The Disconnected 2022 Edition

brain connectIt's 2022 and I am reading an article in The Chronicle by Beth McMurtrie about how the pandemic forced disconnections in early 2020. On the other hand, we also became more connected to friends, offices, campuses, and stores through technology and media.

The article took me back to a keynote presentation I did back in January 2016. I titled that talk "The Disconnected." The talk grew out of the many references I had been seeing to people who seemed disconnected from many aspects of society.

There was the observation that there was a re-emergence of people who wanted to learn on their own rather than in schools. These autodidacts were a new group of learners that I felt might be reshaping school, especially in higher education which is a choice rather than a requirement.

In 2015, the sharing economy, the maker movement, the DIY do-it-yourself movement, and open-source coding were all topics of interest.

These trends were not limited to young people or students. Many people were “cord cutting” from traditional media. But the trend was especially evident in young adults. Even broader was a “rent rather than buy” mindset that was affecting purchases of media (music, movies, books, magazines), cars (lease or use a car service rather than own a car), rent an apartment or home and avoid the self-maintenance, mortgage and taxes.

In 2015, the “disconnected” comprised about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research. They estimated that number would double by 2025. Has it?

That new article is about students who seem to have disconnected during the pandemic and are not reconnecting now. Maybe they will never reconnect. 

According to McMurtie's article, fewer students are going to classes. Her interviews with faculty show that those who do attend avoid speaking if possible. They are disconnected from the professor and their classmates. They don't do the assigned reading or homework and so they have trouble with tests. They are disconnected from the course content.

The Chronicle had more than 100 people tell them about their disconnected students. Some called them “exhausted,” “defeated,” or “overwhelmed.” This came from faculty at a range of institutions.

usb connect

Why are they disconnected?

Reasons given by professors include pandemic-related items. Many students lost their connection with their college or their purpose in attending. Hours of online learning that they had not chosen and which may have been sub-par added to those things.

The students who seemed to have the most trouble with learning were the freshmen who seemed unprepared. But the observations that these new students seemed underprepared, both academically and in their sense of responsibility. One example was that students don’t fully grasp the consequence of missing classes. I was teaching long before the pandemic and all of those things were true of students back then too. 

So my question is whether or not those disconnected students of 2015 have become even more disconnected in the subsequent seven years, and if they have is it because of the pandemic or just a trend that started well before the pandemic.

McMurtrie also gives some things from the perspective of students. One student said that when she returned to the classroom after virtual learning many professors relied more on technology than they had before the pandemic. Ironically, that was something that many schools had hoped would happen; that faculty would be greater tech users when they returned to their in-person classes. Professors who never used virtual conferencing or flipped the classroom using a learning management system. That student may have seen her college experience as "fake" but the professors (and possibly their department chairs and deans) saw the experience as "enhanced."

I don't explain the disconnecting as only the result of social anxiety and stress or what psychologists describe as “allostatic load.”  I don't think this problem is temporary. I agree with some of the faculty whose responses are in the article who think the entire structure of college needs to change and that this is not a new problem.

None of us know what the solution might be.

Cut the Cord, Narrow the Stream, Reconnect

data streams
Image by Yan Wong

A few years ago I was writing about how a lot of people were looking to save money on their TV entertainment by what was known as "cutting the cord" since it meant disconnecting from a cable service. Those services had boomed in the 1970s and 80s and had brought clear channels from local and distant services and led to the rise of services like HBO and Showtime. People are still cord-cutting, but things have changed.

We tired of $100+ per month channel bundles that included lots of channels we never watched. People wanted a cafeteria-style choice. Just pick the things you wanted. But cable companies didn't want to offer that. So, people began to drop their cable contract and replace it with streaming TV services and perhaps a TV antenna or device that offered local channels, news, and a kind of all-in-one bundle.

In 2015, I wrote about a group of people that I called "The Disconnected" and I did a presentation on how we might connect to the disconnected. The disconnections ranged from cord-cutting to ownership of things (home, cars, physical media) and possibly from education and the world. Since then, I have added other disconnected aspects of our lives.

The pandemic that forced disconnections in early 2020 has accelerated some of that. Ironically, as disconnected as we became to friends, offices, campuses and stores, most of us became more connected to media.

Cord-cutters still needed an Internet service and that connection became quite critical in these pandemic times. We needed it to continue working, learning and staying in touch with other people. Those connections are very important, but I also have been thinking about how connected we have become to those streaming services on our screens for entertainment.

The tech divide either got wider the past year or minimally became more obvious. Home Internet speeds should be at least 15Mbps (megabits per second) for each device you plan to have running at the same time. That means that those two TVs, the laptop and three smartphones and one tablet all playing at once would ideally have a connection of at least 105Mbps. That’s a lot to ask of a DSL or satellite service and from most cable company broadband services. Those people with access to fiber broadband or some other fast connection had a big advantage.

It is now almost a decade from dropping your cable connection and moving to streaming and now I am hearing more people complain about the cost of buying all the services needed to keep up with the content that all your friends are telling are essential viewing. 

What is the cost of having Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and others and also a bundle of live TV channels such as YouTube TV or Sling TV?

Yes, there are a bunch of free (ad-based) sources of streaming video too (Crackle, IMDb, Kanopy, Peacock, Hoopla, Pluto TV, the Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Vudu, etc.). 

You might also want a streaming device that connects to the Internet and allows you to show things on devices on bigger screens (Chromecast, Roku’s Streaming Stick, or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. 

