What should we ask Google’s education evangelist tomorrow?

Jaime Casap
This Thursday I’m excited to host a terrific guest on the Future Trends Forum. He’s Google’s education evangelist, Jaime Casap.

Jaime focuses on the links between social justice, technology, access, and education.  In addition to those issues, I plan on asking about some topics familiar to Forum participants, including open education, generational differences, and automation, for starters.

Please RSVP beforehand, or just click here on Thursday at 2 pm EST.

To find more information about the Future Trends Forum, including notes and recordings of previous sessions, click here: https://bryanalexander.org/the-future-trends-forum/ .

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Two more science fiction technologies became real this week

Sometimes the twenty-first century feels like science fiction.  Let me share two stories from this week that show previously speculative technologies entering everyday life.

First, the United States Department of Transportation issued regulatory guidelines for autonomous cars.  That means the US government is supporting the deployment of self-driving vehicles. The White House described it thusly:

the Administration is announcing a new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy to help facilitate the responsible introduction of automated vehicles to make transportation safer, cleaner, more accessible, and more efficient.

The president even published an op-ed about this in a Pittsburgh newspaper.

As one article put it, “The DOT is not neutral toward AVs. It wants to get them on the road soon. That’s a big deal.”  Same article summarizes a chunk of the regulations with this infographic:


Regulations aren’t very sexy, and that’s precisely the point.  Once a technology has entered the deeply nerdy world of overlapping governmental regulations, you can take that as a sign the thing has become very real indeed.

Second, in hunting the New York/New Jersey bomber(s), the New York City police department sent out an alert… to nearly everyone in the city with a smartphone, at the same time.  A Facebook friend describes being on a subway when the message arrived, and everyone in the car’s phones going off simultaneously, emitting the same tone.


As the Times observed,

The “wanted” message sent Monday appeared to be the first widespread attempt to transform the citizens of a major American city into a vigilant and nearly omnipresent eye for the authorities. It added new meaning to the notion of “see something, say something,” even as it raised some concern that innocent people could be mistakenly targeted.

While this sounds like something from cyberpunk fiction, it might already be out of date, like some of cyberpunk fiction.  538 points out that the alert lacks an image, and hence could lead to witch hunting.  It was also a broadcast without the ability to track readership, and lacked both non-English versions and identifying marks.

Self-driving cars and crowdsourcing surveillance through nearly ubiquitous handheld computers – some days the twenty-first century actually feels like the future.

…should I keep posting these advanced technology notes?  Here are some previous examples.

(thanks to Lloyd Walker for nearly all of the DOT information; thanks to Greg Diment for the 538 link)

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American tv “news” networks look blearily at the mirror and swear to change, for real this time

Media coverage of the 2016 American presidential campaign has become so terrible that even tv “news” people are starting to question themselves.  They worry that the relentless pursuit of ratings has led them to abandon journalistic principle, and maybe even enabled one of the worst nominees ever emitted by a modern political party.  Journalists from other media are chiming in with criticism and concern.

Hang on – that was in March.   We’re doing it again now.

(Has tv “news” coverage improved over the intervening six months?  The many ways one can answer “heck no” are best left as an exercise for the reader.)

Now it’s mid-September, the presidential race is in overdrive, and once again media types seem to have realized that tv “news” coverage is abominable.  Maybe this is becoming a regular thing now, a cyclical breast-beating without a shred of meaningful action.

Why this current cycle of self-recrimination?  Perhaps it was the release of this Gallup poll, showing American trust in journalists to have dropped to the “lowest level in Gallup polling history”.

Gallup polling on Americans' attitudes towards news media

Note that 8 point drop just over the past election year.

It’s more likely that this week’s round of public flagellation responds to two other triggering incidents, Matt Lauer‘s recent interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and Friday’s semi-birther press conference.  In both cases tv “news” critters shamelessly admired Trump, or just gave him a free pass.

As Greg Sargent delightfully put it,

Greg Sargent: "Donald Trump once again urinates on the cable nets, and once again they hold out cups to catch the precious fluids."

Greg Sargent: “Donald Trump once again urinates on the cable nets, and once again they hold out cups to catch the precious fluids.”

One Washington Post columnist called out the tv networks., this time in response to that especially idiotic Trump press conference.  “Donald Trump said ‘Jump,’ and TV news said ‘How high?'”  Margaret Sullivan goes on to cite Dan Gillmor, who

on Twitter called this episode “universal sewer dwelling” for cable news. By phone afterward, he said that “no journalist with a shred of integrity would have covered it.”

