Several visions of the future of higher education

What might higher education become in the next decade?

I shared several scenarios with NACUBO, the excellent American higher ed business officers’ group.  They are based on the following possibilities:

  • The development of decent software-based tutors
  • Continued growth of the health care sector
  • High ed not changing seriously
  • Student enrollment peaking circa 2012

Thanks to NACUBO for supporting this work!

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Powerwall progress

I’d like to update you on our Powerwall experiment, and there’s a special reason I’m doing so at this moment.

EDITED TO ADD: update at the end of this post.

We’ve had the giant battery attached to our house since early May (posts here), and for a while progress was uneven.  Sometimes it worked, fueling selected devices during short outages and tests.  Other times it failed, either when needed (when the power went out) or on its own.

inverter interior

The guts of the inverter, which basically connects the house grid (off screen, on right) to the Powerwall (off to the left).

Ever since my glum May 29th post a team has been working energetically to get the Powerwall working.  People from Peck Electric (installation), Green Mountain Power (power grid, cat-herding), Tesla, (the battery), Solar Edge (the inverter), and some outside consultants (different issues) worked with us in person, on the phone, and via email.  They tried simulated outages, rewriting the firmware, redoing the fuse box, analyzing connected items, and easily a dozen more approaches I couldn’t follow.

What I was able to do was keep an eye on the setup when none of the specialists were on site, monitoring the cryptic system display board and watching for status changes.  I also fired up a Powerwall thread on the Tesla discussion forum, but it seems to have vanished.

So why am I writing about this now?

Because our town just got run over by a serious thunderstorm.

Ripton storm July 23 2016_Wunderground

Our town is Ripton, in the upper middle of this map.  The green and orange blobs have moved east after whomping us.

Storms knocked out power all over this part of the state:

power outages July 23 2016 5 pm

Ripton is east of Middlebury, just about the top of that “Green Mountain National Forest” label.

And yet I’m typing this, because the Powerwall worked.  Every device connected to it is thriving: water pump, refrigerator, several lights, both routers, and more.

How long will it last?  We don’t know, but we will find out.

As I write this the device has been working for about 90 minutes without interruption.

More later.

EDITED TO ADD: Green Mountain Power restored service around 8 am today.  The Powerwall ran throughout, meaning roughly sixteen (16) hours.  Which is impressive.

PS: Bonus pick of one determined electrician and the guts of the inverter plus another box: inverter and others being worked on


Posted in technology, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

One leading CIO looks at campus data and collaboration

Last week Brad Wheeler, Indiana University’s chief information officer, appeared on the Future Trends Forum to discuss what he saw happening in higher ed and technology.  Brad also spoke to the Unizin collaborative.

David Raths just wrote up an excellent account on the Campus Technology site.  He identifies key points, including Wheeler’s argument for a new approach to campus information and a mature approach to building inter-institutional collaboration, informed by recent history.

Brad Wheeler, Bryan Alexander on the Forum, by Curtis Bonk


“It is pretty exciting that we can go from faculty-authored content delivered through a platform owned by the academy to all the digital tracks coming off of it into repositories owned by the academy that are available for IRB-approved research,” he said. “We don’t have to ask for our data back. It is our data, and our students’ data. That is an important thing for the future. We are hoping to enable the means of improving digital education through the institutions being able to assert a much greater degree of control around content, learner interaction platforms and analytics.”

(screenshot by Curtis Bonk)

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What would you like to see in my consulting website? A shameless plea for advice

I’m in the midst of overhauling my consulting company’s very basic website, and now turn to you, dear readers, for your thoughts and suggestions.

BAC consulting site v 1The context: I launched the site three years ago as a basic thing, a quick WordPress semi-brochure to get the word out. It wasn’t too different from a blog. Ever since I’ve been meaning to revamp it, but, honestly, business has been good and kept me too busy.  I’ve been devoting time to higher priorities – i.e., meeting with clients, conducting research, publishing, etc.  Plus my blog and Twitter have done the lion’s share of communicating my thoughts and questions.

As it stands now, the site offers short texts introducing the business and its services (speaking, futuring).  For samplers of this work there are interviews with me and blurbs, along with links to FTTE and this very blog.  And there’s contact information.

The desired audience for the new site is potential clients.  That means higher education leaders and interested parties, not just in the United States, but worldwide: provosts, deans, presidents, CIOs, library heads, faculty, boards, politicians.  That also includes non-post-secondary cultural heritage institutions that I’ve worked with, namely libraries and museums, both public and academic.

