason I’m interested in all of this is mainly through the lens of new forms of credentialing. Czerniewicz writes:

Certification is an equity issue. For most people, getting verifiable accreditation and certification right is at the heart of why they are invested in higher education. Credentials may prove to be the real equalizers in the world of work, but they do raise critical questions about the function and the reputation of the higher education institution. They also raise questions about value, stigma, and legitimacy. A key question is, how can new forms of credentials increase access both to formal education and to working opportunities?

I agree. So the main reason I got involved in Open Badges was that I saw the inequity as a teacher. I want, by the time our eldest child reaches the age where he’s got the choice to go to university (2025), to be able to make an informed choice not to go — and still be OK. Credentialing is an arms race that I’ve done alright at, but which I don’t really want him to be involved in escalating.

So, to conclude, I’m actually all for the unbundling and rebundling of education. As Audrey Watters has commented many times before, it all depends who is doing the rebundling. Is it solely for a profit motive? Is it improving things for the individual? For society? Who gains? Who loses?

Ultimately, this isn’t something that be particularly ‘controlled’, only observed and critiqued. No-one is secretly controlling how this is playing out worldwide. That’s not to say, though, that we shouldn’t call out and resist the worst excesses (I’m looking at you, Facebook). There’s plenty of pedagogical process we can make as this all unfolds.

Source: Educause

Credentials and standardisation

Someone pinch me, because I must be dreaming. It’s 2018, right? So why are we still seeing this kind of article about Open Badges and digital credentials?

“We do have a little bit of a Wild West situation right now with alternative credentials,” said Alana Dunagan, a senior research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, which researches education innovation. The U.S. higher education system “doesn’t do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.”

You’d think by now we’d realise that we have a huge opportunity to do something different here and not just replicate the existing system. Let’s credential stuff that matters rather than some ridiculous notion of ’employability skills’. Open Badges and digital credentials shouldn’t be just another stick to beat educational institutions.

Nor do they need to be ‘standardised’. Another person’s ‘wild west’ is another person’s landscape of huge opportunity. We not living in a world of 1950s career pathways.

“Everybody is scrambling to create microcredentials or badges,” Cheney said. “This has never been a precise marketplace, and we’re just speeding up that imprecision.”

Arizona State University, for example, is rapidly increasing the number of online courses in its continuing and professional education division, which confers both badges and certificates. According to staff, the division offers 200 courses and programs in a slew of categories, including art, history, education, health and law, and plans to provide more than 500 by next year.

My eyes are rolling out of my head at this point. Thankfully, I’ve already written about misguided notions around ‘quality’ and ‘rigour’, as well thinking through in a bit more detail what earning a ‘credential’ actually means.

Source: The Hechinger Report

Are we nearing the end of the Facebook era?

Betteridge’s law of headlines states that “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” So perhaps I should have rephrased the title of this post.

However, I did find this post by Gina Bianchini interesting about what people are using instead of Facebook:

The three most obvious alternatives people are turning to are:

  1. Private Messaging Platforms. We’re already seeing people move conversations with their family and close friends to iMessage, Houseparty, Marco Polo, Telegram, Discord, and Signal for their most important relationships or interests.
  2. Vertical Social Networks and Subscription Content. Watch as time spent on The Athletic, NextDoor, Houzz, and other verticals goes up in the next year. People want to connect to content that matters to them, and the services that focus on a specific subject area will win their domain.
  3. Highly Curated, Professional-Led Podcasts, Email Newsletters, Events, and Membership Communities. The professionalization of creators and influencers will continue unabated. Emboldened by the fact that their followers are now willing to follow them to new places (and increasingly even pay for access), these emerging brands will look to own their engagement and relationships, not rent them from Facebook.

As ever, people will say that Facebook will never go away because the majority of people use it. But, as Bianchini points out, innovation happens at the edges, among the early adopters. Many of those have already moved on:

Growth halts on the edges, not the core. Facebook’s prominence is eroding as the sources of creativity and goodwill that gave it magic, substance, and cultural relevance are quietly moving on. The reality is that Facebook stopped giving creators a return on their time a long time ago.

[…]

Big brands will be the last to leave. Unlike creators and Group admins, big brands will stick with Facebook for as long as possible. Despite CPMs jumping 171% in one year, big brands have institutionalized Facebook ad buying and posting not only with budgets but with dedicated teams. They’re too invested to acknowledge the writing on the wall, despite objectively diminishing returns.

This all comes from a renewed interest in ‘quality’ time. I was particularly interested in the way Seth Godin recently talked about how the digital divide is being flipped. Bianchini concludes:

As more people become conscious of how we spend our time online, we will choose differently. We will seek to feel good about what we’re contributing and what we’re getting out of our time invested. There will emerge new safe, positive places governed not by algorithms and monolithic companies, but curated by real people who have a passion for inspiring and uplifting other human beings.

It’s really interesting to see this change happening. As she says, it’s not ‘inevitable’, but cultural differences and personal values are as important in the digital world as in the physical.

Also, as we should always remember, Facebook the company owns WhatsApp and Instagram, so they’ll be find whatever. They’ve hedged their bets as any monopoly player would do.

