Sunday seven: education, neighbourhoods and holes in the sky

Seven things I read this week that either taught me something, or confirmed my thinking and at the same time broadened it.

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The digital revolution in higher education has already happened – by Clay Shirky, via Medium

This is a brilliant article poking gaping big holes in the “online education isn’t having much of an impact” wall, which itself is a victim of a narrow vision.

According to Mr. Shirky, 4 million undergraduates, out of a total pool of 16 million, took at least online course in the fall semester of 2012.

“…more students now take a class online than attend a college with varsity football. More than twice as many now take a class online as live on campus. There are more undergraduates enrolled in an online class than there are graduate students enrolled in all Masters and Ph.D. programs combined.”

That’s a lot. But, the figures he cites are from the autumn of 2012, the “most recent semester with complete data in the US” – how can that be the most recent data available? Whatever happened to the data economy? And we’re talking about online data, it’s not like they had to count pieces of paper! Doesn’t it make you wonder why this data hasn’t been collected?

But I digress. Although it is an important point. Three years later, at the growth levels then experienced, the figure could well be double that. Or triple that. Or maybe the same. It seems pointless to speculate on data that’s three years old.

“…One common observation about online education is that it will mean ‘bricks for the rich and clicks for the poor.’ Something like this has indeed happened, though ‘…clicks for the poorly served’ would be more accurate. Students taking online classes aren’t looking for bargains; the majority don’t take classes from the lowest-cost provider available. They are looking for flexibility, because they can’t quit their job or stop caring for their children or their parents just to attend college, but the world is telling them they need a degree to go from $7 an hour bagging groceries to $13 an hour drawing blood.”

So why is the digital revolution in education so misunderstood? Because of data segmentation, hyped expectations and simple elitism.

 “…for us to imagine something is good, it has to be good for us. Meanwhile, back in America, online education isn’t succeeding because it is better than Oberlin, it’s succeeding because it’s better than nothing, and nothing is what’s on currently offer for millions of people.”

Those of us who had comfortable four-year stints at good undergraduate universities need to realize that we are not the revolution. The potential reach of online courses and the flexibility that they offer for relatively low cost means that more people can get better educated, from anywhere. That’s the revolution.

“We already know what the college of the future will look like, because the non-traditional students are creating it now. It’s a hybrid of online and in-person classes, centered on the student and not the institution, with credits accruing from multiple schools, and adding up to a degree in alternating periods of attendance and absence.”

If college education is necessary to move beyond minimum wage, and it seems like that’s the case these days, then it needs to be more flexible, and less administration-heavy. The rate of undergraduates dropping out of college in the US is the highest in the developed world, and is growing. This will lead to a skills gap, and will put a cap on economic growth, unless we can help students to get that degree.

And not just in the US. Students the world over can improve skills and get a degree, which will boost their entire community.

“Given the lousy fit between institutional assumptions and the actual lives of most students, we should applaud their inventiveness in using digital options to make college work for them. But we should also recognize our complicity in creating a system that works so badly in the first place. Online classes are no longer surprising, or experimental, or rare. By adopting them, students are telling us what they need our institutions to become.”

Right on, Mr. Shirky.

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A hole in the sky – via My Modern Met

This is really freaky. Apparently it’s a genuine cloud formation called the Bergeron Process, in which air condensation freezes without becoming solid while the water around it evaporates. I don’t pretend to understand it. But it’s really freaky.

image via My Modern Met

image via My Modern Met

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Reconsider – by DHH, on Medium

If you’ve ever thought, or are thinking, about setting up a startup, read this. Even if you haven’t, read this. A blissfully cold jug of water thrown on the growth-above-all funding hype.

“…maybe, just maybe, you too have a nagging, gagging sense that the current atmosphere of disrupt-o-maniaisn’t the only air a startup can breathe. That perhaps this zeal for disruption is not only crowding out other motives for doing a startup, but also can be downright poisonous for everyone here and the rest of the world.”

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The future of food delivery? – via The Atlantic

This is not your typical eat-what-you-want-when-you-want efficiency homage. This is not your typical On-Demand economy tribute. This article is a refreshing and even charming look at what the awfully-named “sharing economy” could be. Is convenience really the ultimate goal? Or does experience and human warmth get a look in?

“We are alive at a time when huge systems—industrial, infrastructural—are being remade, and I think it’s our responsibility as we make choices both commercial and civic—it’s just a light responsibility, don’t stress—to extrapolate forward, and ask ourselves: Is this a system I want to live inside? Is this a system fit for humans?”

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Brighten up a rainy day – via Bored Panda

When it rains, Pantone’s hydrochromatic paint – which is transparent when dry, but turns opaque and colourful when in contact with water – transforms dull, wet streets into vibrant and artistic scenes. A whole new form of street art? Art + weather = impact on emotions.

image via Bored Panda

image via Bored Panda

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The Uberization of Finance – via The Wall Street Journal

Ugh, if I hear another “the Uber of…” I just might shriek. And I would have expected a bit more journalistic rigor from such an illustrious institution as The Wall Street Journal. But putting Uber in your headline must work, I guess, because I clicked on the link to read it. Inwardly shrieking, of course, but still…

The article goes on to describe briefly how platforms are changing the way we think about finance, from lending to buying shares. The part describing a possible future for private share offerings was particularly interesting:

“But what if the next wave of stock ownership isn’t just trading your own account, but stocks as a form of affiliation with brands? What if that Starbucks card came not just with a free latte after 10 purchases but a share of Starbucks after 100? And what if the maker of that cool new device, the GoPro of tomorrow, could offer its shares directly to its avid users instead of having to rely on investment banks to dole out the shares? “

Although instead of “Uberization”, why not just say “decentralization”?

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Liverpool has opened fast-walking lanes – via CityLab

It’s just a marketing stunt for now, unfortunately, but hopefully cites all over the world – or at least their pressed-for-time, impatient, A-type residents – will sit up and take notice.

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Have a great weekend, all! Beautiful autumnal weather here… I think I’ll go out for a walk and kick some leaves. :)

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