Farewell to Curbs and Other Unexpected Uses of Technology

curbDevin Liddell is Chief Futurist at Teague, a firm that specializes in design for transportation. He thinks about how technology and design will change mobility. An article on Geekwire.com that I saw via Amber MacArthur's newsletter discussed a few of those changes.

The one that surprised me the most was about curbs - that quite old and established way to separate the street from the sidewalk. In 19th century cities, they helped keep walkers from stepping in manure from horse-drawn carriages. But in the 21st century, Liddell says, “The curb as a fixed, rigid piece of infrastructure isn’t going to work.” He thinks there is a role for design in creating a more dynamic understanding of curbs. Nuanced with signage can change curb spaces from no parking to emergency-only to pay-by-the-hour parking.

A suburban curbside may not be an issue, but in cities and at airports, they are problem areas.

Liddell references Coord which is the urban planning spinout of Google/Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs. Can you believe they have Open Curb Data that maps the use of city curbs. Self-described "Coord makes it easy to analyze, share, and collect curb data. Curbside management now includes better compliance, safety, and efficiency for communities of all sizes."

Curb data? Really?

Half of Gen Z Feels They Can Succeed Without a College Degree

graduationThis post follows the previous one about vocational education in the U.S.  There appears to be a resurgence of the "alternative to college" option in the 21st century.

"Half of Gen Z Feels They Can Succeed Without a College Degree" was one headline takeaway from a Global Learner Survey conducted in 2019 by The Harris Poll using a 20-minute online survey completed by 11,083 people aged between 16-70 years old across the globe. 

That's not news that colleges want to hear. As a lifelong educator and someone who spent about 19 years of that in higher education, I'm not immediately pleased to read that kind of headline.

This was a global survey using learners in 19 countries, so this is not just an American trend. They asked about the quality of their nation’s education system and about careers and the future of work and technology. Big topics. 

The results point to a kind of DIY mindset. With access to technology, people are taking education into their own hands. The model is a bit patchwork with and learners are using a variety of options.

I also hear this called self-service learning will become even more commonplace as people seek education across their lives.

The report has eight main takeaways, but the one that caught my attention became my headline. Young workers (Gen Z if we need a label) think that they (and other age groups) can do fine without a college degree. They don't dismiss the need for training but this incoming workforce in many countries is open to alternative pathways, especially vocational training. 

I have written about this "Disconnected" group before and I also think it includes different age groups. Perhaps the bulk of the Disconnected is young but there is also a significant section of older workers nearing retirement or in "unretirement." Both groups are looking for new work opportunities and getting a degree just doesn't seem desirable or perhaps even feasible.

The report says "The 40-year career is gone, replaced by life-long learning and diverse career paths. The talent economy has arrived and the traditional, linear career path is a thing of the past. Learners are molding education into what they need for today’s work world, which means 'bite-sized' learning across their entire life."

Where will that "bite-sized learning" come from? Those surveyed expect digital and virtual learning to be the new normal. Those that do see colleges or other institutions as viable are focusing on online degrees, artificial intelligence tools and smart devices. 

This is all also sad to me, someone who spent most of my lifetime in secondary schools, largely preparing students to go on to college. I don't like indications that confidence in educational institutions is wavering. This report says that many people globally feel formal education isn’t working for them because it is not preparing them for work. And it's too costly. And for some, it is out of reach.

Another trend that comes up in the report is "upskilling" which is the process of teaching employees new skills. That most often happens because of new technology which leads to new jobs that require specialized skill sets. 

Learners also believe "soft skills" will give them the advantage over automation. Creativity, originality, problem-solving and the ability to learn new skills give humans advantages over machines. Unfortunately, as AI becomes better and more common the machines are also gaining soft skills.


Read the survey www.pearson.com/corporate/news/global-learner-survey.html

A companion to the survey is "Opportunity for Higher Education in the Era of the Talent Economy," a guide to the survey’s implications and opportunities for higher education.

Ghosting Jobs and Colleges

ghostsIt is still three weeks until Halloween, but this is a ghost story that appears all year. I wrote about professional ghosting last year. It started as a term about the dating world. Then it moved into the office world and finally into the world of higher education.

The labor market is tight and some job seekers are disappearing like ghosts from the hiring process. Indeed.com surveyed employers and found 83% had experienced applicants disappearing without letting the employer know why. Ghosting has dramatically increased in the last two years. The median age of ghosts is 34, so it's not just kids just out of college.