The purpose of the site: to share information about my consulting work, with the aim of attracting new clients.

What’s already on deck to add to a new site: I have assembled materials for a clients page, with links, permissions, and logos.  I’ve started two case studies.  There are also new and archived media items, including a good number of photos and videos.  These materials came about because Facebook friends offered me design suggestions last year, which drove the creation and selection of these items (thank you, friends!).  I haven’t picked a WordPress theme, or considered another CMS, or made a “welcome to the site” video, or run a focus group, or figured out the best color scheme representing my brand, nor consulted with a professional web designer.

I have looked at other websites for higher education consultants, and drawn some conclusions.

  • They rarely lead with images of their staff.  Instead they start with images of their real or ideal clients, featuring both people (students, staff) and physical sites (lovely campuses and buildings).
  • They often showcase a specific, named, and sometimes proprietary methodology or product (for example).
  • Client lists and case studies are available.
  • Publications are available, such as white papers and articles.
  • Specific services and topical foci are named right away.
  • Most pages are crammed with content, often in multiple columns, in sharp contrast with today’s post-mobile simplicity mode.  For example,
    Bain consulting screenshot

    Reduced greatly from its full-screen width.

    Here’s one exception.

  • “Contact us” info is prominently displayed, from social media widgets to phone numbers to login and “click here for X” buttons.
  • Some have a calendar of upcoming events.

While I was looking for inspiration from my peers, I also explored another set of colleagues.  Professional futuristswebsites are a bit different.  They are much more personal, with futurists’ names and faces foregrounded.  Like non-futurist consultant sites, these feature information about clients and case studies.  Their overall design is more exciting, with a larger number of graphics, images, and animation, plus a general flair for energy.  Linguistically, some write in the first person, others in the third.

Interestingly, I don’t see too much in the way of future-oriented design in futures sites.  They feel like websites from circa 2000-2010.  There isn’t much in the way of (say) video, or animation, or infographics, 3d models, slideshows, “hero images”, carousels, hamburger menus, endless scrolls, material design, or cards.  They don’t feature giant slabs of images or video.  There aren’t many locations for interaction. None seem to be mobile-first designs.

My work sits in both domains, futurism and consulting, yet is different in some ways.  I foreground everything in social media, which is unusual for consultants, and not always done among futurists.  I also try to be as open about the consulting work as possible, which is rare. I point to Vermont in my work, not so much for professional reasons (only a few clients are here, and it’s not a very futures-oriented state, so far) but because my family’s homesteading is both interesting and a differentiator.  I rarely see anyone else celebrating their living in New Jersey, or wherever.  In short, while I learn web redesign from futurists and consultants, I’m not sure how to express those differences – parts of my brand – in this new site.

So I ask: what would you like to see? Should I imitate the consultants or the futurists?  How much media should I pile on?  Is there a color scheme and/or font inherent in what you know of my work?  Is the best site simple or content-packed?  Would you like an upcoming events or recent publications scroll?  Would a popup asking you to join FTTE drive you screaming from the site, or appear as logical marketing?

I’m grateful for any advice you can offer.


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Starting off our science fiction reading with The Water Knife

On Tuesday I floated the idea of reading a near-future science fiction novel.  The goal was twofold: to get ideas about the future, while having fun. Readers here and elsewhere (Twitter, Facebook, email) voted for their favorites and contributed more suggestions.

Bacigalupi_The Water KnifeAfter brooding over your comments, here’s my selection for first book: The Water Knife (2015) (publisher link; Amazon; Audible) by Paulo Bacigalupi.  It’s about climate change warping the American Southwest, and how society changes as a result.  It’s also a thriller, with a good heaping of technology and politics.

Here’s a Science Friday discussion with the author. (thanks to David Allard)

Schedule: let’s dive in and read this through mid-August.  I can issue a post a week, say one for each third of the novel, to keep you all on track.

After that, here’s the list of titles that received two or more votes:

Madeline Ashby, Company Town
Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
Malka Older, Informocracy
Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
Charlie Stross, Rule 34
Daniel Suarez, Daemon
Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End
Andy Weir, The Martian

Let’s think about which one to read after Water Knife.  I’m leaning towards Company Town.

In the meantime, I’ll reach out to the author on Twitter.  Let’s see if he tweets back.

