Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's so great about educational publishing?

Everything. Educational publishers--textbook publishers--are in the best place in the whole educational cycle. They're riding shotgun in the catbird's seat. Why? Because they are the link between research (new knowledge) and classroom teaching. Nobody else does that--other than a handful of brilliant individual teachers. 

So why are they complaining? 

I think many publishers have gotten themselves lost by defining themselves by their processes (Here's what we do: We find authors who know stuff and get them to write books. And now we have to do all this digital interactive development on top of that! We can't make money any more.) 

It is a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. It is an exact repeat of the error of the railroads, who defined their business by steel rails and locomotives, rather than by moving goods and people as efficiently as possible across long distances.

Publishers are in the business of finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education. 

And that's a whole vast frontier full of opportunities. Why? Because almost everything about that last sentence has been transformed in the last 15 years: 
  • "Business" is now as married to education as technology is, because you can't have one without the other. Technology is a product and service and it costs money, and somebody has to pay, and that requires a new business plan--and a new business model.
  • "Finding knowledge" isn't typically about one expert any more, and certainly not about one expert who can write a book. It requires content experts and instructional designers and developmental editors and professional writers and media developers and creating a voice, a persona, a content strategy.
  • "Organizing knowledge" is different in almost every way, with data, meta-tags, search, user-generated content, on-demand lectures, free content. This requires tech savvy, but also content structure and a content architecture geared to student/user preferred pathways and learning modes. 
  • "Teachers" don't teach the same way; they don't use content the same way. They're flipping classrooms and teaching through discovery, collaboration, projects, recorded media, and of course, at a distance. 
  • "Students" don't learn the same way, running a much wider gamut, not just from the bright to the not so bright, but also the highly motivated who've already learned it online and come to class to challenge the teacher, to drudges who disengage and complain when it isn't as fun as a video game. 
  • The connection between "teachers and students" is dramatically different, mediated through the LMS, Twitter, Facetime, smart phones, every medium imaginable. Literally. Some new ones are just now being imagined.  
  • "Education" itself, if you define it as an organized approach to learning, is changing as a result. It is slowly but surely unshackling itself from boundaries built for delivering quality-assured learning through time and space: Classrooms, class schedules, semesters, grades, attendance...
If educational publishing is about "finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education" --then it is an absolute bonanza of opportunities, the mother lode of opportunities, a gold rush waiting to happen.  

So why do publishers feel like their world is constricting? 

Something is wrong with this picture. Righting that wrong, a little at a time, is why I'm so interested.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Disconnect between business and academia?

Say it's not so.

The fact that businesses and higher education don't see eye to eye is nothing new, but there is one area in which they really ought to agree... the general value of a bachelor's degree. They don't. The Chronicle of Higher Education has demonstrated it in this gorgeous (and copyrighted) graphic, comparing how college presidents view a bachelor's degree to how employers view it.

The full report can be be had for free here, from the Chronicle. It's called "What Presidents Think: A 2013 Survey of Four-Year College Presidents." It was written by Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor-at-large at the Chronicle, and was underwritten by Pearson.

And I leave you with this data from PewResarch:

57% of Americans say higher education does not provide good value for the money.
75% say college is too expensive, period.
86% of actual college graduates say it's been a good investment.

So, as one headline writer put it: "Overpriced, unaffordable, and worth it." 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Controlling the uncontrollable, and increasing retention

The title of the presentation was "Retention and Me," and it was delivered at the InnovateEDU conference in Kansas City. The gist of it is this: Unify your messaging to your target students, at every touch point, and you will increase enrollment and retention. The way to do that is to create what I call mantras, and use them. There's also a good bit about the collaboration that helps you to accomplish all that.

The good folks at Plattform, who hosted the conference, were gracious enough to record it and provide me with a link, so here it is. The presentation slides can be downloaded here. (Fair warning, they're pretty cool).

Friday, June 21, 2013

MOOCs: Megatrend or Shiny Object?

