The Glass Cage: Automation and Us – New book by Nicholas Carr!

Carr The Glass Cage

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished Nichols Carr’s book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us (Norton, 2014)).  Carr is the author of The Shallows, a best-seller and Pulitzer Prize finalist. Carr picks up where The Shallows left off.  Here is an excerpt from a review by Daniel Menaker:

In his previous book, “The Shallows” — essential reading about our Internet Age — Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and author of several books about technology, discussed the detrimental effects the Web has on our reading, thinking and capacity for reflection. In this new book, “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us,” similarly essential if slightly repetitive, Carr explains how certain aspects of automative technology can separate us from, well, Reality. How, for all its ­miraculous-seeming benefits, automation also can and often does impair our mental and physical skills, cause dreadful mistakes and accidents, particularly in medicine and aviation, and threaten to turn the algorithms we create as servants into our mindless masters — what sci-fi movies have been warning us about for at least two or three decades now. (As Carr puts it near the end of The Glass Cage, when “we become dependent on our technological slaves . . . we turn into slaves ourselves.”)

I found The Glass Cage a good read and important commentary on how we are becoming too dependent on technology from cell phones to automatic pilots to driverless cars. For instance, Carr references Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital that “most workers were being funneled into routine jobs that offered little responsibility, little challenge, and little opportunity to gain know how in anything important.” Later on Carr references a Robert Frost poem about a freshly mown field where he sees “ a small luster of flowers, a leaping tongue of bloom that the scythe had missed.”

Between Braverman and Frost, Carr also mentions the number of Americans including schoolchildren taking prescription drugs. “More than ten percent of school children and more than twenty percent of high-school boys have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and two-thirds of that group take drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to treat the condition…..Drugs that numb the nervous system…to rein in our vital, animal sensorium”.

At 232 pages, The Glass Cage can be read over a weekend.  I highly recommend it.


College Enrollments Dip for 3rd Straight Year!

College Enrollment 2014

Click to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center just issued its latest enrollment estimate for American higher education and shows that the overall college student population dropped by 1.3 percent this fall after slipping 1.5 percent last fall and 1.8 percent in the fall of 2012. However, there are differences among the various sectors.

In fall 2014, enrollments decreased among two-year public institutions (-6.0 percent) and four-year for-profit institutions (-0.4 percent). Enrollments increased among four-year public institutions (+2.2 percent) and four-year private non-profit institutions (+1.6 percent). It should be noted, however, that part of the decrease in two-year public enrollments is due to institutions being reclassified in IPEDS as four-year institutions. Without these reclassifications, two-year public enrollments would have decreased by 3.4 percent and the growth in four-year public enrollments would have been 0.4 percent. Taken as a whole, public sector enrollments declined by 1.5 percent this fall.

Enrollments declined in 39 states and the District of Columbia. They were up in 11 states, with the largest jumps in New Hampshire at 19.9 percent and Arizona, at 5.2 percent. The biggest declines were among students older than 24.



College for Grown-Ups: Dispelling the Myth of the Traditional College Student!

Dear Commons Community,

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education at Stanford, has as an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, commenting on the residential, four-year college experience that permeates many of our institutions yet no longer reflects the way most students approach their education. He comments:

“A substantial body of research demonstrates that first-generation college students, those from low-income families and racial minorities are particularly at risk for feelings of exclusion, loneliness and academic alienation. The costs of leaving college can be large for everyone: lost tuition, loan debt and a subtle but consequential diminishment of self-esteem.

The source of these problems is baked into the current organization of residential higher education. Virtually all selective schools arrange their undergraduate programs on the presumption that teenagers are the primary clients. Administrators plan dormitory architecture, academic calendars and marketing campaigns to appeal to high school juniors and seniors. Again the cruel paradox: In the ever-growing number of administrators and service people catering to those who pay tuition, there are grown-ups all over campus, but they are largely peripheral to undergraduate culture.

If we were starting from zero, we probably wouldn’t design colleges as age-segregated playgrounds in which teenagers and very young adults are given free rein to spend their time more or less as they choose. Yet this is the reality.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Rethinking the expectation that applicants to selective colleges be fresh out of high school would go far in reducing risk for young people while better protecting everyone’s college investment.”

Stevens goes on to describe alternate online learnings models that might be more appropriate. I agree fully with his basic premise that American higher education is built on the myth that our students are residential, full-time, and between the ages of 18-21 when the exact the opposite is the case. The vast majority of college students are older, do not live on campus, and need to work to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Alternate types of programs have been flourishing for years and have been fueled more recently by new models that take advantage of online technology.



John King, Jr. to Leave Post as New York State Commissioner of Education!

