Academia between two storms: talking NERCOMP into the future

Yesterday I had the good fortune to address the NERCOMP 2014 conference in Providence, Rhode Island.  The conference was a sweet one, with its highest attendance ever, a fine buzz of conversation, and a general confidence in springtime’s imminent arrival.

NERCOMP conference photo by Scott Hamlin

Before and after my talk I had the opportunity to visit some sessions, which offered a good overview of education and technology issues currently in play.  Project management strategies, social media and legal liability, tools for multimedia design, getting faculty involved in a summer session for incoming first-year students, supporting mobile devices, reorganizing IT shop: these are some of the areas where northeastern US educational technology and IT is working now.

At the same time I enjoyed seeing so many friends from northeastern campuses.  Face-to-face conferences give you that expanded emotional bandwidth (compared to online) which lets you reconnect more deeply, of course.  How sweet to see people I’ve known for years advancing in their careers, reflecting on their experience, or playing in a brass band (oh yes). Continue reading

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Yale’s former president to Coursera

??????????????????????????The recent president of Yale University has moved to lead a major MOOC platform.  Richard “Rick” Levin will become the new CEO of Coursera.

Anya Kamenetz asked for my thoughts, and I had two.  First, that Levin would be a fine fundraiser.  After all, that’s a primary function for university presidents, and Levin has a great track record of this at Yale.

Second, “He’s also a consulting economist, so he’s probably going to try and solve the xMOOC economic sustainability problem.”  Anya responded:

The money problem is a big one. Coursera’s growth so far has been funded by investment. They have been experimenting with different ways to attract revenue. Advertising, the most obvious choice, would likely be off-putting to students and university partners. At the end of 2012, Coursera announced a recruitment service, where employers would pay for access to users. But this didn’t get much traction.

Let’s see where Levin takes Coursera.  They now have a fascinating combination of talent.

EDITED TO ADD: a third reason is Levin’s work on transnational higher education.  He led Yale’s expansion into China and Singapore.  So it’s not surprising to see this article emphasize Coursera’s Chinese and other international audiences.

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How technology remixes socioeconomics: deeper into The Second Machine Age

Second Machine Age1389195493How are new technological innovations changing the economy and society?  We continue reading of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s recent book, The Second Machine Age (previous posts):

From this week’s SMA-related news: I’ve been playing with the Expresso web application.  It’s a simple tool. Simply paste in a chunk of text, and Expresso analyzes it for a bunch of factors: passive voice, complex nouns, rare words, extra long and short sentences, frequent words, and more.  It automates the function of an editor or writing instructor with incredible speed and significant scale, apparently.  And it was built by this grad student.  Another sign of innovative digital technology hitting the worlds of work and consumption.

More ambitiously, the Los Angeles Times now publishes earthquake stories written by a program called Quakebot.

On to the book!

Chapter 9: The Spread

Once upon a time economic productivity and median income advanced together.  Then the two decoupled in the 1970s, and their separation has widened since. Consider, for example, this graph: Productivity vs median income

Continue reading

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How we play today

Down on the collective gold farm: I review Nick Yee’s important and thought-provoking study of how people live in massively multiplayer online games.  It’s called The Proteus Paradox, and I commend it to anyone interested in gaming, online life, or cyberculture in general.


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Making a queen sacrifice in Maine

chess_queen_WendyCopeAnother American university is planning to close academic programs and lay off faculty, a move I’ve dubbed the queen sacrifice. The University of Southern Maine is facing a serious budget shortfall, and has responded with cuts.

“We can no longer afford to carry all the programs we have”, explained USM’s president. Programs and departments facing the axe include:

American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and hmanities at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College facility, and recreation and leisure studies.

A number of faculty and staff will be terminated:

[President Theo] Kalikow said she is recommending between 20 and 30 faculty reductions. She said she also is proposing between 10 and 20 additional staff position cuts…

[T]he number of full-time faculty will be reduced from 310 to about 280.

Twelve received layoff noticed today. Some of those position reductions are from other programs not scheduled to be closed:

faculty layoffs came in the departments of economics, English, sociology, theater, the honors program, in the School of Music, and in the Muskie School’s graduate program in public policy and management.

The university is considering emphasizing a different set of programs:

Kalikow… hinted at potential future investments in new programs in perceived growth areas such as cybersecurity and entrepreneurship, as well as new health- and business-focused adult completion degree programs.

Some students and faculty are protesting.  Student-teacher ratios may increase. Continue reading

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Doppelbotting Snowden

Doppelbotting reached new heights this week as Edward Snowden used that telepresence technology to appear at a conference on the other side of the world. A TED event hosted the fugitive whistleblower, and his robot wheeled around the stage, bearing his face and voice.

It’s another good example of using telepresence robots to connect people separated by offline obstacles.  I can’t think of another case where politics were the obstacle.

One high point was the Web’s creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, appearing on stage with Snowden:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Edward Snowden

Here’s the full session:

Key an eye on this technology.

(thanks to Timothy Scholl and Grant Potter on Twitter)

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Living the digital life in 2025

What will cyberspace look like after the next decade? The Pew Research folks in combination with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet initiative have published “Digital Life in 2025″, a semi-crowdsourced report that’s well worth your time. Well, anything written by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie is mandatory reading.

Here’s what the consulted experts, including myself, agree on.  The internet will become:

  • A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.
  • “Augmented reality” enhancements to the real-world input that people perceive through the use of portable/wearable/implantable technologies.
  • Disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting finance, entertainment, publishers of all sorts, and education).
  • Tagging, databasing, and intelligent analytical mapping of the physical and social realms.

Word cloud from future of internet report.

From all of my comments, the Pew/Elon team chose this one to emphasize: Continue reading

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