Being a Gig Worker in the Sharing Economy

The Gig Economy (AKA the Sharing Economy) has its appeal: choose your hours, choose your work, be your own boss, control your own income.

It is a unconnected collection of online platforms and apps that allow users to bypass some of the barriers to personal capitalism.

Some of the players are well known: Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Etsy, Airbnb, TaskRabbit. But there are many more apps that allow entrance into gig work that are not as well known.  You are more likely to be a user of the sharing economy than being a worker in it. 

Alexandrea J. Ravenelle has been studying predominantly millennial workers who work in this new economy. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mercy College and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Her new book is Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy (University of California Press) which comes out of her research.

An earlier paper by her (see below) asked if these members of the gig economy were microentrepreneurs or working in the precariat class. The former is a positive label. The latter is not. The precariat social class is formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.

I have written about the gig economy, and I feel like in my unretirement I am a member of that economy, even though I don't use any of the gig apps.

The optimism connected to the gig/shared economy is that it can help reverse economic inequality. It can enhance worker rights, and bring entrepreneurship to many more people.

But it is precarious too. What is lost includes worker safety, workplace protections around discrimination and sexual harassment, reliable income.

Ravenelle groups the stories of giggers into three types: Success Stories (they created the life they want), Strugglers (who can’t make ends meet) and Strivers (who have stable jobs and use the sharing economy for extra cash).

I know that some of my college students are part-time members of the gig economy. It is their way to earn money and gain experiences and perhaps make contacts for more permanent future work. The flexibility it offers works well for students. For example, I have had several Uber and Lyft drivers who were students who drove between classes and on the days off. I suppose they are closest to being Strivers, though being a student is hardly a "stable job." In higher education, adjunct instructors are also members of a kind of gig economy as many of them put together a full time life via part time teaching assignments along with other work. 

 

Ravenelle's earlier paper "Microentrepreneur or precariat? Exploring the sharing economy through the experiences of workers for Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Uber and Kitchensurfing" was presented at the First International Workshop on the Sharing Economy held at Utrecht University June 4-5, 2018.

You can also watch the video with her slides.

Circular Economies

circular
A circular economy model is a new idea to me. Look for books about circular economies (CE) and you will find enough to keep you busy reading for quite a while. 

One aspect of a CE is that it is an economy that does not mine new materials or manufacture products that end up in landfills. This is very "green" thinking. Can we use resources in closed loops? Might this be the fourth industrial revolution?

Designing For a Circular Economy is a book that describes an economy that will reuse through repair, reconditioning and refurbishment. At first this would seem to be a terrible model for a business. Since the middle of the 20th century we have talked about things like "planned obsolescence" and the disposable nature of our products. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, if your television set broke you had it repaired. As a boy, I watched my father test the tubes in our TV set and proudly replace the one that was causing problems. When was the last time you repaired a television? Many people would not even know where to go to get a television repaired.If it is out of warranty, you will probably dispose of it and buy a new one. And disposing of it may be a problem. Your town may not accept it as "trash" and you will need to bring it to a special place or can only dispose of it on certain days or at certain times of the year. 

But a circular economy does offer business opportunities, and most companies say they plan to transition to a circular economy model.

Developing products and services and achieving competitive advantage will mean rethinking existing business models for design processes, marketing, pricing and supply.

This is certainly a disruptive innovation, and one that will create social change and require new consumer attitudes.

Is this all about recycling and upcycling?  The Upcycle is the follow-up book to Cradle to Cradle, and they certainly draw upon green lessons learned in reusing and recycling resources. But CE goes beyond those activities.

In another book, Waste to Wealth, the argument is made that "green" and "growth" can coexist. Business models that provide circular growth are deploying sustainable resources and working with the sharing economy.

Circular economies are also about reducing waste, making sure that products are recycled, having products and materials staying in use longer. That means less resource extraction, less risk in supply chains, and reducing climate pollution. 