Dear Commons Community,

John King Jr. announced earlier today that he is resigning at the end of this year as New York State’s Commissioner of Education. The New York Times  reported that he would step down to take the second-highest-ranking job at the United States Education Department, as senior adviser to Secretary Arne Duncan.

During his tenure, King pushed a neoliberal agenda calling for more testing, charter schools, more testing, tougher teaching evaluations, more testing, the Common Core, and more testing. He followed Arne Duncan’s script carefully and never veered from it. Teachers and parents have rebelled against most of his initiatives. I believe his greatest failure was the rushed implementation of the Common Core. Curriculum materials were not revise or developed, teachers were not trained, and parents were not properly informed, all of which resulted in mass failures by school children on state tests. Teachers and parents called for his resignation last year in response to the Common Core implementation and also because of his support for establishing a statewide student database managed by a private company.

In sum, Commissioner King took the heat for the Race to the Top funding deal that Governor Mario Cuomo and Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed to with Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education.  Essentially the quid pro quo was $800 million in federal funding in exchange for New York implementing the Common Core curriculum, establishing teacher evaluation systems based on standardized test scores, and contributing to a national student database.

New York’s school children deserved better.



Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani Blames Teachers Unions for Violence in Black Communities!

Dear Commons Community,

Former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani on a visit to Fox News programs blamed teachers unions in part for the violence in black neighborhoods. During interviews with Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity, Giuliani, a member of the teacher-bashing crowd of right-wing zealots, commented:

“Asked by Rivera about de Blasio’s response to the situation, Giuliani said that liberals have been ignoring the underlying causes of police brutality against black communities. While groups around the country have been protesting the decisions by two separate grand juries not to indict the police officers who killed Brown and Garner, Giuliani suggested that these activists may be misdirecting their energies.

“The energy that [Al] Sharpton and everyone else is spending protesting against police would save a lot more black lives if it would start talking about improving black education, if it would talk about improving the family situation in black neighborhoods, if it would talk about dealing with police officers with respect,” Giuliani said.

The former mayor then went on to suggest that teachers unions may be partially to blame.

“Maybe all these left-wing politicians who want to blame police, maybe there’s some blame here that has to go to the teachers union, for refusing to have schools where teachers are paid for performance, for fighting charter schools, for fighting vouchers so that we can drastically and dramatically improve education,” he said.

In response, Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, tweeted: Did #rudygiuliani really blame school teachers -not economics nor racism nor excessive force 4 #garner‘s death. Has he lost it?

Giuliani was a bully while in office and remains so today even though politically he is largely irrelevant except on Fox News.


Rethinking Evaluation and Assessment in Online and Blended Learning Environments!

Wave V

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a talk (attached are my notes) to a group involved with Cathy Davidson’s Future Initiatives Project.  The topic was Rethinking Evaluation and Assessment in Online and Blended Learning Environments!  The talk had two parts:

  1. The Evolution of Online Learning – The Four Waves
  2. Evaluation and Assessment

Below is the abstract.  The audience seemed well engaged for the 90 minutes.   Here is a Storify link compiled by one of the attendees:

Abstract: During this open session, we will explore methods for evaluating courses and programs that use and integrate online technology for teaching and learning. We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that online learning modalities provide. Specific issues related to learning goals and objectives, instructional interactions, the use of social media and collaborative learning, adaptive learning, and learning analytics will be presented.


Online Learning Special Edition on Blended Learning Applications in the Health Sciences!

Dear Commons Community,

I just had the pleasure of co-editing a special edition of Online Learning (formerly the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks) with Paige McDonald of The George Washington University. The special edition focuses entirely on blended learning applications in the health sciences. Here is a blurb from our introduction

“The series of articles presented in this issue reveal how online learning is being promoted at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GW SMHS) in disciplines heavily reliant upon traditional, face-to-face models of teaching and learning, such as is typical in physician assistant and physical therapy programs. Educators at this institution hope to share knowledge on their efforts to respond to challenges to health professions education by encouraging adoption of technology-enhanced and blended models of delivery. Health professions education has long recognized and struggled with the challenges of teaching both knowledge and skills while adjusting to ever expanding curricula. However, it is only more recently that online learning has been adopted in select disciplines, particularly in the field of nursing, as a potential answer to how we are going to educate the quantity of professionals required to meet the expanding needs of the population and how to do so in a cost effective way. Adoption of digital technologies in most health disciplines has not matched the pace of that in nursing, due in part to the heavy reliance upon traditional models of learning delivery (Prober & Heath, 2012). This article series considers the need for better integration of technology in the education of healthcare professionals and presents the efforts of one institution to promote integration of online technology into face-to-face courses.”

Those of you contemplating blended learning initiatives in health science and other allied professional areas may find this special edition very insightful.  Paige and I welcome any feedback.



