The Future of Higher Ed #1: Accrediting Individuals, Not Institutions

I’ve been thinking a lot about Higher Education lately, specifically future scenarios mapping probable and preferable trajectories for universities. One thing that continues to be a real point of concern is the issue of accreditation – the process by which universities and colleges are certified by outside institutions to provide degrees. The current system is predicated on the idea that institutions are accredited by meeting certain guidelines. But does this necessarily HAVE to be the case?

What would Higher Education look like if individual scholars were accredited rather than institutions?

Image going back to a more Socratic method of education (not pedagogy, necessarily). Socrates wasn’t a tenured faculty member. He was someone who provided an education in collaboration with his students. In modern language, he was his own brand, and educational rockstar, as it were. What if, instead of accrediting universities, accrediting institutions bestowed this legitimacy on individuals?

Individual faculty would then be like modern “free agents,” to whom students would go to or stay away from based on the strength of their personal brand. Students could take online or f2f courses with the faculty of their choice, regardless of location. Universities would remain degree conferring institutions, largely serving the function of certifying that students had obtained sufficient credits from accredited faculty to be awarded a certain degree. Universities might differentiate by devising innovative degree programs and serving as a collaborative hub between individual scholars.

Faculty would have to learn to market themselves by developing and providing innovative, superior education in an on-demand fashion. Groups of academics, either from the same or different disciplines, could form “bands” (like Cory, Mark, Xeni et al at Boing Boing) to aid in their marketing and intellectual collaboration. Academics would be free, then, to create their own departments/committees, structured however they like in terms of organization, curriculum, revenue sharing, marketing, etc. Eventually, these academic “bands” might want to enter into a deal with a university to develop a degree/curriculum in return for the university taking on the marketing, payroll/taxes, etc., or to provide lab equipment, etc. This is similar to the arrangement the Boing Boing folks made with Federated Media, allowing them to focus on content while FM focused on the business back end.

Many academics would oppose this, of course, due to its elimination of the Tenure System. However, the tenure system in the United States is coming to an end. I’ve seen studies which suggest that 2/3 (or more) of all faculty at 2- and 4-year institutions are contingent faculty. Actually tenured faculty only make up about 10% or so of the system. So, tenure, if not already dead is dying in a hurry. By keeping accrediting power with the universities, academics essentially set themselves up to all be low-wage contingent labor. If academics could get past the seduction of tenure, they might find the system I’ve described to not only be more intellectually and creatively rewarding, but also more financially rewarding in the long term.

As we rethink the role, purpose and design of textbooks and traditional classrooms and pedagogy, we might also benefit from rethinking the entire operational structure of higher education.

What do YOU think?

Fragmented Blogging

This isn’t another one of those “Sorry for Not Blogging” posts.

I’m working out the editorial calendar for the next phase of this blog, where I intend to do a bit more long-form writing in support of my current research project. Hence, I’ve been a little less active until I work out my writing calendar.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t follow my ramblings elsewhere on the Interwubs. Here’s where else you can find me right now:

http://twitter.com/ricetopher – my Twitter feed: brainleaks at 140 characters per post. Posting thoughts and interesting links on a daily basis. I’m also beginning to migrate over to http://identi.ca/ricetopher (Identi.ca – an Open Source, Creative Commons alternative to Twitter) for this purpose, as Twitter is proving that it probably won’t be able to get over the hump and achieve reliability.

http://ricetopher.tumblr.com – my research/scrapbook tumblelog. I’m posting quotes, videos, pics, short comments there on a regular basis now because it’s so damn easy. A more multimedia look into my brain.

http://del.icio.us/ricetopher – my online bookmarks. I keep all my bookmarks online now, so if you want to catch what I’m saving for later reference, look over there. Also, my Google Reader Shared Items page is at https://www.google.com/reader/shared/05641067023515274229, if you want to see the items I want to share quickly out of my feed reader. Note: the Del.icio.us and Reader pages do not always overlap in terms of items.

