Ban the Buzzwords!

“Buzzword: a word or phrase, often sounding authoritative or technical, that has come into vogue in popular culture or a particular profession”.  Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd.

BuzzwordsEvery profession has them, buzzwords; those words used over and again until they sound trite and empty. They’re catchy at first, then annoying, and end up clouding the real issues. One journalist wrote that buzz words “get in the way of education”. He has a point.  Should buzzwords be banned from education dialogue?  The Wall Street Journal posed a similar question in its At Work section in late 2013, “What Buzzwords Would you Ban in 2014?” The follow-up article published January 1, 2014 featured words and phrases business leaders words would ban from corporate dialogue altogether, which led me to think about buzzwords in education, where there is never a shortage.

Beyond the Buzzwords
I attended a conference in Toronto last November, Rethinking Higher Ed Beyond: {the Buzzwords} put on by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. The concept is a good one, digging below the surface, discussing the issues associated with the buzz, dissecting and analyzing the terms and words applicability and relevance. Sessions in Beyond the Buzz focused on entrepreneurship in education, ed-tech in the classroom and MOOCs.  Sessions were set-up as panel discussions; panels made up of an eclectic mix of four or five individuals—faculty, business leaders, students, program chairs, and community members. A moderator for each session posed questions, and encouraged questions from audience participants. Dialogues were instructive and enlightening. Key takeaways from the conference:

  • buzzwords hold different meanings for individuals, which poses potential problems, specifically when decisions makers engage in discussion about programs or policies associated with their institutions
  • buzzwords often reflect what society values or emphasizes at a certain point in time, which means concepts may be trendy and short-lived. People are fickle, what’s ‘in’ today is ‘out’ tomorrow
  • buzzwords can mask real issues or problems; buzzwords become red herrings.

Education Buzzwords of 2013

  • Entrepreneurial or Innovation skills. Often used in the same context, ‘we need to teach students’ entrepreneurship and innovation skills‘. Both overused. Yet few people fit the profile of entrepreneurs; they have a distinct and unique set of characteristics. Granted there is value in teaching select skills inherent to entrepreneurs, but do these skills warrant the energy and time? Or would we be better off teaching other [needed] skills?
  • Flipped. Flipping the classroom is no easy task. Teaching and learning methods are  different in a flipped setting requiring a significant investment of time, skill and energy. Furthermore, flipping requires a different pedagogical approach altogether. Yet the term is used rather…flippantly.
  • 21st Century Skills. What are these skills exactly? I have a general idea, but my idea of 21st Century skills will differ from several readers, yet be similar to others. Confusion.
  • MOOCs, massive open online courses.  Do you MOOC? Have you taken a MOOC? Have you taught a MOOC? Do you know what an xMOOC is? How about a cMOOC? What about a SPOC, or a SMOC? Need I say more?

What buzzwords did I miss that should have made the list?  What words, (if any) would you ban from discussions within your institution if you could? Share them here in the comments, or Tweet them to @onlinelearningi.


Seven Must-Read Books About Education for 2014

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”   Mortimer Jerome Adler

Many booksAt the close of every year I draw up a list of books I want to read for the upcoming one. When I was [much] younger the goal was to read as many books as I could—the more books I read the greater the sense of accomplishment I felt. I’m far more selective than I was in my youth; my aim is to read books that are worthy of my time, which is no doubt a sign of aging or crankiness, likely a bit of both. In this post I share with readers a selection of titles from my to-read list for 2014—the top seven related to education. This year [as in the past two at least] the number of titles to choose from was overwhelming. But I’ve narrowed it down to a mere seven. As the quote from Adler [above] suggests, I’m aiming for quality over quantity.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
This book has been on my radar screen for sometime. I’ve read snippets from a variety of sources over the last couple of years, but it never quite made it onto my list.  I formally added it for  2014, placing it right at the top after seeing it made the number two spot on The Top 75 New York Times Best-Selling Education Books for 2013. The book has received numerous awards including Winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award in 2012,  The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of the Year 2011, The Economist’s 2011 Books of the Year, and The Wall Street Journal’s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year 2011.  Impressive.  Review by The Globe and Mail: The Heart of Reason, and the Reason of the Heart. Update: Read my review, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow and What it Means to Education‘.

2. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicolas Carr
The title alone is intriguing enough, but it secured a spot on my list given it was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. Author Nicolas Carr, technology writer is best known for his sensational article Is Google Making Us Stupid? which was featured as the cover story in the Atlantic Monthly in 2008. He’s written numerous books about technology, mostly about the negative effects of information overload and 24/7 connectivity. Carr appears to be a major cynic when it comes to technology; he describes the Internet as a medium based on interruptions, and how it’s changing the way we work and think for the worse. I look forward to reading it nonetheless. Review by the New York Times: Our Cluttered MindsUpdate: Read my review ‘What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of The Shallows

Hardcover, 327 pages, Little Brown & Co

3. I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, by Christian Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
The young woman Malala Yousafzai, both the subject and title of this book, made headlines in 2012 when shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for her activism in education rights for women. Malala began sharing her views at the age of eleven—in 2009 when she began writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym. Her blog documented life under Taliban rule and her perspective on women’s suppression and lack of access to education. For women living in the West it is hard to imagine being barred from pursuing educational opportunities, it is something we take for granted. Ironically, I am Malala raises awareness of women’s right to education in the Middle East, yet is banned in Pakistan by an organization representing 40,000 private schools.  Update: Read my review, “I am Malala”: Book Review and its Implications for Education.

4. Burning the Page: The e-book Revolution of the Future of Reading, by Jason Merkoski
I discovered Burning the Page when reading Jonathan’s Rees’ [blogger, professor, author] post, Reading is Fundamental.  In his post, Rees suggests that reading, specifically skilled reading is on the decline, and e-books are not helping.  My interest piqued, after a bit of research discovered the book is part history, part memoir of the author’s experience as a member of Amazon’s development team for the Kindle e-reader. It’s available in e-book format AND paperback. Click here to read my review on Goodreads.

“Jason Merkoski was involved on the development team for the Kindle e-book reader and, for a time became a “technology evangelist” for Amazon. This book is a combination memoir and thoughtful exploration of the future of reading in as we make the shift from “analog” to digital in books.” Bob’s Review

5. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green
A speaker at a conference I attended recently mentioned that Harold Jenkins, co-author of Spreadable Media is a modern-day Marshall McLuhan. I am a big fan of McLuhan— author, philosopher, professor, and he is responsible for coining the phrase ‘the medium is the message‘.  Spreadable Media also happens to be part of the PostMilliential Pop Series; a series that “strives to publish work that re-imagines scholarship on popular culture in the age of transnationalism, convergence and globalization.Update: Read my review:  ‘”Spreadable Media – How It’s Relevant to Education‘.

6. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t, by Nate Silver
Though this work is not specific to education it’s geared more to business-minded readers, yet it is so very applicable the realm of education, more so with the advancement of our digital applications and devices. Also a timely read as the end of the year closes and we read more of the predictions for yet another.  Review: Nate Silver on Predicting the Unpredictable, interview [Podcast].  Review coming soon.

7. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
A New Culture of Learning is another one that made the New York Times 2013 list. Yet it’s not only the book topic that’s of interest, but the process the authors followed to write and publish their work. Brown and Thomas describe the publishing approach as self-styled”, essentially mirroring the learning experiences outlined in A New Culture of Learning. The book’s editor cut the book in half from the original manuscript, eliminating any and all “academic jargon“.  In the spirit of a new culture of learning, the authors solicited ten times the reviews that an academic publisher would normally seek by “including a selection of eighteen short reviews of their final manuscript from an eclectic roster of academic and digital-culture all-stars, among them James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan; Joichi Ito, chief executive of Crea­tive Commons; and Beth Simone Noveck, a professor at New York Law School” (Blumenstyk, 2011).  Update: Read my review, ‘A Not-so-new Approach to A New Culture of Learning‘.

“The book is designed to help teachers “cultivate the imagination of students,” says Brown. But equally, or more important, he says, it is also meant to inspire and challenge the teachers. Faculty might ask themselves, “how much do they manifest these cultures themselves?” Manifesto for a New Culture of Learning (Blumenstyk, 2011)

I look forward to another year and the good company of the books I’ll be reading.  I track my book list and reviews on the Goodreads platform, which you can find here.  If interested in viewing the previous books I’ve read and recommend on education, please click here for my education virtual bookshelf on Goodreads.

Further reading:

Four Radically Different Models in Higher Ed Worth Considering

change-ahead-street-sign-300x225There are radical models in higher education worth examining that challenge the conventional model of undergraduate education; the traditional model representing a four-year on-campus program that includes instruction by faculty or teaching assistants, institution-determined course selections guided by the credit-hour formula, transcripts with GPA calculations, etc. Yet there are countless articles and posts that cry out for reformed models of higher education, even more that provide suggestions and remedies. Yet there are few models in practice that offer face-to-face education experiences that are truly transformational. However, I suggest the four models presented here are worth pondering; two created from scratch, and two that changed within an existing framework.

To reiterate, the institutions discussed here are not virtual schools, each provides face-to-face undergraduate learning experiences where technology is leveraged to facilitate learning. The schools are also committed to teaching foundational subjects—courses from the humanities, yet each provides unique learning experiences that challenge the traditional model in some way.  Each institution takes a different approach, though all encourage learners to choose a learning path, to be self-directed, to follow their interests, and establish their own learning goals. All seek to engage young people in learning, prepare students to think critically and to guide them to find their passion.

