Latest Pew Survey of Technology Impact on Workers: Email/Internet – Yes; Social Media – No!

Pew Survey Technology Impact on Workers

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Dear Commons Community,

The latest Pew Internet Research Project study was issued yesterday that focused on the impact of technology on workers. The analysis in this report was based on an online probability survey conducted September 12-18, 2014 among a sample of 1,066 adult Internet users, 18 years of age or older. The survey included 535 adults employed full-time or part-time, who are the basis of this report. Sampling error for the subsample of 535 working adults is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The findings indicate that of the various technologies, email and the Internet are having the largest impact while social media has the least (see chart above). Some of the key findings are as follows:

“The Internet and cell phones have infiltrated every cranny of American workplaces, and digital technology has transformed vast numbers of American jobs. Work done in the most sophisticated scientific enterprises, entirely new technology businesses, the extensive array of knowledge and media endeavors, the places where crops are grown, the factory floor, and even mom-and-pop stores has been reshaped by new pathways to information and new avenues of selling goods and services. For most office workers now, life on the job means life online.

Email and the Internet are deemed the most important communications and information tools among online workers.

The high value of email comes despite the challenges of the past generation, including threats like spam and phishing and competitors like social media and texting. Surprisingly, landline phones outrank cell phones for these Internet-using workers. Social media is very low in importance.

In this sample, email and the Internet are particularly important to adults who work in traditionally “white collar,” office-based occupations such as professionals, executives, managers, business owners, and clerical workers. They are also critical for the 59% of employed online adults who take their jobs outside of the physical boundaries of the workplace at least occasionally.

What is potentially surprising is that even in the face of constantly evolving forms of digital communication, potential threats like phishing, hacking and spam, and dire warnings about lost productivity and email overuse, email continues to be the main digital artery that workers believe is important to their jobs. Since taking hold a generation ago, email has not loosened its grip on the American workplace.

While commentators worry that digital tools can be a distraction in the workplace, many online workers say that is not the case when it comes to their productivity.

Just 7% of working online adults feel their productivity has dropped because of the Internet, email and cell phones, while 46% feel more productive.

Asked about a variety of impacts, notable proportions of these workers say that the Internet, email and cell phones:

  • Expand the number of people outside of their company they communicate with—51% of these Internet-using workers say this.
  • Allow them more flexibility in the hours they work—39% of online workers say this.
  • Increase the amount of hours they work—35% of online workers say this.

Each of these effects is felt more among Office-Based workers than among traditionally blue collar, Non-Office-Based employees.”



Principal of Indiana School Raises Money to Buy Her Students Shoes!

Dear Commons Community,

Here is a great holiday story about Nissa Ellet, the principal of Heth-Washington Elementary in Indiana, who upon seeing too many students with tattered shoes, initiated a fund-raiser to buy them new footwear. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Nissa Ellet, principal of Heth-Washington Elementary in Indiana, became concerned for her students after noticing that many of them owned shoes that frequently needed mending, according to WDRB. So she did something about it.

“Throughout the year we have repaired — I can’t even tell you how many shoes,” Ellett told the WAVE3 News. “We’ve used duct tape and staples and I started really noticing this is a much bigger problem than I realized.”

Many students’ families had fallen on hard times in the past few years, and poverty had risen to about 75 percent at the school, according to WAVE3 News. So Ellett reached out to the community through social media for donations to go toward new tennis shoes for the children, calling her program, “Shoes For Students.” While her original goal was to raise $6,000, the community shattered her expectations.

“We ended up raising $17,000 so we expanded, we reevaluated … what else can we get for our students,” the principal told WDRB.

Along with new tennis shoes, Ellet used the money to buy snow boots, gloves, hats, scarves, a school hoodie and candy for every student, WHAS11 reported. And earlier this month, the excited children were brought to the gym for a special ceremony where they received their surprises. It was an event that left many kids in the Christmas spirit.”

We celebrate Ms. Ellet and educators like her throughout the country who understand that much of what our schools do for our children goes beyond academic matters.


