The Technium and the Future of Education, Part Two of our Q&A with Kevin Kelly

Writer Kevin Kelly talks about what technology wants and the future of education.

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He is the author of several books, including What Technology WantsNew Rules for the New EconomyOut of Control, and most recently Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities, released in December.

Technium, Kevin Kelly, Edtech

Kevin Kelly is the author of several books, including What Technology Wants, New Rules for the New Economy, Out of Control, and most recently Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities,

Q: You often compare technology to an organism, the Technium, a seventh kingdom of life, which has its own goals and agenda. How do we avoid a Matrix or Terminator-type scenario where technology truly takes control?

A: I like to hang out with the Amish quite a bit. They have taken some collective decisions to limit the amount of technology and, I tell you, it’s very exhilarating to hang out with the Amish and live the life they do because they are living in the past. I mention that because, one answer to your question is, we always have a choice to go back and live with less.

Any of us could buy a bus ticket and within 10 hours be somewhere in the world where there is a whole lot less. Or we can go to Pennsylvania and live like the Amish. It’s not hard to just get rid of the stuff. It’s not hard to unplug your TV. I know because we don’t have TV in our house and our kids grew up without it. It’s not hard to do. The reason we don’t is not because it’s hard but because we don’t want to. We complain about machines taking over but we want them to. This is who we are. We are wholly dependent on our technologies. We, as human beings, can no longer live without technologies. We passed that point thousands of years ago.

My argument is that we are part technological ourselves, and we cannot unravel this. We are not going to go back because that means fewer choices. We like to have more choices, we are happier. We may worry or complain about it, but we are not going back. We are going to go forward.

I make long arguments in my books that this is a system and it does have its own agenda. The question is: how do we know what its agenda is?  My only argument is that this system, the technium, the stuff we made, is propelled by the very same forces that made life. We might as well ask: how do we know life isn’t going to take over? Well, life is trying to take over, if you haven’t noticed. Life is trying to take over your house and it’s ruthless. It is always there, but we deal with it. It is the same thing with the technium. It is another kind of life, a kind of dry life.

I think that we should treat it more like a second nature, literally like another wilderness that we are dealing with.  That means that you don’t let it come into your house. You erect barriers and that’s what we were just talking about. But at the same time, you want to work with it. You want to use its forces. That’s what we did with agriculture, for example. We domesticated it. I see our lives as an effort to domesticate technology. That’s what we are trying to do with it. We are not trying to eradicate it, we are not trying to stop it, we are just trying to domesticate it.

Q: Looking at technologies like nuclear energy, genetic engineering, or other controversial technologies, how do we mold their development in the proper direction without any restrictions on the use of the technology?

A: That is a great question and that is the question. Prohibition does not work, but we do want to domesticate it. Is technology going to be more like a dog or is it going be more like a cat? How do we house train the technium?

First, I think that we want to be engaged with it and again not try to prohibit it. But we do eternal constant vigilance, we do constant testing, we use science as much as possible, which we should be reevaluating and testing all the time. We should constantly look at how it affects our behavior.

We should use money, instead of building aircraft carriers, to do science and testing and evaluation of technologies that we do use. We should spend money on that kind of science and on science in general.

This evidence-based, data driven attitude toward our use of technology is really going to help us and that’s one of the reasons why I am a big proponent of quantified self and self-tracking which is that, in addition to all of this health stuff, we should be tracking the effects of our behavior as we use things. It will help us understand what’s happening, what’s good and what’s not good.

Q: Who should be responsible for that constant revaluation and tracking? Engineers, consumers, policy makers?

A: All of the above. If you are using it, you have a responsibility to evaluate it. I like to think that whenever there is a right, there should be a corresponding duty. If we talk about human rights, there should be human duties. If you have the right to use certain technologies, you should have a duty in using them as well. One of those duties is to be involved in evaluating its effect on you and your community and your society. You are participating in the greater constant vigilance of what we were doing.