I’m also logging into Second Life a bit more lately, as I begin to prep for two SL-heavy courses in the Spring 2009 semester. You can find me in-world as Ricetopher Freenote.

So there, that ought to be the bulk of it, for now. If you have any other suggestions for other services I should be publishing to, let me know.

Long-form blogging and other announcements will resume here shortly. Thanks for stopping by!

Building and Using Your Personal Information Network

So, last time I mentioned the importance of building your Personal Information Network or PIN (PS, thanks for the great comments – keep ’em coming!). Today I’d like to share an example of how this can work in practice.

I woke up this morning and fired up Google Reader and Twitter first thing to see what I’d missed overnight (told you I was addicted). Found a Tweet from Chris Brogan, social media guru, with a link to an article on Twitter Best Practices at a blog I’d never heard of. I don’t know Chris, but I follow him as part of my PIN, to keep up with what’s happening in the world of social media. Chris is a particularly generous Twitterer and blogger, and so is a veritable fount of information. Trusting Chris’ insight, I clicked on the link which led to David Lee King’s blog and a gem of a post on “Twitter Best Practices So Far.” It’s a great post, with great tips like writing a great profile, making sure to say hi to people who follow you (PS, this is how you build community, folks), and even taking care to put up a background image on your Twitter homepage (the handsome devil on mine is my Second Life avatar, Ricetopher Freenote. Say Hi if you’re ever in-world). Please take the time to read and absorb David’s Twitter suggestions.

So, I read through David’s blog, really found his first few posts useful, so I added his blog’s rss feed to my Google Reader folder on Social Media. BANG! Another node in my Personal Information Network. I would have added David to my Twitter stream, but could not find his Twitter information. Lesson? Always make your Twitter address easy to find and add. PS, that’s how you build community, folks! At any rate, another valuable addition to my PIN.

As a bonus, David’s post included a link to a site I’d found and bookmarked before, but had forgotten: TwitterPacks. TwitterPacks is a great example of using a wiki to build a common knowledge base around a particular subject (yes, I promise to blog about effective use of wikis soon!), in this case, Twitter. It proposes the simple question: “If someone were joining Twitter today, who might they follow?” TwitterPacks is a collection of Twitter contacts, organized by subject area. So, if you wanted to find the Twitter contacts of people involved in education, social media, public media, etc, you could go the the appropriate page and find them, look at their Twitter stram, and then decide whether or not to add them to your PIN. A grassroots organization could build a similar wiki with Twitter contact info for their members organized by areas of interest, geography, etc. Check out Twitter Packs and start adding to your PIN today!

I hope you’ve found this follow up on how to build your PIN through Twitter to be helpful. If you have any other suggestions for how to build your PIN, won’t you please leave a comment and share the wealth with others? PS, that’s how you build community folks! 🙂

See you next time with more on potential uses of Twitter for activism.

Why and How I Use Twitter

Hi, my name is Chris and I’m…I’m a Twitter addict.

Hi, Chris.

So, yes, I’m a Twitter addict. Just a moment ago I cursed loudly (LOUDLY!) at Twhirl as it pitifully looked at me and told me that Twitter wasn’t talking to it right now because Twitter was so damned busy. So yeah, I need need NEED Twitter even though it has let me down a lot lately. The platform still has work to do in order to scale in a feature-rich way. It can be very frustrating at times.

However, in my work as an educator, researcher and consultant, I find that there are a lot of potential uses for Twitter, for professionals and for activist/nonprofit organizations. Let me tell you about two important and easy uses for Twitter: Building a Community of Practice and Building Your Personal Information Network (PIN).

Building a Community of Practice

I tend to use Twitter as a continual, low-level informational tool to keep up with what’s going on with people of interest to me. Some are close friends, some are professional acquaintances, some are people I’ve never met. It lets me take a look at what they’re thinking about, and sometimes people will post (using TinyURL) links to things they are reading or have written. For me, the end result is that it creates an ad hoc community of practice around my personal issues of interest, keeping me informed on a more-or-less continual fashion as to what’s going on and who’s doing it.