NYS Governor Cuomo Vetoes Bill that Would Have Protected Teachers from Flawed Evaluation System!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill last night that would have protected teachers and principals from receiving a low rating because of their students’ performance on state tests. As reported in the Times article:

“The veto was unusual because Mr. Cuomo’s own administration had drafted the bill in response to lobbying from the New York State teachers’ union. In recent days, however, Mr. Cuomo indicated that he no longer supported the bill and wanted to make the teacher evaluation system more rigorous.

The bill would have offered a two-year “safety net” to teachers and principals who were given one of the two lowest ratings, developing or ineffective, on the state’s new evaluation system. For this school year and next, teachers and principals who received one of those low ratings would have had their ratings recalculated with the portion that is based on students’ growth on state test removed. If that had resulted in a higher rating, the higher rating would have been used.

Teachers who receive ineffective ratings two years in a row can be terminated.

“This is just disrespectful to teachers,” Karen E. Magee, president of the teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, said Monday night.

“He’s already acknowledged that the Common Core tests were invalid or not reliable indicators of student progress,” Ms. Magee said. “He hit the stall button for the students already, so to not do this, it makes no sense…”

The article also made the point that “After last year’s Democratic primary, in which the union did not endorse the governor, he began to talk about making the teacher evaluation system tougher.”

Indeed it makes no sense that tests considered problematic if not in fact invalid for students should be used to evaluate teachers



Digital Matthew Effect: Ed. Tech Does Not Level the Playing Field!

Dear Commons Community,

Tricia Kress, an associate professor and colleague at UMASS-Boston, sent along this article from Slate that concludes that the infusion of educational technology might widen the achievement gap between rich and poor. The “digital Matthew effect” (a term derived from Robert Merton)  refers to a phenomenon that when technology is deployed extensively in a school community, rich (mostly white) children will do better than poor (mostly minority) children and can tend to exacerbate the achievement gap.  Here is an excerpt:

“The unleveling impact of technology has to do with a phenomenon known as the “Matthew Effect”: the tendency for early advantages to multiply over time. Sociologist Robert Merton coined the term in 1968, making reference to a line in the gospel of Matthew (“for whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath”).

“…researchers are beginning to document a digital Matthew Effect, in which the already advantaged gain more from technology than do the less fortunate. As with books and reading, the most-knowledgeable, most-experienced, and most-supported students are those in the best position to use computers to leap further ahead. For example: In the Technology Immersion Pilot, a $20 million project carried out in Texas public schools beginning in 2003, laptops were randomly assigned to middle school students. The benefit of owning one of these computers, researchers later determined, was significantly greater for those students whose test scores were high to begin with.

Some studies of the introduction of technology have found an overall negative effect on academic achievement—and in these cases, poor students’ performance suffers more than that of their richer peers. In an article to be published next month in the journal Economic Inquiry, for example, Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor and co-authors Helen Ladd and Erika Martinez report their analysis of what happened when high-speed Internet service was rolled out across North Carolina: Math and reading test scores of the state’s public school students went down in each region as broadband was introduced, and this negative impact was greatest among economically disadvantaged students. Dousing the hope that spreading technology will engender growing equality, the authors write: “Reliable evidence points to the conclusion that broadening student access to home computers or home Internet service would widen, not narrow, achievement gaps.”\

The article concludes that:

“Access to adequate equipment and reliable high-speed connections remains a concern, of course. But improving the way that technology is employed in learning is an even bigger and more important issue. Addressing it would require a focus on people: training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively. It would require a focus on practices: what one researcher has called the dynamic “social envelope” that surrounds the hunks of plastic and silicon on our desks.”

Without a doubt, there has been an overemphasis on hardware and software when the real challenges for implementing educational technology involve professional development and sustained support services for all involved.


Rage Against the Common Core: NY Times Op-Ed!

Dear Commons Community,

Readers of this blog have seen postings criticizing the implementation of the Common Core curriculum in American public education. Distinctions were made that the Common Core in and of itself was not the problem but the rushed implementation and the tying of high-stakes testing to it as promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education, state education departments, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Sunday’s New York Times had an op-ed piece by David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s, Schools, taking the same position.  Describing how Republicans, Democrats, parents, students, and teachers have expressed their “rage against the Common Core”, Kirp squarely puts the blame on the U.S. DOE.

