Friday, 24 May 2013

Online Learning - College & Corporate Collaboration

In my Start Up Education post I highlight the importance of iterating your way to "Product Market Fit" and I am currently doing this myself as I am assessing a number of different projects and ideas.

This process has involved collating and reflecting on a lot of data and information from a range of different sources.

A number of issues are starting to stand out and/or appear to be recurring issues, areas like MOOCs/online learning, the skills gap and collaborating with employers.

This week I came across an interesting Harvard Business Review article on "What Education Disruption Means for your Company"

I thought that this would be an interesting project that local colleges and employers could work on - collaborating to make sure that MOOCs meet both the colleges and employers needs.

After reading this article I looked into this a little further and I noticed something that I felt was quite interesting. 

While education is looking at Coursera, Edx & Udacity etc, it appears that businesses are using some different tools that could benefit FE.

I am still looking into this but 3 organisations and projects that stood out immediately were;

Get Abstract 
Get Abstract Allows you to search a huge selection of business books and offers a 5 page summary to highlight the key ideas and points for busy managers and executives.

I thought that this was an interesting idea for FE for 2 main reasons;

1) The selection of material could be a cost effective way to compliment the colleges' CPD programme, and provide ideas, case studies and ideas from other sectors in a concise way.

2) There appears to be a mis-match of skills between education and employers, which can be a challenge given the pace of change. I wondered if this resource could play a role in keeping students up to date with what employers are looking for.

Again the concise nature of these summaries could mean that relevant books could complement a lecture but would not take up a huge amount of time.

Leadership Direct
Another organisation that looks interesting is Harvard's "Leadership Direct" programme and for the same reasons as above.

Over 20% of the top 3 jobs in the Fortune 500 are held by Harvard alumni, so what impact would a program like this do for College staffs' leadership skills and personal development? 

What could an initiative like this do to help fill the skills gap for students and develop the relevant "core values" and "soft skills" to make them eminently more employable?

Fusion Universal
Fusion Universal caught my eye because their website stated that they are working with a number of FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies with their online learning needs.

They also have a social enterprise, The Virtual School, and thought that their experience with commerce and education could make them a useful partner in assisting to address the skills gap and help to ensure that any FE online learning resources where as relevant as possible when students enter the workplace.

This research is in the very early stages but I did find it curious that education is using one set of suppliers and employers are using others.

I feel this warrants some further exploration and will be doing so... more information to follow. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

College Brand & Identity - Just Do It!

Last week I discussed the impact of a bad inspection report and how the network effects and feedback loops might impact on the school/college student admissions as there might be more demand  for the "good" schools because people are keen to avoid the "bad" & "failing" ones.

I highlighted how it may be parents who place a higher value on education who are more likely to change schools, so may lead to the "more able" students leaving.  

But does getting into school/college with a more stringent application process play a role in improving results? If a school/college has a reputation for being a "failing" institution, how do you raise the spirits of students, parents and staff? How do you convince them that one bad inspection report does not define the school/colleges' identity or, more importantly... the students identity? Can branding and marketing help?

I have an ambivalent relationship with branding and marketing, a
nyone who works in EdTech would be a fool to dismiss the advice of MIT Sloan, Geoffery Moore or VC's who advise;
  • "No amount of marketing and selling can take the place of an easy to adopt product that delivers value quickly." Davd Feinleb
  • "Marketing’s purpose is to develop and shape something that is real, and not, as people sometimes want to believe, to create illusions." Geoffery Moore
  • "There is no such thing as a social media success, if your product sucks then it will suck more on social media." Scott Stratten
A result of this advice is that I refuse to work with any product or service that I think is "a bit rubbish." 

On the other hand branding for a great product can have a real impact. 

I cannot think of the word branding without thinking back to when I was pursuing an athletic career, and how good a job that Nike did on "Branding" me, and I wasn't alone;

Most members of the educated classes were closed to the suggestion that a television commercial, rather than a book or brilliant doctrine, could actually change people’s perception of themselves. 

A “hot” commercial might add a passing nuance or recognizable line but, somehow “Just Do It” managed to evoke countless previously impeded visions of personal possibility. The phrase entered popular discourse.

Thousands felt moved to write letters to or call Nike, and millions of others began to loathe their own lassitude enough to buy a new pair of shoes and hit the road again or visit a gym. A Time magazine story about the baby boom generation would quote a social historian saying that the ethos of the largest American generation could be summed up in 3 words: Just Do It! 

"Just Do It’  has become much more than an ad slogan. It’s an idea. It’s like a frame of mind.” Katz

Who would have thought that such a powerful campaign could come from a company where;

"Advertising was always a touchy subject at Nike because Phil Knight was known to believe that the whole process was phony. Athletes were the real ticket. Real athletes in authentic shoes would draw the public to the goods because of the honesty of the process. 

