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Six things I learned at the Pioneers Festival

Last week, I attended the two-day Pioneers Festival in Vienna. Housed in the Hofburg imperial palace (an “impossible to book” venue), the event was a mixture between discussions, speeches and interactive workshops with topics concerning entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology. True to its name, it also embraced a “festival”-like atmosphere with free-flowing beer and Red Bull, party marathons in the evenings, and a monster-sized Halloween after party on the imperial grounds — all designed to encourage conversation, learning, and connection-building among the 2,500 participants at the event. I’d love to post a review, but it would echo just about everything The Kernel had to say about the event (although I tried Airbnb instead of Hotel Sacher, and probably had a much nicer time because of it).

Over the two days, I learned a lot. But six key ideas stand out:

  1. “The more you give away, the more you get back” — this was the lesson shared by Matt Mullenweg. He should know. His open source project WordPress now powers 19% of global websites. The beauty of open source, he argues, is that by feeding into a broader system, they are able to enable serendipity, and generate new outputs that are bigger than any of us.
  2. It is becoming increasingly hard to find entrepreneurs that have finished college. Walking through the halls of Hofburg, meeting new startups and VCs, it became clear (through my non-scientific observation) that not many people at the event had completed a college program. Some focused on pursuing their dreams in lieu of school, and others dropped out before finishing. A couple others were involved in startup schools, like the one at Aalto University. Of the people I talked with who had completed a college education, I was astonished that so many of them had gone on to complete a PhD. Why is there such a gap between the PhDs in the room and the non-degree-completers? And, as our societies rest our hopes and dreams on startups and startup culture, is a college education important anymore?
  3. “Most ed-tech startups suck!” Inês Silva (participating remotely from Portugal) shared this article by Harvard’s Reynol Junco for VentureBeat, which I think is spot on. The article points out that despite the exponential grown of edutech startups in the market space, very few of them are connected with research or the realities of how we learn. Even worse, because many of these startups are being lead by people who dropped out of school (or hated it), they are focused on fixing particular elements of it. Almost nobody is working on completely reinventing the system. As a result, we are (mis)using new technologies to teach the same old crap the same old way. That sucks.
  4. Timing is everything. This statement might seem obvious, but too often in the entrepreneurial and academic worlds we take a gung-ho approach to releasing ideas before the world is ready for them. Adam Cheyer (founder of Siri) stated early at the festival that, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it …but timing is everything.” Indeed, everybody at the festival came with great ideas. Some of us were ahead of our time, and a few others are a little bit late. Finding the sweet spot on when to release a product or idea can be tough. But, for those of us that are focused on building the future, it is important to keep nurturing it, keep developing our ideas, and work hard to make sure they are a success when it is time to release them.
  5. Megacorporations are clueless when it comes to connecting with startups. There was nothing more painful than watching Konica Minolta‘s Ken Osuga give a presentation on how his company (one of the festival’s key sponsors) is just like the startups in the room: Founded 140 years ago. In Tokyo. (I’m not kidding, that’s what he said … several times.) Nearly as painful was watching Microsoft‘s Ruud de Jonge show the crowd how cool he was for carrying around a Surface — and criticized the rows-upon-rows of people working with iPads and MacBooks for gravitating toward things that are “fruity.” Really. He thought people in the room care about what Microsoft thinks about them. Indeed, there is a growing institutional generation gap between large corporations that want to sell their products and smaller, younger, hyper-individualized firms that wonder why they need them at all. That said, one of the elements that I loved about the Pioneers Festival was that it was focused more on building conversations among attendees and the intangibles that are created in a festival-like environment. Whereas companies like Konica Minolta and Microsoft floundered, the founders in the room created real value among themselves.
  6. The world has no more room for “intellectual masturbation.” In his session on business design, Alexander Osterwalder declared that, “writing a business plan is intellectual masturbation!” Indeed, the old school thinking (and still taught in business schools) of careful business planning is becoming obsolete. Businesses need to be prepared to pivot and transform faster. This requires new strategic thinking for startups. Likewise, academia needs to step away from intellectual self-gratification. Lacking interconnected purpose, contextual applicability, and responsibility for creating outputs that are meaningful can make academic conferences resemble an intellectual exercise in self-love-making. In the age of connection-building and collaborations through social media, can academic societies and conferences find a purposive role and also pivot their strategies when necessary?

Do it yourself – do it together

A couple weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit the Waag Society in Amsterdam. I met with Keimpe de Heer, director of the Creative Learning Lab, and he is focused on innovating in human potential development and education. Paired with a Fab Lab, they aim to develop the community they serve into prosumers of imaginative, creative and innovative outputs — not just consumers.

Watch the interview with Keimpe. The first ten minutes discuss the Waag and the Creative Learning Lab. The real fun starts at 10:48 into the video, where Keimpe challenges the “do it yourself” movement with “do it together” collaboration. Using open source concepts, Keimpe explains how “we” can be better than “me.” At 14:45, he shares some products bring developed at the Fab Lab, including a $100 $50 prosthetic leg and tank tread upgrades for wheel chairs.

This was my second visit to the Fab Lab in Amsterdam. For a summary of my previous visit, and comparisons to the Fab Lab at Century College in Minnesota, click here.

July 20 update: Keimpe wrote to correct that the Fab Lab is working on a $50 prosthesis, not a $100 prosthesis. Even better!

Ethical cheating: Getting ahead in formal education

My frequent collaborators, Arthur Harkins and George Kubik, recently published an article on “ethical” cheating for On the Horizon. That is, “cheating” within “the context of digital-era learning that involves open-source collaboration and the ready sharing of ideas, knowledge, and information.”

In other words, we use technologies to help us get ahead in other areas of life. Why not embrace them? I prefer that my banker use a computer to help her compute my finances rather than employing long division and other “analog” approaches to doing math. Why not permit the purposive use of technologies to help students get ahead, too?

From the article:

We assert that advancements conferred by the increasing capability and availability of digital technologies are altering the definitions of scholarly literacy and scholarly practice. Three technological advancements in particular are accelerating these changes: telecommunications; networking; and digital retrieval, copying, and pasting. It is a world in which knowledge relevance overtakes knowledge fidelity as significant measures of competency and application. This is nothing less than a shift from just-in-case to just-in-time knowledge access, development, and application.

2009 in review: Results from the annual prediction game


[Photo by darkmatter]

Keeping with Education Futures’ annual tradition, I released five predictions for global education in 2009 early last year.

How did I do?

Much better than my predictions for 2008! Let’s look:

  1. No Child Left Behind won’t get left behind. Contrary to all the data that shows that NCLB is a miserable failure, it still has too many fans within the Washington Beltway to disappear. Besides, would the Obama administration want to send a message that they’re giving up on the noble quest of educating all children? NCLB is here to stay, but it will evolve into something else. Would we recognize it by 2010? — Yes, NCLB is still here, but it hasn’t changed a bit. Perhaps there’s hope for 2010?
  2. The economic downturn will get much worse before it gets better, but the international impact will be greater than within the U.S. Expect economic tragedies in China and elsewhere that depend on exports to the U.S. and other highly industrialized nations. — The jury’s still out on this one. We’ll have to wait until the recession is over for hindsight … especially the impact on China.
  3. With limits in available venture capital and new development funds within corporations, technological innovation will slow in the United States. Companies will focus on improving their core products and services at the expense of research and development. What does this mean for education, which is in desperate need of transformative, innovative technologies? — The effect on schools, which are dependent on tax revenue, was much worse in 2009 than I could imagine. Many institutions are abandoning thinking about innovative ideas to focus instead on how they will pay for basic services such as bussing and utilities.
  4. The footprint of open source software will increase, but development will slow down. Unless if a business is committing code to the OSS community, individuals and corporations have fewer time resources available to contribute to projects. However, OSS adoption will increase as a cost-saving measure in homes, offices and schools. (This contrasts with last year’s prediction, where I said “education-oriented open source development will boom.”) — The real growth in 2009 was centered around social technologies and social media. Many of these can translate into the education sector well.
  5. I’m keeping my money on India, and repeating last year’s prediction: India is the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008 2009. — India continues to develop its human capital resources. I’m keeping my money here through 2010 as well.

Settlers of the Shift

New World Order 2.0

I like conceptual maps –tools for illustrating the relationships among ideas– and, Tero Heiskanen created an interesting one. It’s huge. Without any further commentary:

Settlers of the shift is an open map of experts, organizations and ideas that are scattered around the globe. It’s for people whose work is shifting us towards a better tomorrow – a New World Order 2.0. This map aims to encourage people to connect across sectors and enable you to tie partnerships with like-minded individuals.

And:

Six values are suggested as a common backbone for the partnerships:

  • Justice: fair and honest treatment of everyone involved
  • Co-creation: synergistic dialogue and collaboration
  • Meaningfulness: solutions to problems worth solving
  • Generosity: giving time and resources for the sake of giving
  • Dignity: acting in a respectful and ethical manner
  • Abundance: denying artificial scarcity and limitations

(Thanks to Pekka Ihanainen for sharing this find!)

Curriki: Open source education materials

Screen shot 2009-11-11 at 2.27.05 PMOpen source collaborative content holds the promise of freely distributed high-quality education materials. Developing and sustaining the community to needed to accomplish that is the difficult part.

Curriki, an online community of over 100,000 educators, learners and experts collectively developing curriculum resources freely available to anyone who wants them, seems to be meeting the challenge.

The organization behind the web community aims to produce a breadth of high quality education materials that can be globally distributed at no cost. Dr. Bobbi Kurshan, Executive Director of Curriki, believes the budget-friendly aspect of the service could fuel its growth.

“We license the materials under Creative Commons,” Kurshan explained, “so it is free to use provided you give attribution.”

By using the open source process for education, Curriki hopes to empower educational professionals to become active in the creation of “world-class” curricula. That includes lesson plans, student activities and text books.

While it is difficult to say how widely the content is being used, Curriki has been involved in several high profile endeavors both in the United States and globally.

“We’re doing quite a bit of international work, often filling the void in areas without access to text books,” said Kurshan.

Curriki was founded by Sun Microsystems in March 2004 as the Global Education & Learning Community (GELC), it was later spun off as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit to focus on developing open source curricula. The group has so far gotten by on money from foundations and grants, but Kurshan must now think about maintaining the effort long term.

“We’re interested in engaging in conversations about sustainability.”

Curriki is among the winners of the WISE Awards 2009, recognizing outstanding practice and achievements within the themes of Pluralism, Sustainability and Innovation in education. EducationFutures.com will be covering this WISE Summit through next wekk.

Uruguay reacts to Plan Ceibal book pre-launch

Roberto Balaguer notes that a book we are collaborating on has captured the attention of the president of Uruguay:

The website of the Presidency of the Republic [of Uruguay] takes the news. On Tuesday, in connection with the [Montevideo International] Book Fair, we held the pre-presentation of the book on Ceibal Plan and the OLPC model, collective work and shared invaluable colleagues in Argentina, Mexico, Spain, USA, and, of course, Uruguay.

Plan Ceibal

Uruguay, through the Ceibal Plan, was the first country to adopt the One Laptop Per Child platform. Roberto Balaguer compiled an international, critical look into the initiative, that provides an extensive review. The following collaborators contributed to the volume:

1. Roberto Balaguer (Uruguay) “Plan Ceibal: Los ojos del mundo en el primer modelo OLPC a escala nacional” [“Plan Ceibal: The eyes of the world in the first OLPC nationwide model”].
2. Fernando Garrido (Spain) “¿Otra vez el mismo error? OLPC, Determinismo Tecnológico y Educación” [“Again the same mistake? OLPC technological determinism and education”].
3. Edgar Gómez Cruz (Mexico) “Domesticación de la Tecnología: una aproximación crítica al proyecto de OLPC” [“Domestication of technology: A critical approach to the OLPC project”].
4. Tíscar Lara (Spain) “Aprender a ser ciudadano desde las prácticas digitales” [“Learning to be a citizen from digital practices”].
5. Guillermo Lutzky (Argentina) “La Escuela Digital, un cambio obligatorio para los modelos 1 a 1” [“The Digital School, a change required to 1 to 1 models”].
6. Mónica BaezGraciela Rabajoli (Uruguay) “La escuela extendida. Impacto del Modelo CEIBAL” [“The school extended: Impact of the Ceibal model”].
7. Alicia Kachinovsky (Uruguay) “La Universidad de la República en tiempos del Plan Ceibal” [“The University of the Republic in times of the Ceibal Plan”].
8. Octavio Islas (Mexico) “Retos que representa la enseñanza en el imaginario de la ‘Generación Einstein'” [“Challenges posed by teaching in the imagination of the ‘Einstein Generation'”].
9. Cristóbal Cobo (Mexico) “Aprendizaje de código abierto” [“Learning from open source”].
10. Raúl Trejo Delarbre (Mexico) “Un niño para cada laptop” [“A laptop for every child”].
11. John Moravec (USA) “¿Y ahora, qué?” [“So, what now?”].
12. Miguel Brechner (Uruguay) “Los tres si” [“The three yeses”].

I join many of the collaborators in dedicating my contribution to the volume to our colleague and co-author, Guillermo Lutzky, who passed away late last month.

Five predictions for 2009 …and more!

future1

Continuing a tradition that started last year, I am listing my predictions for the big stories that will impact the education world in 2009.  My predictions from last year were hit-and-miss, but I did well overall.  How will I fare this year?