“A Gallup poll found that while 76 percent of teachers favored nationwide academic standards for reading, writing and math, only 27 percent supported using tests to gauge students’ performance, and 9 percent favored making test scores a basis for evaluating teachers. Such antagonism is well founded — researchers have shown that measurements of the “value” teachers add, as determined by comparing test scores at the beginning and end of the year, are unreliable and biased against those who teach both low- and high-achieving students.

The Obama administration has only itself to blame. Most Democrats expected that equity would be the top education priority, with more money going to the poorest states, better teacher recruitment, more useful training and closer attention to the needs of the surging population of immigrant kids. Instead, the administration has emphasized high-stakes “accountability” and market-driven reforms. The Education Department has invested more than $370 million to develop the new standards and exams in math, reading and writing.”

Arne Duncan rubbed salt into the wounds of the issue by insulting white suburban parents when he

“… said that opposition to the Common Core standards had come from “white suburban moms who realize — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Kirp’s conclusion:

“Had the public schools been given breathing room, with a moratorium on high-stakes testing that prominent educators urged, resistance to the Common Core would most likely have been less fierce. But in states where the opposition is passionate and powerful, it will take a herculean effort to get the standards back on track.”

A wasted opportunity due to the rabid zealotry of the Duncan U.S.DOE.



William Deresiewicz’s New Book: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life (The Free Press, 2014).  Deresiewicz was an English professor at Yale University until 2008 and now writes for major journals including The Nation and The New Republic.  Excellent Sheep is a dark and sad commentary on the students, faculty, administrators, and the educations offered at America’s elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. He is highly critical of admissions processes that favor legacy applicants and individuals who benefit from their parents wealth to buy their children’s way into an elite school; careerism that funnels so many students to finance and consulting; and college administrators who applaud and compliment their students as the best in the world. Here are several excerpts:

“The fact is elite schools have strong incentives not to produce too many seekers, and thinkers: too many poets, teachers, ministers, public interest lawyers, nonprofit workers, or even professors – too much selflessness, creativity, intellectuality, or idealism…Career service offices have nothing to say to students who are interested in anything other than the big four of law, medicine, finance and consulting.” p. 71

He cautions against the commoditization of higher education and careerism:

“Increasingly anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade…the most important kind of learning is learning how to learn” p. 152 and he quotes Woodrow Wilson: “We want one-class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class…very much larger…to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific manual tasks.” p. 166

He exposes community service at some of these institutions as elitism at its worst:

“The whole idea of service as embodied in organizations such as Teach for America is inherently condescending. You do for others – those poor, unfortunate others – what you don’t think they can do for themselves. You swoop down and rescue them with your awesome wisdom and virtue” p. 216

In sum, Deresiewicz misses very little to be critical about. A New York Times review by Anthony Grafton, a professor at Princeton University, while highly complimentary also points out that not all students, faculty, and administrators in elite schools fall into the patterns outlined in the book. I found Excellent Sheep… an insightful read and important commentary on American higher education. I highly recommend it.



David Brooks Calls Chris Hughes, Owner of The New Republic, Callow and Incompetent!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, is generally moderate in his comments about individuals. He prefers to comment about ideas. Yesterday, however, in his end of the year column, while reviewing the best essays of 2014, Brooks takes a direct hit at Chris Hughes, the new owner of The New Republic.

“The country suffered a great loss this year with the destruction of The New Republic at the hands of its callow and incompetent owner, Chris Hughes. Before it was obliterated a few weeks ago, it churned out the usual stream of outstanding essays.”

Hughes, once one of Silicon Valley’s stars, is having a rough year trying to make his mark beyond sunny California. Ross Douthat and Ezra Klein were also critical of his management of The New Republic. His efforts to remake The New Republic into his own hybrid e-zine image has hit the skids badly.


Christmas Presents for Wal-Mart Employees: Pay Raises!