At one time, I could watch Disney films on Netflix, but Disney and most of the other content providers have now decided that they are better off offering their content on their own services. YouTube TV recently was removed from Roku. Battles will continue.

If you cut the cord, will you soon need to cut or narrow the streams flowing into your home?

Want to Buy My DVDS?

DVD rackI don't think it would be considered "cancel culture," but year-to-year we see technologies get canceled. This past week, my wife asked me to take the DVDs I have on three shelves and "either put them somewhere else - or get rid of them."

Get rid of them? But these are a lot of my favorite films and TV shows. And surely, some must be "collectible" and worth something. "Then sell them," says my practical wife, who says the same about my vinyl record albums and books. My sons, now in their 30s, agree. Their videos, music and books are all digital and take up no shelf space. That's part of what I once termed as a "disconnected" culture and generation.

Remember DVDs? They might have been a gift you gave for a birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas or bought for your own pleasure. Do they still exist? Yes. Are people still buying them? Not really, but they did get a pandemic bump in sales this year.

"The top title for the weeks ended April 25 and May 2 [2020] was Bad Boys for Life, and for May 9 it was Bloodshot and earlier hit releases such as Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Sony’s Jumanji: The Next Level  hung on so that this was the first time DVDs saw yearly gains two weeks in a row since April 2014, when Frozen was driving industry sales. It’s the first three-week gain since late-August 2012, when The Hunger Games and Battleship were the top titles."

I was buying discs for films that I would actually rewatch and that rarely appeared on TV (pre-streaming). Some of them were films I had previously bought on VHS (a practice my wife could not understand). I did watch them. Not a lot, but I did. And I loaned them to friends. "You've never seen The Graduate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Citizen Kane... ?"

The last DVD player I bought had "smart" features that my dumb TV at that time didn't have so that I could watch Netflix. But streaming video services became the thing and when I dropped by the original Netflix DVD mail service for streaming the player got dusty with lack of use. My sons had given me some TV series I love on discs as gifts (Seinfeld, 30 Rock, Taxi) because if they were available on broadcast TV they had commercials and you had no control over which episode to watch. Plus most DVDs had additional features that were interesting and not available elsewhere.

Now, those box sets are also gathering dust as entire runs of series like Seinfeld are available streaming and you can pick whatever episode you want to watch.

I subscribed to Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service early-on and it was pretty great. Of course, waiting for that next movie or episodes of a series was tough. Those red envelopes still exist but Netflix doesn't want you waiting for the mailperson. They want you to binge that whole season of Schitt's Creek today and just go from one video to the next.

There's a lot of streaming service competition. HBO, the grandpa of cable movie channels, has HBO Max and will be getting in 2021 Warner Brother films the same day that they hit theaters (assuming theaters are open again). Studios, like Disney, are launching streaming channels along with Hulu, Showtime, Amazon, and broadcast dinosaurs like CBS (with its Peacock).

DVDs and services like DVD.com are also a resource for people in areas with poor broadband access. The pandemic and online learning made it clearer than ever that access to fast Internet is NOT ubiquitous in America.

I was surprised to find that DVDs are still profitable. Netflix still has about two million DVD customers and made $37 million in profits in the 4th quarter of 2019, which breaks down to $17.34/user. Netflix’s streaming service sees a return of $13.09/US subscriber. (I'm sure those numbers changed in 2020 but I couldn't find an update.)

When I was involved with creating online learning at NJIT starting in 2000, we were sending out VHS tapes to students, moved to CDs, then to DVDs, and by the time I left more than a decade later, it was streaming.

There is another concern that as DVD catalogs and production disappears, so will some content disappear, perhaps forever. 

Half of Gen Z Feels They Can Succeed Without a College Degree

graduationThis post follows the previous one about vocational education in the U.S.  There appears to be a resurgence of the "alternative to college" option in the 21st century.

"Half of Gen Z Feels They Can Succeed Without a College Degree" was one headline takeaway from a Global Learner Survey conducted in 2019 by The Harris Poll using a 20-minute online survey completed by 11,083 people aged between 16-70 years old across the globe. 

That's not news that colleges want to hear. As a lifelong educator and someone who spent about 19 years of that in higher education, I'm not immediately pleased to read that kind of headline.

This was a global survey using learners in 19 countries, so this is not just an American trend. They asked about the quality of their nation’s education system and about careers and the future of work and technology. Big topics. 

The results point to a kind of DIY mindset. With access to technology, people are taking education into their own hands. The model is a bit patchwork with and learners are using a variety of options.

I also hear this called self-service learning will become even more commonplace as people seek education across their lives.

The report has eight main takeaways, but the one that caught my attention became my headline. Young workers (Gen Z if we need a label) think that they (and other age groups) can do fine without a college degree. They don't dismiss the need for training but this incoming workforce in many countries is open to alternative pathways, especially vocational training. 

I have written about this "Disconnected" group before and I also think it includes different age groups. Perhaps the bulk of the Disconnected is young but there is also a significant section of older workers nearing retirement or in "unretirement." Both groups are looking for new work opportunities and getting a degree just doesn't seem desirable or perhaps even feasible.

The report says "The 40-year career is gone, replaced by life-long learning and diverse career paths. The talent economy has arrived and the traditional, linear career path is a thing of the past. Learners are molding education into what they need for today’s work world, which means 'bite-sized' learning across their entire life."