Rethinking Low Completion Rates in MOOCs!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a brief review today of a study on completion rates in MOOC courses. Critics have argued that the 10 percent completion rates for many MOOC courses are at best problematic and at worst laughable. But exactly how low are they? The answer might be a matter of interpretation and depends upon learner goals. In a new study (EDUCAUSE subscription required) by Justin Reich, a research fellow at Harvard University, decided to examine whether the people who were “failing” to complete the courses had actually been trying to complete them in the first place. According to The Chronicle article, Reich followed:

“…nearly 80,000 people taking nine Harvard MOOCs to respond to a survey about their goals. He sorted them into four categories: completers, auditors, browsers, and “unsure.” Then he tracked them.

The overall completion rate among survey respondents was 13.3 percent.

Among those who had intended to complete the course, the rate was 19.5 percent.

Among those who had not intended to complete the course, it was 5.4 percent.

None of those numbers is high by traditional standards, and it’s hardly a surprise that people who are trying complete MOOCs do so at a significantly higher rate than do those who aren’t trying to complete them. Some might even see the 19.5-percent completion rate among people intending to complete the course as more damning than lower figures that are not based on such distinctions.

In a paper published on Monday in Educause Review Online, Mr. Reich says he does not expect the findings to budge critics. He says the study’s goal, apart from providing a “useful reference point” for policy makers and university leaders, was to begin drawing important distinctions among people who sign up for free online courses. In traditional higher education, it’s safe to assume that all students want to finish courses and earn credit. Not so in MOOCs, where the lower barriers to entry attract students with a broader spectrum of goals and motivations, he says.

“This research has provided better answers to the question: Why do people come to these MOOCs?” writes Mr. Reich in his paper. “The next challenge is to get better answers to the question: Why do people leave?”

The study verifies the major concern with MOOC courses in their present design is that high attrition makes them an unlikely alternative to traditional courses. However, it does not mean that research and development (as long funders are willing) into MOOC courses should not continue.



The Old Journalism v. The New – The New Republic and!

Dear Commons Community,

Ross Douthat has a column today in the New York Times comparing the fates of print-based and web-based media using The New Republic and as cases in point. Douthat writes:

“On Thursday, The New Republic, a storied liberal magazine..saw its editor in chief and literary editor sacked by a pair of figures out of a Silicon Valley satire — a tech almost-billionaire, Chris Hughes, who won the meritocracy’s equivalent of the lottery when he roomed with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, and Hughes’s digital guru, Guy Vidra, whose plan for vertical integration with the singularity can now proceed apace.

Mass resignations followed; eulogies were penned for the T.N.R.-that-was. (And, admittedly, that hadn’t really existed for some time.) But the most interesting in memoriam came from Ezra Klein,’s editor in chief, because he wrote as a spokesman for a new model of political journalism pronouncing a parting benediction on the old one.

“The eulogy that needs to be written,” Klein argued, is actually for an entire kind of publication — the “ambitious policy magazine,” whether on the left or right, that once set the terms of Washington’s debates.

With the emergence of the Internet, those magazines lost their monopolies, and the debate “spilled online, beyond their pages, outside their borders,” with both new competitors and specific voices (Klein kindly cites my own) becoming more important than before.

As Klein correctly implies, this shift has produced a deeper policy conversation than print journalism ever sustained. Indeed, the oceans of space online, the easy availability of studies and reports, the ability to go endless rounds on topics — plus the willingness of many experts to blog and bicker for the sheer fun of it! — has made the Internet era a golden age for technocratic argument and data-driven debate.”

Klein concludes, “something is being lost in the transition from policy magazines to policy websites, and it’s still an open question how much of it can be regained.”

In response to Klein, Douthat comments:

“All of this is sensible and true. But there’s one large amendment that needs to be offered. The New Republic as-it-was, the magazine I and others grew up reading, was emphatically not just a “policy magazine.” It was, instead, a publication that deliberately integrated its policy writing with often-extraordinary coverage of literature, philosophy, history, religion, music, fine art.

It wasn’t just a liberal magazine, in other words; it was a liberal-arts magazine…

So when we talk about what’s being lost in the transition from old to new, print to digital, it’s this larger, humanistic realm that needs attention. It isn’t just policy writing that’s thriving online; it’s anything that’s immediate, analytical, data-driven — from election coverage to pop culture obsessiveness to rigorous analysis of baseball’s trade market. And since today’s liberalism is particularly enamored of arc-of-history arguments that either condemn or implicitly whisk away the past, this may be a particular problem for the Internet-era progressive mind.

The peril isn’t just that blithe dot-com philistines will tear down institutions that once sustained a liberal humanism. It’s that those institutions’ successors won’t even recognize what’s lost.”