Bowerman referred to advertising and marketing with the turn-of-the-century term “Salesmanship” – which he uttered contemptuously. In 1986, Nike job applicants were warned that if they ended up being interviewed by Knight, they should omit the words “advertising” and “marketing” from their conversation.

Nike began to place a bit of its advertising business with Dan Weiden in 1980. Knight’s first words to Dan when they met were “I’m Phil Knight, and I hate advertising.” Katz      

Clubs you can't belong to & Schools you can't get into
What happens if, as a student, you've worked hard and belong to a elite club, or you've managed to get into a school that "others can't get into" because its over-subscribed? Do you value the membership more? Do you identify more with the institution?

"People tend to want to be members of clubs that are hard to get into. In one of the founding studies of the field of "cognitive dissonance" performed by Eliot Aronson and Judson Mills, female college students were told that they had to pass a test to become a member of a group.

The females in the severe initiation condition had to read twelve obscene words and two "vivid descriptions of sexual activity" from contemporary novels. The mild initiation condition required the students to read five words related to sex but that were not obscene. In the third condition there was no initiation of any kind.

All participants then heard a discussion in which the group they were going to join had "one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable.

Consistent with the idea that difficulty of admission makes membership more desirable, the females who had to go through the "torture" of reading obscenities aloud found the group more desirable and interesting than did either of the other 2 groups" Clifford Nass

Based on this thinking then the stringent application process could have a difference with the results that "good" schools & colleges get? Could the same strategies be used to raise expectations and standards at less prestigious institutions? 

The Social Network Effect
The UK TV premier of "The Social Network" was on this week and it highlighted how Harvard's exclusive & elite the Porcellian Club was, with its invite only policy, followed by an initiation process. We also saw how badly Edwardo Saverin wanted to get in (despite the fact that he was already at Harvard).

We also saw how Facebook's initial roll out strategy was also based on exclusivity to drive demand. To make Facebook cool and differentiate it from MySpace and other competitors, it started out as an exclusive club - only people with Ivy League University e-mail accounts could be members.

The next stage was to focus on individual high schools. The strategy here was to create a buzz at a local level at their target schools, and the marketing machine would not move on to new schools until they had 50% of students signed up, they would then move onto the next set of target schools.

Application Process
Given these examples, its perhaps worth considering any differences in the application process at an "in demand" school and one that is "failing"

Are schools/colleges with a more stringent application helping to create a better culture because their application process makes the place "more desirable and interesting" than others?

A failing school/college may be in a more difficult financial position because of reduced student numbers, but should they consider having the same acceptance criteria but including some additional stages - an additional interview or an extra test - mean that students (and parents) would value their place at the school/college more?

"The more you can say about the rigors of selection and of the number of people who want to be in the group but cannot be, the better." Clifford Nass

Prime Examples of Student Branding?  
When these students arrive at college there are also some psychology based branding and advertising that could help with behavioural issues and exam results. 

John Bargh has carried out some "priming" experiments, this involved 2 groups of undergraduates. 

One group was exposed to words like “aggressively,” “bold,” “rude,” “bother,” “disturb,” “intrude,” and “infringe.” The second group was sprinkled with words like “respect,” “considerate,” “appreciate,” “patiently,” “yield,” “polite,” and “courteous.” 

The students were then instructed to walk down the hall and talk to the person running the experiment in order to get their next assignment. When the student arrived at the office the experimenter was busy, locked in conversation with someone else – a confederate who was standing in the hallway, blocking the doorway to the experimenter’s office. 

Bargh wanted to learn whether the people who were primed with the 
polite words would take longer to interrupt the conversation between the experimenter and the confederate than those primed with the rude words and thought the effect would be slight. 

The people primed to be rude eventually interrupted – on average about 5 minutes. But of the people primed to be polite, the overwhelming majority – 82% didn't interrupt after 10 minutes (which was the cut off point determined by the ethic committee). Who knows how long they would have stood in the hallway, a polite and patient smile on their faces?

In another experiment the psychologists Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson used black college students with tests used for entry into graduate school. When students were asked to identify their race on a pretest questionnaire, that simple act was sufficient to "prime" them with all the negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and academic achievement – and the number of items they got right was cut in half. 

As a society, we place enormous faith in tests because we think that they are a reliable indicator of the test takers ability and knowledge. But are they really? If a white student from a prestigious private school gets a higher SAT score than a black student from an inner-city school, is it because she’s truly a better student, or is it because to be white and to attend a prestigious high school is to be consistently primed with the idea of “smart”?

Aronson & Steele talked to the black students afterward, and asked them “Did anything lower your performance? Did it bug you that I asked you to indicate your race?” Because it had clearly had a huge effect on their performance. And they would always say no and something like “You know, I just don’t think I’m smart enough to be here.”

This is one of the reasons I dislike some of the negative opinions some groups have of FE, if certain groups portray FE negatively what impact might this have on students?