In terms of community building, Twitter is great because the transaction costs per interaction are so much lower than blogging, forum participation or even email. Twitter can be run on your desktop or laptop, or you can use your phone if you’re more mobile (but you need to have Unlimited Text Messaging if you follow a lot of people). Community arises naturally out of using the tool, and you can participate as much or as little as you like. Twitter is being used by activists in places like Thailand and Egypt to coordinate Flashmob-type action.

By linking up with people in my vicinity doing social media work, I’ve learned a lot about new social media platforms, tips on how to use them effectively, and have been able to find solutions to small problems. In the process, it’s also allowed be to expand my personal network and begin to build friendships that would have never happened otherwise. Twitter has helped me to get better at what I do while meeting more people who do related work. In short, it has helped me to build a community of practice.

Building Your Personal Information Network

One great way to use Twitter is to build a Personal Information Network (PIN). Take a look at the Twitter pages of people you are interested in and see who they are following. So, for example, if you go to my Twitter page, you can hover over the mini-icons of people I am following, click on them to go to their Twitter page, see who they are following, and by repeating this process, find plenty of people thinking about issues you are interested in. Each tweet is only 140 characters long, so messages are short and to the point (which is why you need TinyURL to post links).

This differs from Building a Community of Practice in that you are following people in order to gain information on a variety of topics, not necessarily because you are trying to enter a network or community or trying to build a personal relationship with them. These will often be the people on your Twitter “following” list (people whose Tweets you read) and not on your “followers” (people read your Tweets) list. for example, I follow Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction to keep up with what’s going on with their comics work, Xeni Jardin to follow her journalism and work on Boing Boing, Sustainablog to keep up with news on sustainability and global climate change, Barack Obama to follow the campaign, etc.

I don’t expect these people to follow me, but I follow them to engage in what Futurists refer to as the scanning process. Follow as many or as few people as you like to do this. I try to add more and more of these type of people all the time. You must beware of throwing your “signal-to-noise” ratio out of whack when doing so. For example, I recently dropped one such person from my Following list because she was starting to Tweet WAY too much, with too little value. She was introducing too much noise, overwhelming the signal of the information coming in. So i dropped her. You’ll have to experiment with this to find the right balance. Journalists are beginning to follow people on Twitter in order to get the jump on breaking stories. You can do the same with your PIN.

In my next post on Twitter, I’ll talk about ways in which organizations could think about using Twitter to enhance their work. For example, one interesting application for activist organizations might be a page on their website site which functions as a collection page for the RSS feeds of their membership/community members, presenting a rolling feed of what everyone is up to. Or, imagine a Downtown Lexington activist group at a city council meeting in which strategic updates flow between phone-equipped activists in real time during a meeting, allowing adjustment of strategy, passing of information and relevant data to improve efficacy of speaking during hearings. There are many possibilities for enhancing activism using tools like Twitter.

In the meantime, I’d love for you to leave a comment or email me with the ways YOU use Twitter in your personal or work lives.

Foundations for Strategic Foresight (Slideshow)

Attention Conservation Notice: I’m currently doing research/training in Future Studies, and am collecting helpful online material for this. Ran across this great presentation on Forecasting and am blogging it for future reference.

[slideshare id=478095&doc=futureperspectiveseminarwaddellbiblicalfoundations-1214005395861126-8&w=425]

Intro to Politics 2.0: Online Politics 101

The amazing folks over at e.politics have recently released a new edition of “Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Political Advocacy”, a nicely packaged collections of articles from the site explaining the basics of using social media tools for online political activism and campaigning. This 52pp. FREE PDF book covers everything from online fundraising to Search Engine Optimization to viral campaigning to social networks. It’s a quick read, but chock full of helpful tips for incorporating more online tools into your organization’s work. Well worth your time.

I also have e.politics as a regular read in Google Reader. Check out the site and let me know if you find it useful!