Saying the press got played, he said, is an understatement.

Gillmor is on fire about this topic, with a series of fierce tweets and at least one solid article.  (I also like the way he’s adopted my practice about putting quotes around tv “news”) Continue reading

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As the election starts to go off the rails: reading _Infomocracy_

A major election sees chaos creeping in, and a sense of mingled panic and dread is in the air.  Of course I’m talking about the near future of Infomocracy, as our reading continues.

Older, InformocracyRight now I’m halfway in. With this post I’ll share notes covering the text since my previous post.  Once again I’ll offer a plot summary, then observations about the world, followed by lit prof-style notes.

Before I start, let me share a news item.  While reading and preparing notes for this section of the novel, I enjoyed seeing some news items in that light. For example, Politico is launching a for-pay service for political data:

The project, called DataPoint, made its official debut yesterday, offering searchable, sortable, downloadable infographics that explain the worlds of policy, healthcare, current events, money and the elections.

1: The Plot So Far

We continue to follow our three main characters.  Two start a relationship with each other. In this section of the novel several major political debate occur, with leading governments’ candidates presenting.  Yoriko becomes a more important character.  A major earthquake strikes.  Political assassinations are attempted.

2: The World Builds

Overall, I’m pleased at how global and non-US-Euro the plot is so far.  That includes the presence of untranslated words from non-English languages (126, 137).

Information runs the debates (84).  People can display their medical information publicly, including birth control and disease data (94).  Information really relies on people doing work, rather than AI (for example, 112).

Politics: We learn about more governments: AllFor1 (83); ChouKawaii “a single-centenal government specializing in fanfic and cute characters” (108); Anarchy, “the radical antielection group” (168). The splendidly named Reginald Baste represents YouGov (152). We learn more about the mantle tunnels, which could link Tokyo with Taipei (88) or Paris with Dakar (149).  Domaine accuses Information of exploiting child labor (144).

Economics: people would like for startups to succeed, but entrenched companies just keep winning (87).

History: the North Korea we now know “fell” at some point, amidst “missile strikes” (108).

Technology: people can run software offline for privacy (82).  There is a “new blood glitter that subtly highlights the veins beneath the skin, apparently the latest craze of the uberrich” (89).  3d printers still exist (94).  There are “nuclear-powered water heaters and food-cookers” (97), along with self-heating jackets (114).  Speaking of clothing, people can design clothing ideas, then request bids from designers (132).  Security can ask for users to identify themselves in “both audio and visual” media (121).  People can see other people using digital information based on their eye movements (158).

We still don’t know what a crow is, although it seems like a plane/helicopter/balloon mix.  Related to it is the tsubame, which is even more lightly described, but the name means “barn swallow” in Japanese (138).  Is it a smaller plane?

3: A Lit Prof Ponders

Some very nice sentences, like: “Knowing that her [Mishima’s] desire for isolation is unusual has made her sensitive to the social acceptability of acting on it.” (124)

Mishima lives up to her name as a magnetic, leading character, with action hero traits.

The centenal system is under strain, but does respond well to the earthquake.

Things are building up toward the election.

What do you make of it so far?

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Considering one spectacular black swan for education

How would educators respond in case of one black swan event: the internet going down?

I don’t mean when a local provider has issues, or if one’s institution is based in a rural area, or when a campus goes offline for a half day.  I’m referring to the possibility of the internet itself crashing at a regional or national level, and for more than a few hours.

Remember, black swans are, by definition, unlikely events that, when they occur, have enormous impact.

Why am I thinking of this particular swan?  Leading security guru Bruce Schneier just scared the hell out of many of us with this post.  “Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services… [T]his is happening. And people should know. ”

post apocalypse by 70023venus2009

Schneier’s article is obscure and lacking in details for several reasons (protecting clients and vulnerabilities), but the idea is there.  Some actor is pressing hard on the internet’s roots.  Read more for speculations.

Let me apply this to education.  What would happen in schools if suddenly, say, North America could no longer access the Web?  Assume this is a broad attack, so people can’t rely on cell phone coverage, or move to nearby locations (coffee shop, home, public library) for fallback access.

I’m only thinking of the web here, not the internet as a whole, as if DNS servers went down.

What is life like in colleges, universities, libraries, and museums? I asked Twitter, and responses were pretty basic:

Todd Conaway tweets

If students, faculty, and staff can’t access their learning management system, or enterprise data, or scholarly articles through JSTOR, or social media, or YouTube, how does an institution react?

