Goucher College eliminates 12 programs, fails to roll the Hard Six

Using publicly available data, Atkins said that general math at Goucher — one of the programs to be cut — led to four degree completions in 2016. That means an entire major was supporting perhaps 12 students, or very few even for a relatively small college such as Goucher.

“It’s a tough decision; I wouldn’t want to make it,” Atkins said. “But when there’s actually no program in the first place? It’s not a cut if no one’s majoring in it.”

Cuts to Liberal Arts at Goucher

I know this sort of program reduction is upsetting to many in Higher Ed, but it really shouldn’t be. Goucher isn’t eliminating all courses in Biology, Math, Music and the other eliminated Majors. It’s just eliminating the ability to major in those courses at Goucher. By the university’s own accounting, those Majors have very few students in them, even for a college the size of Goucher. By eliminating these majors, Goucher frees up resources to invest in other areas that, long-term, provide a more sustainable future for the college.

We’re going to have to get past this notion that every university and college must supply every major. It’s a relic of the 20th Century, and one that, for an increasing number of SLACs and Regionals, is no longer financially viable.

However, where I think Goucher and other institutions eliminating programs like this fail is that they are half measures. They address the current financial challenges, but they don’t fundamentally transform higher education’s failing business model. Inevitably, more cuts will have to be made. And the cycle repeats until the institution goes under or undergoes M&A.

I’d rather see these institutions Roll the Hard Six. Take the risk and fundamentally rethink what it means to be a college or university for the next 100 years, not the last. Instead of piecemeal elimination of underperforming programs, why not start from first principles and rethink how the university can provide value to students, faculty, communities, businesses, not-for-profits, etc.

What emerges would look very different from what we have now. A better, more sustainable institution of higher learning. We need to start imagining that together.

If you’re interested in beginning some of this exploration of preferred futures at your institution, using a range of participatory foresight and business strategy techniques, please contact me here to discuss what that foresight and business model design process might look like.

“There it is: the sound of a person who feels the world a bit more perfectly than the rest of us do.”

Fantastic article on why, if Aretha Franklin had never been born with vocal chords, she would still be remembered as one of the 20th Century’s great R&B Piano players.

“Aretha Franklin’s sense of time was utterly unique and completely extraordinary, a quality evidenced not just in her voice but also in her piano playing. Even if Aretha Franklin had been born without vocal cords, she would still be one of the greatest R&B pianists of the 20thcentury. She played the piano like a percussion instrument, which it is, and did so with the feathery touch and intuitive authority of the world’s greatest drummers. Many, including her producer Jerry Wexler, have attributed Aretha’s commercial breakthrough on Atlantic Records in 1967 in part to the decision to let her accompany herself on piano, an instrument she’d been playing since early childhood. Having the keys in front of her seemed to unleash her full force and capacity as a singer.”

All Disaggregators Eventually Re-aggregate (Whether Cable or Higher Ed)

Nice look at how, for all the disaggregation bluster, services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and (eventually) Disney Online are just recreating the old cable TV system, just with new silos. Interestingly enough, it’s been looking that way for a short while now in higher ed. The promise of disaggregation has largely failed, and the “disruptors” are largely getting eaten by workforce training companies or partnering with traditional institutions for bootcamp partnerships. There’s a certain gravity, it seems, to traditional forms, to comfortable patterns of consumption channels. Higher ed seems to be no different from this than music or television media.

However, a weak signal comes from this piece by Matthew Ball on “Why HBO Needs to Grow (pt. 1).” Essentially, the author supports the notion that HBO needs to dramatically increase its homegrown television offerings as the first-run (Pay-1) movie offerings will dry up very, very soon given the verticalization of Pay-1 offerings under studio-based streaming channels (eg, Disney’s upcoming service, which will swallow Pay-1 for Disney and Fox films). Ball says that HBO is essentially offering 4 series with 4 new episode each per month for slightly more than Netflix or Hulu offer for a much larger, but lower quality, number of original series each month. Therefore, Ball argues, HBO needs more “at-bats” to compete. Is this the problem with “disruptor” competitors to traditional institutions of higher ed? Fewer at-bats (courses and programs) make them less attractive to potential buyers than traditional models, even though the trads have higher costs? If true, it may make me rethink my opposition to universities that keep cranking out more degree programs and specialty courses (Netflix/Hulu model) rather than narrowing down and focusing on higher-quality, higher-value offerings (HBO/prestige television model), assuming they can keep costs relatively low.

