Being a Gig Worker in the Sharing Economy

The Gig Economy (AKA the Sharing Economy) has its appeal: choose your hours, choose your work, be your own boss, control your own income.

It is a unconnected collection of online platforms and apps that allow users to bypass some of the barriers to personal capitalism.

Some of the players are well known: Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Etsy, Airbnb, TaskRabbit. But there are many more apps that allow entrance into gig work that are not as well known.  You are more likely to be a user of the sharing economy than being a worker in it. 

Alexandrea J. Ravenelle has been studying predominantly millennial workers who work in this new economy. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mercy College and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Her new book is Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy (University of California Press) which comes out of her research.

An earlier paper by her (see below) asked if these members of the gig economy were microentrepreneurs or working in the precariat class. The former is a positive label. The latter is not. The precariat social class is formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.

I have written about the gig economy, and I feel like in my unretirement I am a member of that economy, even though I don't use any of the gig apps.

The optimism connected to the gig/shared economy is that it can help reverse economic inequality. It can enhance worker rights, and bring entrepreneurship to many more people.

But it is precarious too. What is lost includes worker safety, workplace protections around discrimination and sexual harassment, reliable income.

Ravenelle groups the stories of giggers into three types: Success Stories (they created the life they want), Strugglers (who can’t make ends meet) and Strivers (who have stable jobs and use the sharing economy for extra cash).

I know that some of my college students are part-time members of the gig economy. It is their way to earn money and gain experiences and perhaps make contacts for more permanent future work. The flexibility it offers works well for students. For example, I have had several Uber and Lyft drivers who were students who drove between classes and on the days off. I suppose they are closest to being Strivers, though being a student is hardly a "stable job." In higher education, adjunct instructors are also members of a kind of gig economy as many of them put together a full time life via part time teaching assignments along with other work. 

 

Ravenelle's earlier paper "Microentrepreneur or precariat? Exploring the sharing economy through the experiences of workers for Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Uber and Kitchensurfing" was presented at the First International Workshop on the Sharing Economy held at Utrecht University June 4-5, 2018.

You can also watch the video with her slides.

One Pathway for Future Engineers and Computer Scientists

Amazon is committing $50 million to computer science education in the United States with new programs supporting high school and early undergraduate students. Part of this includes financial aid to help schools bring AP computer science courses to their students. They have recently expanded this initiative into K-8.

The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help students discover the "fun" of computer science. Amazon critics might say this a just a kind of farm system for training new employees. Their efforts may benefit the company, but those students are probably more likely to work for other companies. And yes, I would agree that $50 million dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money when spread across the country's schools.

Students who start computer science early (and this seems to especially be true for females) are more likely to say they like computer science and have confidence in their computer science abilities.

I'm sure many people would write about this as another STEM or STEAM effort, but their materials talk about how positive it is for everyone to understand how computers (and that word means so many things besides the traditional laptop or desktop computer we talked about just 20 years ago) work and how they are programed.

Most students will not end up working as programmers or computer scientists, but that technology will touch the lives in and out of the workplace.

The program promotes how programming will aid not only the understanding of computers, but other technology and also a student's understanding of logic, precision and creativity.

Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a partnership with organizations such as Code.org and Coding with Kids.

The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program aims to support 100,000 high schoolers in taking Advanced Placement courses in computer science. It also is set to award four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-represented populations who participate in those courses.

Amazon is accepting scholarship applications for the 2019 campus and classes.
Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families

https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/

https://code.org/

https://www.codingwithkids.com/amazon/

 

On Internships

Jumping Through the Dissertation Hoop

jumping through hoops
"Jumping through hoops at Arabian Nights" by Experience Kissimmee, Florida is licensed under CC BY 2.0 CC BY 2.0

Ah, the dissertation. That mammoth writing task that a student needs to complete in order to get that terminal degree. ("Terminal" - interesting term to use)

If you work in higher education, then you have stories to tell about people trying to jump through that academic hoop. I have lots of tales of friends and colleagues who struggled to write, finish and make it through their defense. (Isn't "defense" an interesting word to use for that part of the process?)

One friend of mine was being pushed to extend his writing for an additional semester because his supervising professor needed him to justify not teaching an additional class. The professor actually told him that. When he reacted negatively, the prof replied that "We had to jump through these hoops to get our doctorate, so now we get to make you jump."  Wow. It's the academic equivalent of fraternity hazing.

