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?

Just Trying to Help

woman online

She just wants to help me online.


I have been getting more emails sent to my blogs (I have 9 including this one - which is just ridiculous) offering "help" and also posts I might want to use.

Here's a recent example:

My name is [deleted], I'm a writer and blogger at IvyPanda. Recently I've been working on an article about communication skills and I visited your website while researching. There's a great post named "PowerPointless" (https://www.serendipity35.net/index.php?/archives/210-PowerPointless.html) I enjoyed reading!
Unfortunately, I noticed a broken link there. Here it is: 
https://www.toastmasters.org/tips.asp

Since my brand new article is out, I think you can use it for updating your page. It has 27 tips to overcome public speaking anxiety and a bonus list of great courses available online. It's going to be an excellent replacement! 
Here's the link: https://ivypanda.com/blog/public-speaking-anxiety-tips
What do you think? Just trying to help ;-)
Warm regards,
**   writer & blogger

There is software that can scan sites for broken external links. So, these people find a broken link and use that as a way to email and help you fix your site - which is useful - and then the email will always suggest a related link that I might use which comes from their site.

The first time I received one of these emails, I made the change and used their link and replied with a thank-you. But after receiving a dozen or so similar ones I had decided that this was just a way to place links on other websites.

This particular email I shared also offered links to her Facebook page. Yes, it was a woman, and on all the ones I have received, it was a woman - and an attractive woman at that. (Not the woman shown above.)  I wonder if female bloggers get emails from male helpers? is she a real person? Is this a scam, and if so is it harmful? 

This has a name. It is called "broken link building." This is a link building tactic. You find a broken link, recreate the dead content, then tell anyone linking to the dead resource to instead link to your recreated content. When it works - and I'm sure it often does - it is because you don't want dead links on your website.

You can feel some pride if you get one of these emails because websites targeted have a good following. They target you because they are trying to raise their own search engine optimization which is at least partially based on the ranking of the sites that link to you.

Did I fix my "PowerPointless" post here on Serendipity35because of that email? Yes. I got rid of the broken link, added a new one (not the one that was provided) and fixed a broken image. So, thanks.

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. 

Are You Prometheus or Zeus?

Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger
Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger, 1817

 

Do you know the myth of Prometheus and his argument with Zeus?  I am reading Stephen Fry's books that are retellings of the myths of Ancient Greece, Mythos and the companion volume Heroes, and he has suggested that we are approaching a similar moment in our history. 

I don't know if you can see yourself as Jason aboard the Argo ques ting for the Golden Fleece, or as Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. But I think we might divide all of us into two groups by deciding on which side we stand when it comes to artificial intelligence as "personified" by any robot with a human appearance and advanced artificial intelligence.

The myth that applies is the story of Prometheus and his argument with Zeus.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus, whose name means "forethought" is credited with the creation of man from clay, and also the one who defies Zeus by stealing fire and giving it to humanity.

To humans, his theft is heroic. Fire, perhaps our first technology, enabled progress, civilization and the human arts and sciences.

Prometheus believed that humans needed and deserved fire. Zeus did not.

In Hesiod's version of the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire it is clear that Zeus withheld not only fire from humanity, but also "the means of life." Zeus feared that if humans had fire and all that it would lead them to, they would no longer need the gods.

Fry writes that “The Titan Prometheus made human beings in clay. The spit of Zeus and the breath of Athena gave them life. But Zeus refused to allow us to have fire. And I think fire means both literal fire – to allow us to become Bronze Age man, to create weapons and to cook meat. To frighten the fierce animals and become the strongest, physically and technically. But also the internal fire of self-consciousness and creativity. The divine fire. Zeus did not want us to have it. And Prometheus stole fire from heaven and gave it to man.”

If we think about a modern Prometheus, perhaps we can make him into a scientist who has created a very powerful android.

It is fitting that the word "android" was coined from the Greek andr-, meaning "man" (male, as opposed to anthr?p-, meaning human being) and the suffix -oid, meaning "having the form or likeness of. (We use "android" to refer to any human-looking robot, but a robot with a female appearance can also be referred to as a "gynoid.")

Our Prometheus the AI scientist is ready to give his android to the world. But his boss, Mr. Zeus, is opposed. What will happen when the android become sapient?" Zeus asks. Sapience is the ability of an organism or entity to act with judgment. "And what if these androids also become sentient?" Zeus asks. Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively.

Stephen Fry takes up that argument:

"In a hundred years time, we can guarantee there will be sapient beings on this earth that have been intelligently designed. You could call them robots, you could call them compounds of augmented biology and artificial intelligence, but they will exist. The future is enormous, it has never been more existentially transformative.

Will the Prometheus who makes the first piece of really impressive robotic AI – like Frankenstein or the Prometheus back in the Greek myth – have the question: do we give it fire? Do we give these creatures self-knowledge, self-consciousness? An autonomy that is greater than any other machine has ever had and would be similar to ours? In other words: shall we be Zeus and deny them fire because we are afraid of them? Because they will destroy us? The Greeks, and the human beings, did destroy the gods. They no longer needed them. And it is very possible that we will create a race of sapient beings who will not need us.”

So, are you like Prometheus wanting mankind to have these highly evolved robots? Or do you agree with Zeus that they will eventually destroy us?

 

Here is an excerpt concerning this idea from an interview Stephen Fry did in Holland.
(Full interview at https://dewerelddraaitdoor.bnnvara.nl/nieuws/de-twee-kanten-van-stephen-fry)