In preparing for my talk this month on "The Disconnected," I came across the organization Encore.org that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education. Those that I am calling "The Disconnected" are not disconnected in a detached or disengaged sense, but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.
I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement and one episode talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to "school" to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical "major" or even a viable unretirement career choice, but...
“Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan, and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months.
The "Baby Boomers" are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of "The Disconnected." The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects.
Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and may be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats.
So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some connectiveness in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for a working life.
Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.
Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University
How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50
A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors
Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career
The 40-Year-Old Graduates
4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt
How to Make the Most of Longer Lives
Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy
A lot of people panicked at the end of 2015 about stories in the media about Google planning to kill the Chrome OS that runs Chromebooks. Well, not kill, but merge with their Android operating system.
One group that would be hurt by that is schools. Many schools have invested in Chromebooks as an inexpensive platform for student computing. Purchases increased in the past two years due to the tech requirement for districts needing to administer the computer-based PARCC exam as part of the Common Core State Standards.
Some people have predicted that the Chromebook is headed to the "Google Graveyard," a virtual place filled with projects that the company launched, promoted and then pulled the plug on.
Do you remember Jaiku, Knol, Picnik, Reader or Wave? They are just a few of the big and small projects moved to the graveyard. The real tragedy is when educators invest time and effort, if not money, into building programs around any piece of free software or service, only to have it and their program fade into the tech sunset.
Well, that's not the case with Chromebooks, according to a Google blog post saying that it is still committed to Chrome OS. "Over the last few days, there's been some confusion about the future of Chrome OS and Chromebooks based on speculation that Chrome OS will be folded into Android. While we've been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS."
The company has said before that it had plans to merge Chrome OS and Android. (In June 2014 at it's Google I/O conference, they showed an example with a beta method to run Android apps on Chromebooks.)
Still, the sunsetting of technology and in this case the sunset kills of Google products and services can wreak havoc in a school or company that relies on them.
Still, I am encouraged by Google's constant search for new thing and services. I recently read about Fluency Tutor™ which helps teachers to help struggling readers by making reading aloud more fun and satisfying. It is especially for struggling and reluctant readers, as well as students learning English as a second language.
Students record themselves reading and then share with the teacher, but in a way that is separate from the pressures of reading aloud in class. When I taught middle school, it was apparent very quickly which students dreaded having to read aloud in class. I knew that the experience was important to their learning, but also saw the pain it caused some kids.
Fluency Tutor works best for schools using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as it integrates with Google Drive and Google Classroom. It works with most online content, so it can be used along with other online instructional programs.
Let's hope that if teachers implement it, it survives.
I did a Q&A for my keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference (January 11 and 12, 2016, New Brunswick, New Jersey - On Twitter: #RUOnlineCon - Conference website: RUonlineCon.rutgers.edu )
My talk - "The Disconnected" grew out of the many references I have been seeing to the re-emergence of autodidacts — people “who learn on their own”— and other societal trends that point to a new group of learners that I feel will be reshaping higher education. Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could all affect higher education significantly in the future.
The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years.
Q: Who are “the disconnected”?
Me: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.
They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. They are not just Millennials. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education. My talk at Rutgers will identify this group by their behavior and will consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently-connected student.
Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?
Me: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: 'Would "the disconnected" still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree - or will they want another path and another product?'
But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t. For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?
Q: Are universities preparing for this?
Me: I can already see indications that universities are doing some things to attract those people, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.
Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: 'That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?' I was never convinced that that was going to happen. I didn't think MOOCs were going to destroy the university. There will always be some students who want to go to a Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus and have those experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people.
I think that colleges are going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.
It is really hard for universities to implement alternatives. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution, but they may even need to do new things with their online programs.
The conference will have four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentations and roundtable speakers, and is designed for any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education.
RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).
What is it that most schools don't teach? Coding.
Coding - transforming actions into a symbolic language - is offered in colleges and in many high schools, but computer science is not part of the core curriculum alongside other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra that all students take.
Launched in 2013, Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Their vision is that every student in every school should have at least the opportunity to learn computer science.
Code.org is organizing its “Hour of Code” event for the third consecutive year as part of Computer Science Education Week. They give students the opportunity to learn about programming with free online tutorials and instructional videos. There are more than 191,000 events in more than 180 countries and one-third of all U.S. schools are participating, They expect to reach 50 million students this week.
