This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (March 30-April 5)

by | Apr 5, 2019 | TWTET

[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]

Notable Quote

Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t,” he said. “As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination

Things That Caught My Attention


After assisting in his wife’s art classroom, Harold Jarche wrote a post about the the confinement of curriculum and the way the artificial school curriculum and school schedule reinforce one another to confine inquiry and human experience.

The best curriculum, with the best teachers, and great resources cannot detract from the lesson of the bells. The ‘class hour’ combined with the confinement of curriculum ensures either a passive student, or one who rebels. So the teacher is forced to deal with the latter for much of the day. Learning happens in spite of the system. The ‘average’ student is ignored. Society gets passive learners.

Curriculum is the confinement of the human experience. The bells reinforce this confinement. Curriculum is an outdated broadcast model for knowledge-sharing, based on the presumption of a shortage of information, limited social connections, and finite knowledge boundaries. It fits the one-hour class perfectly.

In many ways, this call to mind the question behind our curriculum, or “Why are we learning these specific subjects?” The short answer is that the traditional course of study in our schools is intended to prepare students for either postsecondary studies or entering the workforce. With regards to the former, a new study shows that one good way to motivate students to prepare for college (by taking advanced courses) is through campus visits.

I also ran across a couple of interesting items this week regarding school efforts to prepare students for jobs and careers. First up is this article about New Jersey’s county-run career and technical high schools.

Vocational education was once seen as a dumping ground for students who couldn’t make the cut for college, but New Jersey’s 66 county-run career and technical schools integrate work-based training with rigorous academic coursework to prepare students for both college and careers. The schools include large institutions like Tech that ready students for a variety of professional tracks, plus highly competitive “academies” that are built around a single field of study, such as medicine. Graduation rates at the schools top 97 percent — compared to about 91 percent statewide — and more than three-quarters of graduates continue on to college or other post-secondary education.

Also, the National School Board Association also released a new study this week: Six LifeReady Skills for Career, College and Success in Life: A Report of the Commission to Close the Skills Gap. The report is worth reading in its entirety and addresses these six skill areas.

  • Dependability and reliability (Personal Skills category)
  • Adaptability/trainability (Personal Skills category)
  • Critical thinking (Applied Knowledge category)
  • Decision-making (Workplace Skills category)
  • Customer focus (Workplace Skills category)
  • Teamwork (People Skills category

Higher Ed

The news out of higher education seems fairly predictable these days and, unsurprisingly, there are definite connection points between the various narrative threads.

The first of those threads is affordability, which appears in a variety of forms. One major topic is “free college” or “higher education affordability.” It seems to be a centerpiece for 2020 presidential candidates in the U.S. and is manifested in part through state initiatives like the one passed recently in West Virginia. One of the main goals of the affordability push is to reduce the amount of student debt. As an example, “J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is concerned that the $1.5 trillion student loan debt pile is ‘starting to affect’ the economy, urging greater urgency to resolve the crisis.”

Irrational student lending, soaring college costs and the burden of student loans have become a significant issue,” Dimon wrote in his widely-read annual letter. “The impact of student debt is now affecting mortgage credit and household formation… Recent research shows that the burdens of student debt are now starting to affect the economy.

Beyond grants, some universities are offering income share agreements (ISA). Under these agreements, students receive money from a university fund of some kind and, in exchange, commit to paying a specific percentage of their income for a set amount of time after graduation.

College closures and the struggles of specific institutions is another common theme in higher education. This week Phil Hill posted an insightful, data-driven reflection on Clayton Christensen’s 2013 prediction that maybe half of all postsecondary institutions could close within 10-15 years. Hill’s analysis provides data visualizations based on LISTedTECHresearch. According to Hill:

If you include all degree-granting institutions (i.e. for-profits as well as private nonprofits and publics), then the current trends lines show that the 50% closure prediction by 2027 certainly seems feasible…. If you ignore the for-profit sectors, then the trend line for private nonprofit and public institution closures + mergers remains far below that needed to hit the 25% level described by Horn or the 50% level described by Christensen. None of this is to say that the trends moving forward will be linear, however.

Regardless of the accuracy of Christensen’s specific prediction, however, there is no doubt that closures and contractions in higher education will continue as institutions try to adjust. The most recent example is Wheeling Jesuit University which, in order to manage its current financial difficulties, is poised to eliminate several majors, including theology, philosophy, history, engineering and literature.