This is scary talk for a lot of people. Self-tracking is one thing, but when there is a kind of mandate to self-track, it begins to sound like big brother. But to me, it’s like voting. I think you have a duty to vote. It is not mandatory in this country, like in Brazil and other places, but we still have a duty. Participating in evidence about the effects of technology is something that we have a duty to do.

Q:  What does technology want from the education industry?

A: I am a lifelong learner and always think of myself as a student. Being a college dropout, I am still in college, you know. I often get paid to learn, that’s what writing an article is. I write articles on things I want to understand. It’s like a homework report.

I do acknowledge, though, that third graders don’t always learn in the same way that I do.  A lot of elementary education is not just education. It’s also about training, about child-rearing. The dynamics of child rearing are not the same as those of education, and that’s why there are differences.

But in terms of the educational aspects of what technology wants, it is more choices, more options. Ideas like the Khan academy, where you can go at your own speed and use scientific data to both guide you in your pace and guide you in what you are learning next, that sort of auto-correction. That is one of many choices.

There is also the choice to sit next to another human and have that person engaging you as a student. That is also a choice, an option, and a good thing that should not go away. Technology wants to have even more possibilities in that space.

When I think about education in the future, there will still be teacher-student human relationships. There will of course be more online remote learning, and there will be all kinds of things in between, like devices that are augmented for the teacher or magic windows that you can hold up, and you will be able to work either alone or with someone else or with a group, all these things.

I don’t see any kind of uniform, major killer thing that everybody is doing. In 100 years from now, I think you will see almost every variety and way of learning. Of course, some kids and some people are more visual or auditory or whatever, and they are at different times in their lives and want to do different kinds of things and that’s what we want.  We want a million different tools, a million different ways to go about it, and some knowledge about what’s best for what and what’s best for you.

Writer Kevin Kelly talks about the Past, Present, and Future of Technology

Writer and technology visionary Kevin Kelly talks with Rukuku, Part 1. 

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He is the author of several books, including What Technology Wants, New Rules for the New Economy, Out of Control, and most recently Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities, released in December.

Kevin Kelly, Technology, Future

Q: Early in your career, you worked at the Whole Earth Catalog, which was a counterculture, do-it-yourself type of publication. How did that set the stage for your role now as a well-known writer and observer of technology trends?

R: It was certainly not the route I ever imagined. The Whole Earth Catalog, which I was editing at the time, was a completely subscription-supported publication, very unusual even today, because it was all planned by the readers directly. There was no advertising. There may be some models that can do publishing like that today but those are outliers. It was also user-generated content in the sense that there were no professional writers, there were no staff writers. We paid very little, if anything, for the material that we used. It was almost all submitted by readers. In that sense, it prepared me to believe in the idea of user-generated content as a means of making the community and the publication.

For reasons not very clear to me, Whole Earth got involved very early on with online networking and communities. It was very experimental, at first. We, the editors, were communicating on a highly experimental bulletin board-type system which, for those of you who are younger, means we had a server that had a small group of users that could email and have a forum, but it was closed to anyone outside of that group. You had to send mail and discuss only with people who were on that server. From that we began to see the cultural power in having these kinds of communities.

We then had the opportunity to start something bigger called The Well. It was open to anyone who wanted to pay $8 dollars a month. The users got unlimited email and forums and discussions, and the attraction was we invited some journalists and other writers to come on by giving free accounts to them. That made it a place that was very literate and buzzy. It was a coffee house. It was a thinking community and there were not many like it. It attracted a lot of very interesting people and those interesting people attracted others. What we realized from that was that the users were the attraction. The users were generating all the value, and the more value that was user-generated, the more valuable it all became. From that general direction, I got more and more involved in technology.

It was a funny way because, as you know, the Whole Earth Catalog was a hippie publication and we were, the Hippies, myself included, were very suspicious of big systems and big technology, and we were very much in favor of the do-it-yourself, self-empowered individual. A lot of the technologies applied at the time, in particular new technologies, seemed to be biased in favor of big corporations. I was trying to keep the amount of technology in my life to a minimum and didn’t really have a big interest in technology stuff.