Ghosts disappear from a scheduled job interviewss and stop replying to recruiters or hiring managers. But the scary groups (about 19%) disappear after initially committing to a verbal offer but never signed the paperwork, and 22% accepted the offer and did not show up to work on their first day.

Why? 40% of those surveyed did it because they received a better job offer.  Poor communication with the hiring party was another major reason why candidates disappeared. About a quarter of the ghosts said they just were not comfortable telling the employer they changed their minds. 

How does this compare to ghosting students? Like the tight job market, applying to college is easier these days and schools are eager. Eighty percent of today’s college freshmen applied to at least three colleges and one-third applied to seven or more colleges, getting accepted and taking a pass isn't unusual.

Jeff Selingo reported that beyond prospective students ghosting a college, "Would-be students and their Gen X parents are no-shows or altogether skipping campus tours and open houses in the pre-application phase."

Student athletes are also ghosting colleges after acceptance when a better deal shows up. 

Some of the reasons are the same. A better offer, which can mean a better school or more financial aid. Poor communication with admissions or better communications from another school is also a reason. And, like those job ghosts, some are not comfortable telling the college that they changed their minds. 

For higher ed, the scary group is those that go through the entire admissions process including tuition and then don't show up for the start of the semester.

There are also just fewer possible students available. An admissions counselor writes
"This is my summer of 2019 takeaway: Higher education has fully entered a new structural reality. You’d be naïve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave as we have previous swells. Those who saw modest high-school graduation dips by 2020 as surmountable must now absorb the statistical reality: Things are only going to get worse."

Another version of ghosting is the practice of sneaking into college classes without officially enrolling. In my college days, auditing a class you weren't enrolled in was an accepted practice, usually with permission from an instructor. Steve Jobs is one of those famous ghosts before the term was used who dopped out of Reed College and then started dropping in on interesting lectures. Is it stealing an education or admirable ambition?

MUCH MORE 

Silos

siloesThe new semester is starting at most American colleges and I'm thinking about the silos on campuses. I don't mean anything having to do with agricultural programs which probably have a silo or two. I mean the figurative silos that are still quite real that appear in departments and schools on campus.

I had bookmarked a headline saying that "Facebook was granted a patent to silo group posts." That's about moderators of Facebook Groups getting more leeway in controlling who sees the comments made on their forums. Some have described it as a patent for shadowbanning - secretly restricting who sees a user's content.

My inspiration to write this post came from that social media story, but it set me thinking about education, especially higher education silos.

Silos are also increasing when it come to online and streaming media. Netflix, Disney, HBO, and other providers are "taking back" their content and siloing it in their own platforms. People have been unbundling and cord-cutting to lower costs and customize what comes into their home, but now they mean to rebuild and might need a half dozen services to get what they want. Ironically, this is how cable companies first emerged - by creating packages of channels for you.

A few years ago, a Forbes article stated that "College Silos Must Die For Students To Thrive" and asked "If academics — the heart of the university — do not silo students, then why are student-focused university departments siloed from each other? Wouldn’t student needs be better served if cross-functional sharing of institutional knowledge were common practice within colleges and universities?"

The authors say that the five functional areas of the university that are most important to students are Admissions (including financial aid), Academics, Student Affairs, Career Services, and Alumni Relations/Advancement. Typically, these five have minimal interaction with one another. They exist in silos.

Silos in higher education aren’t limited to departments. They include academic units, athletics, student support services, foundations, alumni, research and business operations. 

Why create a silo? Usually, it is to keep focus in one space and hold onto perceived "turf." The problem with silos is that they discourage interdisciplinary opportunities, which is probably something you will find written into many universities' mission and priorities.

I have worked at colleges where these silos existed. The bigger the institution, the more likely silos seem to occur. For example, you would find IT services housed within a college or school that did not share staff, software, equipment or practices with other schools within the university. In large state universities and university systems, as one example, it is not unusual to find multiple learning management systems being used. That means that training and support can't be "pooled" across campus. Faculty who teach in multiple departments or programs may have to learn and design for several systems.

There are pressures to break down silos. Technology is one pressure. Purchasing power and avoiding duplication of services are other pressures. Calls for transparency and accountability favor structures without silos. Take a look at your campus structure this fall and see if silos exist. Are they increasing or decreasing?