Worth thinking about, at any rate.

You don’t need a blockchain for steganography

Apparently, some clever Chinese activists have used the metadata on an Etherium transaction to share a censored story on vaccinations.

But the thing is, you don’t need a blockchain for steganography. People have been sharing hidden messages in digital images and other data files for quite a while.

Again, almost everything you can imagine using a blockchain for can be accomplished by a cheaper, easier and more efficient alternative. I find this flowchart to be quite helpful:








From digital nomadism to digital feudalism to…?

Really interesting thread from Alexander Singh (@automaticyes) discussing our current state of digital feudalism:

We’ve been discussing the death of the open web for a few years now, but it’s time to start discussing it more specifically in terms of economic and political freedoms like this. Will feudalism win this time? I’m hoping not, but there are days when I wonder.

A troubling realization about my personal digital infrastructure

I just realized this afternoon that Slideshare is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

I suppose that should tell me something, that a platform that was so critical to my professional and career growth from 2007-2014 manages to dry up and blow away, and I didn’t even notice. I loved Slideshare back in the day. At first, it was a strictly utilitarian tool for me – I needed to share my PowerPoints with hundreds of students each semester under my terms, in a time where the LMS was just Horrid and Unusable, and I was committed to using Web 2.0 and social media tools for learning.

And then something glorious happened. The Presentation Zen/Slideology movement took off, and Slideshare became a great place to learn, share my work and network with other people. It was a lot of fun for slideware junkies like myself.

But from 2015-today, I hadn’t really had much need for it. The Wild West digital infrastructure I’d built for myself had decayed in the years since I left teaching. Wikispaces, Flickr, PBWorks, Slideshare and a dozen other sites all just sort of…decayed. And I had been too busy to notice.

Not to mention that Social Media has largely become a sewer. Twitter, which was so important to me for so many years (I joined in 2007), is almost unusable today. Facebook? Don’t even get me started. Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. All fairly quiet, except for the noise of self-promotion these days. Instagram is really the only service that keeps my attention anymore.

Other people I respect have had things to say about this recently.

  • M.G. Siegler: “My mindset about these networks these days is almost the opposite. In no way should you share the “real” you in these places. I’m not saying you should quit them — though for some people, that’s undoubtedly healthy — but instead you should use them with the full understanding of what they are: tools. You should go in knowing what you’re trying to get out of them. Maybe it’s news. Maybe it’s jokes. Maybe it’s promotion. Etc. But again, the one thing I don’t think you should be looking to do there is to put your actual life on display. There are just too many downsides to this.”
  • Anil Dash recently shared why and how he decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter. I’ve done a dramatic unfollowing on Twitter and started relying much more heavily on Lists. But, I’ll admit – I’ve been sorely tempted to start over with a new, professionally focused account and delete my original one.
  • Warren Ellis has been talking a lot about his changing approach to social media on his Orbital Operations newsletter the last 6 months or so. Warren was once Internet Jesus, seemingly everywhere online. Now, he keeps things much quieter, dipping in only when he needs to for work/promotional purposes.

So it struck me today: it’s time to start over. What got me here won’t get me there. What do I most enjoy these days? Newsletters, podcasts, artisanal blogging. Quieter, more intimate, more fulfilling. So, I’ll stretch and try some new things. Other channels, even long-standing ones, will likely be let go. It’s past time really.

Looking forward to what’s next.