Honour Code
Meanwhile over at the schools you can't get into, Dan Airely ran a different test at MIT. Students were asked to mark their own test scores. One group was asked to sign the following statement on their answer sheet "I understand that this study falls under the MIT honour code"
The "honour code" group reported a lower score than students who marked their own papers to the group that did not read the statement.

The effect of signing the statement was particularly amazing when you consider that MIT doesn't   have an honour code.

Is this an example of how these students are primed to think? Or further evidence of how strongly MIT students identify with the university?

Culture & Collective Identity
Creating a positive culture is a challenge at the best of times, even more so if morale is low... but surely its more crucial than ever in order to turn things around. Clifford Nass highlights that

“workplace similarities within a group are neither clear nor obvious. Therefore you may need to consciously work on team identity by identifying and then highlighting a shared quality. A good example that is that of sport.

In a football stadium, people in the stands are bound by only a single characteristic: the team they root for. Nonetheless, students and alumni feel perfectly comfortable screaming, “we are number one” or “we won” even though they had nothing to do with the teams success: they didn’t play, they didn’t coach, they probably didn’t know the players personally, and their individual contributions to cheering were insignificant.

Despite the obvious divide between fans and players, “we” can all bask in the success of what “we” achieved.

This is something that elite schools & colleges understand and have various formal and informal processes - a rigorous application process, mottos, logos, songs, traditions, clubs.

The attention to establishing a strong shared identity is also something that successful start ups also do... A faviourate with Apple and Google et al is handing out team T-Shirts to celebrate landmark achievements. The similarity is perhaps hardly surprising given that a lot of founders are alumni from these types of institutions.

I wonder how much the concept of a shared identity and affinity differs with the elite schools compared with the average FE college. 

Kipp schools work in areas of low income and send a lot of students to prestigious colleges... and seem to have a similar approach to branding, culture and identity and have a strong shared identity - We'll get your kids to college

Scilicon Valley - A Shared Experience & Identity
In the 1950s William Shockley worked at Bell Labs with a talented team who invented the transistor, a break through that made Shockley a magnet for brilliant scientists. These scientists made their way to Palo Alto, where he had established his company.

However, when they got there these scientists found that Shockley was quite difficult to work with. Some commentators have argued that the shared experience of scientists working with the demanding Shockley helped establish the collaborative nature at Scilicon Valley, which continues to exist today - A rare mix created Silicon Valley.

Could the shared experience of a negative inspection be something that the college uses to re-assess and re-affirm the colleges' identity, brand and culture? To say "OK let's show everyone what a failing college can do! Just Do It!"

Cinderella Image
In April FE Week ran with a story "FE Colleges Urged to Adopt New Flag and Anthem" but it turned out to be an April Fools joke, but could this kind of branding actually play a role in telling young people that;

"There may be clubs and schools that they might be excluded from BUT... with regard to their future there is no glass ceiling! While the road may be long and winding, the roads are always open... and they can and should "Just Do It!" 

I often see comparisons made with prestigious universities and other forms of education and feel that the comparisons made are unfair. FE is different, unique in many ways, but if there is one thing that I can see that lessons could be learnt its with issues of culture and branding.

If you liked this post you may also like "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop" by Stanford's Clifford Nass (Esp the Chapter on Teams) and this "Culture in Education" report

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Parallel Edu Universe? Or a Future Possibility?

Well this sure has been a weird week... or was it all just a weird dream! I appear to have had the ability to time travel and visit some sort of parallel edu universe? 

I'm not too sure what was real and what was imagined, because I found myself agreeing with all the groups I admire and would normally agree with but, the next minute, I would find myself disagreeing with some comments... I even found myself agreeing with some groups that I don't usually have a great deal of time for.

Maybe I've been watching too much Dr Who with my kids? Or maybe it was something to do with a weird encounter I had with an imaginary police station... confused? I sure was!

Little Miss Educated Vs Mr Policy

The first sign of it being a weird week started when I logged on to Twitter and found that all the educators had disappeared? But where to? To a galaxy far, far away? Down a Rabbit hole? Game hopping with Wreck It Ralph?

It would appear that, like Toy Story, a children's character had come to life and transported them all to Roger Hargreaves' Mr Men land... which took me on a trip down memory lane.

In what appears to have been dubbed "The Anti-Mr Men Speech" a policy maker criticised the content on one educators website, and educators demonstrated their support by changing their online profiles to Miss/Mrs/Mr Men characters.

An interesting outcome of this has been some increased support for policy makers  to spend a term teaching, which is what Teacherpreuers also suggest.    

Policy makers and education criticising each other, the usual employer/employee cohesion and culture... a surreal setting for sure, but the context was unchanged from the world I was more familiar with.

Although, I couldn't help noticing that while this argument was taking place I wondered who was being taught in the land of Mr Men? There were lots of Mr, Miss, Mrs and other honourable people... but there were no children, no Master Pupil, no Mr Student or Little Miss Studious? 

I noticed a police box and reported this with the officer, who logged the case as  "The Curious Incident of the Student in the Policy Argument" and promised to investigate.