The online experience changed my mind because it was very organic. It felt very humane. It was more like an Amish barn-raising than a steam shovel or a factory. My experience being online made me revise my idea about what technology was, and I began to see a more organic or biological or dynamic image of technology. As the digital world started to rise, I became very interested in that. So, to make a long story short, the route was from Whole Earth Catalog to online communities to technology.

Q: Keeping that hippie background in mind, I know you often write about the ways in which technology has created more options and more personal freedom. For some people, though, technology has made life busier and in a sense, less free. What advice would you give those people?

R: It’s a familiar dilemma for people in the sense that we have more and more options. At times it can be paralyzing.There’s a good book on this subject by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox of Choice where he discusses the fact that too many choices can actually lead to paralysis. Often times even companies that offer too many different product models can actually narrow it down, offer only a few products, and increase sales by making it easier for people.

I have a great example, the idea of the default. If you are using software online, on a computer or a phone, you know the idea of a default. The default settings mean that you have lots and lots and lots of choices that are hidden from you, until you need them. But the options are still there. The default is a technology that is part of the solution to the problem of too much technology.

So, the short answer is yes, there are too many choices and we can become overwhelmed but the solution is not less technology, the solution is actually more and better technology, just like the default is the additional layer of technology to manage the choices that we have. That’s a very primitive way, and I think we will continue to develop other ways.

At the same time, personal discipline will help. To relate this to education, you and I spent four to five years when we were very young learning how to read and write. It was not something you can learn by hanging around books. It takes some kind of deliberate practice and study.

Learning to live in this digital world, learning to thrive, and read, so to speak, technology, will require a techno literacy that may take a number of years of very deliberate practice and certainly an amount of skill. We may actually have to learn how to manage these choices, learn how to manage our attention, learn how to manage distraction. And that may take training. You’re not going to learn just by hanging around technology. We and our kids will have to both use new technologies to help us learn and also learn how to do it ourselves.

 

Discussing Disruption and the Future of Edtech with Michael Horn, Part 2

Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute and serves as the executive director of its education program. In 2008, he co-authored the award-winning book, Disrupting Class: How Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

edtech, disruption, Michael Horn

Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute and serves as the executive director of its education program.

Q: Looking at all the various levels of education, including corporate training, higher education, secondary and primary education, where do you see the most disruptive changes taking place?

R: In many ways the corporate training market had its first wave of disruption in the late 90’s and early 2000’s during the first dot com boom. We are now to the point where we are seeing a version 2.0 of that disruption in corporate learning markets with folks like Rukuku helping people create online courses quickly, take many courses, meet training needs internally, find employees or whatever it might be. Secondarily we are seeing activity in a lot of informal spaces, like the skill-based companies that are popping up. So, I think we are starting to see a second disruption take place in the corporate learning world.

Massive disruption is definitely happening in higher education, less in respect to MOOCS at this point and more from places like Southern New Hampshire University that has introduced competency-based online learning program. University Now has one of my favorite competency-based online learning programs, as well as Western Governor’s University. Players like that are creating a wave 2.0 of disruption in the higher ed space. In K12, a lot is going on but it is more at the classroom level and less at the whole school level. I don’t see a lot that leads me to believe that schools are going to get disrupted anytime soon.

Q: Personalization is a big selling point for Edtech. Each student can learn at his or her own pace. How does that fit with traditional idea of the classroom environment?

R:  I think the traditional classroom environment is going to struggle quite a bit.  It was built to batch up students, lecture to them in the same way at the same pace and so forth, and therefore it is inherently not suited for this personalizing learning world. Traditional institutions are adopting some of these innovations and layering them over the traditional classroom. I think we are going to struggle to see the dramatic leaps in personalization that we might from online learning simply because it’s not what those schools and colleges are trying to do or were built to do.

Q: Do we sacrifice anything in terms of social education, the general getting along with people sort of stuff?