Snoop Zeppelin

It’s officially a good day. Bless the person who thought up this mashup.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFg5q2hSl2E]

I do love me some Snoop. Thanks, Tony.

Helpful Advice for Recent College Graduates

One of the really difficult things about being a college teacher is that, after being back for a few years now and getting to know many students on a personal level, I’ve begun to have several students come to me and say “Dr. Rice, I’m graduating in a few weeks. What do I do now?” Many of them had their hearts set on law school, but their LSATs didn’t quite pan out the way they would’ve liked. Many just don’t have the financial wherewithal to go to grad school. Others just went to college because that was “what you’re supposed to do” and now that they’ve reached the finish line, they have no idea why they were ever in college, and have no clue what the hell to do next. It’s like a fairy tale, where you reach the Happily Ever After but don’t get to see how Cinderella and the Prince deal with finances, children and infidelity. Sure, you’ve accomplished this great thing – getting a degree – but how do you answer the “so what?” or “what do I do now?” question?

I’ll be writing a longer post on this soon (once the semester ends), but I wanted to share with you a few sources that I think might help those of you in this position make sense of things.

First, click through Garr Reynolds‘ slideshow outlining Dan Pink‘s recent Johnny Bunko book:

[slideshare id=372443&doc=careeradvice-1209142144854362-8&w=425]

Then go out and pick up Johnny Bunko and absorb it. You will thank yourself later. You may also want to add the Johnny Bunko website into your feedreader (I did). This book is full of fantastic principles in designing a career for yourself, with a strong argument for rejecting the conventional wisdom on careers and career planning.

Second, I recommend you take a look at Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University. Reynolds and Pink reference this, but you really need to see it in its entirety – and ABSORB IT – to understand the wisdom in Jobs’ words. This address moves me the way few other speeches have.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc]

Graduation is a difficult, traumatic time. Meditate on these two sources, and think about their implications for your future. I’ll have my own thoughts about graduation up soon in a separate post.

The Important Difference Between Media and Social Media (Debate Edition)

Over at It’s Not a Lecture, David Wescott totally gets why the Democratic presidential debates last night show that the debate over whether or not we should just call social media “media” now is bogus:

I hope this debate serves as the wake-up call for the traditional media. This is why we can’t yet say “social media” is “all media.” When all media is truly social, the most prominent and important questions will be raised. That’s why the YouTube debates were so effective and so important. It’s only a matter of time – and not much time, at that – before they become the norm and not the exception.

Social media is about the democratization of communication, turning political communication into hot media once again, as opposed to the coolness of the traditional media. The chattering classes and talking heads were made very, very uncomfortable during the YouTube debates this cycle, especially the Republican YouTube debate. It makes people like the Gibsons, Matthews and Russerts of the world uncomfortable when the people begin to ask questions that really matter to them, as opposed to whatever the Village consensus is.

A true Open Source Politics looks a lot like the YouTube debates: people ask questions meaningful to them. However, one major modification would be the incorporation of a Digg-like system to filter the questions. I place much more faith in the American Public to filter the questions than people like Charles Gibson or Tim Russert. Open Source Debates are a lot more fun than the Perez Hilton/TMZ-style debates we’ve been getting. Run the filters on the screen in real-time, along with a dedicated Twitter feed with a cloud-style visualization. Link it to maps, so we can geolocate opinion trends (there’s one way to get past the whole Red State-Blue state bullshit).

The debates might be more chaotic and frightening, but they’d be a hell of a lot better than what we got last night. Social media isn’t the same as traditional media. There is a substantial qualitative difference, and an Open Source Politics needs to make certain the politicians and the public are aware of this.

PS, David runs a really great blog on Social Media, which is a regular read for me now. You can also follow him on Twitter.

EDITED TO ADD (4/17/08, 1pm): A lot of people have noticed last night’s hackery. And when those people have access to cheap and easily available social media tools, well, lots more people begin to notice (h/t AmericaBlog):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SsMTK7IFkw]