You’re In the Prediction Business

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Link

The best way to predict the future is to issue a press release. Link

As I wrote in my first post for our academic information services newsletter, anyone truying to bring about innovation and change in education is in the prediction business—like it or not. Unfortunately, as Yogi Berra supposedly[1] said, “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future”. When we make a decision about implementing a policy, buying some new hardware or software or launching a new program, we’re making a judgement based on our understanding the present and on our imagination of how that present condition might change in the future. Educational planning always involves someone’s interpretation of the future along with some judgment about what steps are most likely to influence our position in that future.

Unfortunately, must of us not very good at either accurately understanding what’s happening now or at anticipating what might happen in the future. Our goal in this class is to help you develop a effective set of tools and techniques that you can use individually and within your organization to better measure where you are and to envision possible futures.

We seem to be particularly bad when we’re focusing on the impact of emerging technologies as diverse as cars, computers or tech corporations:

1903: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.” — president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company.

1977: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” — Founder of Digital Equipment Corp Ken Olsen in a speech to the World Future Society.

1996: A Forrester Research analyst(quoted in The New York Times): “Whether they stand alone or are acquired, Apple as we know it is cooked. It’s so classic. It’s so sad.” David Pogue in the New York Times

2016 “It’s very important, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old fashioned way. Because, I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe,” President Trump on the importance of cybersecurity to his administration. People Magazine* link

My own record record in making predictions about educational technology is a little sketchy. I wasn’t impressed with wireless the first time I saw it, and when I first saw Youtube and online video, I declared pretty emphatically that wouldn’t work. (I did, however, anticipate the importance of the cable modem. My planning paper at Syracuse University School of Information Studies received a B-. The instructor commented that the the paper met the requirements of the assignment, but that my assertion that coaxial cable would become important in expanding high speed internet to the home was ludicrous.)

As Audrey Watters’ essay about the failures of technology, illustrates, of most of our commercial, not-for-profit and government institutions have been just as bad at making predictions about the future as I have—-maybe even worse. This essay and Audrey’s other writings are worth reading who is serious about educational planning. Her historical perspective is carefully researched and provides some very useful insights about how to frame the future decisions. Even though she’s careful to assert that she is no futurist, I think she is right on target when she identifies the key task for the future of educational institutions.

Therefore the task for schools – and I hope you can start to see where these different predictions start to converge – is to prepare students for a highly technological future, a future that has been almost entirely severed from the systems and processes and practices and institutions of the past.

Clearly, totally severing our connections to the systems, processes, practices and institutions of the past isn’t the role of the university. But it seems clear to me that those of us who work in higher education don’t really have much leverage to change the trajectory of the kinds of technology that will shape our student’s futures. Much of the basic science that will define the commercial technologies of the future will still come from our labs, but Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, the Chinese government and even Microsoft will still have more power to define the technologies and workspaces of the future.

As we go forward with this class, we’ll try to practice the art of developing realistic ways of anticipating the future—both individually and institutionally. The key to this technique is to train ourselves to think in terms of questions and possibilities of alternative futures, rather than predicting the success or failure of a particular technology. It makes no sense for us to be arguing about whether of jobs displaced by robots and AI will be 25% or 40%. It does make sense for us to think about how we might respond individually and collectively if large numbers of jobs are replaced by machines. (Maybe the better question is when?)

Before we start to worry, about let’s start with simpler exercise. Everyone in this class is working towards a doctorate, and you must have some expectation of what you might do with that degree once you finish.

  1. What sort of professional and personal goals do you have for your post-dissertation life?
  2. What changes do you predict in the world of work and education that might make it either easier or harder for you to accomplish those goals?
  3. How confident are you that your prediction is accurate? How did you come to come to believe that future might exist?
  4. Are there concrete actions that you can be taking right now that will help you capitalize on the opportunities that technology might make available to you?
  5. Are there actions that you could taking now that will help you overcome any obstacles that technology might through your way?