Where will that "bite-sized learning" come from? Those surveyed expect digital and virtual learning to be the new normal. Those that do see colleges or other institutions as viable are focusing on online degrees, artificial intelligence tools and smart devices. 

This is all also sad to me, someone who spent most of my lifetime in secondary schools, largely preparing students to go on to college. I don't like indications that confidence in educational institutions is wavering. This report says that many people globally feel formal education isn’t working for them because it is not preparing them for work. And it's too costly. And for some, it is out of reach.

Another trend that comes up in the report is "upskilling" which is the process of teaching employees new skills. That most often happens because of new technology which leads to new jobs that require specialized skill sets. 

Learners also believe "soft skills" will give them the advantage over automation. Creativity, originality, problem-solving and the ability to learn new skills give humans advantages over machines. Unfortunately, as AI becomes better and more common the machines are also gaining soft skills.


Read the survey www.pearson.com/corporate/news/global-learner-survey.html

A companion to the survey is "Opportunity for Higher Education in the Era of the Talent Economy," a guide to the survey’s implications and opportunities for higher education.

Silos

siloesThe new semester is starting at most American colleges and I'm thinking about the silos on campuses. I don't mean anything having to do with agricultural programs which probably have a silo or two. I mean the figurative silos that are still quite real that appear in departments and schools on campus.

I had bookmarked a headline saying that "Facebook was granted a patent to silo group posts." That's about moderators of Facebook Groups getting more leeway in controlling who sees the comments made on their forums. Some have described it as a patent for shadowbanning - secretly restricting who sees a user's content.

My inspiration to write this post came from that social media story, but it set me thinking about education, especially higher education silos.

Silos are also increasing when it come to online and streaming media. Netflix, Disney, HBO, and other providers are "taking back" their content and siloing it in their own platforms. People have been unbundling and cord-cutting to lower costs and customize what comes into their home, but now they mean to rebuild and might need a half dozen services to get what they want. Ironically, this is how cable companies first emerged - by creating packages of channels for you.

A few years ago, a Forbes article stated that "College Silos Must Die For Students To Thrive" and asked "If academics — the heart of the university — do not silo students, then why are student-focused university departments siloed from each other? Wouldn’t student needs be better served if cross-functional sharing of institutional knowledge were common practice within colleges and universities?"

The authors say that the five functional areas of the university that are most important to students are Admissions (including financial aid), Academics, Student Affairs, Career Services, and Alumni Relations/Advancement. Typically, these five have minimal interaction with one another. They exist in silos.

Silos in higher education aren’t limited to departments. They include academic units, athletics, student support services, foundations, alumni, research and business operations. 

Why create a silo? Usually, it is to keep focus in one space and hold onto perceived "turf." The problem with silos is that they discourage interdisciplinary opportunities, which is probably something you will find written into many universities' mission and priorities.

I have worked at colleges where these silos existed. The bigger the institution, the more likely silos seem to occur. For example, you would find IT services housed within a college or school that did not share staff, software, equipment or practices with other schools within the university. In large state universities and university systems, as one example, it is not unusual to find multiple learning management systems being used. That means that training and support can't be "pooled" across campus. Faculty who teach in multiple departments or programs may have to learn and design for several systems.

There are pressures to break down silos. Technology is one pressure. Purchasing power and avoiding duplication of services are other pressures. Calls for transparency and accountability favor structures without silos. Take a look at your campus structure this fall and see if silos exist. Are they increasing or decreasing?

What's Your Anchor Job?

anchor coffeeI retired a few years ago and then I unretired about a year later. I took on some part-time work and then I signed a one-year contract for some consulting. That runs out at the end of August and though I have no plans to do any steady work in the future, I plan to still do some consulting and design work. That work is very part-time and very selective on my part.

But what does that have to do with the title of this post? I'm reading about this year's IPOs. Just a few include Lyft, Postmates, Uber and Airbnb. One trend I'm seeing in that is independent contractors.

Lyft relies on its 1.4 million freelance drivers who earn, on average, $17.50 per hour with no benefits or organizing power. That has got to influence the U.S. workforce. This is called the gig economy, shift work, side hustles and other things. Something connected to this that I have also noticed is the idea of having an "anchor job."

The gig economy is supposed to be empowering as a professional choice. It allows you options. You do the work you want to do. You work when you want to work. It gives you lifestyle choices.

Of course, the downsides are no regular salary, probably less income, no benefits or security.

And so, we get the anchor job. That's the other job that provides benefits and stability. But it has to allow for the flexibility to allow for "side hustles."

I wonder how different this is from someone 50 years ago having a full-time job and then taking on other part-time work. My father did that. He wasn't fulfilling some creative dream. he was trying to make extra money. My side hustles have been only partially done for extra money. Luckily, I was also doing them because I found some enjoyment and the chance to use my creative side. That makes me think that there is some privilege involved in this latest version of extra part-time work.

Although making some money is important, the key to the side hustle is that it is at least partially enjoyable and fulfilling. Are your gig jobs ones that for whatever hours you do them you are willing to give up socializing and leisure time.

Why has the side hustle in addition to the anchor job grown rapidly in recent years? Is it the global economic climate or the ability to use social media to easily self-promote viral marketing? Is it because many of us find that anchor job to be unfulfilling?

Learn More:

Read newamerica.org/new-america/policy-papers/shift-commission-report-findings/

Listen to marketplace.org/shows/make-me-smart-with-kai-and-molly/109-now-lyft-public-what-happens-drivers/

Work FOMO

#workFOMO

FOMO is the acronym for Fear of Missing Out which is defined as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent."

