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Circular Economies

circular
A circular economy model is a new idea to me. Look for books about circular economies (CE) and you will find enough to keep you busy reading for quite a while. 

One aspect of a CE is that it is an economy that does not mine new materials or manufacture products that end up in landfills. This is very "green" thinking. Can we use resources in closed loops? Might this be the fourth industrial revolution?

Designing For a Circular Economy is a book that describes an economy that will reuse through repair, reconditioning and refurbishment. At first this would seem to be a terrible model for a business. Since the middle of the 20th century we have talked about things like "planned obsolescence" and the disposable nature of our products. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, if your television set broke you had it repaired. As a boy, I watched my father test the tubes in our TV set and proudly replace the one that was causing problems. When was the last time you repaired a television? Many people would not even know where to go to get a television repaired.If it is out of warranty, you will probably dispose of it and buy a new one. And disposing of it may be a problem. Your town may not accept it as "trash" and you will need to bring it to a special place or can only dispose of it on certain days or at certain times of the year. 

But a circular economy does offer business opportunities, and most companies say they plan to transition to a circular economy model.

Developing products and services and achieving competitive advantage will mean rethinking existing business models for design processes, marketing, pricing and supply.

This is certainly a disruptive innovation, and one that will create social change and require new consumer attitudes.

Is this all about recycling and upcycling?  The Upcycle is the follow-up book to Cradle to Cradle, and they certainly draw upon green lessons learned in reusing and recycling resources. But CE goes beyond those activities.

In another book, Waste to Wealth, the argument is made that "green" and "growth" can coexist. Business models that provide circular growth are deploying sustainable resources and working with the sharing economy.

Circular economies are also about reducing waste, making sure that products are recycled, having products and materials staying in use longer. That means less resource extraction, less risk in supply chains, and reducing climate pollution. 

Reading all this I wondered if this had anything to do with education. Certainly, educational institutions will need to educate about circular economies, but can they treat their own institutions as circular economies in many of the same ways as other businesses? They can definitely reexamine their own supply chain, buildings and equipment purchasing and use.

But how else might learning work into a circular economy? Since we will need to change the way we create products, services, and systems, schools would need to change how they teach those processes.

There are organizations, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that are already looking at how we might create a new kind of expertise. It will require co-operation between silos, and a general change in attitudes and operating methods.

Education is not always open to change. But education still plays an important role in developing experts.  

I found this Circular Classroom: a Free Toolkit for Activating the Circular Economy through Experiential Learning. The Circular Classroom is a free, multilingual educational resource for students and teachers alike, designed to integrate circular thinking into high school and upper secondary classrooms in Finland. Finland is often considered to have one of the world’s best education system. It is quite different from other educational systems: no-homework, student-centric, interdisciplinary, with a life-skills teaching approach that is committed to experiential and phenomena-based learning. (You can find out more about Finland's schools: readings 1  2 3)

If not a circular economy, then what? We stay in the "Linear Economy" which is the take-make-use-dispose model of consumption that we arrived at with the Industrial Revolution. Many people believe that kind of global economy is no longer sustainable. A radical new model, the circular economy, with design thinking and education for sustainability may be a topic for academic papers today, but I believe it will be put into practice sooner than may of you reading this would predict.

 

 

Steven Spielberg, Dinosaurs, Oscars and Degrees, Netflix and Coursera

Oscar StatuettesFilmmaker Steven Spielberg has been having an argument with Netflix. His tenure as Governor of the Academy that oversees the Oscars ends this summer, but his very public feelings about Netflix has become an issue in the motion picture industry.

Netflix is just the biggest name in streaming services and Spielberg isn't happy with this disruptor of his industry. He is all for protecting the traditional film studio pipeline and the Oscars that prioritize theaters over living rooms. He would like to see movies made for streaming services be excluded from the major categories at next year’s Oscars. He thinks that Netflix movies (and really ones from Amazon and other companies) should compete for Emmys, not Oscars.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he told British ITV News in March, 2018. “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

Roma, the film that was up for Best Picture, was the focus of a lot of this debate, was at the center of his argument this spring. The film lost in that category to Green Book, but it won Best Foreign Film, and Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director, so it certainly had a big impact this year.

graduationNow what does this have to do with education and this blog? I do tend to view a lot of things through an education lens (pun intended). It is how I have lived my adult life. 

I love movies. I got my MA in communications with a concentration of film and video back in the late 1970s when video was already taking the place of film. In my earliest teaching days, I taught students to cut film. It was a literal cut on a piece of film stock. At one time we even cut videotape that came on reels. By the 1980s, we were editing video by copying and pasting it to other videotape and the reels became VHS tapes. Analog became digital and though my students still did some animation frame by frame using Super 8 film cameras, we knew that would end soon.

I would compare Spielberg's argument with the arguments about disruptors that we have in education.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a good example. Going back to 2012 (the supposed "Year of the MOOC"), there were many similar arguments being heard. MOOCs will destroy traditional universities and degrees. Online learning will become free. The quality of MOOCs is inferior to credit-based online courses from universities.

