Where automation actually occurs

How will automation change the world?

One way of answering that question is to explore where automation occurs.  As an example, here’s a fascinating map of industrial robots’ distribution across the United States from Axios, based on a Brookings report.

American automation distribution in 2015

You will note that the preponderance are in the midwest and upper (not deep) South.  The auto industry is (ahem) a leading driver of automation.  “[T]he auto industry—highly concentrated in the Midwest and upper South—currently employs nearly half of all industrial robots in use.”

[M]ore than half of the nation’s 233,305 industrial robots are burning welds, painting cars, assembling products, handling materials, or packaging things in just 10 Midwestern and Southern states… By contrast, the entire West accounts for just 13 percent of the nation’s industrial bots.

A few observations:

(Caveats: this data is two years old (2015).  The Brooking author says a new study is in the works.   The data also focuses on industrial automation, excluding other categories)

While we look at new automation technologies (self-driving cars, AI, etc.) we can’t forget the importance of older tech and older sectors.  (I’ve written about this phenomenon previously in terms of election news, tv adsdaily life), and the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One)

The American geographic areas which win the largest media limelight tend to be parts of the coasts, famously, and for various reasons (population density, media outlet locations).  It’s vital to pay attention to the nation’s center in general, as the Democratic party found to its cost last November.  This is certainly true for futures work.

Related to that: we have to remember William Gibson’s line about the future’s uneven distribution.  While we analyze which social sectors and intellectual domains are most impacted, we can’t lose sight of spatial distribution. As Brookings puts it, “Automation—like so many other economic trends—won’t occur in the same way everywhere.”

Speaking of politics, politically minded observer may note that those states with the highest numbers of machines also voted for Trump in 2016.  As per the Wikipedia map,

US election 2016 map_Wikipedia

Mark Muro:

It is telling that the robot incidence in red states that voted for President Trump in November is more than twice that in the blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton…robots appear to be playing a special role in the specific unease of at least one region.

I would add that these states tended to prefer Bernie Sanders to Clinton during that year’s Democratic primaries. Perhaps this is a sign of emergent socio-political responses to automation (among other things).  Will populism become the main form of automation reaction, or will some other politics surface?

 

Posted in research topics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Launching the new NMC digital literacy report today

Today a research project I’ve been working on for several months will be released.

The New Media Consortium has organized a new report on digital literacy.  It’s a sequel and expansion to its 2016 report, which I also contributed to.

It was an exciting project to help develop.  Digital literacy is a topic of great interest, for one.  For another, it’s a very international effort.  Not only did we include editors from multiple nations (including Canada, Britain, South Africa, Australia, and Egypt, as well as the United States), but we researched digital literacy projects from Europe, Canada, Africa, and the Middle East.  And I got to explore some futures for information, media, and digital literacies.

Speaking of editors, we organized an editorial board of awesome people.  They helped shape the final document, and also contributed their own writing.  This board includes:

  • Judith Bailey, The University of Adelaide
  • Maha Bali, The American University in Cairo
  • Helen Beetham, Jisc
  • Steven Bell, Temple University Libraries
  • ‘Johan Bergström, Umeå University
  • Cheryl Brown, University of Cape Town
  • Michael Caulfield, Washington State University Vancouver
  • David Santandreu Calonge, The University of Adelaide
  • Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Joan Lippincott, Coalition for Networked Information
  • Courtney Miller, University of Southern California
  • Joyce L. Ogburn, Appalachian State University

The NMC’s Samantha Adams Becker did tremendous work in organizing and helping create the report.  Courtney Hall Giesinger did great work in seeing it to completion this summer.

Between these NMC heroines and the tremendous editorial board, it’s been an honor and privilege to work with such people.

To explain or celebrate “Learners as Creators” we’re holding a webinar today.  From 11 am to noon EDT  I’ll introduce the research, then facilitate a discussion among members of our excellent editorial board, plus participation from the audience.   You can join us by RSVPing here.