Another characteristic of this form of social anxiety is that a person compensates with a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.

Of course, we associate this social anxiety with social media but, though the acronym is new, the fear of missing out on things has surely been an issue since ancient times. People of the past were lucky - or unlucky, depending on your point of view - because they didn't have social media. Today we are much more aware of what others are doing.

I have written here about people I call "The Disconnected" but today I'm writing about people who are too connected. And yet, there is overlap in those two groups because the connections that "The Disconnected" often still maintain are social networks. 

Some people call the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) generations that are "always on," as in always online and always on their devices.

We associate much of this activity with "social" usage such as activity on Facebook and Instagram and updates on where we are, what we are doing and who is with us. Lately, I am seeing more attention paid to the "always on" aspects of work life

Part of that work condition comes from what I will call "Work FOMO." This is when we see people checking their phones, and reading work texts and email long after they have left the workplace. When does the work day end? Perhaps never. And that isn't healthy mentally or physically, and it might not be even helping their career.

You have seen those studies that show that social media can reduce young adults’ sense of well-being and satisfaction with their life. How does checking work messages all day and night affect your well being and satisfaction with your job? Does this increase our fear that our fellow employees are doing things and connecting with others and getting ahead of us in the workplace?

Both social and Work FOMO research probably suffers from correlation and causation issues. Does being on social media make you feel less happy, or do unhappy people spend more time using social media? Does Work FOMO cause you to keep checking in, or does checking in just increase your fear that you're missing out on that important message?

It is popular to post advice on how to overcome FOMO. (Here's one from psychologytoday.com.) The advice sounds reasonable but not always easy to follow. Are you "willing to not have it all?" Can you accept that your needs are limited, but your desires are endless?

There is one piece of advice that sounds reasonable and doable. Focus on one thing at a time. A decade a or two ago, "multitasking" was the thing to do. Then, we started to get research in the late 1990s that showed that we are not good at multitasking. Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. The human brain really can only respond successfully to one action request at a time. If you have a fear of missing out on something important at work, maybe you should turn your attention away from the screen.

Students Are Still Suffering From Summer Melt

Summer melt is the phenomenon of prospective college students' motivation to attend college "melting" away during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college. I wrote about this summer melt last summer and this summer (inspired partially by a week-long heatwave in my part of the country) I decided to check in in and see if things have changed. Basically, things have not changed.

There are some intervention programs at schools that seem to help prevent summer melt, but for the majority of schools students are still melting away.

This phenomenon is especially prevalent in low-income minority communities, where students who qualify for college and in some cases even register for classes ultimately end up not attending college because they lack resources, support, guidance, and encouragement. The melting is also common for students who are the first in their family to get a chance at college. That was the case for me many decades ago.

I vividly remember trying to fill in the FAFSA forms for financial aid (which was critical to me attending). My father had died three years before and he was the one who wanted me to attend college and get the opportunities he never had. My mom couldn't provide money for college and couldn't really help in completing the forms. She had no idea what college was all about. I had no one to turn to, so I did it all myself - probably badly, as I didn't get the financial aid that I clearly should have gotten based on our financial situation

But I persevered and I got to Rutgers College in September. And I hated it. College seemed so much like high school all over again that first semester that if I could have gone to an office and gotten all my money back, I would have quit in October.

I couldn't get a refund and I stuck it out, and by the spring semester my perspective had completely changed. I found my place. I found the places to go when I needed help. I was able to get some additional student loans.

Many students were helped on their college path during their years in high school by counselors and probably a few trusted teachers. But that support is gone in the summer after high school graduation and most colleges are not supporting incoming freshmen until orientation.

These students who melt away are not going to other colleges. They are going nowhere.  

The summer melt student rate varies by schools but runs about 10-40% of students, according to a study from Harvard University. According to surveys, the general number given is about one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arriving at any college campus that fall.

That's the problem. What about the interventions and support?

One project I read about targeted 1,422 students and offered them up to two hours of counseling (which is not much) over a five-week period following high-school graduation. About 500 students received assistance through in-person meetings or over the phone. About one in three of them received help filling out financial-aid forms; another third got help with transcripts. One in 10 merely sought emotional support and reassurance to manage pre-college anxiety. This Summer Link program set a budget of $48 per student to cover costs.

But some of the interventions are not costly and may not involve much staff time. I would not let the high schools totally off the hook when it comes to support. Realizing that almost all high school counselors are 10-month employees and off for the summer, high schools can still support their graduates by texting weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track. If there is any summer staff, being available for help would be a tremendous intervention even if it is more of a group session than 1:1 support. 

For colleges too, texting programs (email seems to not be the way to communicate with these students - though many college are still using that and snail mail as their way to communicate) can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly.

Social media should also be used. Having incoming freshmen follow an Instagram account for their particular class (not the general college accounts) that post photos and brief notes on deadlines, numbers to call etc. would also be better than email and snail mail.

When feasible, getting those students on campus in July and August is a good thing. These are not the students who visit with mom and dad, take pictures and buy t-shirts and things at the bookstore.

My only visit to Rutgers before orientation was an afternoon when we met with a faculty member to create our schedule. My "advisor" was new faculty member who taught economics and knew less about my English Education program of study than I did. Plus, I was profoundly disappointed that my first semester courses seemed to have nothing to do with my goal to be an English teacher. Economics 101? 