I could also write a post on "NOT Writing the Dissertation" since that was my own experience. I enrolled in a Ed.D program in "pedagogy" but lost interest when I was required to take courses on topics such as "school law." I continued to take classes - just not the right ones. Since at that time I was teaching in a public school, when I had amassed 32 credits beyond my MA degree, I "advanced" on the salary guide. Not as far as if I had the Ed.D, but pretty close.

So, I was close to being ABD (All But Dissertation) but really closer to being ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Through my LLC with my wife, we have done editing for academic writing, including some dissertations. When I saw an article by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Value of Dissertation-Writing Groups," it was a good reminder that although we seem to value the solitary work of writing a dissertation, it is - and should be - more of a collaborative writing task.

Cassuto says, "The glorification of solitary labor permeates the imaginary ideal of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Your dissertation is your own work of expertise, your own plot in the great intellectual firmament. And you write it by yourself. Here’s the trouble: It just ain’t so."

The dissertation is supposed to be part of the process of making a student into a scholar and getting research out into the world. Scholarly and academic writing outside of dissertations is especially collaborative. As the article says: "Academic writing done by those who already have the doctorate is very collaborative, as is obvious if you look at all those acknowledgements in scholarly books. There are other academics, librarians, archivists, proofreaders, but also — and crucially — the people who have been reading drafts all along, making suggestions, editing, shaping. The person whose name is on the spine does the largest part of the work, but others share in the labor."

It seems to me that working with graduate students who are doing writing (dissertation or otherwise), you should certainly address the collaborative element. One way to do that is to have a dissertation group. The students we worked with on dissertations all had formed a group on their own with classmates, mostly ones who were on a similar path. That is a part of the process that should be formalized, encouraged and - perhaps most importantly - accepted by academia. 

Designing Instruction

In my unretirement, I am back into the world of instructional design this semester. During my first phase working in this area, I was the manager of a department of instructional design, but as the years passed and I moved on I became a designer independently.

For the next year, I will be designing the initial courses that will launch the Virtual campus at the County College of Morris in New Jersey. This is a virtual designer position. I will do almost all my work virtually.

The Instructional Designer (ID) is a fairly new job title that existed in some form in corporate training setting before moving into education. Of course, teachers at all levels have been "designing" their instruction forever. But the instructional designer position really came to the forefront with technology-enhanced teaching and learning and the growth of distance and then online courses.

I often point out that instructional technology is "the other IT" - an abbreviation that is generally meant to mean "information technology." In my world of IT, the "instructional" takes precedence over the "technology." Perhaps, it should abbreviated as It?

If you look at any job postings for IDs, you will find a wide variety of responsibilities and desired skills. I compiled a list back when I was interviewing people for those positions and was surprised to find the number of items on it.

  1. Collaborates with faculty and other subject matter experts to apply current instructional design theories, practice, and methods to learning activities and course content in alignment with learning outcomes.
  2. Provides instructional design or curriculum development training and support to academic units and
  3. whose work is not limited to online and hybrid courses and programs
  4. Addresses accessibility concerns
  5. Develops course templates
  6. Structures learning activities
  7. Creates or assist other sin creating visual resources and interactive elements
  8. Works with faculty to assess and improve the quality of hybrid and online courses using standards such as Quality Matters.
  9. May write or edit copy, instructional text, and audio/video scripts for courses 
  10. Identifies opportunities for adoption of open education resources OER
  11. Provides additional help to faculty with a learning management system (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard etc.)
  12. Develops and facilitates individual and cohort-based training and orientation programs
  13. Stays current with expertise in the field by reading appropriate professional journals and trade publications, and
  14. Attends and presents at professional conferences, workshops and meetings
  15. May serve on library, university, and regional or national committees and project teams
  16. Coordinates activities related to orientation and onboarding in-depth/comprehensive pedagogical and instructional technology support of new full and part time instructors.
  17. Consults with faculty on approaches to learning and instruction and helps them to develop materials such as assignment instructions, rubrics, etc.
  18. Provides models, templates, and frameworks that faculty can use to structure course related projects, assignments, and activities.
  19. Manages the design and development of curriculum and courses according to project timelines.
  20. Assists faculty to identify and evaluate instructional software
  21. Support relevant emergent initiatives (such as Digital Humanities, Makerspaces)
  22. Research and test new technologies that support teaching and learning and solve specific problems

What kind of resume items would I expect to see for a good ID candidate? That varies a lot more than the above responsibilities list. I know lots of colleges that have one ID on staff, and larger schools with a department with six or more people. I also see some crossover at some schools with the position of Instructional Technologist. Personally, I see those two positions as very different, but not all schools agree - often it's an issue of available money and salary lines.

