Does 21st Century Education Require an Education Revolution?

This outline is from a proposal to the Rotary Club of San Jose Program Committee on topics for an Education Series of speakers for our Club. It is intended to suggest that the series start with a high level assessment of the education system in general and then have further presentations on other relevant educational issues.

1)       Introduction to Revolution in Education

a)       “Fix it up or trade it in” story

b)       Always been a systems type of guy (GST, MIS, ChaosTheory…)

c)       Been educating at University level and seen the product of our secondary schools

d)       Read through the 479 pages of the California Department of Education Draft CTE Model Curriculum Standards… [zzzz]

e)       The best, most effective education happens when the student asks the question

2)       Education in Santa Clara County, California, USA is Institutionalized

a)       Lots of infrastructure built and bought with specific class size and instructional objectives in mind

b)       Lots of large organizations with their own agendas and objectives attempting to hammer out some type of compromise

i)         Federal, State, County “offices of education” [administration]

(1)     Metrics that don’t reflect success, just progress

ii)       Teachers’ unions [teachers’ representatives]

iii)      An educational “military industrial complex” text book publishers et al

iv)      Lobbying groups of every size and description

c)       Lots of small stakeholders squeezed out of the process

i)         Students

ii)       Parents

iii)      Neighborhoods

d)       Structure/institutionalization of education results:

i)         literally beats the spontaneity, creativity and innovation out of our children [‘sit still and be quiet’]

ii)       rewards mediocrity [how does a teacher teach to a class of 25?]

iii)      targets college for everybody [and then suggests that we need to have a more robust manufacturing economy]

iv)      fails to teach in ways the student will retain the knowledge [forgetting curve]

v)       passes students who spend the time but don’t learn the material

vi)      attempts to teach as if every student learns the same way and at the same rate

vii)    squeezes the fun out of school

viii)   results in an educational option continuum with institutional education on one end and home school at the other

ix)      costs the taxpayer about $10,000 per student per year

x)       permanence which prevents any meaningful change in the process [punctuated equilibrium]

xi)      lots of meaningful improvement suggestions that take almost an act of Congress to become reality

xii)    lots of marginal improvements that have very little impact on the overall education of our children

3)       An increasing expectation/mandate that parents should drop off their child at 5 and pick them up at 18 ready for Harvard or Stanford

4)       Matriculating about half that are unprepared for college

5)       …What would education look like if:

a)       a neighborhood started with

b)       a clean sheet of paper [as if the entire educational institution had disappeared over night]

c)       and included *only* students, parents and a few local teachers as participants [isn’t this what all of education is about?]

d)       and funded it with, say, only $5,000 per student per year…?

e)       …what design and plan and objectives and metrics would they come up with?

f)         …is there any possibility that we could morph our existing educational institution to even come close [yeah, right]?

6)       Time for a revolution in education? Should we trade our existing education system for a new one?

…To quote a great work:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

…who can tell me where this quote comes from???

7)       I suggest that the Education Program Series start with revolution and then see if solving evolutionary issues will correct the educational institution

How do Tablets, Smartphones, Notebooks fit into use cases and application cases of user and organizational needs?

The way I have envisioned displaying device capability of the different “use case” areas (mobility, productivity, gaming, audio/video, networking, processing…) and “application case” compatibilities (for specific environments like Microsoft online services (Office 365 or DymanicsCRM), SAP…) is on a ‘radar chart‘ so that a device and a user pattern can be established to match the functionality of the device with the needs of the user. Here is an example from Wikipedia:

Example of a Radar or Star Diagram
A Radar diagram shows multiple variables on different scales

I am yet to establish what the scales would be (because they would have to both be fixed to show improvements over time, and be scalable so the device pattern does not grow increasingly larger over time with improvements in device capability. The way that is commonly used is with log scales, but log scales greatly decrease the visual impact of patterns on a radar chart… Right now I am inclined to just have a fixed scale and worry about the improvement issue over time at a later date…

Anyway, the ability to map ‘use cases’ and manipulate the order of the variables (put them in priority order) is a powerful, graphical tool (snapshot) for an organization to ‘see’ the difference between devices (like the example of laptops and tablets for productivity functions), and to match the device functionality to a user profile. I think this would be very helpful for organizations to both assess the viability of different platforms *and* to justify specific solutions for support (one of the greatest challenges in today’s organization is to limit the number and diversity of the devices that are supported)…

I am quite sure that the visual impact of radar charts for the difference in ‘use cases’ between between platforms (‘what is the best platform for our users?’ …smartphone, tablet, notebook, netbook…) would be excellent for general technology publication… and that charting the functionality for ‘application cases’ would be an excellent tool for specific organizations with the need to select devices from among the many alternatives within one specific platform (‘what are the best tablets for my IT environment?’).

What do you think?  J

Apple leads in one area: Litigation

After years as a business student, businessman and business professor, I cannot remember one instance or case where litigation was a strategy (the top level of R. N. Anthony’s pyramid of strategic, tactical and operational planning and management). Litigation as a tactic? Absolutely… Litigation in operations? Sure… But, suing to shut other competitors down is quite a stretch.

Michael Porter suggested and taught that there we only two true business strategies: price and product differentiation… Now, it seems, Apple has elevated suing your competitors to a whole new level. This strategy is aptly summarized in the Reuter’s graphic here:

Mobile Patent Suits
Mobile Patent Suits

This type of litigious action did happen during the 1990s when Texas Instruments sued numerous PC manufacturers [disclosure: I worked for Dell at the time] over intellectual property in the innards of personal computers. But that was an attempt to shore up TI’s sagging bottom line with additional IP license revenues, not protect TI’s all but dead PC business (you do remember TI’s PC don’t you?).