Coding is becoming an increasingly crucial skill. If you hear asked (or you ask) "Why do I need to learn to code? I'll never use it to be a ________ (fill in the blank)," I can identify. Teaching English for many years, I always heard that question with poetry or some other item being substituted for "coding." I knew students would need language skills, including learning to interpret language, understand symbolism etc., but it was hard to make the point to someone who had no idea what they would do or need in life.
Do I believe everyone in the future will be doing coding? No, but I believe understanding how code works to run much of the world we live in is essential, at least on a basic level.
This month, the "Hour of Code" campaign from nonprofit Code.org makes that very visible. If you look at its website, you can see that it is aimed at students and teachers in K-12, although it is is clear that people older have as many (or more) gaps in their coding knowledge.
The site uses popular movie characters from films like Frozen and Star Wars as avatars for coding activities.
not unlike when I was teaching students in the late 1970s to make a turtle on a screen move by writing Logo programs. That was Apple Logo which was an early implementation of Logo that was popular then due to marketing for Apple's Apple II computer.
This week (but really all year), educators, extracurricular leaders, and parents are being encouraged to introduce kids to coding. There are many free, online coding tutorials designed for all ages. Some tutorials are designed to be suitable for kids as young as 4 and even for implementation without computers. But many of these tutorials are designed as games that are accessible for computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
This year 3 for the "Hour of Code" and partnerships for licensing with Microsoft and Disney to create tutorials using settings and characters from Minecraft or Star Wars makes coding more appealing to children. "The goal of the Hour of Code is not to teach anybody to become an expert computer scientist in one hour," reads the description on Hour of Code's homepage. "One hour is only enough to learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is accessible for all ages, for all students, regardless of background."
A sample is an activity (there are also sequenced courses at different age and ability levels) to program characters from the Star Wars universe to make a game of your own creation. In the video below, Star Wars film producer Kathleen Kennedy introduces some broad uses of computer programming, and then Rachel Rose, Senior Engineer for the Star Wars Animation and Creature Team, walks you through the basics of programming using Blockly.
If you try the activity, it is obvious that critical thinking and thoughtful placement of the blocks is required to make the program run correctly.
Using Blockly as a visual programming language is a great start and, although in the working world most code is typed, each block conatins and corresponds to a line of "real" code which students can view.
Students doing any of the most basic activities are learning that an algorithm is a series of instructions on how to accomplish a task. they experience debugging -
finding and fixing issues in code.
If they advance through the activities , they will learn what a function is (a piece of code that can be called over and over), and how to customize their code parameters with extra bits of information that you can pass into a function to customize it.
Students are reminded that some of the tools, like autofill, seem like "cheats" but are used by full time programmers too in order to speed up the coding and maintain consistency.
One activity is designed for very young coders and kids without access to computers. Using a predefined “Robot Vocabulary,” students will figure out how to guide
one another to accomplish specific tasks without discussing them first. This teaches students the connection between symbols and actions, as well as the valuable skill of debugging.
I've been thinking lately about a group of people I call "The Disconnected." They include some sub-groups, such as the "cord-cutters." Cord cutting, in a telecommunications context, is the practice of stopping your cable or satellite television service or getting rid of a landline phone. When it comes to cable and satellite services and phone carriers, cord cutters drop them in favor of less expensive options (individual channels like HBO Go, packages like Hulu or TV and video on the Net) and just owning a cell phone or using VoIP (voice over IP).
The main goal of cord cutting seems to be saving money. But there is also a lot dissatisfaction with what is offered on traditional TV services.
This is a broader trend in technology us, but because I am also interested in education, I am wondering if there is some overlap here.
The disconnected aren't only disconnected from TV and phone lines. They are a group that rents and leases and don’t want to own. They don’t want to own a car or shelves of CDs or physical books and magazines. They are building a sharing economy.
They comprise about 25% of Americans, and according to Forrester Research that number will double in the next ten years.
I bet you are thinking that these are the Millennials. Yes, Millennials are certainly a good number of "The Disconnected," but the age group is widening up and down.
The disconnected encompass the potential students in our undergraduate and graduate programs. The younger age group is being labeled the "cord nevers" because they have never been connected to these traditional forms of media consumption and services and have no plan to ever be connected to them. Forrester Research reports that "By 2025, 50% of all TV viewers under age 32 will not pay for TV as we understand it today."
Will cord-nevers and cord cutters also have a different attitude towards college? I think so.
MOOCs, alternative degrees, self-determined learning and other movements are already ways of cutting cords to traditional education.
More to come on this, as I prepare this topic for a keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference in January 2016. #RUOnlineCon