Some of summer melt certainly comes from those doubts and concerns I felt and I think all students feel about what college will be, how successful they can be and even if they’ve made the right choice. The forms and information colleges ask for and the placement exams that most schools require and all the deadlines are important. Missing or messing up one of them can really screw up your college path. 

In talking to some friends who are not involved in education about summer melt, they were shocked. They say "You mean a kid has taken the SATs, been accepted, received financial aid, and she still doesn't show up? That makes no sense." And they're right. It doesn't make sense that colleges aren't doing more to prevent these students from melting away.

 


Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College by Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page

Two More MOOCs I Didn't Complete. And I'm Okay With That.

MOOCThough we hear a lot less about Massive Open Online Courses now than we did five years ago, demand for online courses is still growing. In 2015, the global market for online learning was said to be about $107 billion and in 2017, this market was said to have grown to $255 billion. If those numbers are correct, that is more than 200% growth.

Those numbers certainly have attracted companies to create and sell online courses. But I still find many articles that say the completion rate for courses remains low - about 15%. HarvardX and MITx recently reported that only 5.5% of people who enroll in one of their open online courses earn a certificate.

How can we explain this disconnect between demand for courses and the number of people who actually complete the course whether it is free or for a fee? I would go back to some of my MOOC posts since 2012. People often take a MOOC with no intention to finish all the work or the course. They come into the course to get certain content. That is not a model traditional schools or instructors know. It is also a new model for learners. take what you need, and leave.

My own most recent MOOC experiences fit into the non-completion category.  I took the course from HarvardX (edX) on "Buddhism Through Its Scriptures."  I am not new to the study of religion or Buddhism, but I am not really familiar with Buddhist scriptures. I took this free course (no credit/certificate, though that is offered) because of an intellectual curiosity. The course has readings, both scriptural and informational. There are video lectures. There are discussions. There are even quizzes to check and perhaps stop you along the way to prevent you somewhat from just clicking your way through the content.

The other MOOC I enrolled in simultaneously is "Compassionate Leadership Through Service Learning with Jane Goodall and Roots & Shoots" offered through Coursera. This is an action-oriented online teacher professional development course. It is not as passive as many online courses and requires participants to identify and implement a local service-learning campaign. All of this uses the Roots & Shoots program model associated with Jane Goodall, who is one of my personal heroes.

I should not enroll in two courses at once. I just can't commit the time. Though I was interested in the service learning curriculum from an educator point of view, I did not have any plan to implement a campaign. 

I learned about the Roots and Shoots model, gathered some teacher resources, learned the differences between service-learning and community service, and understand what is meant by a compassionate leader. many of the skills apply to other projects I work on, especially in my volunteer work.I mentor young people and some of that is about try to create change in the community, so learning about using community mapping, collaborating with stakeholders, and designing practical campaigns are all useful. 

Did I learn from the two courses? Yes. Will I apply that learning to my personal and work lives? Yes. Did I complete the courses? No. Do I consider this a failure of the course or myself? No. 

One of the battle cries during the rise of the MOOC was to democratize online learning. I believe that has happened. The number of free and inexpensive online courses available to learners worldwide is massive. There might even be too many courses - part of the online information overload of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, ebooks, webinars, and websites.

Our way of measuring student success across different platforms and educational settings need to change. A better question to ask a MOOC learner at the end of the course is whether the course met their needs. 

I don't know if the "freemium" model of the MicroMasters programs offered on edX will be part of a new way of selecting courses and a program. They allow someone to start in a lower-cost online course and then apply for an in-person semester-long graduate program if they make it through the online portion. The MOOC-that's-not-a-MOOC is a kind of test drive.

There are many interesting approaches to online learning, certification, accreditation and tuition that are changing higher education. The MOOC movement initiated many of these projects - but they are NOT MOOCs. Keep that in mind.

How On-Demand Culture Affects Learning

tv viewerI wrote recently on another site about "cord-cutting" and about the rise of the group I call "The Disconnected" My Millennial son has cut the cord to his cable provider. He did it not only to save money, but because he simply doesn't have time to watch everything that is out there. Like many people, he mostly watches things on demand, either via a DVR or sites that allow on-demand viewing. He hasn't cut all his viewing bills to $0. He purchased Sling services which currently starts at $20 a month and offers streaming options. He still has his Netflix streaming account and can get movies and shows using his Amazon Prime account. He thinks I am a dinosaur for still getting Netflix DVDs in the mail. Netflix probably feels the same way and I am sure mailing DVDs will disappear entirely in the near future. I'm getting all kinds of offers (see bottom of post) to alternatives to my cable subscription.

I picked up a book in the library recently called On-Demand Culture that focuses on how this is changing the movie industry. Media is not my focus on this site, but it is a good example of on-demand culture.

It is not just about people watching films at home, but how the movie industry is changing because of digital technologies. Most people don't think about that film distributors now send films to theaters electronically. But consumers not only purchase or rent movies instantly online, but they are streaming them to high-definition televisions, their laptops and often to small mobile devices. When TV made its entrance bigtime in the 1950s, the movies reacted by going big with wide screens and color that TV couldn't compete with in quality. TV has caught up in many ways with that quality issue. (You can download parts of that book at https://muse.jhu.edu/book/24204)

Amazon is offering me an Amazon Channels Free Trial and suggests using Prime to watch thousands of movies and TV shows on demand. They even asked me to try an HBO Free Trial, which I would think is almost their competition these days.