NMC Beyond the Horizon - Digital LiteracyPartII_1280

If you can’t make the event, a recording will be online during the next week.

Posted in digital literacy, presentations and talks, Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment

Today on the Future Trends Forum: Charlottesville and education

Today we’re attempting another Future Trends Forum experiment.  Once again we will focus on discussion, and not center it around a guest.

Instead, we’re going to talk about Charlottesville and what it means for education.

In light of current events, we will hold an open session today, August 16th, from 2-3 pm.  This is an hour for us to reflect, process, and share our thoughts about what just happened, and what it might tell us about the future.

This is an experiment, and one that runs certain risks, given the intensity of the topic, to put it mildly. I want to welcome diverse participants.  That includes the nearly 2000-strong Forum community, and anyone else that’s interested.  As convener and host, I will facilitate discussion with care.  I reserve the right to warn, then boot people if they abuse others.

Charlottesville students at statue
If you can’t be there today because of scheduling or other reasons, but would still like to contribute, please leave a comment here with your comments, links, or questions.  You can also email me if you prefer.

To RSVP beforehand, or to jump straight in at 2 pm EDT, click here:

https://gateway.shindig.com/event/ftf-townhall4.

If you don’t know the Forum, it’s a free, open, weekly videoconference discussion about the future of education and technology.  It started in February 2016.  You can find out more, and also watch recordings of all previous sessions, here.  We did another such open discussion experimental session in July.

(photo via Colin Rees on Twitter)

Posted in Future Trends Forum | 3 Comments

One college will close its entire undergraduate program

Marygrove College logoA Detroit campus has gone far beyond the queen sacrifice, announcing enormous cuts to its operations.  Marygrove College will end all undergraduate programs next year, leaving only its graduate school.  That means axing about one half of the institution, at least in terms of students.

Faculty and staff cuts will have to be extensive, although I can’t find out specific numbers yet: “the number of faculty at the school will be shrunk as well, the college announced.”  IHE similarly guesses: “The change will mean job losses for many of the institution’s 44 full-time faculty members, four part-time faculty members and roughly 70 staff members.”

A quiet euphemism appeared in the official announcement: “Marygrove is also assisting affected faculty and staff with their career transition.”

What are the causes of this massive cut?  My readers already know: enrollment and financial declines.  For enrollment, the official announcement explains:

In recent years, Marygrove enrollment peaked in 2013 with more than 1,850 graduate and undergraduate students. In Fall 2016, total enrollment had fallen to 966.

IHE breaks it down: “Last fall, the college enrolled just 491 undergraduates and 475 graduate students.”  Marygrove’s president adds, looking ahead: “undergraduate enrollment is projected to be lower than last fall.”

Unspoken in statements and analyses are demographics.  I’ll remind readers of Michigan’s K-12 losses, which look likely to continue:

high school grads in 2031_Hechinger after WICHE

Michigan’s the fiery red one that looks like a mitten.  One more easily shared among the dwindling population of children.

Finances: Marygrove has “a small endowment that is down to about $500,000”, which is not only useless for contributing to the operational budget, but also shows how starkly this private college depends on tuition revenue, and therefore how badly clobbered it is by plummeting enrollment.  And

[t]he college went into the 2014-15 year thinking it could balance its budget but was unable to do so, Burns said. The college cut its expense budget from roughly $25 million several years ago to $20 million last year. Nonetheless, deficits persisted, and it closed the 2017 fiscal year this summer with a deficit of nearly $4 million.

How about the students?  How will Marygrove’s end of undergrad impact them?  As usual, it comes down to transfers, according to the official statement:

The college has notified incoming and returning students of the planned Winter semester transition and will assist them to identify alternative colleges and universities that offer their program. Students who are registered for Fall will receive assistance from academic advisors and financial aid counselors to develop an individualized plan that will allow them to successfully transfer and ultimately achieve their dream of a college degree.