And happy reading!  Already I’m making sure I have a water bottle to hand…

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This Thursday on the Future Trends Forum: Dan Cohen and the DPLA

This week the Future Trends Forum returns with a spectacular guest.

Dan CohenDan Cohen is the founding director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), an innovative online archive that is both open and collaborative.   It’s an extraordinary project, “something like the Google of libraries”, according to a recent article.  

We’ll be discussing the DPLA and the future of digital libraries.

Before helming DPLA, Dan was a major figure in the digital humanities movement, leading the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media as a history professor at George Mason University.  Along the way he kicked off the THATcamp movement and published books on digital history and Victorian mathematics.

Click here to RSVP, or just click on the link at 2 pm EST this Thursday.

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Which near future science fiction book should we read? A blog book club query.

What’s a good near-future science fiction book to read, and would you like to read it together?

(EDITED: the list has grown, thanks to suggestions in comments, on Facebook, Twitter, and via email.  An initial tally of your preferences appears at the end of this post.)

This question came up during the New Media Consortium’s 2016 conference (my materials).  I recommended that education and technology professionals pay strong attention to science fiction, and folks got excited, wanting recommendations.  So I’ve assembled some (below).

Why near future sf? Because things are changing very quickly, and science fiction historically has been a fruitful way of thinking about the emerging future.   Much of sf takes place elsewhen, either the far future (think space opera) or the past (think steampunk and alternate history), so the near future gives us the best yield.  As one blogger puts it,

near-future SF keeps things local; earth-bound. The reason I find these stories interesting is that they are a way to look at our own society and technology, only a step into the future. The best books are extrapolations of current technologies and situations that seem like maybe they might already be possible.

I’d like to recommend recent sf, too.  20th-century sf can be fascinating, but has dropped off the calendar too far to be of much use – although I welcome suggestions.  The oldest book I cite below is thirteen twenty-one years old.

Also, sf can be fun.

It’s also time for another blog-based book club.  So far this blog has hosted discussions of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education and Robert Putnam’s Our Kids.  Previously it kicked off a more distributed discussion of Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows.  Let’s do another one!

Here’s my list.  Alphabetical by author.  I avoided Amazon links because some folks don’t like ’em.  I picked cover images when they looked neat.  I’ve read some but not all.  I’ve tried to balance author’s genders.

Ashby Company TownMadeline Ashby, Company Town.  Ashby’s a professional futurist, and uses this book to imagine what could happen with biology, technology, and society:

New Arcadia is a city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, now owned by one very wealthy, powerful, byzantine family: Lynch Ltd. Hwa is of the few people in her community (which constitutes the whole rig) to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. As such, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig–making her doubly an outsider, as well as a neglected daughter and bodyguard extraordinaire. Still, her expertise in the arts of self-defense and her record as a fighter mean that her services are yet in high demand. When the youngest Lynch needs training and protection, the family turns to Hwa. But can even she protect against increasingly intense death threats seemingly coming from another timeline?

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake.  The oldest book on our list (2003), and possibly the most famous.  It’s a dystopia, and then things get worse.  Focuses on biology, consumerism, and the digital world.

Cline Ready Player One_website image

It’s hard to make VR look good from the outside.

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife.  The American southwest after climate change has caused aridification. (thanks to Steve Burnett)

____, The Windup Girl. A vision of a future southeast Asia after the collapse of petroleum, featuring global warming, advanced robotics, new energy forms, and new politics. (thanks to Phil Long)

James Bradley, Clade.  A look into the rest of the 21st century as climate change reconfigures humanity and the Earth. (thanks to Tom Fullerton)

Alfred Brooks, 2030.  A vision of the world just 14 years away, from a comedian.  (thanks to Mike Richichi)

Monica Byrne, The Girl in the Road.  A voyage across a technologically advanced Middle East, as heroines travel from India to Africa.  (thanks to Jenny Colvin)

Ernest  Cline, Ready Player One.  Something of a modern classic, this involves an epically elaborate computer game based on 1980s pop culture.  It’s played by people in a near-future dystopia, who use it to escape.