With all these deals, why wouldn't everyone cut the cord? One reason people hang on is because many of these other services don't offer your local channels and some "basic" cable channels like CNN or sports channels.

modern HDTV antenna

A friend of mine was in that situation and started to investigate the HDTV antennas that are available. This seems like a throwback to the 1950s and 60s when every home had an antenna on the roof or a "rabbit ears" antenna on top of the TV.

The current generation of antennas allow you to pull in HDTV network programming for free - just like in the old days - with no monthly fee or subscription. It sounds ideal, but you are not going to get all that cable content, though you should get your local CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates and some other channels.

Adjusting your TV antenna 60 years ago had become a kind of art. You learned which way to turn it for channel 2 as opposed to how to get channel 7. People hooked up additional wires, tin foil and other things to them to increase the pickup. The new 360º multi-directional designs eliminate constant adjustments and they support up to 1080i HDTV broadcasts. But they have limits.

Many products say they can pull channels from towers that are within 40 miles of your TV. I live well within that range of New York City, so I probably could get all the local channels. Most of these products also have disclaimers that reception quality and channels received will depend on not only your distance from towers, but broadcast power, terrain and other factors like buildings and power lines. 

modern, old-style, outdoor antenna

I found that you can still buy rooftop TV antennas that look a lot like the ones from 50 years ago, though they are much more sophisticated and include amplifiers and other devices.

All of this media movement is part of the "on-demand" movement that started with VCRs that allowed us to "time shift" our viewing habits and terrified the TV industry. We still have some live event TV that is rarely watched at a later date. The upcoming Oscars and certainly the Super Bowl are perfect examples of "event TV" that is viewed live and that advertisers and channels love because they can easily measure the audience share.

I still like to go to a movie theater, but I go far less than I did in the past. Going to a theater has also become a kind of event. I go to films that I don't want to wait to see in a few weeks or month when they make it to my TV.

An “on-demand culture,” is shifting not only our viewing habits but many of our other expectations. When do people want to shop, or fill in an application? Any time at all is the answer. On demand. Even education, which has been my life's work, has gone on-demand with online content and online courses that allow student to time shift their education and pick and choose what content they want to view and when they want to view it. Most college professors have had to become proficient at creating digital content even if they still teach face-to-face in a classroom. Am I ready to cut the cord?  I'm watching the examples of my friend and my son. Maybe this dinosaur sees an asteroid headed his way.


 
 

Event-Based Internet

Event-based Internet is going to be something you will hear more about this year. Though I had heard the term used, the first real application of it that I experienced was a game. But don't think this is all about fun and games. Look online and you will find examples of event-based Internet biosurveillance and event-based Internet robot teleoperation systems and other very sophisticated uses, especially connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

HQWhat did more than a million people do this past Sunday night at 9pm ET? They tuned in on their mobile devices to HQ Trivia, a game show, on their phones.  

For a few generations that have become used to time-shifting their viewing, this real-time game is a switch. 

The HQ app has had early issues in scaling to the big numbers with game delays, video lag and times when the game just had to be rebooted. But it already has at least one imitator called "The Q" which looks almost identical in design, and imitation is supposed to be a form of flattery.

This 12-question trivia quiz has money prizes. Usually, the prize is $2000, but sometimes it jumps to $10 or $20K. But since there are multiple survivors of the 12 questions that win, the prizes are often less than $25 each.

Still, I see the show's potential (Is it actually a "show?") Business model? Sponsors, commercial breaks, sponsors and product placement in the questions, answers and banter in-between questions.

The bigger trend here is that this is a return to TV "appointment viewing."  Advertisers like that and it only really occurs these days with sports, some news and award shows. (HQ pulled in its first audience of more than a million Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards, so...) 

And is there some education connection in all this?  Event-based Internet, like its TV equivalent, is engaging. Could it bring back "The Disconnected" learner?  

I found a NASA report on "Lessons Learned from Real-Time, Event-Based Internet Science Communications."  This report is focused on sharing science activities in real-time in order to involve and engage students and the public about science.

Event-based distributed systems are being used in areas such as enterprise management, information dissemination, finance,
environmental monitoring and geo-spatial systems.

Education has been "event-based" for hundreds of years. But learners have been time-shifting learning via distance education and especially via online learning for only a few decades. Event-based learning sounds a bit like hybrid or blended learning. But one difference is that learners are probably not going to tune in and be engaged with just a live lecture. Will it take a real event and maybe even gamification to get live learning? 

In all my years teaching online, I have never been able to have all of a course's student attend a "live" session either because of time zone differences, work schedules or perhaps content that just wasn't compelling enough.

What will "Event-based Learning" look like?

Bleeding Edgy Deep Learning

Deep learning is a hot topic right now, but it is not lightweight or something I would imagine learners who are not in the computer science world to take very seriously. But I stumbled upon this video introduction that certainly goes for an edgier presentation of this serious subject and obviously is trying to appeal to a non-traditional audience.

That audience would be part of what I refer to as both Education 2.0 and also that segment of learners who are The Disconnected.  I see these disconnected learners as a wider age group than "Millennials." They are the potential students in our undergraduate and graduate programs, but also older people already in the workplace looking to move or advance their careers. The younger ones have never been connected to traditional forms of media consumption and services and have no plan to ever be connected to them. And that is also how they feel about education. You learn where and when you can learn with little concern for credits and degrees.