Universities were movie theaters. Roma was a MOOC. Coursera was Netflix.

In the 7 short years since the MOOC got its big push, they have changed, been adopted by traditional universities and adapted to their own purposes. They didn't destroy traditional colleges or college course or degrees. They did disrupt all of those things. All of those things have changed in some ways, and they will continue to change as the MOOC and its evolved offspring appear.

SpielbergIs Steven Spielberg a dinosaur?

He has been at the technology edge for all of his career. Yes, he prefers to shoot on 35 mm film if he can, but when he needs the video technology, such as in his Ready Player One, he goes that route. 

As an Academy Governor, he is in a place where he feels the responsibility to protect the movie business, which he clearly loves. That includes the traditional distribution vector of movie theaters. Theaters have been threatened since the arrival of television in a big way back in the 1950s. So their dominance for distribution has been threatened for more than 60 years. But theaters still exist, though in reduced numbers.

Streaming services like Netflix are a big competitor, but so are Disney and other traditional studios that want a piece of that streaming money and may care less for their theater share of profit which has been shrinking over the past few decades.

Spielberg is a dinosaur in that he wants the old system to continue. he prefers the status quo. If he was a professor or college administrator, he probably would have opposed MOOCs.

Probably, as with the MOOC, both theaters and streaming films will continue to exist. Each will influence the other, but streaming and MOOCs will not disappear.

It is understandable that Netflix wanted Roma to be considered for an Oscar, so it put it in theaters for a limited release to qualify. there are some people who are willing to pay for a film in a theater on that big screen with an audience, even though it will appear on their television set in their living room if they wait a few weeks. But Netflix makes its money from those streaming subscriptions.

Actually, it is kind of a myth that Netflix "produced" Roma.” Netflix had nothing to do with “making” or even funding “Roma.” That is actually the case for many of the shows and movies labeled as Netflix Originals. They buy films just like the other traditional studios. Participant Media financed Roma. It was shot by Cuarón’s production company. Any of the traditional studios could have acquired Roma and put it in theaters. A black-and-white film in Spanish is not as appealing to many studios, even if the director has a good track record.

If I use Coursera, the world’s largest massive open online course (MOOCs in some ways) with a learner population of nearly 40 million, as my educational Netflix, I would point out that their courses are really courses made by traditional universities. The universities are the film studios. Coursera is their distributor.

If Spielberg fights to keep things "as is" then he is a dinosaur.  There are still education Spielbergs who don't want online courses at all. MOOCs are certainly something they don't want to be considered for credit toward a degree. Credits and degrees are the Oscars of higher education. 

It is still evolution more than it is revolution.

 

Ethical Tech

Reading the latest newsletter from Amber Mac a topic that caught my education eye is ethical tech. Hope educational use of tech is always stressing ethical use, but is this also a topic that is being taught? 

At the end of 2018, The New York Times posted an article titled, "Yes, You Can Be an Ethical Tech Consumer. Here’s How" by Brian Chen, which notes that products that we enjoy continue to create privacy, misinformation and workplace issues. That article makes some recommendations, ranging from Boycott and Shame (not so radical if you consider the 2018 #DeleteFacebook campaign that I don't think was all that successful) to paths that mean we Give Up Convenience for Independence - something that is as easy as fulfilling that resolution to diet and exercise.

Of course, I am on the side of educating the public and our students at all grade levels about the ethical use and applications of technology. Students are largely consumers of the tech, but they will be the creators. Did Mark Zuckerberg ever have an courses or lesson on the ethical use of technology?

I know that at NJIT where I taught, there were a number of courses that touch on ethical issues. In the management area, "Legal and Ethical Issues: Explores the legal and ethical responsibilities of managers. Analyzes extent to which shareholders should be allowed to exercise their legitimate economic, legal, and ethical claims on corporate managers; extent of regulation of a particular industry, individual rights of the employee and various corporate interests, and corporate responsibility to consumers, society, and conservation of natural resources and the environment." Of course, you have to get to the graduate level for that course.

In my own humanities area of Professional and Technical Communication, we started in the foundation courses in addressing ethics in communications - but it is only one topic in a busy curriculum along with usability analysis, visual information; global diversity and communication concerns and communicating with new technologies.

In computer science, "Computers, Society and Ethics" is a 300 level course that examines the historical evolution of computer and information systems and explores their implications in the home, business, government, medicine and education. The course includes discussions of automation and job impact, privacy, and legal and ethical issues. Obviously, ethical use needs to be a part of many courses at a science and technology school, as well as being the subject matter of entire courses.

AmberAmber says in her newsletter, that looking ahead "We will also continue to see social responsibility expand beyond the consumer. For example, let's think about investment dollars into new technologies. In the US alone, according to PitchBook, venture capital investment in US companies hit $100B in 2018. If we dig into these dollars, there are very few memorable headlines about ethical investments, but that is bound to change - especially as executives at large tech companies set new standards.