[1] Nothing is ever as it seems, even finding simple quotes to include in presentations. I grew up thinking that Yogi Berra definitely said this, but it seems that might not be the case. The following comes from the “quote investigator:

In 1991 a marketer in the tourism industry in Virginia ascribed a variant of the saying to Yogi Berra:

Randall Foskey, director of admissions marketing for Colonial Williamsburg, probably said it best last week at the legislative dinner sponsored by the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.

“In the words of Yogi Berra, ‘I never make predictions, especially about the future,’” Foskey said.

Creativity, Inspiration and the Conservation of Keystrokes

We have at least three members of our  current adult education class who are experimenting with blogs as part of their learning logs.  The care and feeding of a blog can teach many things.   Some of those things are inspirational; others are more practical.

As the center of your digital identity, your web site can give you of a fighting chance in creating a web presence that helps you accomplish your professional goals.  Your blog can provide a forum for narrating you work and help attract a community to inspire, challenge and expand your thinking.  It also can provide a way to save you some keystrokes.

As Jon Udell has pointed out, saving keystrokes can be very important, particularly if Scott Hansleman is right in his assessment:

There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. Next time someone emails you, ask yourself “Is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?”

If you can communicate with more people with fewer keystrokes before you die–that’s a good thing.  I had the opportunity for the last few days to put the principle of conservation of keystrokes into practice, using another blog that I post to occasionally.  Earlier this week, William and Mary got hit with a particularly nasty phishing attack and a group of faculty accounts were compromised.  The resulting flood of spam resulted in William and Mary’s outgoing mail being blocked by most large ISP’s, including Blackberry.  Every time someone sent email to Blackberry, the mail bounced.  Every time the mail bounced, I got email asking what was going on with Blackberry.

Rather  than answer each one those emails individually, I made a quick post to the SoE blog, then I could direct email to that link rather than respond individually.  Using a blog entry works well in this case because I want to provide a little bit of the back story and show how important it is for all of us in the community to be involved if we want to protect our precious Internet.

Here’s a challenge for you to those of us in the EPPL 714 class.  Can you find a way–high tech or low tech–to invest 1 hour in learning something that will save you 5 hours over the next month?  Can you share it with 10 of your friends so that they can save some time, too? If an hour is too much, can you find a way to invest 10 minutes in something that will save you an hour?  ( Want a hint of a place to look?  If you use Microsoft Word, explore using named styles.)

Question of the Week

The architects need to cut 3000 square feet out of the proposed plan for the Arts Center. Currently, there are 1800 square feet set aside for a music library and a visual resources library. In our discussions so far, we’ve been pretty confident that within the six year planning horizon the technology will allow all the music and images currently stored in these libraries to moved to a central repository which can be accessed from any classroom or other facility on campus. We also have been pretty confident that the copyright issues can be worked out to legally allow us to build those repositories.

Here’s the question. Are you confident enough to recommend the removal of those two spaces from the design? If the spaces are removed, and the technology can’t be put in place, there are going to be some pretty angry faculty members. However, if we’re right, we’ll save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This will need to be a key part of your memo to the dean.

What Story Does Your Class Tell?

In preparing for a presentation on course planning for Blackboard last week, I came upon a great course design tip sheet at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. The sheet begins with a couple of general questions and suggests that teachers not think specific content until after they have thought carefully about their overall purpose and about the expectations, capabilities and needs of their students. Hidden in the midst of that checklist was a question that has really captured my interest: “What’s the story line for this course?”

I’d never thought of my courses as having “story lines”, but they clearly do. The story is what pulls the disparate activities, topics and conversations of a course into a meaningful whole. Each participant constructs an individual narrative that persists long after the “facts” and much of “the content” is forgotten. The story weaves the actions, reactions, motivations, emotions, thoughts and behaviors into an unique experience with the capacity to shape participants as active creators of our own learning. As teachers we don’t control the entire story, but we do get to shape it somewhat by the activities we choose and by the way we interact with our students.

When we look back at the learning that has been most significant in our own lives, we generally relate our experience as narrative. As Gardner wrote about Professor Elizabeth Phillips:

I remember the room where I first heard her speak.  No one in my immediate family had been to college. I had no idea what to expect. After that class, I left the room feeling dizzy, giddy, elated, and not a little anxious, for everything had changed, and I knew I had to at least try to be answerable to that revelation.