Why We Should Be Interested
Why should educators concern themselves with considering non-traditional models of higher education; models that appear far-fetched and irrelevant?  It’s becoming apparent that the current model needs to change, and change for several reasons. First, the majority of existing models at four-year higher education institutions are not sustainable. For the past two years we have heard about the bubble of higher ed, the rising costs that are pricing college education out of reach for many. It’s coming true as predicted. According to a report described in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 percent of public institutions, compared with 15 percent the year before, expect declines in their net-tuition revenue. Already several private institutions have taken drastic measures in response to declining revenue as reported in Inside Higher Ed.  Second, the four institutions described here offer a different perspective on education; a lens that provides a glimpse into what higher education might look like in the future—food-for-thought.  Third, some argue that there is a gap in what the current higher education institutions offer students; not only are many students excluded from higher education for a variety of reasons, but there is a lack of preparation for students to be effective as a post-graduate. Many are ill-equipped to find meaningful work in the knowledge and global economy.

Education Needs to Adapt to the ‘Big Shift’
Change is hard to do, and not just for higher ed. Deloitte’s Center for the Edge for the past three years has published a report that describes the ‘Shift Index‘ which provides metrics that signal changes in order for institutions and organizations to identify long-term trends, and plan accordingly. What is interesting is how applicable the content of the 2011 report is to higher education. The full 2011 report is here, but one interesting fact applicable to higher education is this—”the price/performance capability of computing, storage, and bandwidth is driving an adoption rate for our new “digital infrastructure” that is two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks.” Furthermore, it appears individuals (i.e. students) are having a far easier time keeping up with the changes than are the institutions and organizations. It is far more challenging for organizations to remain nimble, yet still quite necessary. The point is, there are significant implications with the Big Shift we are experiencing, and it’s consumer, student, employee, life-long learner behaviours and their adoption of technology that will shape institutions, organizations and businesses of the future. It will be organizations [i.e. higher education institutions] that adapt and harness the new “knowledge flows” that will be successful, and “doing so will require significant institutional innovations” (Kulasooriya, Brown & Hagel, 2011).

Four Schools:
Below I provide a summary of each the four schools, and highlight why each is radical in context of conventional higher education. Though there are other higher education institutions implementing new models, many embracing technology and responding to the needs of students, the four presented here were chosen because of the uniqueness and diversity.

1) Quest University Canada. I heard Quest University’s Vice-Chancellor, David Helfand speak at a conference in November where he described the school he founded. Quite remarkable. Quest started with its first class in 2007 with 73 students. Classes are small. There are no lectures, but all classes are seminar-discussion format. All students complete the same foundational courses in the first two years that cover the humanities, math and sciences, yet the latter two years are unique and individual learning paths chosen and directed by the student. The selection process for professors is most unusual, and all work in an open office where there is no separation by academic schools or disciplines. Why it’s radical: there are no grades; students receive check marks to indicate if they are engaged in learning. The study path for the last two-years of the undergraduate degree program is a unique learning path chosen by each student based upon his or her personal interest/passion. Quest at a glance.

2) Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.  Founded in 1825 started as a Polytechnic, and in 1992 the school became Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s new generation universities.  This is a research university, that launched ‘a globally unique model of higher education that stresses work-related learning and ‘skill development in tandem with effective employer engagement’. Why it’s radical: the university’s program, World of Work is a support and skill development program for all students that involves involvement and input from national and international employers and business experts. Students not only gain work experience with top companies, but students develop a skill-set labeled World of Work skills. Students abilities are also verified through an employer-validated Skills Statement and interview during their undergraduate course of study. More info here.

3)  University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. UTS is one of the largest universities in Australia and aims to be a world leader in technology education. The focus is on global, practice-oriented learning where students undertake research, professional and community work experiences. It is heavily focused on collaborative learning that integrates institutional research. Why it’s radical: the hands-on learning approach beginning in first-year of study, and the school’s updated learning strategy for 2014 includes student-generated learning goals, personalized learning paths that integrates online sources, faculty feedback, and development of a personal learning network using digital platforms and tools (three-minute video clip that describes the approach: UTS 2014). UTS undergraduate information.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PM
Minerva’s logo

4)  Minerva Project, United States. I hesitated to include the Minerva Project here, as this school has long been in the planning phases, and has only just begun to enroll students. However, even if it doesn’t work in this format, it’s worth examining. Conceptualized by Ben Nelson, former chief executive Snapfish the online photo printing site, Minerva seeks to be an ivy league institution with tuition fees that undercut elite US universities by half while guaranteeing students an education based not in one location, but in six of the cities around the world. Why it’s radical: it’s ambitious—not only does it seek to compete the Ivy Leagues, but provides education in brick and mortar classrooms in cities in different countries. It will leverage technology by encouraging students to access content and resources online, i.e. MOOCs but still include face-to-face interaction. By its very nature, it’s an education in globalization. More here.