Reading all this I wondered if this had anything to do with education. Certainly, educational institutions will need to educate about circular economies, but can they treat their own institutions as circular economies in many of the same ways as other businesses? They can definitely reexamine their own supply chain, buildings and equipment purchasing and use.

But how else might learning work into a circular economy? Since we will need to change the way we create products, services, and systems, schools would need to change how they teach those processes.

There are organizations, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that are already looking at how we might create a new kind of expertise. It will require co-operation between silos, and a general change in attitudes and operating methods.

Education is not always open to change. But education still plays an important role in developing experts.  

I found this Circular Classroom: a Free Toolkit for Activating the Circular Economy through Experiential Learning. The Circular Classroom is a free, multilingual educational resource for students and teachers alike, designed to integrate circular thinking into high school and upper secondary classrooms in Finland. Finland is often considered to have one of the world’s best education system. It is quite different from other educational systems: no-homework, student-centric, interdisciplinary, with a life-skills teaching approach that is committed to experiential and phenomena-based learning. (You can find out more about Finland's schools: readings 1  2 3)

If not a circular economy, then what? We stay in the "Linear Economy" which is the take-make-use-dispose model of consumption that we arrived at with the Industrial Revolution. Many people believe that kind of global economy is no longer sustainable. A radical new model, the circular economy, with design thinking and education for sustainability may be a topic for academic papers today, but I believe it will be put into practice sooner than may of you reading this would predict.

 

 

Google+ Joins Wave, Buzz and Orkut in the Google Graveyard

G+Eight years ago, I was posting here about Google+ (or Google Plus) which was an attempt by the search giant to compete with other social media sites (especially Facebook) for the social audience.

Now, they are deprecating Google+ (the tech term for turning off, closing, giving up on a service). Google has not succeeded at social.

My theory back in 20111 was that it might be because they weren't able to explain in a simple, clear way what their social services offered or how they were different from others like Facebook.

Do you even remember their earlier services Wave and Buzz and Orkut?

It is 2019 and the Google+ API deprecation which happens this month also affects Blogger’s Google+ integration for blogs like this one. The impact is not major but it does have effects when you kill off an integrated service.
  • Support for the “+1 Button”, “Google+ Followers” and “Google+ Badge” widgets on blogs will no longer be available.
  • The +1/G+ buttons and Google+ share links below blog posts and in the navigation bar will be removed. That will have some effect on the number of people who share or "Like" your posts.
  • Support for Google+ comments will be turned down, and all blogs using Google+ comments will be reverted back to using Blogger comments. That seems minor BUT it also means that the comments posted as Google+ comments cannot be migrated to Blogger and will no longer appear on your blog. 

Credit Hours and Personalized Learning

classroomCredit hours are something that still wield a lot of power in education. It plays a role in high schools, but it really rules in higher education.

Credit hours were once known as Carnegie Units. It goes back to 1906, but it was not designed as a way of measuring learning. It was meant as a method to calculate faculty workloads in order to formulate pensions.

Earlier, admission to colleges was by examinations which varied greatly among colleges, but the method was unreliable. Charles W. Eliot at Harvard University devised a contact-hour standard for secondary education, and also the original credit-hour collegiate post-secondary standard. This is where we get our 3 credit course based on 3 contact hours per week. But the widespread adoption of the 120-hour secondary standard did not occur until the Carnegie Foundation began to provide retirement pensions (now known as TIAA-CREF) for university professors. A stipulation of the pensions was that the universities needed to enforce the 120-hour secondary standard in their admissions.

It only took four years for nearly all secondary institutions in the United States to use the "Carnegie Unit" as a measure of secondary course work. 

The Carnegie Foundation also established that both high school preparation and college "work" would include a minimum of four years of study. But the Carnegie Foundation did not intend the Units to "measure, inform or improve the quality of teaching or learning."

Unfortunately, the credit hour became the standard way to measure the student's workload and progress through those four years in secondary and higher education. Should these credit units be revised or abandoned?

