The Invasive Valley of Personalization

About 9 months ago, I gave a presentation at the World Future Society Conference called The Promise and Perils of Personalization.

After thinking, reading, discussing, and musing about personalization for about a year, I realized that there is a fine line between useful personalization and creepy personalization. It reminded me of the “uncanny valley” in human robotics. So I plotted the same kind of curves on two axes: Access to Data as the horizontal axis, and Perceived Helpfulness on the vertical axis.  For technology to get vast access to data AND make it past the invasive valley, it would have to be perceived as very high on the perceived helpfulness scale.

I remember the first time I saw Google Now deployed on my phone. It told me that my commute to work would take 16 minutes if I left right now. I had never told Google Now where I worked, I had not told Google Now the route I drove to work, nor had not asked it to calculate my commute time.  While it was slightly creepy that it knew all this information by analyzing my daily patterns, it was also useful, and the trip over the invasive valley was short. Of course, since I now work remotely from home, Google Now thinks I work at the LDS church across the street from my house now. I’m surprised it hasn’t figured out my gym patterns and started reminding me when to leave for yoga.

I think Google Glass is getting a bad rap simply because it is stuck in the invasive valley. The general population really doesn’t see it as providing useful technology for everyday life. Sure, you can snap a picture from your glasses, but if that’s it then you’re just sneaking into the privacy of others. If, en masse, we viewed Google glass as an incredibly helpful tool, I think it would successfully navigate itself up the steep slope to redemption.

Facebook wanders in and out of the invasive valley depending on the news and the latest release cycle of their apps and privacy statements. When the latest Facebook app demanded access to all my texts, I questioned the helpfulness of the feature it claimed to need these things for – account verification for some users. The idea that Facebook would read all my texts simply to add this one feature for some users slid it back down into the invasive valley for me. This feature is not helpful enough to warrant access to all that data.

In describing the “Invasive Valley” of data access and personalization my husband looked at me and said “Forget Big Brother, wait till you meet Big Mother!” and I think that is where we’re headed. Personalization is going to become our new life nagging companion:

Maybe you should walk now? You’ve only got 2,100 steps so far today.

You have symphony tickets on Saturday night, have you made a dinner reservation yet?

I can see that you’ve eaten yogurt for 4 mornings now, should we should add yogurt to your grocery list?

You’ve only gotten an average of 6 hours of sleep a night for 5 nights, I think you should take an early bedtime tonight.

Clearly enough data is being collected about me that Google Now could do any of these (if it had access to my FitBit and Smith’s card). Don’t these all seem like things your mother would remind you of?

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Future of Education Interview in Unlimited Magazine

About a month ago I had an interview with Lewis Kelley at Unlimited Magazine.  A portion of the interview, called The Future of Education, was published yesterday, along with interviews with two other “leading education thinkers.”

Here’s a short excerpt from the interview …

“I’m not optimistic that real change is going to happen from within education. I think education is kind of a behemoth. It’s an interconnected system, and any kind of interconnected system is really hard to shift. You can push on parts of the system, but they still have to align with the rest of the system. You can’t push too far.

We can’t radically change our curriculum because that would affect the students coming in and the students going out. K-12 can’t radically change their curriculum without affecting their students’ ability to do well in college, and college can’t radically change its curriculum because students would be coming in out of K-12 and not prepared.

We can’t move unless everybody moves together, and that’s the thing that I think is particularly rough. But …”

 

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Where does learning happen?

There’s a great new TED Talk out today by Jason Fried (TEDxMidwest) called Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.  It’s a very insightful talk and it certainly applies to Academe, so watch it first and then read my thoughts below.

Here are a few questions that this stirred up in my mind, please share your thoughts …

1. If work doesn’t happen at work, does learning happen at school (in classrooms)?

2. If interruptions are the problem, does learning happen at home? (between family, friends, TV, video games, and the Internet, home is full of distractions)

3. What is the ideal time and space for learning?  Does your answer depend on your age?  On your generation?

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Are Math Instructors the next to be outsourced?

Have I mentioned lately that math instruction will be outsourced to technology? (oh yeah, pretty much every time I find myself speaking at a conference)

See NCAT’s latest initiative “Changing the Equation” email, which I’ve copied below:

Changing the Equation Selects 38 Institutions

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) is pleased to announce that 38 two-year institutions* have been selected to participate in Changing the Equation, a new program focused on redesigning remedial/developmental math supported by a $2.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Institutions participating in the program will improve student learning outcomes while reducing costs for both students and institutions using NCAT’s proven redesign methodology. Collectively, these 38 redesigns will impact more than 100,000 students annually.

Each participant in Changing the Equation will redesign its entire developmental math sequence-all sections of all developmental courses offered-using NCAT’s Emporium Model and commercially available instructional software (ALEKS, Carnegie Learning, Hawkes Learning Systems and MyMathLab.) Each redesign will modularize the curriculum, allowing students to progress through the developmental course sequence at a faster pace if possible or at a slower pace if necessary, spending the amount of time needed to master the course content.

You know how they are reducing costs, right? Less instructors, more technology.

I think NCAT and The Gates Foundation have their heart in the right place (they want to see improvements in student success rates in math).  However, I think this will pretty much kill any hope of engaging students in a love of mathematics. Students might pass (some question about the fact that homework counts for larger percentages of the grades in these NCAT courses), but I doubt very much that students will ever voluntarily take more math than the minimum requirements.  Why is this a problem? Because WE NEED MORE STEM GRADUATES, not less.  If students don’t have the desire to take more math, they are also cut off of careers in Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Biology, Economics, and Computer Science.

On the one hand, I think we (math instructors) are reaping what we’ve sown. Math classes are, for the most part, pretty boring.  When there is engagement, it’s mostly between the instructor and the student (not student to student).  Classes that function in this manner (mine included) probably deserve to be replaced by technology.

But there is also another way … we could improve the classes. We could make them more engaging.  We could use play and exploration to get students interested in math again.  We could personalize the learning to the interests of each student (more on this to come).  We could use class time to let students work together to solve problems in innovative classroom environments.

This movement to the emporium model pushes colleges even more towards the “industrial model of education.”  I think this is a huge mistake.  We need to engage students in learning and wanting to learn.  We need for students to be excited about learning math.  I’m trying really hard to imagine students talking excitedly to their friends about how fun the Emporium method is for learning math.  I have a good imagination, but I’m just not seeing it.

This? This is 100,000 new students going down the math assembly line.

Come on … we have better ideas this.

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Levers of Change in Higher Education

Here’s the latest Prezi on Levers of Change in Higher Education.

We’ve seen many major industries undergo dramatic change in the last decade (i.e. manufacturing, newspapers, and customer service).  While education seems “untouchable” to those within the system, there are many “levers of change” that have the potential for dramatic restructuring of higher education as well.  Online courses, adaptive computer assessment systems, open-source textbooks, edupunks, pay-by-the-month degrees, … these are just some of the levers that are prying at the corners of higher education.  In this presentation I will identify many of the levers of change that have the potential to shift higher education, resources to learn more about these, and a few scenarios that describe some of the possible futures of higher education. You can also watch the video of the live presentation here.

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