Posted by: crudbasher | March 31, 2014

A Shift Away From Degrees?

As part of the disaggregation of higher education, the first thing to go might be the concept of a degree. It used to be widely believed that if you had a college degree, you had a job for life. Well, the last 5 years have put that idea out to pasture. Today the main difference between an unemployed high school graduate and an unemployed college graduate is a mountain of student loan debt. People will always find an alternative especially as technology makes more alternatives available.

Some of these alternatives are coming from the universities themselves I am happy to see.

H/T The American Interest

Schools are responding to these students by creating specialized programs, including short-term programs to help the unemployed return to the workforce with updated skills. Some colleges may even offer certificates, though the skills learned will probably be more valuable than the credential. Of course, some of these skill seekers already have a degree, and are either supplementing their skill set or trying to correct a poor decision to seek an esoteric degree as an undergraduate.


I wrote 18 months ago I listed 6 things universities needed to do to survive the next 10 years. Here’s number 4.

The 18-24 year old market won’t be big enough. In an ever changing world, the rest of the population is your new market. Cultivate relationships with life-long learners.

This will however start to cannibalize the existing degree seeking market, and also cut into other revenue such as housing and sports. Still, it’s a start. We’ll see how long it will take to change the market.

The inevitable result from this will be a push towards alternate credentialing and skill evaluations. If companies can’t rely on a degree anymore as a filter mechanism, another will have to be created.


Posted by: crudbasher | March 28, 2014

Do Rules Stifle Creativity?

My son Nicholas is nearly 14 months old now. Here’s a pic.

Nicholas, age 14 months

Nicholas, age 14 months

Each morning I get to spend a little time with him before I go to work. As a person who has been intensely interested in how people learn and why people are creative, I have been watching him develop with great interest. An observation occurred to me a few days ago that I wanted to relate.

What I have noticed is the way he plays with toys has changed over the last few months. It used to be that he would play with a toy and the pieces that go with it, then he would put it down and go to a different toy. Now he tends to use pieces of toys together. It’s like he’s trying to figure out what things can be used in combination.



As I watch him I have the urge sometimes to tell him that certain things won’t work together. For example, he has this ball popper thing where it uses a fan to propel a small ball up a tube and pop it into the air. It then gets caught by a bowl and returned back to the other end of the tube to be popped out again. You can get a cycle of about 5 balls going at once. It’s loud, plays music and he loves it. The other day he started dropping other things into the tube. Of course that didn’t work but I restrained myself from telling him that. I want him to figure out things for himself.

Being able to figure out other uses for things is called Divergent Thinking. I first heard the term from Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA talk. It starts at 7:40.

Nicholas is an expert at Divergent Thinking. (Ok, I’ll admit the first thing he does with a new toy is put it into his mouth, but after that he gets quite creative.) He literally has no limits on what he can imagine to do with something because he has no previous experience. As we develop as children we gain rules and experience and thus start ruling options out. Why is that? I think it may because as we get older we move into more structured rules sets. In school there are all sorts of rules aren’t there? Almost everything a student does is governed by rules. Some of them don’t even make sense but we tend to accept them anyway. There is a certain mindlessness to it and very little common sense.

More importantly though, in school a student knows that there is one right answer and if you are patient you will be told what it is. In that situation, why would you spend any time thinking about alternative solutions? This is why I believe schools produce people who have very little creativity at the end. In fact the ones who are the most creative often have the most trouble in school.

Well whatever the cause, I am going to make sure Nicholas gets to be as creative as he wants to be for as long as I can keep it going. There is no more important skill or ability he will enter adulthood with and I view it as my job to help him nurture it.


Posted by: crudbasher | March 27, 2014

Facebook Buys Oculus

WordPress was acting weird for me yesterday so no post. :(

I have written about Oculus in the previous few months. It’s a company making VR headmounted displays with the intent to bring them to a mass market. It was created from a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 and it just got purchased by Facebook.

If I was to list the top 10 companies that would buy Oculus, Facebook wouldn’t have made the list so why did they do it and what are the ramifications?

I think Facebook bought them because their CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t want anyone else to buy them. Oh I’m sure he thinks the technology has promise, but really this was just a game of keepaway from Google, Apple and Microsoft. You can do that when you have $2 billion burning a hold in your pocket. Besides if the market crashes again, stocks like Facebook will be hit hard so you might as well put that inflated capitalization to use right?

In the short term I don’t expect anything to change with Oculus except they might be able to tap into a new funding stream and accelerate their progress. Longer term, I don’t think even Zuckerberg has a plan here.

Ars Technica has a good write up about the purchase.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 25, 2014

If Your Education Stops After College, You Become Disposable

Here’s a fascinating story on how tech companies find it much more economical to hire new people from overseas than to retrain their own workers in new technologies.