The history of technology-mediated learning is filled with shiny objects. Higher education has chased its fair share, only to find that the glitter was not all gold. Some were not the whole answer, but only a part of an answer, sometimes (Second Life! mobile learning!). Some created major paradigm shifts, but still didn't have all the answers (webcams! video streaming!). And some were just destined to go away entirely (video discs! CD-ROMs!). So the question on the table is, just what lies beneath the glitter of today's shiniest technology-mediated learning object of the moment, the MOOC. Is it a megatrend? Or is it not?
Ooh! Shiny!
As previously posted, Babson and the College Board have surveyed university Chief Academic Officers and found clear trends in what they believe about the MOOC: it's a marketing tool to get students interested in your program and your school, and it's a way for students and universities to fool around with online learning on the cheap, figuring things out as they go. Makes sense, right? How can a cast of thousands online learn as effectively as a cast of tens in a classroom? And yet, the buzz is, This Is Big. The buzz is, The Future Is Upon Us.

How do we assess it? My answer is simple... drop it into the context of known societal and technical pressures not likely to abate anytime soon, and see how it measures up. Trends are one thing (and the MOOC is certainly one) but pressures are another. A trend may be part push and part pull. Or it may be all pull. Trends, even megatrends, come from opportunities and ideas and technologies, and are borne along by novelty, then excitement, and then finally by the fear of being left behind. But some trends also have a push behind them, a deep and prolonged social shift that is not likely to abate in the next five to ten years, and may never go away. That's what I mean by a pressure. There are only a handful of them at any one time. Some of them are primarily technological (mobile computing). Some are mostly societal (the demand for proof of outcomes). Some are a little bit of both.

I think the MOOC is being driven by a pressure that's a little bit of both. The pressure is, social computing. MOOCs are a part of the same push that put all our faces on Facebook, and the same push that drives our interest in Pinterest. The MOOC is driven by our technically-produced ability to connect with many, many people on some meaningful if temporary basis.

Facebooking in the real world?
It is a human need to make human contact, to share and be shared with, and this expanding ability to widen our sphere, to be known in new ways, to make impressions, to have a say, and to be thought of as someone having something to say... That's big. Social computing has turned the world into one enormous cocktail party, in which we can mingle and glad-hand with an ever-expanding circle of friends.

MOOCs are an attempt to answer the question, why can't this work for learning? It's a very good question. And the answer is, there's no reason it can't. Whether the current technologies, Coursera and such, can manage it well enough is yet to be seen. But I think we've proven the notion that meaningful relationships can be established or continued online, and in large numbers. If that's not the case, certainly hasn't gotten the memo ("1 in 5 relationships start online!"). And educational relationships, real as they are, are not nearly so complex as romance. Or even friendship. There's only one relationship status in online learning: It's Not Complicated.   

There is much to be done, and MOOCs have much left to prove, because ten thousand friends expect nothing much more of you than that you show up now and again and do something genuine that reminds them of you. Ten thousand fellow learners are going to expect a little more. And whoever or whatever is leading the learning--the guide, the mentor, the instructor--will also generate some expectations. But we all have learned enough about living online that the idea of aiming all our arrows in the same general direction does not seem a difficult proposition. Certainly we can do it with news events, as the Twitterverse has proven. Why not with learning events?

So my conclusion about MOOCs: They are certainly very shiny, but they are also on the megatrend side of the equation.

Recommendation: Buy in.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Online higher education at a glance

Babson and the College Board have released their annual survey results about how university leaders are viewing online learning. Among the eye-popping trends is this one, showing how online has grown as core to long-term strategy:
Copyright ©2013 by Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson and Quahog Research Group, LLC
The full infographic can be accessed here. Other notable trends as reported by academic leaders:
  • 37% have a MOOC and 50% plan to add one.
  • MOOCs are for learning about online and for attracting students
  • MOOCs are going to cause confusion
  • Online learning keeps growing as a percent of total enrollments
  • 77% of leaders now believe learning outcomes are the same or better online
And perhaps one minor fly in the online ointment:
  • Faculty acceptance of online learning hasn't budged from around 25% in the last decade.
The full report can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Educational technology market map

New Schools Venture Fund has released this market map of the educational technology space. Many thanks to them... enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is education a data-intensive science? Should it be?