R: In the K-12 arena and primary schools in particular, the majority of the growth in online learning is happening in blended learning environments. The reasons for that are straight-forward as opposed to higher education. Students at that age really need a safe place to go and learn. That’s a large part of the reason we are seeing this current blend of learning.

One of the surprises as I walk into blended learning schools is the amount of socialization taking place. Students might be working individually at their computers but they are constantly bouncing up to peer tutor each other and answer questions. It frees up the teacher to spend more time setting up projects with small group instructions for students to work on with each other.

In many ways, the traditional education system does the socialization job pretty poorly because if you remember back to the experiences a lot of us had in middle school, at least for me, a lot of the social stuff that was going on was pretty negative in nature, such as passing notes around, trying to get out of the lecture with other students, and destructive things like that. What I have been stunned by is how much the interactions I have seen in these blended learning environments are really positive social ones structured around learning. I think it’s enormously more productive.

Q; You’ve written much about the difficulties for universities to manage both research and teaching. Do you anticipate these two functions diverging?

R: Outside of the elite universities, I think that is correct. Those functions will really get unbundled and people will realize that the best researching places are not in fact the best teaching places. Activities can be done differently because information doesn’t have to be centralized and so closely bundled with research anymore.

It’s an open question on what will happen in the elite universities. The major question that people are not talking about as traditional institutions change is about research. What is the right model to incentivize really good research in a sustainable fashion going forward? It’s not clear to me that the current university model is right one. It’s a very serious question for the world because so many great advances come out of the basic research done in these places. How can we make that even better?

Q: Would that have implications for intellectual property rights?

R: Yes, absolutely. People have not given deep thought to what parts of university research should be able to be monetized. It is property that you really create and intellectual ownership gives great incentives. Other research may not rise to that level or may be in such an early stage that actually having a more open source look at it would be more useful.

Q: What people or profession do you see being most radically changed by technological changes?

R: I think it’s going to be difficult, to be candid. There will be lots of roles for teachers. In fact, the number of teachers may even increase. But as we have traditionally defined them, the mid-level professors that are really focused on research and view teaching as a convoluted part of the job, often having to make these weird tradeoffs between the two. That function may go away in the years ahead and I think it will be a difficult transition.

Q: What can students and parents do to take advantage of some of the opportunities offered by online learning?

R: It’s a huge opportunity for parents right now to really be able to drive their children’s education, to navigate all the low cost opportunities and be able to expose their children to so many opportunities that previously were limited by their zip codes.

My colleague Heather Staker has written a fair amount about this and about how parents can opt out of some of the traditional ways of doing education and think about this in much more expansive and exciting ways. I think it’s an unbridled opportunity for enterprising parents.

For students who are trying to excel in schools, MOOCs could be interesting also. For example, if I am a high school student, I suspect passing MIT physics would look more impressive to a college than getting a five on the AP exam. So, thinking about how to harness those opportunities is quite interesting.

Q:  Any other interesting trends that you feel like deserve more attention?

R:  I would add that, in K12, we are seeing tremendous growth in blended learning. The question is, how do we help districts manage this growth in smarter ways to incentivize a focus on student outcomes? At the higher ed levels I think lot of the oxygen has been taken out by what’s going to happen to traditional institutions or MOOCs that have been affiliated with traditional institutions. An interesting question is: how do we shed more light on what some of these alternative mechanisms are for creating programs that are useful for students? And lastly, how do we help people understand that in a lot of these contexts, employers really are the end customers? A lot of the work, like Rukuku does, in connecting those nodes is something that has been overlooked somewhat in the dialogue.

Rukuku At Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools Show And Tell

On December 4, I had the honor of showing Rukuku’s toolset at Kevin Kelly‘s first ever Cool Tools show and tell.
bl3I like to think of Rukuku as a tool for customizing one’s education, and that makes it a Cool Tool as defined by Kevin Kelly in his latest book Cool Tools: A Catalog Of Possibilities “A cool tool is … Anything useful that increases learning, empowers individuals, does work that matters, is either the best, or the cheapest, or the only thing that works.”