Retraining existing workers produces “less value” for employers than hiring guest workers from abroad, a high-tech industry representative said during a 19 March media conference call. Speaking for Compete America—a coalition of companies, universities, and trade associations that supports raising H-1B visa quotas—Scott Corley, the group’s executive director, made that statement in answer to a question from this reporter about why, if companies are so short of talent, they do not offer retraining to their experienced employees rather than laying them off.

The main point of Corley’s press event was a claim that each new H-1B visa worker leads to the creation of four additional jobs. Hence, visa restrictions, he argued, are inhibiting the creation of jobs for Americans. The basis for this claim, however,has been disputed by statistical experts. Corley did not dispute that older workers were being laid off. “It’s not easy to retrain people,” Corley said, quoted by of, and “the further you get away from your education the less knowledge you have of the new technologies, and technology is always moving forward.” (emphasis added)

Look at that last quote. Ouch. Economics drives everything folks. This is also a fairly scathing criticism of higher education isn’t it? Some universities claim that their main function is to promote creative thinking and self learning. I think instead their main function is to provide a degree that functions as a signaling function to industry. The problem is, this credential become stale rapidly in a fast moving tech industry. There is then no other means to assess the skills of employees. This is why I think things will move to a skill and competency based hiring market from a degree based market.

The way we learn in the future will be life long and driven by the student.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 21, 2014

An Example Of How Degrees Matter Less

Check out this commercial. I think it’s really well done but the story behind it is illustrative of how the Internet is upsetting traditional ways of doing business.


Collins and Khabushani knew that Tesla Motors is in a curious position: it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and it’s poised for massive growth, but Tesla has never advertised to consumers. So, the daring duo took $1,500 and created a 60-second “faux-mercial” that conveniently blends the “oomph” of Tesla Motors with the “wow” of SpaceX. 

According to Mashable, the fake ad (embedded above) eventually found its way to Musk, who tweeted:

Just discovered a great Tesla ad made by 2 recent college grads. I love it!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 14, 2014

That pretty much did it. The video was subsequently posted to Tesla’s Facebook and Instagram feeds, and it has since gone viral.

It cost $1500 to make the video but it cost nothing to put it on YouTube, and nothing to Tweet it to the Internet. Once Musk retweeted it, poof instant fame. You couldn’t have done this 20 years ago.

So what lessons can we draw from this?

  1. Competence and quality won out over credentials.
  2. Reputations (derived from credibility) are the currency of the Internet.
  3. The physical locations of the participants did not matter at all. They could have been based in Canada or India for all it mattered.
  4. The technology to do this is fairly low cost and accessible.
  5. Age doesn’t matter.

The two people who made the ad did recently graduate from the U of Southern California so you can argue that they learned how to do this there. Ok, I will agree that is likely. Even so, keep in mind Universities aren’t selling skills and competencies, they are selling degrees. That creates a disconnect between them and their customers. The ones that resolve this disconnect are the ones that will survive the next 10 years.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 19, 2014

Is Virtual Reality The Key To Experiential Learning?

At Game Developer Conference happening this week, Sony has announced is getting into the VR gaming. Actually Sony has wanted to do this for years but the tech just wasn’t ready. Apparently they think now it is.

H/T Arstechnica

The headset will have its position and orientation tracked 100 times per second in a full 360 degrees of rotation within a three cubic meter “working volume.” Tracking will make use of high-fidelity inertial sensors in the unit itself, tiny tracking markers on the surface of the headset, and the same stereo PlayStation Camera that tracks the DualShock 4 and PlayStation Move. Sony R&D engineer Dr. Richard Marks wryly noted at the panel that the PlayStation Camera “almost seems as if it was designed for VR, actually,” to laughs from the audience.

The stats they list seem good but beyond the hardware is the fact the device runs on the PS4. This is important because that system has a whole ecosystem behind it that lets users share videos, and connect with other players. It also is a fairly powerful console which will drive the visuals.

If there was one overarching theme to Sony’s Project Morpheus announcement, it was the potential for virtual reality to achieve a sense of “presence” for the user. Marks defined this as “that feeling of being somewhere else,” saying how well Sony can achieve this will determine how well VR will do with a wider audience.

All of this adds to to a system that could be very cool to use on virtual field trips. Watching a video on a topic is good, but VR might be better from a retention of information perspective. Being able to actually experience an environment like this may be the next best thing to actually going there.

As a former VR developer, I am really looking forward to this new technology!

Posted by: crudbasher | March 18, 2014

Evidence Of The Higher Education Bubble

Here’s how I see the higher education system currently.

  • Tuitions have skyrocketed the last 30 years.
  • Student loan debt has also skyrocketed to almost a trillion dollars.
  • Jobs have been much harder to come by the last 5 years.
  • Many universities have used the incoming tuition money to creating new facilities which increase overhead.
  • They have also drastically increased the amount administrators. In fact in the University of California system now there are now more administrators than teachers.
  • States have reduced subsidies recently.
  • A lack of jobs for new graduates has made each freshman class more sensitive to ROI.
  • This is causing some to postpone college or to stay closer to home in a community college.
  • This causes market forces to discourage further tuition costs.
  • Lower state subsidies plus lower enrollments plus high fixed costs means many colleges have very little financial margin.

