Tag Archives: education

Jailbreaking the Degree | via @TechCrunch

The traditional degree, with its four-year time commitment and steep price tag, made sense when the university centrally aggregated top academic minds with residency-based students. Education required extensive logistics, demanding deep commitment from students worthy of being rewarded with the all-or-nothing degree.

But education isn’t all-or-nothing. College and its primary credential, the degree, needn’t be either. The benefit of modern, online education is that the burden of logistics and infrastructure are greatly reduced, allowing for the potential of a fluid, lifelong education model. The problem, to date, is that formal, online education is still being packaged in all-or-nothing degree programs, falsely constraining education innovation. The New Republic writes, “Online for-profit colleges haven’t disrupted the industry because while their business methods are different, their product—traditional credentials in the form of a degree—is not.”

Technology creates efficiencies by decreasing unit size while increasing utility. To falsely constrain anything to historically larger canons is to render technology impotent to do what it does best.

Interesting argument in favor of completely reinventing the higher education accredidation-diploma model.

I agree that making education more modular may increase overall effeciency of the system, but I think Mr. Blake underestimates both the benefits of the self-selecting nature of the often difficult-to-withstand 4-year committment (even if somewhat arbitrarily designed), and the secondary social effect the process creates. To me, a huge part of the value of a degree is related to the successful navigation of a complicated system, as much as Mr. Blake might be saddened to hear it.

Measuring the effectiveness of education using an industrial model is a bit troubling, also. Doesn’t measuring efficiency miss the point of our education system?

Learn to code, get a job! via @CNN

It’s time Americans begin treating computer code the way we do the alphabet or arithmetic. Code is the stuff that makes computer programs work — the list of commands that tells a word processor, a website, a video game, or an airplane navigation system what to do. That’s all software is: lines of code, written by people.

We are socializing, working, consuming, and living in a world increasingly defined by programs. Learning to code is the best way to understand what all those programs do, or even to recognize that they are there in the first place.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg recently announced his intention to learn to code.

As a “social media guy” (god, I hate that term), I’ve seen the numerous ways knowing how to code has made my job easier; not just, “hey I understand how to write a socialgraph app and code my own Facebook tab” but more like, “Wow, the system we’re using to communicate events information internally is horribly out of date, and ultimately costing us a ton of money in wasted productivity. Why aren’t we importing these events as XML and reading them into an internal, structured database so we don’t have to pass info like location and description around between 10 people?”

It’s not just that coding helps you create programs — it’s that understanding code helps you understand how to work with programs, and how to better make them work for you.

The apps, websites, socialnetworks, and phones we all use produce an incredible amount of rich, structured information. If you’re letting it simply pass you by, then you’re missing some of the biggest opportunities to understand and change the world you live in.

I’m going back to get a second undergradute degree – a BS in computer science – next semester, because one advantage of working for a highered institution is the amazing tuition discount. But even if you don’t have access to something like that, there are a ton of other options, from Lynda.com, to MIT’s recently announced program to make all its classes freely available online, to the service the CNN author mentions (make sure to clickthrough to read the original article).

What’s your take on coding? Too complicated, or high time to get involved? If Bloomberg can do it, you can do it too ;-)

SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch: The Game Layer Is Coming – @TechCrunch

Priebatsch, who maintained an apparently super-human energy level throughout his talk, discussed how many of the gaming mechanics seen in the virtual world will be applied in the physical world to create a so-called “Game Layer”. “It’s brand new and has not been built,” Priebatsch says. “The last decade was the decade of social — it took connections between friends, family, and coworkers and put them online. It’s called Facebook. The social layer traffics in connections.” Conversely, Priebatsch says that the Game layer traffics in influence — “It will influence where we go, what we do, and how we do it.

Another issue: reward schedules. Priebatsch explains that rewards have been shown to be very effective, leading to spikes in engagement and activity. But it’s not a perfect system — handing out rewards can set users up to expect them everywhere. Without the reward as an incentive, people often stop checking in (he points to the Gap/Facebook deal as an example, and says that he believes many of the users who participated in that deal have stopped checking in).

Priebatsch closed out the talk with a demonstration of what he calls communal gameplay and communal discovery. Everyone in the keynote hall was given a colored card — there were a handful of different colors, and the cards were distributed at random. The audience was then asked to swap cards with their neighbors so that each row of seats was the same color. The audience was given 180 seconds to pull of the task, and they did it with a minute to spare.

TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid captures all the major points from Priebatsch’s keynote. While some were put off by his boisterousness, I think SP, SCVNGR, and the #gamelayer are going big places.

Seth clearly has an axe to grind with the institutions of academia. Having dropped out of Princeton, it’s far from something he’s embarassed about; instead, he jokes about it during presentations and wears it as a badge of honor.

I give him a lot of credit for the points he makes about the aspects of game theory already at work in education. The notion of switching from a punishment system to an achiement system opens up the door to all kinds of exciting posibilities for engagement.

Imagine a system where resources and investment were rewardded with a similar investment from the institution? A practical example is honors / AP classes. Currently, they’re generally either admitted by testing, or based on grades. But many who have the aptitude for higher-level learning are held back by unrelated issues with the academic system (learning habits, access to equipment, etc), and many who are admitted into such programs get there by default, not by choice. A system like the one SP describes, where all students start at 0 and ‘gain expeience’ as they learn things, a natural self-selection takes place – those students who are more actively engaged and responsible for their own education will naturally shoot into the higher values, unlocking additional access and features.