Back to the Future - Yes Minister?
After a trip down memory lane I found myself back in 2013, but I must have hitched a lift with Marty McFly as the present had been altered... I agreed with what the politicians had to say.

I listened to a speech by a policy maker who was responsible for post 16 education, and found myself agreeing with a lot of what they were saying with regard to the kind of changes that might have a positive impact, it seemed in this altered reality that policy makers listened to what the issues were... and were talking a lot of sense. 

I also agreed with a policy maker who was responsible for younger students too, who said;

"You are free to teach as you wish - the only thing that matters is that students learn" 

Autonomy and trust? I thought maybe this isn't a parallel universe but I was in present day Finland and I had some kind of English translator, but all the shops and newspapers suggested that it was Great Britain. 

No Thought Control? Banging Your Head with a Brick in a Wall! Another reason I was sure that this was some kind of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy experience was because, as well as being pleasantly surprised with the policy makers, I found myself agreeing with some people who were being critical of post 16 educations' record of engaging with key stakeholders. Among the comments that stood out were;

"If I were to go back in time 5, 10 or even 15 years ago and was parachuted into a discussion about education... the main issue that would be discussed would be about the same thing as today - Employability"

Other comments that I found myself wondering at included;
  • There are some colleges that don't know who the top 100 companies are in their area
I found this difficult to believe, which helped me to confirm that this is definitely a bizarre dream, this surely wouldn't, couldn't and doesn't happen in my world.
  • A major multinational was invited to the opening of a new build and said "It's great that you've invited me to the opening, but... I'm one of the major employers in the area and we're a multinational company, why did no one contact us to ask us for input when the building was designed?
This was followed with some impressive 4D holographic images of how different the workplace designs were from the school designs.

The speaker went on to highlight that one of the main differences was the amount of thought that their organisation put into creating work environments that allows for "unforced communal interaction" which helps with the organisational culture - the cross pollination of ideas, unexpected collaboration and helps keep office politics to a minimum.
  • There is a lot of discussion about mentors with large companies, what about input from smaller ones?
The speaker here highlighted that many of the more established companies would struggle if they were to follow the model they used 10-20 years ago, and that newer companies noticed gaps and fulfilled a need. An example was used where an established leisure chain had opened 2 new centres in the last few years compared to a newer smaller organisation that opened 60.

I recalled the differences in requirements for start ups and large corporate organisations from an article that I read about the differences between two prestigious universites Harvard Vs Stanford
  • It can be difficult for Employers and Education to work together 
This was something that both employers and education raised and, the advice that was put forward was to "Start discussions with a broad dialogue and see what collaboration evolves as a result of these discussions"

This comment reminded me of the reason that this report was written
 "Business Development Ideas for FE," I tried to highlight this in the meeting, but my guide told me that no one else could see or hear me.

Still not sure if this was a dream or real I tested this theory by shouting;

"If educators are not doing everything they can to engage with employers, to ensure that the skills being taught are relevant and up to date, then it's hardly surprising that there are high levels of unemployment... particularly given the pace of change" I continued "Some people might go even further and suggest that as well as providing the relevant skills, post 16 educators should be doing more to help connect students with industry employers while they are still studying"

No one appeared to bat an eyelid, which again confirmed that this was indeed just a bizarre dream...

I muttered to myself "Beam me up Scottie, there is no intelligent life on this planet"...And realised that you need to be careful what you wish for...

Beamed Up... And Cheered Up!
I found myself being "Beamed up" on the USS Enterprise and saw how some young people are engaging with employers to help them on their way to their dream job.

I was introduced to a future cardiologist who is studying medicine... at High School! This was a 6 year long weekly pre-medical programme... an initiative like this will sure help to avoid any potential skills gaps.

I turned to Dr Spock and asked who instigated this program? Who was able to engage the bureaucratic medical system to get over worked doctors to agree to take students on to help them for a medical career while still in high school? But he couldn't hear me either... 

I was then introduced to Julia Delmedico who spoke about the narrow range that she felt that education operates within, as well as what she wanted from her time at school;

"The best kind of education is the kind that helps you speak and think for yourself" 

What a wise head on young shoulders... but then again it is her future that we're talking about. I also noted with interest the things that differentiated her 2 faviourite teachers from the others, it sure did mirror Thomas Friedman's advice

Back Down to Earth with a Bump!
I was met with a young Charles Dickens (on the bridge of the Starship enterprise? Way too much cheese at bed time Gromit?!) He told me that at the stroke of midnight I would be visited by the ghost of education... he then added that I would write a really rubbish blog post about this dream! Everyone's a critic! I was reminded of my faviourite Garfield comic - Stay out of my Dreams

Then the scariest sight you ever did see comes along... it the image of a young lad wearing a baseball cap, designer tracksuit, clinking like the chained Marley brothers, but not with the chains of someone condemned but from wearing sooo much bling... and the worst body language you ever did see. 