Finally, there has also been news about a third popular theme in higher education news — new business models. This week, the news is about institutions’ partnership with for-profit OPM providers to develop and deliver online programsKevin Carey provides a critique of this practice over at HuffPost.

But OPMs are transforming both the economics and the practice of higher learning. They help a growing number of America’s most-lauded colleges provide online degrees—including Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, NYU, UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, Northwestern, Syracuse, Rice and USC, to name just a few. The schools often omit any mention of these companies on their course pages, but OPMs typically take a 60 percent cut of tuition, sometimes more. Trace Urdan, managing director at the investment bank and consulting firm Tyton Partners, estimates that the market for OPMs and related services will be worth nearly $8 billion by 2020.

What this means is that an innovation that should have been used to address inequality is serving to fuel it. Instead of students receiving a reasonably priced, quality online degree, universities are using them as cash cows while corporate middlemen hoover up the greater share of the profits. In a perfect twist, big tech companies are getting the spill-off, in the form of massive sums spent on Facebook and Google ads. It’s a near-perfect encapsulation of the social and structural forces that allow the already-rich to get richer at the expense of everyone else. And it all started with a man named John Katzman, who has come to deeply question what has become of his own creation.

Workforce Readiness

Barbara Humpton is the U.S. CEO of the German company Siemens and serves as a member of the White House’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. In a conversation with Business Insider, she shared four shared goals for that board.

  1. Develop a robust campaign to promote multiple pathways to good-paying jobs, dispelling the myth that there is only one path to a successful career.”
  2. “Improving the availability of high-quality, transparent, and timely data to better inform students and educators, as well as match American workers to American jobs.”
  3. “Modernizing candidate recruitment and training practices to expand the pool of job applicants employers are looking to hire.”
  4. Measuring and encouraging employer-led training and investments.

There’s also a new report out from  Business-Higher Education Forum called The New Foundational Skills of the Digital Economy. The New Foundational Skills framework describes 14 subordinate skills that are subsumed within three major domains.

  1. Human Skills apply social, creative and critical intelligence. These skills – critical thinking, creativity, communication, analytical skills, collaboration, and relationship building – appear on many lists of sought-after “soft skills,” and are still in high demand across the digitally intensive economy.
  2. Digital Building Block Skills are critical to many vocations and increasingly useful outside traditional digitally intense job families. These skills are especially useful to current or aspiring functional analysts and data-driven decision makers. These skills include analyzing data, managing data, software development, computer programming, and digital security and privacy.
  3. Business Enabler Skills play a synthesizing, integrative role in the workplace. These skills allow the other skills to be put to work in practical situations and include project management, business process, communicating data, and digital design.

Interesting Technology Developments

According to this report, adoption of AI in education is accelerating but big hurdles remain.

Overall, the Global Executive Panel sees significant potential for AI in education, with the greatest impact expected in testing and assessment. Post-secondary and language learning were also considered sectors which will be impacted, followed by K12. There were a wider range of views around AI’s potential for Pre K.

However, it is still very early days for adoption. Only 1 in 10 of the Global Executive Panel’s organizations have deployed AI, nearly 1 in 5 have completed a pilot and 1 in 3 have no action planned. Despite early days, the results suggest that AI is already generating meaningful value. 40% of respondents reported significant value and 40% reported moderate value has been gained from AI’s use in learning processes.

Also worth noting is Amazon’s plan to provide satellite broadband access for people all over the globe. “Amazon said the satellites would provide data coverage for spots on Earth ranging in latitude from 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south. About 95 percent of the world’s population lives within that wide swath of the planet.”

And, while we’re talking about possible industry disruptions, it might be a good time to start learning about quantum computers. Laboratory News has a nice article on the work being done in quantum computing at research institutes in the UK.

Applications to benefit from quantum computers could include fighting terrorism, reducing energy loss, forecasting weather, creating more human-like AI and even reducing world hunger. The applications of a truly universal quantum computer are endless, Dr Weidt says.

“Every year or even months people are coming up with new applications for these machines. If you think about the impact these machines will have – which to be honest, we are only starting to even barely comprehend – it’s most certainly worth it.”

Research Articles and Posts for the Week

K-12 Education

Higher Education

Workforce Readiness

Media and Cultural Trends

Technology Trends

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