The video I found (below) is an "Intro to Deep Learning" billed as being "for anyone who wants to become a deep learning engineer." It is supposed to take you from "the very basics of deep learning to the bleeding edge over the course of 4 months." That is quite a trip. 

The sample video is on how to predict an animal’s body weight given it’s brain weight using linear regression via 10 lines of Python.

Though the YouTube content (created by and starring Siraj Raval) is totally free, he also has a partnership with Udacity in order to offer a new Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation program. Udacity will also be providing guaranteed admission to their Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving Car Nanodegree programs to all graduates. 


Is this a good marketing effort bu Udacity? Will it reach new and disconnected learners? Will they simply use the videos and resources to learn or make that connection to some kind of degree/certification that might tell an employer that they know something about deep learning? I don't have the deep learning program that can predict that. I'm not sure it exists. Yet.

RESOURCES

This is the code via GitHub for "How to Make a Prediction - Intro to Deep Learning #1' by Siraj Raval on YouTube

This lesson uses simple linear regression. "Simple" is a relative term here, as many people would not find it simple, as in "easy." It is a statistical method that allows us to summarize and study relationships between two continuous (quantitative) variables. This lesson via Penn State introduces the concept and basic procedures of simple linear regression.

You might also want to look at this tutorial on the topic via machinelearningmastery.com.

Where We Work

workplaceThere have been at least two decades of people meeting online. Face to face meeting went the way of face to face classes - moving online. Then there was a reaction to too many online meetings. People wanted to be with people again. 

Enter Meetup, whose purpose is to connect people to one another in the real world around interests (learning Spanish, writing poetry, political activism etc.) Meetup has 35 million members and now it will merge with its new owner WeWork

WeWork is a global network of workspaces. They offer people spaces for creativity, focus, connection. Spaces to work. WeWork is now valued at close to $20 billion - that's the tech startup land of Uber and Airbnb.

This merger news got me thinking again about learning spaces. The WeWork/Meetup models are not irrelevant to the ideas of face to face, online and especially hybrid learning models - and the spaces that work best for those modes of learning.

Think about how much talk there is about the importance of informal learning. That is a kind of learning that is not best suited for a classroom with rows of desks facing an instructor up front. Online learning is effective when learners have a sense of a space, virtual though it ma be, and a sense of community online. Hybrid or blended learning need to use the best of both those worlds.

It might be fruitful for educators to study what Meetup and WeWork do well and see if it can be applied to educational settings.

This post first appeared on Linkedin.com/pulse/

Education and the Gig Economy

gigI mentioned the Gig Economy to a colleague at a college last week and he said he had never heard of the term. I said that "gig" is a term I associate with musicians who move from job to job, gig to gig. Now, it is being applied to a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. "But it has nothing to do with education," he commented. That got me thinking. Is it affecting education?

A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors. Most discussions of the gig economy talk about job sharing apps like Uber, Instacart and TaskRabbit. There has long been short term, contract and freelance work being done in the labor market. But the type that is being done by college graduates is said to have grown by more than 50% over the last decade.

Jeff Selingo referenced studies that contend that all the net job growth since the Great Recession has been in the gig or contract economy, and that 47% of college-age students did some sort of freelancing work last year, along with 43% of millennials.

My first thought about gig work in higher education is adjuncts. With more and more adjuncts (and fewer full-time faculty) being used in colleges, many adjuncts put together gigs at several schools. If teaching is your only job, that means trying to get three or more classes per semester fall, spring and summer.

I pulled some books off the bookstore shelf this past weekend and looked at what is being written about The Future Workplace ExperienceThe Gig Economy and Thriving in the Gig Economy are examples. 

They talk about dealing with disruption in recruiting and engaging employees A lot of the popular of the media focus is on the low end of the skill spectrum. Less attention is given to college grads and professionals who have chosen this independent employment route.

I found so many different stats on the size of this gig workforce that I hesitate to link to a source. One book says more than a third of Americans are working in the gig economy. That seems high by my own circle of friends and colleagues, but this includes short-term jobs, contract work, and freelance assignments 

I am now officially in retirement - or unretirement as I prefer to say. I have written elsewhere about unretirement and freelance work which is part of the gig economy. I take on teaching, web and instructional design gigs on a very selective basis. I choose things that interest me and allow me the freedom to work when I want to work and from where I want to work.  Sometimes the work comes from traditional places. I did a 6-month gig with a nearby community college that I had worked at full-time in the past. I have two new web clients for whom I am designing sites and e-commerce stores.

But let's return to what this might have to do with education. Higher education as preparation for a job has always been a topic of debate. "It's not job training," is what many professors would say. Employers have always played a large role in the training and professional development of their workers whether they have degrees or not.

In a gig economy, freelancers have to be self-directed in their learning. They need to decide what knowledge they’re missing, where to acquire it, how to fit it in to their day and how to pay for it. The free (as in MOOC and other online opportunities) is very appealing. Do schools that charge tuition and have traditional classes have any appeal to these people?

Certainly, driving for Uber doesn't require a degree, though having some business training in order to be self-employed would be beneficial. But my interest is more with "professional" freelancers. Take as an example, someone who has some college, certification or preferably a degree, that makes them able to promote themselves as an instructional designer or social media manager. I choose those two because I have done both as a freelancer and I know that if I look right now on a jobs site such as Glassdoor I will find hundreds of opportunities for those two areas locally.

Businesses and colleges save resources in terms of benefits, office space and training by employing these people. They also have the ability to contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.