This pathetic, yet frightening figure doesn't speak, I'm not sure if this is for dramatic effect or if he's never actually bothered to learn how to...

He transports us to some kind of post apocalyptic "Mad Max" planet, this appeared to be something straight out of the film "The Time Machine" as there appeared to be Morlocks and Elois type characters.

The planet is called "DaScheme" 
and was one of the sorriest sights - wasted potential and people with troublesome and doubtful futures.

One group "DaClasses" were criticising and condeming another group "DaWasters," who appeared to be victims of their environment as much as anything and, while they were rather unsightly, I found myself reminding myself of Abraham Lincoln's wisdom ; 

“Don’t criticize them (Southern People/confederates), they are just what we would be under similar circumstances”

I even found myself agreeing with "DaWasters" when they said "What's the point of going to school or trying when there are no jobs?" as this certainly appeared to be the case when I looked around the bleak landscape. 

The ghastly and ghostly scene reminded me of the bleak and hopeless picture that Theodore Dalrympole paints when he describes what it's like to be "Lost in the Ghetto

Given "DaWasters" initiative when it came to petty crime and their creative ability to make money, it would be wrong to assume that these people lacked intelligence or initiative - it appeared that they simply felt that there was no better way to express their creativity. 

I asked my repulsive and despicable looking guide "Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only" who did not answer but pointed in the direction of a whooshing noise...

A police box appeared and a curiously dressed policeman opens the door and says "I'm here about the curious incident of the student in the policy argument" he continued "come with me, you've got to see this!"

Restore to Factory Settings
We appear to travel back in time and we're on
 one of the first ever factory floors, I mutter to myself "I would have thought the ghost of education past came before the apocalyptic scene" to which a young Dickens, who was sitting in the corner pipes up "Told you the story would be rubbish." 

I am distracted by a conversation taking place with what appears to be Henry Ford (can't be sure, because when I was young there was no money for history books so we used Mr Men characters... and when I squinted my eyes he did look like Mr Busy or was it Mr Clever). 

He was discussing his philosophy on employability, which was deceptively simple;

"I never met a man who was thoroughly bad. There is always some good in him – if he gets a chance. That is the reason we do not care in the least about a mans' antecedents – we do not hire a man’s history, we hire the man. If he has been in jail, that is no reason to say that he will be in jail again. I think, on the contrary, he is, if given a chance, very likely to make a special effort to keep out of jail. Our employment office does not bar a man for anything he has previously done – he is equally acceptable whether he has been in Sing Sing or at Harvard and we do not even inquire from which place he has graduated. All that he needs is the desire to work... all of our people have thus come up from the bottom. The head of the factory started as a machinist…another man overseeing one of the principle departments started as a sweeper. There is not a single man anywhere in the factory who did not simply come in off the street. Everything that we have developed has been done by men who have qualified themselves with us."

This did indeed feel like a long time ago... if not a galaxy far, far away from the strategising, complicated reports, unravelling history not to look for solutions but to discuss whose fault the present is.

I wondered what kind of world I would live in if educators main task was to instill a work ethic, and employers looked beyond the man's history and their CSR policy consisted of 5 words "We give people a chance"

It's curious how a man's history can follow him... to be labelled as "Scrooge" is to be a miserable miser at Christmas, despite the fact that once Scrooge is taught a lesson
 "he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." 

A Fairy Tale Ending? Cinderella Education & the Sleeping Policeman
I was so exhausted in this dream that I went to bed and had a dream... A dream within a dream?!

This dream was one where the "Cinderella" of education (a term that I can't stand) are trusted and they used their autonomy to be transformed into the princess of Education and use simple solution focused interventions to instill a work ethic in the 1 million "down and out good for nothing wasters", the "Cinderella Mr Men" of the ghettos and worked with local and national employers to collaborate and find ways to put these young people's creative talent for getting into trouble to better use.

The result was that this collaboration helped meet the current skills gap, save some lost boys and to "unslum" the ghettos. Law and order reigned down on all the land and they all lived happily ever after... 

I am abruptly awoken from these weird dreams with the piercing noise of a police siren, I wonder its some waster from the ghetto, or if an argument about education has got out of hand ... maybe it was an over zealous officer in pursuit of a cyclist with a missing headlight.

I wonder am I even awake? I think I am, therefore surely I am? ...Good enough answer for me! 

I vaguely remember having a weird dream about Mr Men? Or was it Mr Benn? Now there was a guy who got a versitile education! Or was it good career advice? Or was all his parents doing as they knew the shopkeeper? Or maybe he was just living a dream? 

Right I'm up wonder where my own wandering mind will take me to today... 

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Ofsted Effect - Network Effects & Feedback Loops

In previous posts I've looked at the similarities and differences between start ups and education and I've imagined what would happen if "Education Inc" went looking for investment... What would happen if your school/college was an internet start up during the 1990's internet bubble?

Would your school/college have been Or would your brand be more likely to have an over inflated share price which would have floated down the Amazon and your brand being washed away?