At least one local university is pouncing on this as an opportunity:

Here’s one way of looking at it:

Dr. Burns added, “We know of no other college in the country that has made this type of transformation, a transformation not unlike our historically bold moves to educate women when it wasn’t fashionable, to bring 68 African American students to Marygrove in 1968 with the 68 for ’68 initiative, to create one of the nation’s first Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) degrees, a distance-learning curriculum to help teachers to advance in their careers, and to commit to an urban leadership strategic vision.”

Several observations.

  1. In 2013-2014 I wrote about peak higher education.  I was referring to the possibility of enrollment shrinkage.  Every year this becomes more true.  It’s interesting to see Marygrove come close to echoing my theory in a small way, in their official language: “In recent years, Marygrove enrollment peaked in 2013…”
  2. Are Catholic institutions more vulnerable than others?  I’m wondering if incremental secularization plays a role in this sector.
  3. Once again a liberal arts institution makes cuts.  And once again professional programs – graduate school, here – are doing well.

(thanks to Tom Stroup and Ed Vielmetti)

Posted in research topics, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

How not to write about YouTube and politics

Video continues to grow into a massive 21st century digital medium, and YouTube is becoming something like humanity’s leading shared meeting and storytelling place.  Digital video’s scale and rapid growth curve make it difficult to apprehend at times, which means we should expect analysts to struggle with the thing.  We need better.

Case in point: recently the New York Times ran an article about alt-right videos on YouTube.  At its core is a simple fact: several right wing activists and/or true believers have launched YouTube channels that now have large numbers of viewers.  Yet wrapped around that pretty uncontroversial datapoint is a wadding of speculation and claims that don’t really hold up.  Looking closely at it might help us reflect more accurately on digital video.

Herrman begins by citing a recent report about hard-right YouTubers, then usefully summarizes their backgrounds and rhetoric.  This is very handy for anyone interested in the topic.

Then he offers some reflections, which don’t really work.

For example, the argument that YouTube is becoming a reactionary hub. “YouTube is host to just one dominant native political community: the YouTube right.”  This just doesn’t make sense.  “There are countless other forms of political expression on YouTube, but no bloc is anywhere near as organized or as assertive as the YouTube right and its dozens of obdurate vloggers.” Dozens?

For one, there are tons of progressive-liberal-Democratic videos on YouTube.  I’m amazed Herrman doesn’t mention The Young Turks, a high profile YouTube-based left-wing media enterprise.  If you don’t know the show, the first video available on their page today is for “Aggressive Progressivism”, which should give you a hint of their politics.   The Turks have more than 3,300,000 subscribers as of this morning, far above the most popular right wing vlogger cited in the piece (“Stephen Crowder (830,000 subscribers)”).

Herrman later observes that “Nor is there a coherent group on the platform articulating any sort of direct answer to this budding form of reaction — which both validates this material in the eyes of its creators and gives it room to breathe, grow and assert itself beyond its immediate vicinity.”  I’m not sure what type of coherence he’d like to see.  Democratic politicians and supporters issue videos; is that too large a group to count?  Or should progressives like the Turks just hyperlink to each other more often?  How does Herrman determine coherence: content analysis, number of cross-links, shout-outs…?

For another, YouTube is where we can find a huge variety of political voices, beyond American alt-right and aggressive progressives.  For example, Pat Condell is a British atheist who rails against Christianity, Islam, Muslim immigrants, journalists, and certain strands of feminism.  Is he on the left or right?  YouTube also hosts a wide range of Islamic content, including, famously or notoriously, jihadist stuff.  The site is more complex – and far more global – than this New York Times piece thinks.

Evidence is a problem for the article.  It alternates between analysis (this is how things are on YouTube) and dwelling within right-wing vlogger rhetoric (the right thinks this about YouTube), and ultimately lands somewhere between them, neither able to establish objective evidence for the former, nor responding to the latter’s claims (is YouTube censoring them?).  There’s no attempt to cite comparative numbers, say of subscription statistics as a portion of overall YouTube.