For some freelancers I know, a gig economy appeals because it offers them more control over their work-life balance. In that case, they are selecting jobs that they're interested in, rather than entering the gig economy because they are unable to attain employment, and so pick up whatever temporary gigs they can land. The latter is often the case with adjunct faculty. 

To someone mixing together short-term jobs, contract work, and freelance assignments, where would they go to find additional professional development?

Books like The Gig Economy - with its appealing subtitle offer of being "The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want" - is more interested in real-world corporate examples (Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Etsy, TaskRabbit, France's BlaBlaCar, China's Didi Kuaidi, and India's Ola) as crowd-based capitalism.

The freelancer may not be much concerned with emerging blockchain technologies, but she is certainly part of the changing future of work.

The future is always a land of questions: Will we live in a world of empowered entrepreneurs who enjoy professional flexibility and independence? Will these gig economy workers become disenfranchised, laborers jumping from gig to gig, always looking for work and paying heir own health benefits? How will this affect labor unions, self-regulatory organizations, labor law, and a new generation of retirees who have a more limited social safety net? Are long-term careers at one or two companies a thing of the past?

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, the world’s largest car sharing company, said, “My father had one job in his life, I’ve had six in mine. My kids will have six at the same time.”

The one thing all observers seem to agree on is that the way we work is changing.

Jennifer Lachs writes on opencolleges.edu.au about that changing working world and the possible impact it may have on education. I hadn't thought of it as a gig economy job but of course substitute teachers in K-12 education have long been employed on a freelance basis. The education and training industry is among the top 5 highest demand industries for freelance workers due to the high level of specialization and rise of virtual education.

I know of a dozen or so teachers who do online teaching and tutoring as a way to supplement their income. For decades, professors have done freelance writing and thesis editing and much of that has moved online. My wife and I are currently editing a dissertation via email and shared files along with the occasional phone conference.

The writing center I helped build at a community college has relied on online tutoring for student writing as a way to supplement the face-to-face tutoring. Online appealed to students, but it also offered additional work for some of out part-time tutors and others who added it to the gig list.

Are we preparing students for the gig economy once they graduate? No. 

A friend pointed me at "It’s a Project-Based World" which was a thought leadership campaign by Getting Smart to explore the economic realities of a project-based world. The purpose of the campaign: to promote equity and access to deeper learning outcomes for all students. There are blog posts, podcast interviews, publications, and infographics around the preparation of students, teachers and leaders for a project-based world. The focus there seems to be less on obtaining deeper knowledge, and more on teaching skills that students will need in the modern working world.

Finally, I think that the gig economy will have a greater impact on traditional education than traditional education will have on the gig economy. It accounts for employment growth statistics, but secondary or post-secondary schools don't prepare students for this type of work.

 

All Your Students Are Generation Z

Gen ZWhen I started working at a university in 2000, there was a lot of talk about Millennials. That generation gets a lot less attention these days. I am not much of a fan of these generation generalizations, but that won't stop them from being topics of conversation. They are particularly of interest to marketers.

The generation that follows the Millennials are those born between 1995 - 2012. That makes them 5- 22 years old. I don't know how we can generalize very much about that wide a range of people. But educators should take note because they do include kids in kindergarten through the new college graduates and all those students in between.

The post-Millennial generation hasn't gotten name that everyone agrees on. I hear them called Generation Z, Post-Millennials, iGeneration, Centennials and the Homeland Generation.

Although "iGeneration" might suggest that they are self-centered, the lowercase i references the Apple world of iPods, iPhones, iPads etc.

"Homeland" refers to the post-9/11 world they grew up in. September 11, 2001 was the last major event to occur for Millennials. Even the oldest members of Generation Z were quite young children when the 9/11 attacks occurred. They have no generational memory of a time the United States was not at war with the loosely defined forces of global terrorism.

I'll use Gen Z to label this demographic cohort after the Millennials.

Here are some of the characteristics I find that supposedly describe Gen Z. You'll notice that much of this comes from the fact that this generation has lived with the Internet from a young age. This is usually taken to mean that they are very comfortable (don't read that as knowledgeable) with technology and interacting on social media.

Besides living in an Internet age, they live in a post-9/11 age and grew up through the Great Recession and so have a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity.

They get less sleep than earlier generations.

They are mobile phone users - not desktop, laptop or landline users.

They are wiser than earlier generations about protecting their online personalities and privacy, but they live in a world that also offers more threats.  For example, they are more likely to create “rinsta” and “finsta” Instagram personas. (Rinsta is a “real” account and finsta is a “fake” or “friends-only” profile.)

They are wiser to marketing and more resistant to advertising. Less than a quarter of them have a positive perception of online ads (Millward Brown). But, perhaps ironically, they trust YouTube stars, Instagram personalities, and other social media influencers and that includes when they make purchasing decisions.

Having grown up with more of it, they are generally more open to efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.

They’re easily bored with an average attention span of eight seconds (Sparks & Honey). Of course, the attention span of the average millennial is supposed to be 12 seconds. That makes them hard to engage, but they self-identify as wanting to be engaged.

That haven't had or expect to have summer jobs.

They are said to be slower at maturing than earlier generations. They postpone getting a driver's license. Many of them even postpone having sex.

Rather than a generation gap, like the one made famous in the 1960s, they are more likely to hang with their parents.

They are very open to sharing their opinions in many ways from consumer reviews and other consumer behavior, and online they like collaborative communities and the exchange of ideas and opinions.