All of my classes have a common story line. My goal in the 15 weeks we’re together is to help all of us learn how to learn more effectively. The central issue is developing new flexibility and capacity in learning; content provides the tools by which we develop those capacities. As the catalog outlines in the emerging technology class, we’ll be thinking, talking and writing about a variety of topics including past innovations, present applications, and future advances in educational technology. We’ll look at these topics through multiple theoretical lenses, including change theories, diffusion of innovations, and learning theories. But the ultimate story of the courses goes far beyond that–at least I hope it will.

My goal in designing the course is to prepare educators who are confident in their ability to navigate in a world that is increasingly dominated by information technology. If we’re successful, we’ll be more prepared as teachers and administrators to help our own students deal with increasing pace of change in their lives. Some of the themes that I expect to emerge during my next class include ways that we can help students:

  • Manage their participation in government so that their rights to privacy, security and access to information are protected from both government agencies and corporate interests.
  • Keep personal information management skills up-to-date so that they can continue to be employable in a rapidly changing economy.
  • Manage their personal information both at home and at work to protect themselves—data, passwords, and personal identity—from intrusion and damage.
  • Use technology to overcome parochialism to become more active and effective citizens.

This has all the potential for a fascinating story.

Course Planning for Emerging Technology

A colleague of mine recently likened the course planning process to what goes on inside a sausage factory:

Over a century ago, the German statesman Otto Von Bismarck supposedly said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” Same point can be made about the way I construct course syllabi…

While some folks may be shocked by realities of how faculty members plan their courses, I think there is real value to opening up the process. In that spirit, I’m planning to use this blog to reflect on my activities in preparing the Emerging Technologies in Education course that I’m planning for the fall. The planning model that I use looks something like this.

For me, course planning involves balancing three sets of interlocking goals: the learning goals of the individual students, the constraints (and affordances) of accomplishing those goals in a credit-bearing college course, and the “institutional press” of conducting the class within a specific institutional culture. When I plan a class, I try to structure our time together in a way that does justice to the complexity of these three sets of expectations. In a perfect world, the goals would be largely aligned, but in the real world of practice they seldom are.

As a course planner, I make decisions about structure, sequence, timing, grading and the myriad of other details based on my individual interpretation of the context of the class. There are at least four lenses that I use to focus on the particulars of a class.

  • Educational Philosophy: Since the earliest scientific studies on curriculum, planners have noted that course design is a reflection of individual educational philosophy, and there is tremendous variation in the fundamental world views that shape teachers’ decisions. While my practice draws on a variety of perspectives–liberal education, progressivism, sometimes even behaviorism–my primary decision-making lenses are humanistic education and individualized instruction.
  • Authentic Learning: As an intellectual and genetic descendent of John Dewey, I’m committed to building classes that advance authentic learning: learning that uses real-world problems and projects and that allow students to explore and discuss these problems in ways that are relevant to them.
  • Authentic Teaching: One of the dangers of a scientific approach to teaching and learning is that it devalues the relationship between teacher and learner. In planning courses, I try to find topics, techniques and problems that connect to my genuine interests and concerns. In Parker Palmer’s terms: “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will also find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Fredrick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’”
  • Communities of Practice:. I’ve come agree with John Seeley Brown that one of the major goals of education is to bring students into contact with divergent communities with distinct understanding of knowledge and distinct ways of judging what is interesting, valid and significant. The focus of a community of practice is “learning to be” rather than merely mastering a body of knowledge. A major question in my courses is what does it mean to be an effective learner, citizen, teacher or administrator in a time of unparalleled technological change.

Translating those broad principles into practice—a set of activities and interactions, bounded by time and constrained by the realities of “institutional press”—make the course planning process an enormously complex one, but one that constitutes the heart of effective teaching.

Recommendation for Core Technology Library

New Media.jpg

Recently I had a colleague contact me asking for a bibliography of recent influential texts that he could include in a three credit introductory course in technology for language students. Mike said that he was looking primarily for items that approached technology from a theoretical or philosophical perspective.