Internet-Old (but #BIF2015 makes me feel young again)

It’s quiet.  My internet generation has a ton of (aching, bruised) muscle memory for communicating and reading in several windows and apps across a couple of devices simultaneously.  The new silence has my muscles twitching, yelling that we’re being lazy, but it’s just because nothing’s happening and nobody is talking.  I read a thing the other day saying that the drop-off in new Twitter users is down to the fact that it’s now so loud that it’s lonely.

Warren Ellis, “So Loud It’s Lonely

I have to admit to feeling this way most days. I miss the Twitter of 2007-2009. It was easy to meet new and interesting people outside your usual networks and find some amazingly creative things going on. The key part in that last sentence is relationships. Twitter is mostly broadcast, now, you see, and I already have an RSS reader that’s quite well tuned, thankyouverymuch. It’s easy to find the sub-networks within my feed, as they’re the few folks still @mentioning each other with any regularity. Mostly it’s just link-sharing and shouting into the void. I read somewhere recently that your “Followers” (ugh, hate that word. Why not Subscribers?) have only a 1 in 50 shot at seeing anything you Tweet. That’s just sad. And lonely. And the Internet-old man in me starts getting shouty with the kids in a get off my lawn kind-of-way.

Anyway, most mornings I still fire up TweetDeck and put the candle in the window of the Internet – do some RT’ing, reach out to a few people (most of whom, I’m happy to say, still respond). But there’s no scenius there for me anymore.

Except, occasionally, there is. The Business Innovation Factory Innovation Summit is like a pop-up scenius for me each year in September (this will be my 6th Summit, which makes me an old man at #BIF2015, I fear). In many ways, the BIF community functions like Twitter did for me in the early days – it connects me to people doing fantastically creative things in networks outside my usual circles. [NOTE: There are still 34 seats left to this life-changing conference. I hope you’ll consider registering while there’s still time here. Also, I highly recommend the warm-up #Innobeer event at the Trinity Brewhouse.] It starts on Twitter (Saul Kaplan @skap5 was one of the early friends I made on Old Twitter) with hashtags like #TheBIF, #BIF2015, #Innobeer and #Innochat and melts into a warm, energetic extended family that welcomes the newcomers as well as the regulars. It’s a community that renews itself annually as it moves from Twitter to Providence to Twitter again.

As the social web begins to darken and contract a bit (private Slack communities are all the rage now), events like the BIF Summit become even more precious to me. So set your Twitter to read-only (or even DM-only), but find the spark, the light that made it so interesting to begin with, at the dawn of the social web. Because, like me, you can be Internet-old, but still feel community young.


Moved Site to Reclaim Hosting!

Things may be a little rough on the site for a bit. I’ve just moved my primary website to Reclaim Hosting. I’m excited to be moving my site hosting to a team that’s doing some amazing things in higher education and the open web right now. Signing up for an account with Reclaim couldn’t have been any easier or more pleasant, and so far the site seems to be running like a charm. I highly recommend Timmy and Jim and Co. if you’re looking for new hosting.

Now for the hard part – getting back in the blogging groove!

Gaining Transferable Skills in Graduate School

I was pleased to participate in a panel discussion on the importance of acquiring and developing transferable skills in graduate school.

Once again, It appears I’ve earned my reputation as Dr. Doom when it comes to talks about the prospects of graduate students. However, I hope my points are taken seriously. It’s time for graduate students as well as non-elite graduate programs to face the facts: you (or your students in the case of programs) are highly unlikely to ever come within sniffing distance of a tenure track faculty gig. Hell, over-production of Ph.D.’s has meant that even SLAC gigs are unlikely due to the massive numbers of elite-school Ph.D.’s looking for TT work.

While articles like “We Must Prepare Ph.D. Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching” by Derek Bok are well-intentioned, they are ultimately unhelpful. Those teaching jobs are gone and they aren’t coming back. Even the horrid conditions of adjunct work won’t be available much longer as advances in personalized and adaptive learning platforms move into automation of much of the intro-level coursework that contingent faculty are given to teach.

We need to be re-thinking the Ph.D. in terms of praxis: the ability to apply theoretical, substantive disciplinary knowledge alongside skilled practice applied to meaningful tasks.