Can collecting and sorting through massive amounts of learner data improve education? It's par for the course in some other fields. If you still think of astronomers scanning the skies, peering through enormous telescopes on mountaintop observatories, or studying digital pictures coming back from the Hubble telescope, think again.

"People now do not actually look through telescopes. Instead, they are "looking" through large-scale, complex instruments which relay data to datacenters, and only then do they look at the information on their computers." Tony Hey et al, The Fourth Paradigm

Astronomy is a data-intensive science. Defined loosely, that means that there's just way too much data even for scientists to manage. Used to be, scientists had to carefully craft an experiment in order to generate data. Their job was to create precise, specific data that would then be carefully added to someone else's precise, specific data, and that would go on in an additive fashion for a while, and eventually, hey! A conclusion could be drawn.

Not anymore. In many fields today, scientists are simply awash with the stuff. It's a tsunami of data, it's... more data than any one metaphor can hold. It's downloaded from instruments, from automated inputs, millions of nodes, devices, all connected to computer databases, or even generated by computer networks themselves.

Once it's set up and put in motion, all this information is collected automatically, sometimes at terabytes per second. CERN's supercollider generates over 1,000 terabytes of data per second, a petabyte of data. To give you an idea how much that is, it takes more than 400 high-definition movies to add up to 1 terabyte, and we're taking a thousand times that much... Imagine 400,000 HD movies generated out of thin air every second. Store that on your DVR.

What do they do with all the data? Well, they dump it. Boatloads of perfectly good data are erased every day, by really good scientists, too, because they just can't keep it. They can only keep the final tallies, the results, the reports. There's a whole science now developing across these fields that is just about how to manage data, called "e-science." Microsoft gives an award for advancing it. Alexander Szalay of Johns Hopkins won it last year.

To try to get a feel for the magnitude of this, imagine so many Major League Baseball teams, and so many games being played every day, that you couldn't keep all the recordings of them anywhere. The evening sportscast would go like this: "And in baseball, there were ten trillion National League games played today, and here are the scores: the winners trended toward the home teams once again, by a 54 percent margin. Congratulations, home teams!" Want to watch some highlights? Sorry, they're gone forever... the recording was erased the instant the last out was made.

Is education a data intensive science? No. But it could be. The amount of data generated by educational activities every day is stunning. But not a large percentage is captured. How much communications data is generated every day? Just think about the phone minutes alone, being tracked and logged and billed globally. And education as an industry is about three times the size of both the entertainment and communications industries. It's bigger than both combined. Those industries have gotten very good at collecting up data, all kinds of it, and using it. They use it for billing, marketing, product improvement, service improvement, competitive analysis, pricing, investment...

Education and training? We're not so good at collecting data. But we are getting better. The data being generated by learning is more and more being collected digitally and used for similar purposes--which may be good or bad, but is likely inevitable. But it's also being mined for loftier reasons. Arizona State University now uses data mining techniques to create student profiles that help guide students through their college careers. Check out this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But ASU is just scratching the surface. A larger and larger percentage of the learning being done in schools, universities, and the workplace is being done using digital tools... online courses, digital learning objects, digital textbooks, simulations. Final grades are a tiny percentage of the data that is already being collected. Learner data that can be and is being collected during the trial and error of the actual learning experience, the clicks and drags and searches and reviews and posts and responses and ratings and submissions.

The global push toward measuring learning outcomes, toward judging the quality of education by what students can or can't do, what they do and do not achieve... that cannot now be disconnected, never again will be disconnected, from tracking and progress data. The era of a final, a mid-term, six quizzes and a paper adding up to the sum total of a student data? That's over. Collecting and using data to measure actual learning success, or lack of it, is exactly what makes high-profile efforts like Khan Academy work.

Should education be a data-intensive science? Moot question. It almost certainly will be. Better question: how do we make it as good as it can possibly be?