I went though my RefWorks bibliography of about 1366 references for courses that I’ve taught in Adult Education, Technology Planning and Emerging Technology, and came up the following list as a starting place. Since I happen to have the New Media Reader sitting on my desk, I strongly suggested that he start there.

Any ideas of others that have shaped your thinking would be appreciated.


Anderson, C. (2006). The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more Hyperion.

Baase, S. (2008). A gift of fire: Social, legal, and ethical issues for computing and the internet (3rd edition) (3rd ed.) Prentice Hall.

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The social life of information. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.

Dertouzos, M. L. (2001). The unfinished revolution : Human-centered computers and what they can do for us. New York: HarperCollins.

Duderstadt, J. J., Atkins, D. E., & Van Houweling, D. E. (2002). Higher education in the digital age : Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century Picador.

Hafner, K. (1998). Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the internet Simon & Schuster.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide NYU Press.

Lessig, L. (2005). Free culture: The nature and future of creativity Penguin (Non-Classics).

Lessig, L. (2006). Code: Version 2.0 Basic Books.

Montfort, N., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2003). The new media reader. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.

Negroponte, N. (1996). Being digital (New Ed ed. ) Coronet Books.

Shenk, D. (1998). Data smog: Surviving the information glut revised and updated edition (Rev Upd ed.) HarperOne.

Shneiderman, B. (2002). Leonardo’s laptop : Human needs and the new computing technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Talbott, S. (2007). Devices of the soul: Battling for our selves in an age of machines O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2005). The anarchist in the library: How the clash between freedom and control is hacking the real world and crashing the system (New Ed ed.) Basic Books.

Weinberger, D. (2007). Everything is miscellaneous : The power of the new digital disorder (1st ed.). New York: Times Books.

Wright, A. (2007). Glut: Mastering information through the ages Joseph Henry Press.

Open Notebook Science

Science 2.0: Great New Tool, or Great Risk?: Scientific American

M. Mitchell Waldrop’s excellent introduction to “open notebook” science in Scientific American fits nicely with some of the work we’re doing to support the Charles Center’s initiative on expanding undergraduate research at the College. My class last semester helped plan a web site that will help students in all disciplines make the process of their research more open and transparent. The site will use a series of Web 2.0 tools to build a community among students at William and Mary who are actively engaged in research.

Most students get lots of exposure to the end products of scholarly work, but they are much less likely get much exposure to complexities of producing that scholarly work. As Ron Gross noted in The Independent Scholar’s Guide:

Rarely do researchers or writers “let their hair down,” revealing that they started where each of us must start: with mere infatuation for a subject… Established researchers rarely portray the faltering steps by which they came to pinpoint their purposes, chose their subject, sharpen their skills. By the time the work of the scholar or scientist comes to our attention, it is usually well packaged as a finished monograph, a carefully-crafted article, a well-honed paper, a polished book, a museum worthy collection or display, a documentary on film or videotape, or as some other finished work. This final project seems to have sprung full-grown from the author’s head. So we get a misleading picture of how intellectual and creative projects get started.
Gross, Independent Scholar’s Guide, Introduction to Chapter Two: From Messy Beginnings to Finished Product

In open-notebook science, blogs, wikis, and social networking tools provide a way to share the everyday decisions that shape an actual research project–both the successes and the failures. Scholarly papers offer clear views of what has been accomplished, but generally don’t provide much insight into the things that didn’t work. Often those details are precisely the ones that can jump-start the work of other scientists, making the whole research process more productive and efficient. The OpenWetWare initiative at MIT, for example, has expanded well beyond its beginnings as a few graduate students refining protocols for getting DNA cultures to grow:

In short, OpenWetWare has quickly grown into a social network catering to a wide cross-section of biologists and biological engineers. It currently encompasses laboratories on five continents, dozens of courses and interest groups, and hundreds of protocol discussions–more than 6100 Web pages edited by 3,000 registered users.