Is there any way to assess how a school/college would stand up to the variances of such a volatile and over subscribed market environment?

Maybe a good place to start is to look at two very powerful effects that helped a lot of companies, and seems to me to apply to schools and colleges too. These are "Network effects" and "Positive feedback loops." Before explaining these principles, a quick question;

"How did I find out about Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, EBay, Amazon, LinkedIn, Wikipeadia"

Was it because a friend recommended the site to you? Did you also find this site so good that you recommend it to your friends to join it? As more of your friends visited the site, did you visit it more often? And for longer?

This is an example of network effects and positive feedback loops in action.

Network Effects 
Communication platforms are of more value when they have reached critical mass; telephones, e-mail, mobile phones, social media etc have less value when there are only 100 people subscribing to the service than when there are 1 million. The more people from your friends/group/network subscribing to a service the greater value it will have to you. 

Positive Feedback Loops
The more positive the experience for users the better the network becomes. If you like a site you will invite others to join you, the more people from your network who join, the more relevant the conversation becomes to you – the more time you spend in this space.

Do Network Effects & Feedback Loops in Education?
What is the network effect and what kind of feedback loops (positive or negative) do the various stakeholders have in education? How are the network effects and feedback loops in education established? I'm sure many would argue that "The Ofsted Effect," as well as other factors, can have some far reaching consequences and a long term impact for individual schools and colleges.

National Network Effects
Government - Whether intentional or unintentional, positive or negative, what does the rhetoric do for schools & colleges?

What impact does "Education! Education! Education!" or "You're exam are too easy" or  "Doesn't XYZ country have better schools" have on educators, parents and students?

Press - What is the ratio or positive/negative press regarding teachers, education and young people?

Employers - Feel that there is a growing gap between business needs and what education provides or more critically "Generation Whine" and 80% of school leavers unsuitable for work (But what these stakeholders don't see is just how much parents influence key areas of development or how constrained educators are to make the necessary changes). 

League Tables - Drive up demand at schools/colleges with good results and sees a mass exodus from the "Not so good schools"

Local Network Effects
Ofsted - Being as objective as possible, what is an Ofsted result being published in public meant to do?

If anyone suggests "To give the user choice" you might have any one of a number of questions to challenge this statement! If someone were to say "it is a way for property developers to push house prices up in certain areas" then you might be inclined to agree them. For example;

Feedback Loops - Failing Schools
Those that can avoid a "failing school" will do so, the network effect helps Ofsteds assessment to become a self fulfilling prophecy. This feedback produces the same kind of impact to what AOL, Netscape and Friends Reunited/My Space experienced when people found that Internet Explorer and Facebook was a better user experience... Mass exodus!

Parents - Any parents that can (ie have the money) will change schools. The effect here is that there is a drop in admissions which affects the schools budgets.

At a time when the institution should be concentrating on the institutions' culture, it is having to worry about making ends meet!

Students - The parents who leave will be the middle classes who value education more, so are quite likely to include the "More intelligent/motivated/able students" which leaves a cohort of "Less able students"

So when the next set of exam result tables are produced this demonstrates that Ofsted was correct in its assertion that this is indeed a "failing school/college"

Staff - What kind of impact might the following have on the school/college culture and staff morale;

1) Being told your a little bit more rubbish at your job than you were 2-3 years ago,
2) Seeing a reduction in student numbers and budget, which

3) Could lead to redundancies and increased workloads and instability for students and staff    
4) Less staff having to deal with potentially more disruptive classes with less able students

How  are staff going to feel about going to work every day prior to the inspection?

LeadershipIt's a brave leader indeed who accepts turning a school like this around because if improvements are not made then it would appear that the Principal may be risking "career suicide" 

From what I can see all that this system seems to do is try to apportion blame and create a culture of fear and suspicion, at a time when trust, cohesion and collaboration is needed more than ever to sort out whatever problems might exist. 

Feedback Loops - Successful Schools
The mass exodus from the failing schools means that those who can change schools do so. Because they value education enough to relocate they will be more supportive, and more able to support, their children with their learning outside the school/college... and have more disposable income for extra curricular activities.

The feedback loops here are positive and mean that the school/college receives more applicants than they have places for, and are in a position where they can choose the best and brightest applicants.

The chain of events become self fulfilling and one where people in the catchment area for a "good school" introduce new neighbours with the less conventional
 "Welcome to the neighbourhood... do you know that you're in the catchment for XYZ school, never mind unpacking... better get your name on the waiting list?" To which the new neighbour replies "Oh we know that's why we got the house"

Further Education
These network effects and feedback loops appear to have continued and are perpetuated in Further Education, as

1) Over the years FE appears to have gained the reputation as "the poor relation" to HE... and not enough is done to shift this perception. 

I truly detest the "Cinderella" status that FE has... who came up with this? I've never heard any students use this term? 