IMG_00001124_edit

And check out the very cool Styrobot, which Kevin Kelly made together with his son.

IMG_00001121_edit

If you have an hour and a half to kill, here’ s the recording of the Google Hangout broadcast:

Rock Enroll: Fewer people enroll in post-secondary education

College costs are going up. Everybody’s talking about it, including us. The tricky thing is, if prices are going up, and enrollments are going up, then shouldn’t that be a sign that college is not overpriced. I mean, people are still willing to pay for it. Just simple economics, right?

College, University Enrollment, Students

Enrollment in Post-Secondary Education Falls

It is actually not simple economics, as there are all sorts of arguments on the societal benefits of having a well-educated population as well as arguments that education is not your typical consumer good. I’m not going to get into those in this particular post.

Instead, I am going to highlight an interesting stat released by the US Census Bureau a few weeks back. After more than a decade of rapid growth, college enrollments are going down. In 2012, the total number of students enrolled in college fell by half a million from the year before, according to their figures.

Why did that happen? I don’t know but that’s not going to stop me from pointing out some possibilities.  The most obvious of those is price. As we’ve pointed out before, educational costs grew by 165% from 1993 to 2011, faster than general inflation and medical costs. The pace of increase is slowing, luckily, with prices at public four year universities up only 2.9% in 2012, according to the College Boards.

On the other side of that same coin is the job market. Job prospects are dim and have been for many years. A college degree will make that job search easier, but high school kids are likely shaken by the uncertainty, especially when looking at college price tags and average debt loads.

The prospect of being young and jobless is scary. The prospect of being young and jobless and tens of thousands of dollars in debt is terrifying. The average graduating senior this year was in seventh grade when the economy tanked. That’s a lot of years to let the idea of a crappy job market sink in.

Students over 25 are even more sensitive. In that that group of older students, 419,000 fewer people enrolled in post-secondary education in 2012 than in the year before, accounting for almost 90% of the total decrease in enrollment.

Luckily the continuing conversation over college costs has brought more awareness to the issue. Already, rankings on affordability are becoming more prominent, and colleges are marketing their financial value to prospective students as well as their academic rigor.

Meanwhile, companies like Rukuku are utilizing technology to bring more affordable options to students. This will put even more pressure on the colleges to justify their prices tags.

Assess to Impress: Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Learning assessment is an essential ingredient of education in any form.  Teachers can gauge the progress of their students and identify topics and skills needing more review. Students also learn from the process by challenging themselves and determining their strengths and weaknesses. Assessment can come in several forms, all of which are easily transferable to online venues.

Online Teaching, Assessment

Assess to Impress:Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Homework is the most common form of assessment, and to maximize the benefit for your students, it is a good idea to put in some work of your own. First, communicate the goals or basic objectives for the homework, so students can see the bigger picture and understand the relevance of the work they are doing. Second, encourage students to pose questions to the class bulletin board rather than sending them to your personal email. In this way, other students, which may have similar questions, can see your responses and join in the discussion.

Once you’ve collected some of these questions and your responses to them, put them together in a single Q&A document and include it for reference with the homework assignment in future classes. Speaking of reference, include links in the homework for students to find further background information and/or illustrative examples of how students have responded to similar homework tasks.

Quizzes are another great form of assessment, and Rukuku plans to introduce a special quiz building feature to its Composer service in coming weeks. For online classes, teachers can take advantage of technology to randomize questions. This will reduce chances of students improperly working together but more importantly, it will allow teachers to offer multiple tests to a single student covering the same material. Students can solidify their understanding in this way and prepare for final tests.

Finally, personal interaction is a great form of assessment. Good old fashioned question and answer sessions help teachers determine how well students understand the class material. At Rukuku, we’ve made a point of emphasizing small, private, online classes, or SPOCs. With smaller class sizes, teachers can build a personal relationship with each student and hopefully get a sense during class time of his or her level of understanding. If a particular student is struggling, consider a private chat, where you can work with him or her on the material. Personal attention goes a long way.