It is almost painful to think what will happen to technological advance if litigation becomes the popular new strategy. Someone at some point will assess the total cost of all the suits and counter suits… and quickly do the math to determine how much this litigious episode cost each handset owner. But the real cost may be in the defensive posturing of the companies and their assessment that nobody can innovate unless you have lots of patents or very deep pockets…

For no other reason other than the unintended consequences caused from a litigation strategy, I hope that Apple’s litigation proves fruitless so that no other company attempts this for the next 20 years.

Where do tablet computers fit? a smartphone, tablet, netbook freeforall

Recently a client asked me if the venerable ‘desktop’ was going away… and if/where the new tablet devices fit into their business model? Here are some of my thoughts…

Two thoughts on ‘desktop’ PCs and ‘tablet’ PCs that continue what you discuss…

  1. A ‘desktop’ is ‘general general function’ machine. In the early days of computing, computers came in two categories, dedicated function and general function. The best example of dedicated function early on were ‘database machines’ that were optimized for database functions and were stripped of everything else… they would not do graphics or word processing… just fast, efficient database. On the other end of the continuum were ‘general function’ machines that would do pretty much anything you could put into software and hardware, but were not optimized for anything in particular. Your desktop will play your CDs & DVDs, play games, do your word processing, spreadsheet, retrieve and answer your email, access the internet and much much more… but it comes (for the sake of expandability and flexibility) in this big old box. Additionally, for the sake of low price, everything it does is farless than optimal (especially those cheap speakers that render even the finest music into noise). I refer to the desktop as a ‘general general function’ machine because markets have moved into specialization among ‘general function’ machines in areas like: gaming, graphics, home theater, entertainment, connectivity, portability… and many more. These still do almost all the functions, but the prioritize some at the expense of others (so a tablet can still do word processing, but the lack of a physical keyboard will make it challenging)… so now we have ‘specialty general function’ machines that compete with ‘general general function’ machines for certain functionality… and as you point out, desktops are not going away, but if someone wants to watch a movie on a long flight, one of the options is *not* a desktop. So, for some functionality, the desktop functionality is being extended/expanded by other devices or replaced by other ‘specialty’ devices… My transportation metaphor for the ‘desktop’ is the ubiquitous ‘minivan’… but that is another discussion…

    tablet target and function
    tablet target and function
  2. Among multiple ‘specialty general function’ devices, which cover the most functionality and provide the most utility (and have an efficient footprint)? Demand for functionality (computing services) is what drives platforms… for years I have struggled with my personal ‘mobile office’ devices. This was because I kept on wanting additional functionality but did not want to add more and more to the number of devices and the size and weight of the devices and support equipment.
  • First it was a cellphone (a dedicated function machine) and a big clunky laptop (a portable general function machine
  • second was a cellphone (dedicated), a PDA (dedicated) and a laptop (portable general)
  • more recently the cellphone (dedicated- multi purpose) expanded to do the functionality of the PDA (dedicated), but for any real input/output I still needed a notebook (portable general)
  • now, I have graduated to an Android smartphone (Gingerbread- very portable general function) and find that there are times when I do not need to pack the notebook (portable general)
  • the question now becomes: will a tablet (more portable general function) squeeze out the notebook (portable general)? …and the answer today is ‘no, not yet’ because there are processes where I need a real keyboard, some specific attachments and some substantial processing power which have been optimized out of the tablet for size and weight and power conservation… but that does not suggest that those features might be available with some creative/innovative tablet in the near future

I was really struck with a discussion between Charlie Rose and Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn)  (probably this interview, but I am not positive)… where Charlie asks Reid: how many cellphones do you carry? Reid said “three” and Charlie said “me too.” Both carried phones for just regular phone calls (dedicated), one for PDA functionality (dedicated-probably Blackberrys) and one for surfing the web (dedicated use although general in design -iPhones)… This strongly suggested a portable device space that was definitely “in transition” and probably “in consolidation.” I think the recent explosive growth of iPhones and Android phone (now about 3/4 of recent smartphone sales) is evidence of this consolidation. Just how that transition/consolidation ends nobody can say for sure… there is no precedent in history that we can learn from… and you cannot really ask the users because ‘they don’t know what they don’t know.’ All that I do know is that users will continue to pull functionality off the ‘desktop’ platform onto other, more user friendly and functionality optimized platforms. Will that cause people to slow down their purchase of ‘general general function’ machines? Probably. At what rate? I don’t know, but that market and segment uncertainty (plus the hiring of a software CEO) has HP bailing out of the mobile device market (wasn’t that a shocker)…

Sooooo, when you only had one compute device, it needed to be a ‘general general function’ machine and it was (until about 2009) a desktop. Since then notebooks have been the larger seller because it offered portability. As less expensive and smaller devices work to expand their functionality and services, the buying public has platform coverage choices. Sure ‘desktops’ will have a smaller slice of the ‘general function’ market… Now as for tablets, how, exactly they will fit either into the space between smartphones and netbooks and notebooks is largely unpredictable… the one phenomenon that we have seen with tablets is the boom of entertainment (movies, video, magazines, music…) on the tablet platform. Whether that will last or will be captured by other devices only time will tell… How big a screen will I be willing to carry on my phone (the move from 2.6″ to 4.3″ was just fine)? Will larger netbooks be popular (my Rotary Club just purchased 16 that I specified for grade school student awards)? One thing is for sure the push to expand the power, the scope and the functionality (turf) of existing platforms (specialty general function machines) will persist… Let the battles begin!