Fooling ourselves will get us nowhere. I’m happy that the University of Kentucky is taking steps to help its graduate students prepare for non-ac/alt-ac careers, and I look forward to working with the UK Graduate School to help our amazing grad students prepare for their futures.

The Night Before #BIF8

Once again, I’ve been given the privilege of attending the Business Innovation Factory’s Collaborative Innovation Summit, affectionately known as BIF-8. Once again, as happened the night before BIFs 5 & 6, I can’t sleep. I’m too excited. You see, I’ve been looking forward to this two-day summit for months. The energy, the sheer delight of the participants, speakers and the BIF team themselves in pushing art, science, engineering, business to the bleeding edge and building something new and amazing, things that push us forward as a society, as a civilization. This energy is pulsing through me right now, that anticipation of being delighted in the creative work of men and women from a variety, no, a blurring of disciplines.

I tell my students and co-workers that I come to BIF to fill up my Idea Tank for the year. And it’s a powerful fuel. I’m looking forward to hearing from Susan Schuman of Stone Yamashita Partners. Keith Yamashita’s talk at BIF-6 was the highlight of that summit for me, and I am eager to hear Susan discuss how the SYPartners spinoff Unstuck continues to help us figure out, as individuals and as teams, how to move past The Dip, how to get past those barriers that keep us from becoming the most “us” we can be.

This notion of becoming extends beyond just the self-making of becoming unstuck. There’s also a motif of placemaking for these Unstuck selves that we’ll hear about from Carol Coletta and Beth Coleman. I had the pleasure of meeting Carol briefly at the DGREE conference in 2010 when Carol was with CEOs for Cities, and I continue to be impressed now as I was then at Carol’s commitment to helping communities become Unstuck by harnessing the power of those things that make us most human – our art – and harnessing that to make our places more human as well. Beth’s work in transmedia and digital placemaking (such as her work exploring the city as platform) is an important companion to Carol’s work with ArtPlace. We are digital beings as much as analog these days, and the places we make must reflect this nature as well. To be more fully human, to be truly unstuck, we and our places must reject Digital Dualism (though I suspect BIF storyteller Sherry Turkle will have something to say about that!).

These human spaces and places must have infrastructure to hold them together. Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, and Dries Buytaert, creator of Drupal, will explore critical elements of the transportation and informational mesh that will enable this analog and digital placemaking. But this mesh is human in nature as well. Valdis Krebs, Dave Gray and Carne Ross will all be provoking us to think more deeply about the networks that connect us, the possibilities of network organization to unleash creative business potential, and the future of building international networks to build a more just and peaceful world.

But it isn’t just the storytellers that make such a special event; no, it’s the participants that do that. I’ve always said that the great thing about BIF conferences is that the attendees are as world-class as the storytellers. Saul Kaplan, Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory, recognizes this and has designed the BIF summits to have ample time and space between storyteller sessions to allow for what he refers to as Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. It’s nothing short of magic.

This year, for me, it began with warm greeting hugs from BIF Student Experience Lab leader Chris Flanagan and the amazing and inspirationalDeb Mills-Scofield and moved right into the InnoBeer meetup where I finally got to meet BIF community manager Katherine Hypolite and employment innovator Frank Gullo (which immediately sparked some thoughts on badges as signaling artifacts to boost employment for college grads).

As I drained the last of a pint of an excellent pumpkin spice ale, I looked around at all the people sharing ideas with these big goofy grins on their faces. I went to Tweet out a clever statement about it when I saw the same goofy grin reflected back at me in the glass of my phone. And it struck me: these are my people, my tribe. These are the reasons I keep coming back to BIF summits each year – to share in the buzz of like-minded people dedicated to Building the Wow in their fields, to fill up my Idea Tank, to, in no uncertain terms, put my shoulder to the wheel with people Instantiating the Future.

I may not sleep at all this week. See you at the Trinity Rep in the morning for Day 1 of BIF-8.