The article raises some interesting issues for institutions that are trying to expand undergraduate research. Timo Hannay, head of Web publishing at the Nature Publishing Group summarizes his vision of scholarly publishing in a way that fits nicely with our goals for the technology integration program:

Our real mission isn’t to publish journals, but to facilitate scientific communication,” he says. “We’ve recognized that the Web can completely change the way that communication happens.” Among the efforts are Nature Network, a social network designed for scientists; Connotea, a social bookmarking site patterned on the popular site, but optimized for the management of research references; and even an experiment in open peer review, with pre-publication manuscripts made available for public comment.

Waldrop has posted the article in Scientific American’s Edit This section where readers get to collaborate with the author in giving the story its final form.

The Messages We Send

How to Read My Comments on Your Paper Drafts:

Every once in a while I read about some educational practice that makes such perfect sense I can can’t help but wonder why everyone isn’t doing it. Steve Greenlaw periodically directs posts in his blog specifically to his students. In a recent post he addresses the purpose of the writing students are doing in his freshman seminar.

“Writing is the tool most scholars use to think about ideas. You don’t write when you have your ideas figured out; rather, you write to figure out what you think. Writing, revising and rewriting is what scholars do. Completing the first draft of a paper is the beginning of your thinking; it shouldn’t be the end.”

When I read drafts, I try to read them as I would a colleague’s paper who is asking for help in improving their work. What that means is I’m not pointing out what’s “wrong” with the paper. Rather, I’m making suggestions about what isn’t clear to the reader, or what I think might make the paper stronger.

I had to contrast Steve’s message to his students with the one we’re sending to our graduate students. We’re in the midst of the comps season, and my colleagues and I are dutifully preparing questions for the two days of exams that will determine whether the students that we’ve spent the last couple of years (or more) working and learning with should be allowed to begin their dissertations. As I look at the fascinating questions my colleagues have prepared, two thoughts immediately pop into my mind.

First, I thank the design of the universe that I’m not being expected to answer them. The thought of having to enter a room with a computer and no notes and synthesize two years of thinking, reading and writing about leadership or planning or policy–much less all of them together–would be terrifying. (It might be interesting if we had a qualifying exam for those who are reading the comps–just a half-day in which we are expected to synthesize all the research in our fields since we took our last closed-book comprehensive exam. It might make it even harder to find readers than it is now.)

The second thought is to try to find some rational reason for subjecting students to this experience. Once they’ve jumped through this hoop, is there any professional situation where they would be expected to do this again? Comps were the most worthless step in my own doctorate–largely because the key research in the field suggested that the only thing timed exams measured was the the ability to take timed examinations.

As I understand Steve’s message to his students, he’s telling them that it’s worth learning the conversation that shapes professional writing because it will be at the core of their education. I can’t help but wonder what message our graduate students are getting from us through the comps requirement.

Bar Association Web Redesign

IT Conversations: Edward Adams

This is an interesting discussion of the process of redesigning the American Bar Association Journal. Previous versions of the site featured one story a day with no persistent links. The new versions features a number of updated features to move from a fairly traditional professional magazine to site that is clearly user-focused

  • Dozens of new stories written by professional journalists each day.
  • Analysis from more than 1,000 legal blogs, written by lawyers who are experts in their fields.
  • Full text search of the 1000 blogs in the directory.
  • Mobile Edition for the smart phone.

This isn’t a podcast I normally tune into, but I decided to give it a listen anyway because of the web development project we’re working on as part of the class. Turned out to be a good summary of the the thought process involved with rethinking a major professional site, with lots of lessons for us to consider in our research site. Definitely worth firing up when doing some serious time on the Arc Trainer or the commute to/from Richmond.

A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence

Ron Gross’s book The Independent Scholars Handbook is one of the my favorite adult education works of all time. The book, which was first published in 1982 and then re-released in 1993, contains the stories of individuals from every background whose lives contained a serious commitment to research, investigation, theory building and other intellectual enterprises. In addition, the book provides a resource guide with specific suggestions on how to move from “Messy Beginnings” to the finished product of research–whatever your field of endeavor.

One of my favorite stories in the book comes when the author, beginning his career as the “lowest of the low” in the world of New York publishing, comes face to face with editorial giant Max Schuster…

Continue reading “A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence”