originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/the_most_powerful_idea_in_the_world
In William Rosen's masterful new book, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, the most powerful idea is not the invention of the steam engine. Rather, the title refers to the development of the concept that ideas can be property, and that through the availability of patent law and capital, individuals tinkerers can become industrial scale innovators.
Rosen notes that: "From 1700 to 2000, the world's population has increased twelvefold - but its production of goods and services a hundredfold". (page 316) Will the innovations around digital technology, from cheap and powerful mobile computing devices to robust cloud based applications, bring about a commensurate rise in productivity as the industrial revolution? The steam engine allowed the cost of energy to come down rapidly, through its original use as the power source to pump out coal mines to its subsequent use in locomotives to bring down the costs of transporting coal. Today, it is less clear if digital technologies can bring about similar improvements in the productivity of education (increased access and quality at reduced costs), that the steam engine did for energy productivity in the 18th and 19th centuries.It is ironic that the very intellectual property protections that catalyzed the willingness of inventors and entrepreneurs to invest their energy and money into the steam engine that are perhaps retarding innovations in education. Much of our current economic prosperity is built on the concept that ideas are property, yet many of the barriers to extending learning at low cost run up against this principle. Efforts to extend the infrastructure and content of learning outside of the marketplace, through open source and open educational content, have failed to significantly bring costs down or increase access.
Are we in the midst of an educational revolution powered by technology? Or are we grafting new technologies on old structures, changing education only at the margins?
The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind by Barbara Strauch
originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/the_grown_up_brain_and_us
What if the real purpose of education should be to prepare our brains to function well throughout our lifespan? What if our explicit goals shift from creating brains that can operate well in the economy (or whatever other institutional missions we promote), to the goal of fostering cognitive reserves? What if promoting healthy brains was the best mechanism for creating productive citizens, and all the other values we believe in as educators and educational institutions were best served in service of the brain?
I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the brain, our brains, is a theme that should cut across all disciplines. That we should put the brain at the center of our educational system for purely selfish and self-interested reasons, namely that we all need do whatever we can to insure that we experience successful brain aging.
The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, by Barbara Strauch is a wonderful book. Strauch is a generous and wise author, writing about the middle-age brain through a combination of stories and science that seems well calibrated to the brains of her readers.We learn that while the middle-age brain may not have the rapid processing power of its younger version, these deficits are more than made up for by increased abilities in judgment, expertise, and effectiveness. Our middle-age brains see the world in a more positive light and accurate light, and are much better at juggling all the demands that life throws at us.
The big revelation of "The Grown-up Brain" is that we have within our power to determine much of the course of our own brain aging. Through diligent mental and physical exercise, a reasonable diet, and a positive orientation towards our work and relationships we can significantly and dramatically protect our brains against cognitive slow-downs and dementia.
A prediction: Over the next twenty-years our colleges and universities will make a change from teaching to prepare for the job market to teaching to promote cognitive reserves. Innovative educational institutions will advertise a curriculum that is demonstrated to promote long-term cognitive health. We will begin to escape from the idea of economic scarcity, and start embracing the idea of lifetime cognitive scarcity - with educational programs designed to foster cognitive abundance.This shift will require that the study of the brain become deeply embedded throughout all of our disciplines. We will talk about the brain when we think about teaching, learning and research. We will see our fitness centers and dining halls as tools to promote lifetime brain health. We will understand the mission of our institutions as providing our students the tools, habits, knowledge and fundamentals they will need to encourage and promote successful brain aging. Our rankings will be based on brain health related metrics, on the inputs that predict cognitive surplus. We will look back in disbelief at a time when our institutions took the brain for granted, and did not design our programs and environments explicitly to promote lifetime brain health.
Grade: A-How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like by Paul Bloom
originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/questions_inspired_by_how_pleasure_works
- How come I did not know about Yale's Paul Bloom and was surprised to come across his beautiful book, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like?
- When am I going to find the time to watch his Introduction to Psychology Class on the Open Yale Courses site?
- Who else in my learning and technology world is also reading this book, and how can I connect with them to discuss and share ideas?
- Why is it that Audible.com has such terrible social networking features around their audio books, not letting me see who else has downloaded "How Pleasure Works" and the books in their library?
- Does writing a book like How Pleasure Works that popularizes and synthesizes cutting edge academic research, much of which is done by the author, contribute to the academic career and reputation of the writer as much as a book aimed at a narrow scholarly audience?
- If reading "How Pleasure Works" provides so much pleasure (and I think opportunities for authentic learning), how come popular nonfiction academic books like this one are rarely features on course syllabi?
- What is the factor that determines if a nonfiction book will have an audio version, where other books I'd like to read, are available only in paper or e-book format?
- Where will the next great academic who can write for a popular audience come from and what are the conditions that encourage their development?
The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison
originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/pushing_back_on_the_power_of_pull
I read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion for one reason: "John Seely Brown." If JSB writes something, I'm buying. If JSB gives a talk, I'm there (at least virtually). If JSB says to "jump", I'm saying "how far." You get the picture.
The Power of Pull is one of those books that I'm happy I read but did not enjoy reading all that much. What is most instructive about The Power of Pull is that the book demonstrates how good ideas and clear thinking are necessary but not sufficient to engage us readers. What is missing from the book is precisely why I bought the book, the authors. The great ideas are filtered through a sort of omnipresent consultant speak, homo consultilis, instead of through the voice of any recognizable homo sapien. I know for a fact that the all 3 authors lead fascinating lives, but one would never know it from reading Pull.Educators need to keep this lesson in mind. When we teach, we need to connect our disciplines to stories, and our stories to our students and ourselves. Dan Ariely does this masterfully in his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, telling the story of his recovery from a horrific accident to help us understand the science of behavioral economics.
It is shame that the Pull authors allowed themselves to slip into consultant speak, as the ideas and lessons from Pull are worth pondering. The big argument of Pull is that a combination of globalization and digital technologies has fundamentally changed the rules of economics and employment, a big shift in which companies and institutions must draw ideas and people from the "edge" and leverage their talents to change the practices of the "core." People who will succeed in the uncertainty and turmoil of the digital economy will be those who can authentically follow their passions, connect with other passionate individuals, and re-skill themselves to compete and add-value in a globalized economy. Companies can no longer either create or forecast demand (push), but rather must offer a compelling product or service that "pulls" potential employees, partners, and customers in to mutually beneficial relationships.I particularly like what Pull has to say about education:
"It's quickly dawning on us instead that our education was at best a thin foundation that needs to be continually refreshed in order for us to stay competitive". (page 12)
"Until relatively recently, most of us believed we had to invest considerable time and effort early in our lives navigation an educational system designed to transfer stocks of knowledge to us. As a reward for our diligence and persistence in school, we believed, these stocks of knowledge would serve us well throughout our lives". (page 52)"We have to be willing to risk looking like we don't know the answer, or maybe the question. We've got to wean ourselves from the over dependence on expertise we've labored so hard to accumulate. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we must avoid letting our education interfere with our learning". (page 117).
Good stuff. But I can't find much that is really all the new. A much better book about our economic and job future in a globalized and digital economy is Sonic Boom, by Gregg Easterbrook. Seth Godin has written extensively about finding our tribes and passions at work. Dan Pink's new book, Drive, is all about how intrinsic motivators always trump extrinsic ones in determining performance at work. Matt Ridley, in The Rational Optimist, explains how a globalized world organized around trade and open markets will mean greater prosperity for all of us. (You should really check out Ridley's TED Talk - "When Ideas Have Sex." And The New American Workplace provides in-depth case studies of companies that are able remain competitive through a results only workplace environment (ROWE) that allows creative people on the edge to be nurtured and thrive.
JSB - I hope your next book includes more of JSB.Grade: B-
Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed by Gregg Easterbrook
originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/the_ed_tech_sonic_boom
Greg Easterbrook is making two big arguments in Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed.
Future Prosperity: Due to a combination of global trade, the spread of information technology, and the movement toward representative democracies, the 21st century will usher in unprecedented levels and diffusion of global prosperity.
Current Anxiety: The growth of prosperity will probably fail to make us happy. Instead, the ascendance of entrepreneurial capitalism and the rise of knowledge work at the expense of institutions, stability and security will make us all more anxious.This seems to be a fair description of how life within the higher ed world will unfold as well. Would anyone trade the your college experience to the one that our kids will be able to receive? When I was in college the predominant instructional methodology was a lecturer talking at us for 50 minutes at a time. We had some great lecturers, and some lousy lecturers, and basically we accepted that this is how things were and we were lucky if we happened to take a course with a dynamic and passionate teacher.
Today, we are able to leverage a set of well-developed and stable technologies to build in pedagogically advanced active learning methods into a wide variety of courses and modes of instructional delivery. To be a great teacher it is no longer a prerequisite to be a dynamic and gifted lecturer. Rather, faculty can partner with learning designers, librarians, and teaching specialists to create dynamic, student-centered courses that allow students interact and create with the curriculum in ways that were impossible before the advent of technology enabled and supported classes.
However, these improvements in course quality made possible by the pairing of learning design methods and technology have brought with them a new set of challenges. Life was perhaps simpler back in the days when I first started to teach (in mid 1990s), when course design primarily meant crafting a syllabus. Yes, we had Scantron machines transparencies and PowerPoint, but we did not have the tools to enable active learning within a large course setting. We could make the lecture better at the margins, more class discussion - small groups etc., but the basic format of delivery was basically set. Today, students and progressive faculty I think expect that we can do better - and that every class is an opportunity to experiment with methods to encourage our students to transition from the passive to active mode. We know that learning is both social and requires engagement, we don't retain what we don't manipulate and create.All these opportunities for improved teaching mean that we all end up spending more time on our classes and more time experimenting (and sometimes failing) with new teaching methods and tools. This shift also means that we need to shift resources and inputs into the teaching process, a change in the productivity equation that can (and should) disrupt the traditional economics of higher ed.
Easterbrook is convinced that the next few years will bring about opportunities and challenges that can scarcely be imagined, but will leave us all better off as individuals and as a society. I think we are in for a similar ride in higher ed.
Are any of you planning on reading Sonic Boom? I think that this would be an amazing book to teach a 1 credit mini course around. Easterbrook does a good job of reading his own work in the audiobook format. His last book, The Progress Paradox, is one of my all-time favorites. Sonic Boom is a terrific follow-up.
Grade: A-Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
originally from: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/rework
The first book that I'm going to give to my learning and technology team is Rework, by the guys from 37Signals.
288 concise pages - or less than 3 hours in unabridged audio format. We need more books to be this good and this short.37Signals is best known for its simple, cloud based project management tool Basecamp. I'm a Basecamp client, and have been using the tool productively for a few years now. If you have ever had to do a project with MS Project, or solely by e-mail and spreadsheets, than you will appreciate the simplicity, elegance, and flexibility of Basecamp.
The founders of 37Signals developed Basecamp to manage their own internal projects, only then realizing they had a service on their hands that other small teams would find useful. Basecamp requires no support from your central IT organization, no local hardware, and no expertise in project management. You can be up and running with a free 30 day trial in 60 seconds. Plans start at $24 a month.
Basecamp is not just a product but also a philosophy. Less features well done are better than many features that complicate a product. Offer services that are lightweight and agile, and resist the urge to meet the needs of every customer. Let your customer outgrow your product. Basecamp is the physical (or digital?) manifestation of the philosophy of work that 37Signals is selling in Rework. The company prides itself on keeping operations lean, costs down, working arrangements flexible, and paid marketing to a minimum. If you work for 37Signals you don't attend many meetings, don't write many strategic plans, and don't give many internal presentations. You are expected and encouraged to carve out quiet time for productive work, to share your work product early and often, and to be open to criticism. What you are not expected to do is work insane hours, sacrifice family or sleep time, or set unrealistic deadlines or goals.It could be that 37Signals got lucky with Basecamp, and are falling into the fallacy of assuming that their work culture is an optimal culture because it produced Basecamp. The other products from 37Signals, Highrise (contact tracking), Backpack (Intranet), and Campfire (code sharing) have not enjoyed nearly the same level of success as Basecamp. We know from Leonard Mlodinow's book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, that we all under-estimate the role of chance in our successes and failures. Nor is the advice in Rework particularly original. Experts like James O'Toole have long been recommending more flexible and less hierarchal workplaces.
What is different about Rework is that the founders of 37Signals are pitching their ideas at a level that can work with small teams on the sorts of projects and tasks that we all do. Anyone in charge of rolling out and supporting new learning technology services will benefit from reading Rework. You don't need a top-down re-org or permission from your leadership to make our products and team interactions more like those of 37Signals. We are all in some measure complacent in meeting cultures , reliances on committees, and the putting off of "shipping" new services until that mythical time the platform meets everyone's needs.Rework should provoke a good discussion of how your team does things differently from how the team at 37Signals approaches tasks. In the end you may not decide to adopt all of the recommendations in Rework, but I guarantee that this book cause you to take a hard look at how your group operates.
Any Basecamp users want to jump in on the service? What do you think about the idea of writing a short book like Rework that spells out your work culture philosophy and the thinking behind the services you offer?Grade: B