Dear Commons Community,

Minimum wage increases across the United States are forcing Wal-Mart Stores Inc . to increase base salaries at 1,434 stores, impacting about a third of its U.S. locations, according to a memo obtained and reviewed by Reuters. The memo, which was sent to store managers earlier this month, offers insight into the impact of minimum wage hikes in 21 states due to come into effect on or around Jan. 1, 2015.

“These are adjustments that Wal-Mart and other employers have to make each year, but growing attention to the issue has expanded the scope of the change. Thirteen U.S. states lifted the minimum wage in 2014, up from 10 in 2013 and 8 in 2012. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company was making the changes to “ensure our stores in the 21 states comply with the law.”

For Wal-Mart, the biggest private employer in the United States with 1.3 million workers, minimum wage legislation is not a small thing. Its operating model is built on keeping costs under close control as it attracts consumers with low prices and operates on tight margins. In recent years, it has been struggling to grow sales after many lower-income Americans lost jobs or income in the financial crisis.

The Wal-Mart memo shows that there will be changes to its pay structure, including a narrowing of the gap in the minimum premium paid to those in higher skilled positions, such as deli associates and department supervisors, over lower grade jobs…

Wal-Mart’s critics – including a group of its workers backed by labor unions – say the retailer pays its hourly workers too little, forcing some to seek government assistance that effectively provides the company with an indirect taxpayer subsidy. Labor groups have been calling for Wal-Mart, other retailers and fast-food chains to pay at least $15 an hour. Wal-Mart has indicated it may make more changes to its compensation structure in 2015.

Chief Executive Doug McMillon recently said the company would improve opportunities for workers, including getting the roughly 6,000 people who make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour at its stores off that rate. “In the world there is a debate over inequity, and sometimes we get caught up in that,” he told TV presenter Charlie Rose in an interview this month. McMillon said he would take steps to ensure the company is “a meritocracy, an opportunity for people to do more.”

The state minimum wage changes range from a 17 percent increase in South Dakota to $8.50 to a modest rise of 2 percent to $8.05 in Arizona.”

This is a long overdue adjustment and a first step to providing a more equitable wage to Wal-Mart employees.



Frank Bruni on Pope Francis’ Christmas Message!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist and former papal correspondent, has an essay today commenting on the first two years of Pope Francis’ tenure.  Bruni also focuses on Francis’ Christmas message delivered earlier this week.

“Francis doesn’t hold himself high, an autocrat with all the answers. He crouches to a level where questions can be asked, conversations broached, disagreements articulated.

He insists that other church leaders lower themselves as well, and used a traditional Christmas address on Monday not to chide the flock for its transgressions but to remind the shepherds of theirs.

He accused some of the cardinals, bishops and priests in the upper echelons of the church bureaucracy of straying so forgetfully from their true mission and ministry that they were afflicted with a kind of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”

He said that they had fallen prey to the “pathology of power” and needed to beware the “terrorism of gossip.” All in all, the Vatican as described by Francis sounded like an Aaron Spelling drama, although with looser-fitting clothes, odder hats and lower Nielsen ratings.

By taking the church out of the clouds, he’s putting it into the fray. All accounts of the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba cast Francis as a key player, and that’s more than a diplomatic victory. It’s an assertion of the church’s sustained relevance.

He’s also putting the church within reach of those who would rather find a place for it in their lives than have to figure out a life without it. They are many….

I’ve never been able to believe in one dogma, one institution, as a possible repository for all truth and as a compass trumping any other. And I’ve been troubled by the frequency with which individual religions divide rather than unite. The Catholic Church has certainly been guilty of this.

But it has also done, and continues to do, enormous good. Its soldiers are present at almost every humanitarian crisis, their courage and caring inextricable from the best strands of the faith.

That faith provides many pilgrims with a harbor they can’t find elsewhere. They look to it not necessarily for a precise code of conduct but for a crucial inspiration to be less selfish, more charitable. It gives them a sorely needed peace, so long as they don’t feel shoved away.

By not shoving, Francis is serving them well. By not shouting, he’s being heard.”

As a Roman Catholic, I wholeheartedly support Bruni’s assessment of what Francis is doing and saying for the Church and others around the world.

Peace on Earth!