Cory Doctorow, For the Win.  A young adult novel concerned with massively multiplayer online games, economic issues, and migration.  The whole book is available for free, online.  (thanks to Janet Whelan)

David Eggers, The Circle.  A look into a giant technology company and its impact on human life, from one of America’s most famous novelists.  (Thanks to Larry Johnson for the recommendation)

William Gibson, The Peripheral.  Part of this novel takes place in the near future, where poor folks and military veterans eke out an existence on the fringes of society.  Another part occurs two generations later, after civilization has been shocked and redesigned.  The two worlds come into contact.  (My review)

William Hertling, Kill Process. Concerns revenge through hacking, social media, and abuse.  (thanks to Joshua Kim)

Ian McDonald, River of Gods.  Imagining India in 2047.  (one review) (thanks to tom lombardo)

Will McIntosh, Soft Apocalypse.  The world is gradually falling apart, thanks to several bad things.  (thanks to dmweade)

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven.  The world after a devastating plague, where people struggle to find meaning through stories.  The plot loops back and forth between the moment the disease breaks forth and a period twenty years later. (my review) (thanks to Gardner Campbell)

Ramez Naam, Nexus. This world is driven by nanotechnology, which enables new politics and a thriller plot. (thanks to Phil Long)

Linda Nagata, The Red.  Near-future military and technology thriller, within a grim political framework:

“There Needs To Be A War Going On Somewhere”

Lieutenant James Shelley commands a high-tech squad of soldiers in a rural district within the African Sahel. They hunt insurgents each night on a harrowing patrol, guided by three simple goals: protect civilians, kill the enemy, and stay alive—because in a for-profit war manufactured by the defense industry there can be no cause worth dying for. To keep his soldiers safe, Shelley uses every high-tech asset available to him—but his best weapon is a flawless sense of imminent danger…as if God is with him, whispering warnings in his ear.

Malka Older, Informocracy.  All about a world driven by information and polling.  From the official site:

It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

Older, InformocracyAda Palmer, Too Like the Lightning (NPR rave review).  It takes place a bit further ahead than the rest of these books, but looks grounded in all kinds of ideas we’re thinking about today.  Lots of world-building with science, technology, and culture.

Nathan Rich, The Odds Against Tomorrow.  About a statistician tasked with predicting near-term futures, with an eye towards disaster.  Then real disaster happens.

Mark Russinovich, Zero Day.  Computer errors start to grow into something nightmarish.  (thanks to Chad Bergeron)

John Scalzi, ed, METAtropolis.  A collection of five stories taking place in a shared urban environment. (thanks to Tom Haymes)

Lionel Shriver, The Mandibles. (Guardian review) The story of an American family over decades of financial decline, following a cyberattack. At least partly satire. (thanks to Joshua Kim)

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story.  Takes place in a decaying but technologically advanced America, and features a romance between digitally retro and non-retro characters.

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age.  From 1995, but perhaps far ahead of its time.  I’m fond of “The Young Ladies’ Illustrated Primer”, which we might be about to realize.  (thanks to haymest)

____, Reamde.  A thriller taking place in a future so near it might as well be the present, the novel involves a massively multiplayer online game, drug smuggling, new computer desks, a Welsh Muslim terrorist, and more.  Almost a caper.

Bruce Sterling, Distraction.  From the late 1990s, a disturbingly accurate look at a mid-20th-century America wracked by economic crisis, foreign wars, climate change, and a fumbling Congress.  (one review from Think Progress) (thanks to Jake Dunagan)

Charlie Stross, Accelerando.  Linked short stories starting off with high-tech near future, then racing ahead.  (thanks to tom lombardo)

_____, Rule 34.  Apparently involves online and offline crime, fictitious states, and emerging technology.  (thanks to Tatiana Benet-Riley)

Daniel Suarez, Daemon and Freedom™.  Older (2006 and 2010) but fresh and exciting, this two-book series begins with the death of a famous computer programmer, and the unusual developments that follow (he said, avoiding spoilers).  A fine combination of thriller plot with plenty of ideas. (thanks to Chad Bergeron, Ton Zijlstra, and haymest)

Genevieve Valentine, Persona. Imagines a near future where international diplomacy has taken on attributes of today’s celebrity culture (thanks to Steven Kaye)

Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End.  This is one of the older books (2006) on my list, but it’s a good ‘un.  The main focus is how education could change in the next generation or two.

Andy Weir, The Martian.  Perhaps the most commercially successful of these titles, and “the ultimate Maker book”. (thanks to haymest and Tom Elliott)

…so which ones do you like?  What titles should we add?   If things get out of hand I’ll fire up a SurveyMonkey.
Currently in the lead, based on being named more than once:

Madeline Ashby, Company Town
Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
Malka Older, Informocracy
Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
Daniel Suarez, Daemon
Vinge, Rainbows End
Weir, The Martian

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