Elsewhere Herrman offers this odd glance at another medium, talk radio:

“Fixated as they are with Fox News,” he says, “liberals, scholars and pundits have failed to give talk radio — which is almost wholly conservative — its due, even though it’s now nearly three decades old and reaches millions each day.”

Maybe I spend too much time with media scholars, podcasters, and radio freaks, but I’ve heard complaints about right wing talk radio since the mid-1990s.  Since 2000 or so people speak more often about Fox News, possibly because of its reach and notoriety, but I still hear grousing about Rush Limbaugh.  I’ve heard some folks complain or wonder about the failure of left-wing talk radio.  It’s remarkable that these conversations occur at all, since Americans don’t pay too much attention to radio in general.

What can we deduce from this, in terms of writing about video in the future?  It’s vital that we keep in mind the full range of political content in a growing medium, and not focus overmuch on an attractive subset of items that fit into a local political framework (here, the Times’ dislike of the alt-right).  We would also do well to try to look at as much relative data as we can, comparing market sizes and reach as objectively as possible.

One more point: looking ahead, we could imagine this kind of analysis preceding calls for content control.  Herrman doesn’t issue such a call, although he does end his piece with what seems like a sketch of a failed attempt at one (it’s unclear what Creators for Change getting “tougher… [on] videos that aren’t illegal but have been flagged by users as potential violations of our policies on hate speech and violent extremism” means in context.  Is the “limited state” option currently implemented?).

In 2017 some people and governments are obviously interested in content control or open censorship. There’s a vibrant progressive social media scene in the United States which sometimes calls for publishers to withdraw works they find offensive; that logic could easily extend to YouTube videos.  The British government is already eager to clamp down on digital content they deem “radicalizing”.  Russia and China have established bona fides in this area for decades.  Perhaps the American left or right – or both, in blessed bipartisanship – will decide to push YouTube to block or otherwise ward off disliked content.

In such a situation, we need to take extra care with our analysis.

Posted in technology | 2 Comments

Visualizing where Americans graduate from

Here’s a good visualization of how demographics are changing education.  Two Hechinger authors, Isaac Carey and Jon Marcus, built a good map based on WICHE data:

high school grads in 2031_Hechinger after WICHE
This charts projected high school grads for 2031, based on current demographics and graduation patterns.  It matches what I’ve been observing for years.

A few reactions:

  • Note the continued shrinkage of most of New England.  I suspect Boston is an outlier for Mass.
  • West Virginia and major parts of the Midwest keep losing teens.
  • The South and Texas continue to boom.
  • I’m not sure why Mississippi breaks so far from the rest of the South.   Ditto Montana.

What happens to higher education in those red zones, especially those teaching traditional-age undergrads?  It’s not a surprise that those states are overrepresented in queen sacrifices.  Mergers and possible closures might lie ahead in greater numbers.  Inter-institutional collaboration might be even harder to accomplish.

Think about how colleges and universities will be targeting the deep green states for recruitment even more intensely.  We should expect alumni and development links to build there, too.

How else will these “red” states respond?  Perhaps there will be more interest in closer connections between secondary and post-secondary systems, as the latter tries to increase the flow of students from the former.  Will state politicians activate old culture war tropes about getting women to have more children, or will they advocate policies aimed at increasing migration to their states?

(thanks to Vanessa Vaile for her editorial eye!)

Posted in demographics, future of education, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What happened to public higher ed? Reading Chris Newfield’s essential new book

The Great Mistake coverThe Great Mistake is one of the most important and useful books about higher education this decade.
(That’s one reason I was delighted to get the author onto our weekly videoconference discussion, the Future Trends Forum. Here’s the session.)

The Great Mistake offers a powerful and rich model for explaining why American states defunded public education (recall that the majority of students attend public campuses). Along the way Chris Newfield offers many provocative ideas about higher ed in general, backed up by meticulous research and very engaging prose.

