Productivity, MOOCs, and the Information Gap: Week’s Most Interesting :: 01.04.2012

Hand-picked selections of articles, reports, blog posts and events from the last seven days (or so).

Given the time of year and the interest it generates in making better use of our time, let’s start with a couple of items on productivity.

The Science of Productivity

Our first contribution from the world of productivity comes to us from Sparring Mind, the behavioural psychology blog. This short video provides clear and compelling evidence about what actually makes us “get stuff done”. Highly recommend.

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10 Laws of Productivity (from 99 Percent)

The field of Design does a wonderful job of reframing work in terms of “creating stuff”.  Process is important in the world of Design, not just the information or tools at-hand. 

Excerpt: 1. Break the seal of hesitation.

A bias toward action is the most common trait we’ve found across the hundreds of creative professionals and entrepreneurs we’ve interviewed. While preparing properly as you start a new project is certainly valuable, it’s also easy to lose yourself in planning (and dreaming) indefinitely. We must challenge ourselves to take action sooner rather than later. The minute that you start acting (e.g. building a physical prototype, sharing a nascent concept with your community), you start getting valuable feedback that will help refine your original idea – and move forward with a more informed perspective.

2. Start small.

When our ideas are still in our head, we tend to think big, blue sky concepts. The downside is that such thinking makes the barrier to entry – and action – quite high. To avoid “blue sky paralysis,” pare your idea down to a small, immediately executable concept. Can you trial the idea of a multi-day festival with a smaller performance series? Take an idea for a skyscraper and model it in miniature? Work out the flow of an iPhone app by sketching on paper? Once you’ve road-tested your idea on a small scale, you’ll have loads more insight on how to take it to the next level.

3. Protoype, prototype, prototype.

Trial and error is an essential part of any creative’s life. As Ze Frank says, usually when we execute an idea for the first time, it kinda sucks. The important thing is to synthesize the knowledge gained during the process to refine the idea, and create a new-and-improved version. Serial idea-makers like Jack DorseyBen Kaufman, andStudio 7.5 all attest: Prototyping and iteration is key to transforming a so-so idea into a game-changing product. Rather than being discouraged by your “failures,” listen closely and learn from them. Then build a new prototype. Then do it again. Sooner or later, you’ll hit gold.

Read the full article.

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Transparency and Access to Information in Higher Education

I’m currently writing an article that deals with the relatively limited ways in which colleges have embraced transparency. Unlike other sectors, access to information about colleges for students, parents and other stakeholders remains remarkably difficult to obtain. This is evident in campus-based education, but also online education – where it would be relatively simple and inexpensive to provide prospective students with robust information to aid their decision-making – even to allow them to “test drive” courses, for example.

So, I was pleased to find the following articles in my travels. The first, from the LA Times, describes how UC Riverside is using the Net to enable students ask questions about tuition, SAT scores, study-abroad programs and other important information. File this under “it’s about time”.

Colleges using online chat rooms to reach high school students

Excerpt: A curious high-schooler hurls a flurry of questions at a UC Riverside advisor. The student asks about tuition, SAT scores, study-abroad programs, diversity and whether she would need a car. Once she gets her answers, she leaves. She doesn’t bother to say goodbye. The student was sitting at a computer in the Northern California town of Watsonville. And the advisor was on a computer at UC Riverside.

Colleges nationwide have taken to using online chat rooms as a way of reaching high school students in what these days is their natural habitat: the Internet. Colleges using online chat rooms to reach high school students. The service, called CollegeWeekLive, is a sort of a virtual college fair, without a crush of students crowding around a table in a school gymnasium.

Read the full article.

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On a similar note, The Atlantic (which has directed a great deal of attention to higher education issues during the past year), suggests that the “The Real College Crisis Isn’t High Costs, It’s Low Information“. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I would modify that argument by suggesting that greater information will solve, in part, the cost issue – as it will lead to students seeking out value in a more thoughtful manner.

The Real College Crisis Isn’t High Costs, It’s Low Information

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about the economy right now is that rising student debt and stagnating middle class wages prove that college isn’t “worth it” any more

Poorer families without former college-graduates typically don’t have a good understanding of local colleges; the difference between listed tuition price and net cost; financial aid opportunities; or the admissions process. News stories about college being unaffordable only serve to justify their indifference toward continuing their education past high school, according to 2001 report by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. A separate study found that low-income teens overestimate tuition costs by 100% and repeatedly underestimate the lifetime gains among university graduates.

So cheers to this simple and revelatory new study from the University of Toronto. Researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Ryan Dunn asked low-income high schoolers in Toronto to take two surveys about the perceived benefits of higher education. Half were shown a simple 3 minute video about the returns of college and asked to calculate their possible financial-aid. “Those exposed to the video, especially those initially unsure about their own educational attainment, reported significantly higher expected returns, lower concerns about costs, and expressed greater likelihood of PSE attainment,” the authors reported.

Read the full article. 

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Online Courses Look for a Business Model

Once you get past the remarkable hype around MOOCs, the conversation typically turns to the “business model” question. There appears to be two views on the subject: the first argues that the fact that MOOCs don’t have a clear business model will lead to its eventual demise; they’ll end up as merely “altruistic endeavours”. The other view, which a friend expressed well over lunch with me yesterday, is that the business model will emerge in time; that we need to allow innovations time to find their way. Sustainable innovation takes time.

Below, The Washington Post tries to address this question.

Excerpt: Udacity and others are trying out different business models, such as matching students with employers, licensing content to schools and charging for proctored exams, yet it’s unclear what might stick—or, more importantly, can actually earn money.

“Nobody has any idea how it’s going to work,” says Dave Cormier, manager of Web communications and innovation at the University of Prince Edward Island, who was involved in earlier iterations of MOOCs a few years ago and has been credited with coining the term in 2008. “People have ideas of how to monetize it, but simply don’t have any evidence.”

Read the full article.

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Recommended

context + competition in digital higher education

an ode to content and first thoughts on adapt courseware

not quite right: higher ed’s business model and instructional technology

moocs: the prestige factor

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