Engineers, designers, technical communicators and managers need to be better prepared for the world they are entering professionally. I proposed a course at NJIT on Social Media Ethics and Law that has yet to be approved or offered.

Amber continues that in terms of momentum on this ethical use  in companies, she points to software giant Salesforce as a leader. CNBC reported, the company will have its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer in 2019. And she points to a company that prides itself on being ethical and sustainable, Patagonia, as being "the north star of ethical business practices" and suggests that tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg should take a long look at Patagonia's many years of dedicated corporate responsibility. Patagonia announced they will donate the $10M the company saved via GOP tax cuts to environmental groups. Amber points out that Patagonia has a long history of providing consumers with access to their supply chain footprint and she asks if that might be the kind of thing that Gen Z may demand from the companies from whom they purchase. They might - if they are properly educated on the ethical use of technology.

Digital Darwinism and the Age of Assistance

It is an evolution that I have been following and I have written about how AI and machine learning are pushing us closer to that new age. I jokingly said that I was accepting resumes for a digital assistant. And most recently, the amazing and also frightening Google Duplex demo made me wonder if we don't need a reverse Turing test for AI.

It has been suggested that in this era where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses and schools can naturally adapt, the mantra of “adapt or die” comes into play. You can react to change, be disrupted by it, or adapt. Brian Solis and others have referred to this as "Digital Darwinism."

As with the more established Darwinism, the digital version is pretty indiscriminate when it comes to which products or companies survive, thrive or fade.

digital DarwinismI suppose we are still officially in the Information Age, but I think we may be evolving into an Age of Assistance. There is some evidence of this when you hear people say things like "Google, dim the bedroom lights" or "Alexa, play music by James Taylor."  

As in nature, we need experimentation and adpatations and even new species to survive. And some will have to go extinct. Goodbye Blockbuster, Circuit City, Borders Books, Tower Records, Pontiac, Saturn, and Palm. Hello Netflix, which then had to evolve (and is still doing so) to be a streaming rather than discs-in-the-mail service.

This pruning is clearly happening in business. Have any colleges fallen aside via Digital Darwinism? (A colleague answered that question by only half-sarcastically saying "Trump University.")

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are big drivers in Digital Darwinism. Is it true that Digital Darwinism has pushed open the door to an age of assitance a bit wider?  

That push comes from artifical intelligence combined with speech recognition.

Though smartphones and standalone devices with Siri, Alexa et al have put this assistance in front of consumers, digital speech recognition didn't start with those devices. The IBM Shoebox was shown to the general public during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. It was launched in 1961 - almost 20 years before the introduction of the first IBM Personal Computer. It was able to recognize 16 spoken words and the digits 0 to 9. 

Most speech recognition systems require some "training" from users and with AI they learn to respond more accurately and efficiently. We have moved away from the earlier "speaker dependent" systems in some ways. They have to learn a particular user's speech patterns, accent, pronunciation etc. Newer systems tend to be independent and aggregate patterns from the many users that are connected to them more than focus on one user. It's not your Alexa. It's everyone's Alexa.

The rise of smart speakers in the past year via their sales (sales that have more than tripled) like Google Home and Amazon Echo have made some humans more reliant on voice commands.

Google has been talking and offering voice search for a few years and we ceratinly sometimes use voice to seach on our phones. But, if you're like me, you still find that technology lacking in most instances. But the voice search revolution is still predicted to happen and I don't doubt that it will occur, though perhaps more evolutionarily than revolutionariy.

The sophistication of voice-recognition systems is improving rapidly. Microsoft’s Cortana voice recognition software (which doesn't get as much attention it seems) now has an error rate of 5.1 percent, which gets it up there with human counterparts. With Microsoft large installed base of Windows-based personal computers, smartphones and smart speakers, they will certain be players in this area.

Google Assistant is a virtual assistant primarily available on mobile and smart home devices, and (unlike Google Now) it can engage in two-way conversations.

What I find on this topic online is primarily about marketing, but I believe it also applies to education.

Consumers are researching just about everything they buy and want relevant results. they want assistance. In an Age of Assistance, we are finding that assistance in what is being refferred to as mobile-first “micro-moments.”

This is way beyond classical marketing. Currently, I don't see many examples in eduction of schools getting into new opportunities for “assisted” engagement. Is your help desk using voivce recognition and AI? Is it in other student support services? can a student in a course that is online or in a classroom use voice to aska question of a digital assistent at 1 AM when they are stuck on a problem?

Those few schools that are adapting and experimenting with these technologies might be safer down the evolutionary road when Digital Darwinism starts to make programs or colleges digital Dodo birds.

 

Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption

Digital Darwinism: Branding and Business Models in Jeopardy

                 

 

FURTHER READING

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-154/insights-inspiration/thought-leadership/marketing-age-assistance/

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/consumer-insights/search-in-the-age-of-assistance/

forbes.com/sites/briansolis/2017/10/11/wtf-whats-the-future-of-marketing-in-the-age-of-assistance/

business2community.com/tech-gadgets/the-age-of-assistance