For years now, our public colleges have been cut, squeezed, trimmed, neglected, overstuffed, misdirected, kludged, and patched. (305)

The majority of the book is dedicated to exploring an eight-step “devolutionary cycle” (nice chart on 36) or “doom loop” (16), whereby public universities privatize. This includes:

  1. Universities retreat from thinking of post-secondary education as a public good
  2. They reach towards outside sponsors (companies, foundations, military, nonprofits) who apparently help out with state divestment’s budget problem, but in reality end up bringing in less money – indeed, sometimes function at a net loss for campuses
  3. Tuition increases become substantial and frequent
  4. States cut higher ed funding again
  5. Student debt rises
  6. Private entities take advantage of what public funds they can
  7. Education attainment starts dividing based on unequal funding
  8. The economy decouples productivity from labor compensation

and repeat. Newfield dives into each phase in detail, one per chapter.

I’d like to draw out some themes that cut across those phases:

The devolutionary cycle isn’t partisan, but bipartisan. It occurs in red as well as blue states. Democrats ultimately embrace it in a way very close to Republicans (24), so much so that the author dubs their philosophy “liberal Reaganism” (144). One of the book’s embedded narratives follows the administrative career of one “progressive Democrat” as a law school dean, wherein he massively increases tuition (159ff). Democrat Jerry Brown “cut the colleges and universities as much in 2011 as Arnold Schwarzenegger had cut them a couple of years before” (167).

Newfield follows Tressie Cottom in seeing the rise of for-profit higher education as part of the privatization wave (59ff).

As with his previous book the author makes a data-rich and passionate case that STEM fields often lose money for their institutions, and are subsidized by the social sciences and humanities (cf the second chapter).

While states clearly play a major role in the negative transformation of public higher ed, Newfield takes care to lay blame as well at the university leadership’s feet. Our sector budgets opaquely, and has done a bad job of lobbying state governments effectively (137). Importantly, universities raise tuition even when states don’t cut support (138). This is not because campuses waste money, but because they are operating under an entrepreneurial and hypercompetitive mindset (145-151). In fact, campus willingness to increase tuition encourages states to cut support, rather than the other way around, a fairly counterintuitive but persuasive point (169).  This argument is vital, and rare.

One enormous challenge looming over the entire book is how to reverse this awful cycle. One powerful reason we haven’t done so is due to the sheer cost, although some think it wouldn’t be that onerous to taxpayers. Another and perhaps deeper challenge in Newfield’s telling is the necessity of changing a cultural mindset, back to the idea of public goods (129-30). The titular “great mistake is the private good framework” (308, emphases added). I am not so sanguine as the author in the likelihood of making such a transformation, at least not in the medium term. The politics are simply against it.

One reason the politics are still pro-devolutionary is the gigantic cost of health care, a point Chris made in our video discussion, but is too understated in the book. Private citizens, state governments, and the federal government all face mounting medical expenses, and despite the Affordable Care Act’s achievements, those expenses are still rising, thanks to our bizarre and costly funding system, and also to demographics – i.e., an aging populace which requires more health care. As the Republican Senate just found out, it’s politically self-destructive to cut health care; public universities have yet to make a convincing argument for getting some of those funds for themselves.

I also fear that, as Giovanni Arrighi argued in The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (1994), financialization is just too hard to give up on. The giant machine of student debt is too politically powerful and economically rewarding. Personally, I’m still paying my student loans at age 50, and wonder if my death will discharge them, should I pass with a remaining balance. Wondering if my children will inherit my PhD debt is bizarre and depressing, yet hard to see a way around.  Note that for all of the good discourse about making public school tuition free, there isn’t a call for a student debt jubilee.

I otherwise admire The Great Mistake for its deep analytical powers, and strongly commend it to anyone working in or thinking about higher education.

(cross-published at Goodreads)

Posted in reviews, Uncategorized | 4 Comments