This single statement suggests how badly FE is in need of a re-brand because until this is addressed any talk of comparing FE with the German vocational system is just that...all talk!

Speaking of which is it any coincidence that the EU's strongest economy has a different level of respect for vocational education?

The "university as the only route" and anything else being less desirable reminds me of one of Henry Ford's observations;

"I could not possibly do the same thing day in and day out, but to other minds, perhaps I might say to the majority of minds, repetitive operations hold no terrors... Those who have what might be called a creative type of mind and who thoroughly abhor monotony are apt to imagine that all other minds are similarly restless and therefore to extend quite unwanted sympathy to the labouring man who day-in and day-out performs a exactly the same operation" 

I wonder if this is kind of thinking that "creative type minds" have had in the past is the reason for the current "Cinderella" image?

2) All other routes that the most vulnerable and marginalised groups previously had have slowly, but surely, been removed as a result of some bright sparks' policy decision. 

In "Raising Boys" Stephen Biddulph highlights the importance of male role models outside the home, which helps to instill & reinforce core values. 

You might argue that up until the 1980's the "old apprenticeships" fulfilled this role and this entire infrastructure was removed with YTS schemes.

What is one of the big issues of the day in education? We are seeking high and low for "Mentors" to assist educators with student progression and development?

Regardless of the reasons the absence of this kind of influence means that FE have to deal with students with a huge spectrum of "value systems" as well as a huge variation of academic ability.

Steve Prefontane was demolarised after a poor performance that the 1976 Olympic 5,000m and during a training session his coach said 

"If you're gonna run, be at the track and I'll give you the workouts; if your gonna stop running, then do that. You decide. I can't coach desire" Bill Bowerman

This means that FE have to deal with some serious issues that beggars belief! To listen to educators tell you that some of their students get through 10 years of education and are not able to read or have the level of motivation they do is, in itself, something of an education!

FE used to be the first choice of further education for many, today it appears to be the one of the last. 

Bad Schools? Bad Parents? Creating Bad Environments? 
I fully appreciate that this situation is not necessarily down to school teachers and that parents have a role to play BUT, at the same time, it is important to note that "Bad parents don't make bad schools" But what do you expect will happen when you publically state that a school is failing?

Surely it doesn't take a genius to consider that the consequences will be that "Those that value education will make alternative arrangements, those that don't or are less mobile/more vulnerable will remain. The overall network effect is, like AOL, Netscape and My Space - mass exodus and the feedback loops are ABC school is great and XYZ is really bad - the drop in results and facilitates what has been dubbed "The Big Sort"

Change Agents
Before being accused of being just another critic who is able to type (badly) and has an internet connection, lets say a dynamic leader does come in and is looking to bring in the changes, what kind of support can they expect? From some of the stories I have heard, it would appear to be that the kind of support any dynamic change agents looking to turn the situation around can expect is... a lot of resistance!

People and organisations who are charged with improving the outcomes of our young people are unable or unwilling to get behind the vision - without a positive culture and the necessary buy in what are the chances of success? 

Regulating What? There is no Regular anymore...
Where else in today's economy do you have an organisation which basically says

"Our service isn't as good as it used to be but its not our fault and 
unless you've got a lot of money (for a new house or private edu), you must keep using it... No you can't change or upgrade your service..." Bizarre or what!

Then there is the bigger issue of in this fast paced changing world... who even says that the skills that regulators are looking for are as relevant as they once were? All the learner voice policies in the world doesn't change the fact that we have 2.5 million people unemployed, 1 million of these being young people.

As a life long learner I have read countless books on successful people, education systems and organisations and there are definitely common attributes, if you were to compile these and compare them with Ofsted's requirements, I wonder how much overlap there would be?

Three of the most common qualities that I continually encounter are passion, motivation and the ability to figure problems out or overcome challenges (aka "Learn how to learn"). Based on this criteria the outstanding schools might be ones that;

"Helps students find what their passions are and helps remove any obsticles that would prevent them from pursuing, and achieving, their career goals"

How different would the Ofsted landscape be if we compared "outstanding schools/colleges" with colleges that have the most productive students - for example the schools that have the highest ratio of students in employment, or offer the best ROI for students... or even Gross National Happiness) and, more crucially, would we find that these schools were all found in the middle class areas? What does this tell us? That disadvantages exist and parents play a crucial role? 

Education! Education! Education!
Whether we consider the various groups or commentators, the high unemployment figures or the skills shortage we know that change is needed, which surely includes how education is assessed.

In his book "How the Mighty Fall" Jim Collins details the 5 stages of decline that struggling  organisations go through. 
"Every institution is vulnerable [to decline], no matter how great. No matter how much you’ve achieved, no matter how far you’ve gone, no matter how much power you’ve garnered, you are vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do" Jim Collins

From what I can see it appears that the current inspection system is self fulfilling, as it sets in motion a series of network effects and feedback loops that can have detrimental and long term consequences. 