If I am right we should be seeing a) students being much more price sensitive and b) staff being laid off.

Exhibit A. (H/T American Interest)

More bad news for colleges: The number of students choosing not to attend their first-choice school for financial reasons has hit an all-time high. An annual UCLA report found that more students than ever before consider price and availability of financial aid “very important” when making decisions.

Exhibit B. (H/T Inside Higher Ed)

Laying off faculty should be the last course of action for struggling institutions, and professors should play a role in determining whether those layoffs are necessary — and, if so, how those layoffs happen, according to recommended and common shared governance practices. But faculty members at two institutions that have terminated otherwise well-performing professors in recent weeks say they’re still in the dark as to how those decisions were made, and whether they were really necessary.

According to the article, one of the professors laid off had 20 years of experience and apparently did a good job. So why did he get laid off? As a guess, I would think it was because he was expensive. They can get rid of the higher paid staff and replace them with associate professor or adjunct. If you don’t care about the actual instructional content then this makes perfect financial sense. Of course, I don’t know for sure, that’s just a guess.

We’ll have to see if more of this happens.


Posted by: crudbasher | March 17, 2014

Flexible, Wearable Wifi Antennas

It is a very common sight to witness a teacher telling their students to put away their phones and laptops. If current trends continue however that will become very difficult in the future.

H/T Gizmodo

This fully textile waveguide antenna is capable of handing 2.45 and 5.4 GHz dual-band Wi-Fi, and is made entirely from flexible textiles. The heart of the device is a cell inspired by metamaterials, along with an antenna built on a felt substrate. There’s also a sheet of shielding textile, designed to reduce interference of signals from the wearer.

There is a big push being driven by improving materials sciences to produce electronics that can be worn as an article of clothing. Google Glass is just the start. It is quite likely computers will disappear as discreet devices and will become collections of components that you wear.

The stated goal of Google is to provide you with information before you realize you need it. What will this tech do to classrooms if your wearable technology pops up the answer to the questions the teacher is asking? What happens when you can’t turn that tech off?

I see all this happening within 5 years.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 12, 2014

More Progress On Solar Panels and LCD Screens

As you may know, I follow a lot of other areas of technology besides just education technology. That is because I realized that the education system doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is a reflection of the society that spawns it. Therefore radical changes in other areas such as energy can have repercussions in other areas such as education.

It’s fascinating how certain areas of technology have synergy. Turns out the technology required to make solar panels has a lot in common with how you make LCD screens.


One-molecule-thick material could lead to ultrathin, flexible solar cells and LEDs

A team of MIT researchers has used a novel material that’s just a few atoms thick to create devices that can harness or emit light.

This proof-of-concept design could lead to ultrathin, lightweight, and flexible photovoltaic cells, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and other optoelectronic devices, the researchers say.

Very cool stuff. So what does this mean? Well, solar is a disruptive technology which I think it the future of humanities’ energy needs. Well, that and fusion. Solar follows the model of disaggregation and also supports our more mobile lifestyle. It also can be built into our existing infrastructure and does not required things like large wind turbines (wind is a very big dead end I think). (see The Disaggregation Of Energy )

How can this affect school? Well, the better displays mentioned will certainly make mobile devices more useful because you can unfold a large screen when you need to. This corrects a big limitation of mobile devices. In addition, if these can be made cheaply, you will be able to make wall sized displays in the classroom which I have been predicting for a few years.

Technology just keeps marching along.

The smart phone has really only been around for a bit less than 10 years in it’s current form. Now, some companies are trying to enter the market for smartphones in the developing world.


Since Telefónica launched the first Firefox OS smartphone, the ZTE Open, in July of last year, Firefox OS has been picked up by three more device makers and is available in 15 markets. Now, Mozilla is collaborating with chipmaker, Spreadtrum, on a prototype Firefox OS model that would cost a mere $25.

The phone won’t have all the features you would expect of a fully-fledged smartphone, but it has the fundamental apps for video, social networking, browsing online, phone calls, and texting. Enough for folks to get their foot in the door.

Now keep in mind that a smartphone for $25 would be barely functional really but they will improve rapidly in the next few years. Remember, $25 can buy you a certain level of performance this year but will buy you twice that much next year. Who knows how much phone you can buy for $25 in 5 years time?

This gets people online. The next thing that has to happen is the provide realtime translation of everything; websites, videos, and voice. This will happen because it’s much more economical to do this than to try to create new versions of everything in every language. On top of that will be machine generated content tailored for these new communities of users. All this stuff will probably mature at the same time. That is a stormfront of change.

Once that happens, then the developing world will be able to access the educational resources the Internet offers. They will have a world of opportunity open up to them, which will be amazing.

Low cost smartphones, plus realtime translation is a world changer and an education changer.


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