They will not recognize what’s lost indeed.  It reminds me a little bit of the scene from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge and Marley buy out their former employer Fezziwig.



New York Times Editorial: Garner and Brown Demonstrations Indicate that What Was Once a Black Issue is Now an American Issue!

Garner 10

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial today rightly observes that the coming together of Americans of all color, races, and ethnicities over grand jury handling of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, may be a defining moment in the way we perceive the victimization of black males in this country. The editorial states:

“In city after city, white and nonwhite citizens have surged through the streets chanting or bearing signs with Mr. Garner’s final words: “I can’t breathe.” Others chanted: “Hands up; don’t shoot” or “Black lives matter” — slogans from the racially troubled town of Ferguson, Mo., where another grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The viral spread of the demonstrations — and the wide cross section of Americans who are organizing and participating in them — shows that what was once seen as a black issue is on the way to being seen as a central, American problem.

The question of the moment is whether the country’s political leadership has the will to root out abusive and discriminatory policing — corrosive, longstanding problems that bore down on minority communities, large and small, urban and suburban.”

Below is the entire editorial.



Hope and Anger at the Garner Protests

New York Times Editorial – Brent Staples – December 6, 2014

The country has historically reacted with doubt or indifference when African-Americans speak of police officers who brutalize — or even kill — people with impunity. Affluent and middle-class white Americans who were treated with respect by the police had difficulty imagining the often life-threatening mistreatment that black Americans of all walks of life dealt with on a daily basis. Perhaps those days are passing away.

You can see that from the multiracial cast of the demonstrations that have swept the nation since Wednesday, when a grand jury decided not to indict a white New York City police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.

In city after city, white and nonwhite citizens have surged through the streets chanting or bearing signs with Mr. Garner’s final words: “I can’t breathe.” Others chanted: “Hands up; don’t shoot” or “Black lives matter” — slogans from the racially troubled town of Ferguson, Mo., where another grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The viral spread of the demonstrations — and the wide cross section of Americans who are organizing and participating in them — shows that what was once seen as a black issue is on the way to being seen as a central, American problem.

The question of the moment is whether the country’s political leadership has the will to root out abusive and discriminatory policing — corrosive, longstanding problems that bore down on minority communities, large and small, urban and suburban.

The scope of the problem is evident from the work of the Justice Department, which has opened 20 investigations into local police departments over the last five years and is currently enforcing reform agreements with 15 departments, some of which were investigated in previous administrations.

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. released a particularly alarming report on the barbaric conduct of the police department in Cleveland, which has been riven with discord in recent weeks, after a white police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun.

The Times reported on Friday that the officer had quit a suburban police force after his supervisors judged that he had a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training and was emotionally unprepared to deal with the stresses of the job. The Cleveland Police Department had failed to examine the officer’s work history before hiring him. Thus an officer who had been unable to cope in a suburban district was given the power of life and death over people in a big city, where the task of policing the streets is far more demanding.

The Justice Department report describes the Cleveland Police Department as something far closer to an occupying military force than a legitimate law enforcement agency. The officers, for example, seem to take a casual view of the use of deadly force, shooting at people who pose no threat of harm to the police or others. In one case in 2013, for example, they actually fired at a victim who had been held captive in a house — as he escaped, clad only in boxer shorts.

The report cataloged numerous incidents of wanton violence, with officers beating, pepper-spraying and Tasering people who were unarmed or had already been restrained. Officers escalated encounters with citizens instead of defusing them, making force all but inevitable.

The record in Cleveland is extreme. But aspects of illegal police conduct can be found in cities all over the country, subjecting millions to intimidation and fear that they could be killed for innocent actions.

Congress will have an opportunity to discuss this issue soon, during the Senate confirmation hearings of Loretta Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who has been nominated to succeed Mr. Holder as attorney general.

Ms. Lynch’s office will oversee the federal civil rights investigation into the Garner case. Some in Congress clearly understand that the grand jury’s failure to indict the officer — despite a clear video showing him choking the man — deserves review, not just on its face, but because it goes to the heart of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Others, however, seem poised to argue that the federal government, which has a clear responsibility to enforce civil rights laws, should not be taking the lead. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, for example, asked, “Why does the federal government feel like it is its responsibility and role to be the leader in an investigation in a local instance?” That sounds like something out of the Jim Crow era, when Southern states argued that they were entitled to treat black citizens any way they wished.

Mr. Holder was on the mark when he said that the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice raised urgent, national questions about the breakdown of trust between minority communities and the police forces that are supposed to serve and protect them.

That so many are in the streets protesting police abuse shows that outrage over these injustices is spreading. Now it is up to the nation’s political leaders to confront this crisis.