That concept could be extended into so many fun & engaging educational activites!

Back to normality, early SXSW thoughts

I’m finally decompressing from SXSWi. It’s 4AM of the day after I got home, and I can’t sleep, so clearly it’s the perfect time for this post!

Here are the big trends and why:

Social gaming.  We’ve all been hearing about it for long enough to know this was already coming, but Austin was plastered with everything from a social gaming keynote, to panels, talks, strategies, startups, apps, roleplayers, hashtags and enough buzz to spin off into it’s own mini-event next year, somewhat like SXSWedu has.  The short version is, game mechanics are here to stay, primarily because engagement and activity levels are through the roof.  Pushing short-term rewards is also a dangerous game, however, Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR reminds us in a very well-received keynote. (Here’s another really interesting TEDTalk he gave in 2010, with a message very similar to his sxsw keynote).

Group texting.  Whereas the last years have been characterized by mass-communication tools like Twitter and Foursquare, this year we saw an inceasing trend towards localization, curation, selection, and sub-grouping.  Group texting is but one example of this trend, with upstarts like GroupMe and Beluga squaring off much like Foursquare and Gowalla did last year (GroupMe appears to have won).


Decline of social?  As I already predicted, terms like “social media” weren’t really part of the lexicon, it’s all so ingrained in what we do.  Any app or website being pushed had a social component; with this standardization, I think soon we’ll be describing products which aren’t inherently social as antisocial (think, Word or Excel).

Managing the online persona.  With so many more heads in the social media industry in the past year, topics like “How to manage your Corporate vs. Personal Brand” were numerous and very popular.  As someone who took over a corporate account after having begun my own well before, I’m always thinking about how to manage this complex issue.  The social consensus seems to be, “Where There is Authenticity, Anything Goes.”

Mass adoption and rapid change

Twitter as a medium for all kinds of different applications really hit tome for me here.  Interesting features at the Frog Design party, as well as exhibits throughout the ACC and trade shows, played on the sheer volume of Tweets in the area with interesting visualizations, graphs, and interactive displays.  With new apps like HeatTracker, built on top of Foursquare and Gowalla, which in turn are built on top of Twitter, a whole new vision of how social media function is starting to appear.  With massive, hyper-connected mediums like Twitter all openly available and digital, we’re becoming able to catalogue and organize information in new and exciting networks of like-minded users, allowing even more specific and nifty apps which slice out a certain chunk of the graph to handle really well.  My picks: foodspotting, localmind, Qonqr, Hashable, Yobongo, HeatTracker, locaii.

The wide adoption of Twitter at SXSW in specific is just a great example of this.  SXSW really “sold” me on the value of location-based mechanics, some of which I’ve always viewed with contempt, because I’ve never had the ideal use-case of many relevant connections happening in a hyperlocal area, having lived essentially in the suburbs for the last few years.  I could instantly see the appeal of LBS in a very widely-adopted crowd. 

But many of my friends are’t really into the whole idea of LBS, especially becoming familiar with how the more flamboyant users’ use of it can feel like spam.  It’s really amazing to see how quickly a rapidly deployed technology, like Twitter or FourSquare, can become part of popular culture; by numerous metrics discussed at a few different panels, services like Twitter and Facebook activity can spread through a culture by orders of magnitude faster than older technologies like newspaper and television – but those who haven’t already adopted appear likely to do so at only marginally increasing rates over time and similar exposure.

So, the challenge seems to be, bootstrapping a user-base into existence in areas deprived of the intense incubating effect a gathering like SXSW, or being a tech hoptspot like SF or NYC, can have.

Education Editorial

The issues of location reminded me of the unique advantage of a university, and the importance of fostering adoption of social technologies in children and adults in education.  All students and teachers are already within a very clearly defined, intellecutally connected network, on many different levels: the social graph of their interconnected class schedules, the systems like Blackboard many use to communicate privately, P/TA and school boards connections to local government, etc.  Academics are already used to the operation of these kind of networks, so the learning curve would be simple. 

As our students begin to use these tools in a constructive and responsible way (and, here’s a great opportunity for educators and administrators to advise them, a relationship which benefits everyone), their interest will disperse throughout the world as they graduate and leave their institutions, pollinating the tech workforce and cities they move to with the games, apps, and LBS services they love, and, significantly – will continue to be using to stay in touch with their friends for purely personal reasons. 

The educational->professional synergy taking place for today’s digital natives is just startling, and a tool educators must be using! Damn the painfully slow academic machine.

Texas Textbooks: ‘Ultraconservatives’ Approve Radical Changes To State Education Curriculum

Teachers in Texas will be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards also will describe the U.S. government as a “constitutional republic,” rather than “democratic,” and students will be required to study the decline in value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.

“We have been about conservatism versus liberalism,” said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. “We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it’s appropriate.”

Following three days of impassioned and acrimonious debate, the board gave preliminary approval to the new standards with a 10-5 party line vote. A final vote is expected in May, after a public comment period that could produce additional amendments and arguments.
Decisions by the board — made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others — can affect textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers’ biggest clients.

Texas bigots have discovered another way to manipulate the populace via clever media strategy: just start lying to children!