I would like to see:

  • A minimum of two years of experience in an instructional design, faculty development, or project management position related to teaching with technology in a college or university setting.
  • Demonstrated experience (meaning you can show me samples for all the "experience" items here) designing templates for online courses in collaboration with department, program, and/or institutional faculty and staff
  • A clear understanding of the learning theories, principles, and strategies that support best practices in online and technology-enhanced teaching, such as Universal Design for Learning. 
  • Experience with at least one learning management system - hopefully, the one being used at the school.
  • Experience designing and facilitating workshops and trainings for instructors
  • Clear understanding of policies concerning accessibility, privacy, information security, and academic integrity
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work as a contributing and collegial member of a team, and to communicate proactively within the team environment.
     

I would prefer to see some of these items on a resume.

  • Project management skills
  • An advanced degree in a discipline such as Instructional Design, Learning Technologies, Curriculum and Instruction, Adult Learning, or a related field
  • Teaching experience in a college or university setting
  • A record of professional or scholarly contributions to instructional design or faculty development, evidenced through either publications or participation in professional organizations
  • Basic graphic design skills
  • Experience with creating innovative assessments (e.g. performance based, game based, media based).

You Don't Need a College Degree: New Edition

graduateThe argument that a college degree is or isn't the path to a job surfaces regularly. Many studies show that having a degree ultimately leads to greater earnings in a lifetime, and colleges love to see that research out there. But in the past few decades, you find more stories in the news about people succeeding in the workplace without degrees.

This year, I am seeing two trends: more vocational training in high schools, and companies not requiring degrees for some jobs that once did require a degree.

An article on wsj.com discusses the direct ties between some big companies and local high schools to prepare students for jobs. Volkswagen is working with schools in Tennessee to modernize their engineering programs. Tesla is partnering with Nevada schools on an advanced manufacturing curriculum. Fisheries in Louisiana have created courses for students to train for jobs in “sustainability.”

There have long been high school career education programs, and the U.S.. has had specialized vocational schools for a century, but this is a shift. The idea that not all students need a degree (and especially not a liberal-arts degree) in order to get a good job is gaining strength through relationships and changes with employers.

The outlier examples of the billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who never finished college are anomalies. Students - and parents - were not convinced that skipping college was the right path. When I was an undergrad back in the 1970s, we all knew that with good grades from a decent college in almost anything you could get some kind of job. I had art history friends who ended up in banking, education majors who went into publishing etc. It was an early enough time in computers that you could get in on the ground floor of that area without a degree. I knew people who got training in network administration at post-secondary vocational schools and did very well.

But there was also a time a bit later when if you wanted a job at Google you had better have a degree, and really a doctorate from Stanford. That is less true today.

The job-search site Glassdoor compiledlist of 15 top employers that have said they no longer require applicants to have a college degree that includes companies like Google, Apple and IBM. 

These companies are not saying they don't want any college graduates and this doesn't apply to all their positions, but it does apply to many more than before. Passing on college degree requirements for some positions is probably a reaction in part to the tight labor market and mounting concerns surrounding student debt.

For example, Apple is considering and hiring people without degrees for positions such as Genius (in their stores), Design Verification Engineer, Engineering Project Manager, iPhone Buyer, Apple Technical Specialist, AppleCare at Home Team Manager, Apple TV Product Design Internship, Business Traveler Specialist, and Part Time Reseller Specialist.

Google lists these positions as open to non-graduates: Product Manager, Recruiter, Software Engineer, Product Marketing Manager, Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineer, Developer Relations Intern, UX Engineer, SAP Cloud Consultant, Administrative Business Partner.

Do these companies penalize someone with a computer science or marketing degree who applies? That would be foolish. But they do seriously consider people without degrees who would not have made the first round of interviews ten years ago.

Threats to the college degree in the past 30 years have been many: tuition costs, online learning, MOOCs, and OER have all been viewed as things that would take down the traditional degree and perhaps the traditional college itself. We would have Education 2.0 as we had Web 2.0. Still, students still apply, take courses, study, party, attend sporting events and graduate. But do they get jobs in their field of study? Sometimes. Do they discover when they get a job that much of those 120 credits seem to play no constructive role in their work? Sometimes.