Source: LinkedIn

Asking Google philosophical questions

Writing in The Guardian, philosopher Julian Baggini reflects on a recent survey which asked people what they wish Google was able to answer:

The top 25 questions mostly fall into four categories: conspiracies (Who shot JFK? Did Donald Trump rig the election?); desires for worldly success (Will I ever be rich? What will tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers be?); anxieties (Do people like me? Am I good in bed?); and curiosity about the ultimate questions (What is the meaning of life? Is there a God?).

This is all hypothetical, of course, but I’m always amazed by what people type into search engines. It’s as if there’s some ‘truth’ in there, rather than just databases and algorithms. I suppose I can understand children asking voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri questions about the world, because they can’t really know how the internet works.

What Baggini points out, though, is that what we type into search engines can reflect our deepest desires. That’s why they trawl the search history of suspected murderers, and why the Twitter account Theresa May Googling is so funny.

A Google search, however, cannot give us the two things we most need: time and other people. For our day-to-day problems, a sympathetic ear remains the most powerful device for providing relief, if not a cure. For the bigger puzzles of existence, there is no substitute for long reflection, with help from the great thinkers of history. Google can lead us directly to them, but only we can spend time in their company. Search results can help us only if they are the start, not the end, of our intellectual quest.

Sadly, in the face of, let’s face it, pretty amazing technological innovation over the last 25 years, we’ve forgotten what it is that makes us human: connections. Thankfully, some more progressive tech companies are beginning to realise the importance of the Humanities — including Philosophy.

Source: The Guardian

Gamifying Wikipedia for new editors

Hands up who uses Wikipedia? OK, keep your hands up if you edit it too? Ah.

Not only does Wikipedia need our financial donations to keep running, it also needs our time. To encourage people to edit it, the Wikimedia Foundation have created an ‘adventure’ by way of orientation.

It’s split into seven stages:

  1. Say Hello to the World
  2. An Invitation to Earth
  3. Small Changes, Big Impact
  4. The Neutral Point of View
  5. The Veil of Verifiability
  6. The Civility Code
  7. Looking Good Together

It’s always good to be a little playful, especially when welcoming people into a project or community. There’s also an ‘Interstellar Lounge‘ where you can chill out, listen to openly-licensed music, and get help!

Source: Wikipedia (via Scott Leslie)

"The secret to your success is found in your daily routine."

(John C. Maxwell)

The many uses of autonomous vehicles

While I’m not a futurist, I am interested in predictions about the future that I didn’t expect… but, on reflection, are entirely obvious. I’m quite looking forward to (well-regulated, co-operatively owned) autonomous vehicles. I think there’s revolutionise life for the very young and very old in particular.

What I hadn’t thought about, but which a new report certainly has considered, is all of the other uses for self-driving cars:

“One of the starting points was that AVs will provide new forms of competition for hotels and restaurants. People will be sleeping in their vehicles, which has implications for roadside hotels. And people may be eating in vehicles that function as restaurant pods,” says Scott Cohen, deputy director of research of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey in the U.K., who led the study. “That led us to think, besides sleeping, what other things will people do in cars when free from the task of driving? And you can see that in the long association of automobiles and sex that’s represented in just about every coming-of-age movie. It’s not a big leap.”

I remember talking to one taxi driver who said that he drove former footballer Alan Shearer back home to the North East from the Match of the Day studio in London. Shearer would travel overnight and sleep in the cab so that he was home for Sunday breakfast with his family. Of course, with autonomous vehicles designed for that kind of thing (and, erm, others) that would be much more comfortable.

Source: Fast Company


Image CC BY-SA Florian K

Open source is as much about culture as it is about code

The talented Abby Cabunoc Mayes, who I worked with when I was at the Mozilla Foundation (and who I caught up with briefly at MozFest), was interviewed recently by TechRepublic. I like the way she frames the Open Source movement:

I like to think the movement really came together with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an essay by Eric Raymond. And he compared the two ideas. There’s the cathedral, or free software, where a small group of people are putting together a big cathedral that anyone can come to, and attend a service or whatever. He compared that to a bazaar, where everyone is co-creating. There’s no real structure, you can set up a table wherever you want. You can haggle with other people. So open source, he really compared that to the Linux foundation at the time, where he was seeing so much delegation, so many people taking on tasks that would have been closed, in the cathedral model. So that idea that anyone can get involved, and anyone can participate, is really that key. Rather than just giving away something for free.

If you do an image search for Eric Raymond, you’ll find some of him holding guns, as he’s an enthusiast. I don’t like guns, nor do many people, but I’d like to think we can separate someone’s ideas about organising from their thoughts in a different area. I know some would beg to differ.

The interviewer goes on to ask Abby what the advantages of working openly are:

There’s a lot more buy-in from people. And having this distributed model, where anyone can take a part of this, and anyone can be involved in running the project, really helps keep the power not centralized, but really distributed. And so, you can see what’s happening to your data. So there’s a lot of advantages that way, and a lot more trust with the population. And I think this is where innovation happens. When everyone can be a part of something, and where everyone can submit the best ideas. And I think we saw that in the scientific revolution, when the academic journals started. And people were publishing their research, and then letting other people use that and build upon that and discover more things. We saw the same thing happen with open source. Where you can really take this and use and do whatever you want with it.

I think it’s important to keep linking and talking about this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, I feel like our cultural default is to try and take all the credit and work in silos.

Source: TechRepublic