As highlighted, the schools examined here and the respective models, provide insight into what can be done in higher education to address the Big Shift as described by the Deloitte Center. Though radical as they may seem, each provides a glimpse into how face-to-face undergraduate education is adapted to provide relevant and effective education for a global and digital world.


Related Reading:

Need-to-Know-News: An Anti-MOOC Contest, edX & the Future of Higher Ed, New Ed Tech Tools

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

In this post I’ve included key developments that surfaced this week, one which featured Anant Agarwal president of edX sharing his views on the future of higher education, MOOCs and edX in multiple venues. And MOOC news continues but with a twist—a contest announced this week Reclaim Open Learning that appears to be anti-MOOC. I also discovered two novel ed-tech tools that may be of interest to educators, perhaps worthy of testing out this summer.

edx_logo1) Anant Agarwal, president of edX
This past week I’ve read and heard more on Anant Agarwal’s views on higher education than I’ve read about in the past year since the launch of the MOOC platform he founded, edX. But I find his views about higher education somewhat disconcerting. Disconcerting given edX’s role in shaping higher education with MOOCs, as is evident in the licensing partnerships edX is entering in with  numerous universities, public and private, to use edX’s content and platform to supplement courses. Agarwal appears not to be offering a new or revolutionary mode of learning for students that adapts and puts the focus on the 21st century student, but is rehashing the traditional learning in the form of video taped lectures, and introducing a blended model of learning. Blended learning is not new, in fact it has been around for several years. Though Agarwal calls this model, SPOCS, an acronym for small, private, online courses. edX has plans in place to license SPOCS to a dozen California State University campuses from autumn this year. I’ll not review each source of Agarwal’s views in-depth, but provide an overview and link to the original.

  • The TIMES of UK featured Agarwal in MOOCs? They’re a cracking good idea (Parr) where Agarwal discusses his entrepreneurial background and edX, the non-profit venture, focusing specifically on the licensing arrangement with universities for its content.
  • Agarwal participated in MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium last week which online learning expert Tony Bates also was involved in. Bates’ wrote two blog posts well worth reading that summarize key presentations and themes of the Symposium. But it is Bates post MOOCs, Magic and MIT that was most telling of edX’s direction. His post discusses why MIT ignoring 25 years of research into online learning and 100 years research into how students learn in its design of [edX] online courses.
  • Released this week was the recording of a panel discussion through Innovation Hub, College 2.0, The Future of Higher Ed featuring four educators, one which was Agarwal. I watched the entire panel discussion, which I wrote about in a previous post, though the low-down is that Agarwal seemed the most myopic about the future of higher education of the four panelists—he seems to be looking through the lens of edX.

2) An Anti-MOOC Contest
The Reclaim Open Learning Innovation contest was launched this week— a small contest sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and MIT Media Lab. I was somewhat puzzled when I first read about the idea—I wasn’t aware that open learning had been lost or forgotten. Before MOOCs the majority of people were not even familiar with the open learning, or aware that Open Educational Resources [OER] existed. However, the team has an interesting idea, “to find the five best examples of innovation happening right now in higher ed” that are not MOOCs. The last phrase [that are not MOOCs] is not included in the verbiage on the website but is implied.

“The internet is an amazing place for learning. But recent high-profile forays into online learning for higher education (the MOOCs) seem to replicate a traditional lecture-based, course-based model of campus instruction, instead of embracing the peer-to-peer connected nature of the web. The networked and digital world offers an unprecedented wealth of resources for engaged, interest-driven, lifelong learning. Reclaim Open Learning intervenes in this debate by supporting and showcasing innovation that brings together the best of truly open, online and networked learning in the free wilds of the Internet, with the expertise represented by institutions of higher education”.  Reclaim Open Learning

Winners of the contest will receive a $2000 honorarium and be invited to present at a summit on Reclaiming Open Learning at UC Irvine on September 26-27, 2013. To find out more about the contest click here.

3) Novel Ed Tech Tools

  • Tapestry. Tapestry is an ever-growing collection of short, beautiful, tappable stories. I’ve read about Tapestry before, but it appears to have developed into a highly functioning writing and creative application that could be used as a tool in K-12 and higher ed learning. Tapestry is a mobile application and designed for creating, collaborating and sharing short stories and presentations.
  • VideoAnt. A simple and useful tool for annotating videos and creating dialogue. This tool is getting great reviews. Great potential for sharing and discussing media clips with students, either for flipped classroom learning, where annotation could be part of the assignment before coming to class, or for group projects where groups create, comment and discuss each others created videos.

These are the highlights this week, but for more you can follow keep-up-to-date with other news I come across through my Twitter feed @OnlineLearningI.