This looks like a system that appears to be far from outstanding and surely "could do better," I wonder if the experiences above will resonate to any extent with colleges that have had a poor inspection grade.   

If this does resonate then I would highly recommend that you check out Jane Jacobs account of how Chicago and Boston "Unslummed" their areas instead of the more mobile uprooting to the suburbs and Andrew Mawson "The Social Entrepreneur" and his work in Bromley in Bow.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Social Media ...And Better Job Prospects?

Consider the following scenario... 

You have a fantastic student... they have the academic ability, have all the "soft skills" and leadership potential that would make them a credit to any organisation that they might want to work for; but all of their prospects and opportunities disappear just like that, with one wrong step, a single mis-judgement, a silly ill conceived mistake.

What kind of mistake? Criminal activity? Something involving sex, drugs and/or rock'n'roll? Nope, what I'm talking about involves a keyboard and an internet connection - students' digital footprint.

If you've nothing nice to say...
The best advice that you will find regarding the use of Social Media is probably the same as offline - If you've nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all!

"The interview used to be the first chance to see a candidate's true colors but now, looking at someone's digital footprint allows recruiters to sift through applicants even earlier" 

Just ask Andrea Wallace or Paris Brown about the consequences of this. Andrea Wallace decided to have a 2 minute rant on You Tube about "Asians in the library," the consequences of this post involved leaving Uni and death threats - Andrea Wallace Apology letter 

Paris Brown was employed as Britain's first youth police commissioner, but came under fire for racist and homophibic comments on social media before she was offered this job - Paris Brown Apologizes for racist Tweets

Connected Educators
I think it's fair to say that Social Media is so new that education has not quite got a "handle on it" yet. We have some schools who have their kindergarden students Tweeting and blogging about their day; while other schools & colleges may still block a lot of sites.

Given the disparity of views on education regarding social media policy and practices, ever wonder;
  • Whose students will be more in demand in the brave new economy?
  • Which members of staff will be more able to guide/advise students through the minefield that is social media? Will it be "connected educators" who Tweet, blog, post etc or those who don't? 
Mind Reading... Or reading your posts?
Regardless of what you're policy is, it is important to highlight how serious the consequences of students' online activity can be. As well as the examples above, two other videos which are very effective in highlighting the dangers are:
Obviously Amanda Todd's Story is a lot more serious than the issue of students looking for work, and will hopefully encourage young people to think about the kind of content that they post online. 

More and more recruiters and universities are assessing candidates based on their digital identity before any interviews. When recruiters are looking for "culture fit" as much as for skills and abilities, will your students' digital footprint help or hinder them in their job search?

Here are some useful infographics highlighting the kind of things that recruiters are looking for;
Good Content
What about the consequences of good content?

Suli Breaks might not have gotten the exam result he was looking for, but he did get 1 million views in less than a month... and it looks like he has more options and prospects than many that got the exams results they were hoping for.

Google get something like 1 million unsolicited CV's a year, check out how Mathew Epstein stood out from the crowd to secure an interview, which led to him landing his "dream job" - Google Please Hire Me

It would also appear that your digital footprint is something that you can experiment with and can help you to make an impact even at a young age, just ask 9 year old Caine - Caines Arcade or the kids involved with Pledge Cents

Better Job Prospects 
If we accept the kind of advice that Seth Godin and others have in the "Forever Recession" and the future is;

"Based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people... to become an irreplaceable linchpin"

Then not only does Digital Citizenship and responsible use of Social Media look like a pre-requisite, but encouraging students to experiment with producing great content looks like it will be a distinct advantage.

Even if you don't particularly subscribe to these kind of ideas this Social Media Jobs Salary Guide sure does highlight some encouraging employment possibilities.

Some Suggestions
Regardless of individual schools & colleges stance on social media, students will use this platform at home and, depending on the content, could positively or negatively impact on their job prospects... What's the best policy?

A good start point might be to get students to assess their digital footprint. A useful resource that does this, and could allow students CV's to stand out might be Vizify - How Vizify gives recruiters context for their digital identity

Educators' Reputation - Promote your Class
With social media there is also the school and colleges' brand to consider which SMT and marketing will deal with, but what about the impact of students activity on Social Media impacting educators? Which of these 2 scenarios would you prefer?

"I'm a Socially Responsible Student"
Would it be an idea to create a "Socially Responsible Student" brand where;

1) A Socially Responsible Student charter is established and agreed upon (could involve media, social media experts, education associations, NUS, student unions etc)

2) Students sign up to this charter and are able to put a "Socially Responsible Student" badge on their avatars and SM Profiles

3) A Socially Responsible Website is created with campaigns that students can sign up to and support. Students could highlight the projects and activities that they support on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.

Could such an idea help to improve some of the negative views that some groups have of young people, as well as help students to create a "more employable" digital footprint... help them get their digital foot in the door or prospective employers... instead of running off their digital mouth and, effectively, "putting their digital foot in it?" (Couldn't resist).