Imagine if the problem is a little bigger.  The attack could take out the internet as well as the web, knocking off email.  Or perhaps the attack also hits electrical power supply, either by cyberwar or electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  If the attack was launched by a state actor (i.e., China), it could well be accompanied by other technological, economic, or geopolitical stresses.

What contingencies do we now have in place?

NB: remember that this is a black swan, an unlikely event.  Don’t get too spooked.  Yet.

(photo by 70023venus2009/)

Posted in future of education, technology | 12 Comments

Here’s a wild thought: states could help the poorest colleges and universities

How can America help students complete undergraduate degrees?  The “completion agenda” (for example) has driven a lot of discussion and experimentation of late, especially as the student loan debt crisis (which especially hurts those don’t get a degree) continues.

keep-calm-and-rebuild-public-university_juan-gonzaloBridget Terry Long offers an interesting proposal.  In a new paper (pdf) she suggests  a new approach: that state governments spend more money on the poorest public colleges and universities.

Let’s take a look.

Long begins by observing that states historically prefer to spend money on the wealthiest public institutions, and those enrolling the highest performing students.  This pattern holds even as per-student support declined.

For example,

After standardizing the amount of funds by the number of FTE students, public four-year institutions receive more in state appropriations than community colleges, with the state’s flagship institution receiving the most.

For instance,

In a study of state appropriation levels in 1991, I found that the most selective public four-year college in California (i.e., the University of California-Berkeley) received almost nine times more in state subsidies per student than the two-year community colleges…

This state funding pattern links up with the economics of students and their academic choices:

More affluent students, who often attend higher quality kindergarten through grade 12 schools, are much more likely to attend a state’s public flagship institutions and other universities. Meanwhile, low-income students are more likely to attend less selective, four-year or community colleges.

Why does this matter?

[O]ur higher education system results in allocating the smallest state subsidies to our most vulnerable students…[T]here is some indication that state funding is going disproportionally to the colleges and universities that serve the students who are best prepared academically to succeed…

This policy choice, widespread across American higher education, in blue states and red alike, might help us understand why the poorest people have the hardest time winning degrees.

Having identified a problem, Long suggests a solution.  “[I]f the goal is to improve educational attainment in the future, then we need to pay special attention to institutions with lower persistence and degree-completion rates.”


States need to change up their higher ed allocations:

[C]hanging funding structures to increase resources to public institutions overall as well as address current inequities for schools that serve many struggling students could help the country make significant progress toward the goal of increasing the number of adults who have a postsecondary credential…

Long then offers a series of policy alternatives that could embody this.

What do you think?  Would financial constraints yield a political problem of defunding the wealthier schools to make this happen?  Is there a role for federal support?

PS: I was struck by some of the additional data Long provided when discussing the decline of state support for public higher education.


It’s not news (or it shouldn’t be!), but these are some especially sharp notes to sound:

From 2008 to 2016, all but four states experienced reductions in state spending per student after adjusting for inflation, and the reductions have been staggering in a number of states, the top five being Arizona (−55.6 percent), Louisiana (−39.1 percent), South Carolina (−37.0 percent), Alabama (−36.2 percent), and Pennsylvania (−33.3 percent). [emphasis added]

And this: “Since 1980, state and local appropriations to higher education have declined from being 50 percent of revenue for public, degree-granting institutions to only 37 percent by 2000.”

(link via Inside Higher Ed; “Keep Calm” by Juan Gonzaloa; University of North Alabama hall from Wikipedia)

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Tomorrow: should educational technology become an academic discipline?

eddy-maloneThis week the Future Trends Forum explores the idea of turning educational technology into an academic discipline. On Thursday, September 15th, from 2-3 pm EDT, I’ll be joined by professor Edward Maloney, from Georgetown University’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.

An English professor, Eddie is also spearheading a drive to rethink academic computing as a new field, one infused by design principles and relying on the new science of learning.

For more information on this topic, Inside Higher Ed has a good article on the project.  I participated in an early meeting, and wrote up my thoughts about it.

On Thursday attendees can ask our guest questions, engage and collaborate with other leaders in education technology, and also invite friends and colleagues to join.

To RSVP ahead of time, or to jump straight in on Thursday at 2, click here:

To find more information about the Future Trends Forum, including notes and recordings of previous sessions, click here: https://bryanalexander.org/the-future-trends-forum/ .

Posted in education and technology, Future Trends Forum | Tagged | 1 Comment