The Carnegie Foundation said in 2012 that "technology has revealed the potential of personalized learning," and that "it is time to consider how a revised unit, based on competency rather than time, could improve teaching and learning in high schools, colleges and universities."

Personalized learning is sometimes suggested as a way to replace the Carnegie Unit and credit hours because it could be based on competency rather than time

But what personalized learning means seems to vary by practitioner. Even the term used to describe the practice varies. Personalized learning is sometimes called individualized instruction, differentiated instruction, direct instruction or a personal learning environment. Though they are not all the same things, they are all used to describe education that is adjusted to meet the needs of different students.

Edutopia published an article on several "myths" about personalized learning that are worth considering in any discussion of changing the way we measure workload and progress.

Because many efforts in personalized learning in the 21st century involved computers and software that allowed students to work at their own pace, personalized learning is associated with technology-based instruction.

The "personalized" part of learning is often thought to mean that students work independently. In a class of 25 students it is unlikely that there will need to be 25 distinct learning paths. Students will often work on collaborative competencies along with individual competencies focused on content and skills. Student interests shared with others in the classroom will form affinity groups for group projects and learning experiences.

Personalized learning is about learners moving at their own pace which is why students demonstrating mastery of content fits into a competency-based system.

Truly personalized learning also involves learners in setting goals and being involved in the planning and learning process. This may be the most radically different aspect of personalized learning. It is very "student-centered" so learners can select their resources and explore different ways to learn in flexible learning spaces. They may also connect their learning to their interests and passions, and even have a voice in how their learning will be assessed.

What has not changed in most personalized learning settings today are the competencies that must be met.

Personalized learning allows for self-pacing, but when students move through competencies at different speeds "credit hours" are irrelevant. If one student moves through a course set of competencies in half the "normal" time should they receive all or half the credit. Obviously, they should receive all the credit. What if they move through all the competencies in a program (degree) in two years? Do they graduate?

Personalized learning is an approach to learning — not a set program. And it is still being formulated and experimented with at different grade levels. But our learning experiments should be combined with experimentation in how we measure movement through learning. 

The Rules for Online Learning

online learnerRegulators who make the rules for higher education accreditation are being closely watched now for the rules governing online learning. Three industry groups who are concerned have put forward their own policy recommendations. The groups are the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

The recommendations are concerned with competency-based education (CBE), regular and substantive interaction, and state authorization. The Department of Education's ongoing accreditation rulemaking session (which may also require congressional action) may develop outcomes-based Title IV eligibility standards for gauging colleges' effectiveness with a wider range of instructional modalities.

One big topic of discussion concerns the current rules around regular and substantive interaction. This is the measure of how much contact instructors and students must have in online courses. Some educators feel the current rules put online learning at a "competitive disadvantage" relative to on-campus instruction.

One of the test cases has been the DoE's case against Western Governors University. But in January 2019 it canceled a $713 million fine owed by WGA that came out of a 2017 audit that concluded that the school's CBE model was not in compliance with federal standards for online education. In its January reversal, the DoE determined that the fully online nonprofit university "made a reasonable and good faith effort" to apply the rules to its model.

The DoE further stated that it is "hopeful that further clarification [around distance learning] will be part of future regulations that will help spur the growth of high-quality innovative programs."

According to Inside Higher Ed, a third of all higher education students take at least one online course. Many of those students live on campus or within a two-hour radius of the college, so that the older term of "distance education" has become far less relevant.

But online learning is still growing in higher education. For example, Florida International University now offers more than 100 degrees fully online, and added more than 15 degrees in the past year. Those offerings include 20+ STEM programs at the graduate and undergraduate level, and new bachelors’ degrees in economics, writing and rhetoric.

Not all universities and educators are as strong in pushing online learning. Researchers at George Mason University and the Urban Institute say students who lack strong academic preparation tend to struggle in an online-only environment. But that research has been questioned by others. And the discussons continue at many levels.