  1. No Child Left Behind won’t get left behind.  Contrary to all the data that shows that NCLB is a miserable failure, it still has too many fans within the Washington Beltway to disappear.  Besides, would the Obama administration want to send a message that they’re giving up on the noble quest of educating all children?  NCLB is here to stay, but it will evolve into something else.  Would we recognize it by 2010?
  2. The economic downturn will get much worse before it gets better, but the international impact will be greater than within the U.S.  Expect economic tragedies in China and elsewhere that depend on exports to the U.S. and other highly industrialized nations.
  3. With limits in available venture capital and new development funds within corporations, technological innovation will slow in the United States. Companies will focus on improving their core products and services at the expense of research and development.  What does this mean for education, which is in desperate need of transformative, innovative technologies?
  4. The footprint of open source software will increase, but development will slow down.  Unless if a business is committing code to the OSS community, individuals and corporations have fewer time resources available to contribute to projects.  However, OSS adoption will increase as a cost-saving measure in homes, offices and schools.  (This contrasts with last year’s prediction, where I said “education-oriented open source development will boom.”)
  5. I’m keeping my money on India, and repeating last year’s prediction: India is the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008 2009.
Here are predictions for 2009 from elsewhere:

2008 in review: What happened to this year's predictions?

[Photo by darkmatter]

At the beginning of this year, I released five predictions for global education in 2008. How did I do?

It’s a mixed bag, ranging from being completely off to spot on… with some surprises, too!

Prediction #1:

Largely driven by the moderate success of OLPC, Linux will emerge as the platform of choice for K-12 technology leaders. The OLPC will demonstrate that not only is Linux different, but it can also be used to do new and different things. Instead of using new technologies to teach the same old curricula, new technologies will be used to teach new things.

What really happened: Linux didn’t take off, but the OLPC spurned an entire ecosystem of cheap, portable computing. We’ve seen this in the form of exploding sales netbooks by Acer, Asus and other small-form, low-powered, low-cost producers –as well as products intended to compete with OLPC, including a $98 laptop from China.

Prediction #2:

Web 2.0 will continue to democratize the globalization of higher education as more students and professors embrace open communications platforms. This means university administrations will have a harder time “owning” their global agendas.

What really happened: Web 2.0 technologies are continuing to democratize the globalization of higher education; but there’s little evidence to suggest that administrators are making the most of what is happening, let alone the question of “ownership.” Of course, there’s also the problem that nobody really knows what “Web 2.0” really is, except as “a piece of jargon.” Some schools, however, have began to experiment with integrating their services with YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc., providing some hope that they will be able to leverage the power of Web communities.

Prediction #3:

Because of the influences of #1 and #2, education-oriented open source development will boom.

What really happened: The open source development boom hasn’t happened, but it also does not seem to be lessening. Moodle continues to develop as a popular course instruction platform, and other institutions have copied MIT’s OpenCourseWare program –but, these innovations all predate 2008. With a few exceptions (like OLPC), the open source/open access movement has made little new headway in 2008. Software in higher education, however, remains largely centered on proprietary formats.

Prediction #4:

Chinese orientations toward the rest of the planet will change during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese widely view that the award to host the Olympics is a sign that their country is progressing positively –and of international acceptance. During the Olympics, however, much of the international attention will focus on revisiting the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the government’s treatment of political prisoners, the annexation of Tibet, the mainland’s relations with Taiwan, catastrophic ecological destruction throughout China, and many more sensitive topics. Unless if the Chinese can distract the world with Olympian splendor, they will have to endure international condemnation. What will this do to the millions of Chinese school kids who were drafted into generating national spirit under the false assumption that the world thinks China is doing a great job? Will China reorient its education system away from the West?

What really happened: As expected, China had a hard time navigating the additional attention of human rights and ecological issues. What was not expected, however, is that China would muscle such a huge effort to manage its public relations image. This was most evident in the spectacle of the opening ceremonies, but also with the scandals that plagued the government and Olympic organizers as they tried to manage China’s image.

What does this mean for Chinese education? The Chinese government managed media relations well; and, as students at Anqing Teachers College told me in October, “the successful implementation of the Beijing games is evidence that China is prepared to lead the world.” China is not reorienting its education system away from the West. Rather, it intends to reorient the West toward China!

Prediction #5:

India’s the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008.

What really happened: The jury’s still out. We’ll have to wait and see. In a 2005 report, the World Bank noted that India is in the bottom third of the global knowledge economy, and hasn’t improved much in the previous ten years. Has it changed? We’ll watch this one closely in 2009!

Stay tuned for five new predictions for 2009!

The IT trend numbers are in!

This year’s EDUCAUSE report on IT trends (officially called the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2007 Summary Report) is out! Some highlights from the report, which covers higher education activities and trends in FY 2007:

  • IT funding per full-time equivalent student varies greatly among institutions, with a mean funding amount at $1,551 –although the median amount is only $959.
  • The use of open source software is on the rise. 51% of institutions reported that they use some form of open source software –up from 47% in 2006 and 32% in 2005.
  • Firewalling of Internet technologies (including VoIP) is on the rise at campuses.
  • IT administrators are more likely to sit on the presidential cabinets of community colleges (37%) than all colleges as a whole (31%).