Reinventing College

There’s lots of talk of radical change as a result of the pandemic. I think a lot of it is premature.

Things may never be the exact same, but that doesn’t mean an era of tele-medicine and working remotely will be ushered in as soon as we receive an “all clear”.

We’re a forgetful people. By 2021, I predict most of the changes, like not shaking hands, will be relatively subtle.

I’m most intrigued by all the talk of higher education disruption. Not just the financial destruction of institutions that were already on the brink, but a major shift to on-line learning. Specifically, some like Scott Galloway predict a Big Tech firm like Google will partner with someone like MIT, or maybe Apple will partner with Stanford or Cal, to offer 2-3 year programs to 50x more students than at present for a fraction of the current costs. Mid-tier and lesser institutions will all suffer greatly; and this shift will be accompanied by major reductions in faculty and staff everywhere; with a few, surviving all-star faculty, making a lot more.

The prognosticators think this could happen in the next five years, which reminds me of all the over-excited driverless car talk from five years ago.

Those types of changes probably will happen, I just wouldn’t bet much money they will happen as fast as many opinion leaders are currently thinking.

The educational status quo is far more resistant to change than even the “education experts” realize. Probably best to measure “disruption” in decades.

Talking About Sexual Stuff On The Phone

We routinely get loose with language. Take “phone sex” for example*. I write a family friendly blog, so it’s not like I have any experience with it, but isn’t it a bit presumptuous to label talking about sexual stuff with another person as “sex”? Granted, “talking about sexual stuff on the phone” is uber-wordy, but far more accurate.

Similarly, as everyone does these days, it’s presumptuous to label “on-line teaching” as teaching. Take Dr. Paige Harden for example:

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 9.59.06 AM.pngHarden has an informative twitter thread on how to “teach on-line” and you can see her and a colleague in action here:**

Everyone refers to “teaching on-line”, but Harden’s specific phrase “teaching to a camera” highlights the fallacy of the phrase.

You can present to a camera, but you cannot teach to one. “Okay Boomer” alert. . . the word “teaching” should be preserved for IRL settings. The “on-liners” can go as crazy as they want with “presenting”.

Teaching encompasses more layered relationships with students than presenting. Teaching interactions involve direct eye contact, silences, nonverbal communication, occasional emotion, and one-on-one conversations outside of class where each of those are even more integral. Teaching, at least in the humanities and social sciences, entails learning your students’ stories, tweaking your plans according to those stories, and being spontaneous and authentic in ways that are difficult in a separate studio. Teaching is messy for the same reasons all interpersonal relationships are—because everyone enters into the conversation with different worldviews shaped by contrasting gender identities, class backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, and political beliefs. And then, for good measure, add in status and power imbalances.

Teachers have a more immediate sense of how a course is going than presenters because technology-mediated feedback is harder to interpret. When I lecture in an auditorium, I can assess audience engagement based upon several subtleties including eye contact, head nods, facial expressions, and the number (and quality) of questions asked afterwards. The technologist will argue they can do the same sort of thing on-line, but I’m skeptical because teaching entails a dynamism that I don’t believe exists in on-line presenting. My “in real life” students routinely alter my lectures, discussions, and activities with unpredictable questions, or comments directed to me or their classmates, whose responses cannot be anticipated either. Again, technologist will say their presenting is similarly organic, but again, everything is relative.

So let me correct the record. As the nation’s professors and students turn to cameras, microphones, screens, and keyboards, some truth-in-advertising is in order. The country’s colleges are not moving to on-line teaching, they’re moving to on-line presenting.

*since no one talks on phones anymore, “sexting” is probably a more relevant frame of reference, another modern phenom I know nothing about

**Apple thanks you for the commercial

 

 

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Jia Tolentino on “The Pitfalls and Potential of the New Minimalism.” Strong opening paragraph.

“The new literature of minimalism is full of stressful advice. Pack up all your possessions, unpack things only as needed, give away everything that’s still packed after a month. Or wake up early, pick up every item you own, and consider whether or not it sparks joy. See if you can wear just thirty-three items of clothing for three months. Know that it’s possible to live abundantly with only a hundred possessions. Don’t organize—purge. Digitize your photos. Get rid of the things you bought to impress people. Downsize your apartment. Think constantly about what will enable you to live the best life possible. Never buy anything on sale.”

2. Goldendoodle has new purpose.

3. A not so genius move. I feel really badly for him.

“Six years ago to the day, a pre-presidential Donald Trump said on Twitter that he sold his Apple shares, complaining about the fact that the company at the time didn’t sell an iPhone with a smaller screen. Assuming Apple’s post-earnings stock gains holds through the open of the markets on Wednesday, its price will have gone up 356% from the day of Trump’s tweet in 2014.”

4. San Fransisco bans cars on Market Street.

“San Francisco’s car-free move is part of a wave of cities around the globe pedestrianizing their downtown cores and corridors, from New York City to Madrid to Birmingham. And there are signs that SF’s effort will not end at Market Street: Local officials in the city are calling to remove cars from other sections of the city.”

5. An interview with the woman who wrote the viral 1,000 word job listing for a “Household Manager/Cook/Nanny”. $35-$40/hour to river swim? I’m in.

Apple Will Get You To Open Your Wallet

Despite the new Apple Watch Series 4’s central features—a built in EKG and “fall detection”—being designed for aging Baby Boomers who may not be able to use it without their grandchildren’s help, the marketing skews young, urban, global, and very creative and good. The bifurcated approach to design and selling is interesting. Go ahead and criticize the high prices for the incremental improvements in hardware, but give Apple’s advertising team credit for continued brilliance.

Apple, Foxconn, Wisconsin

After reading Janesville, I couldn’t help but be interested in this perfectly titled piece in The Atlantic.

Numbers to ponder:

“It has up to $3 billion in tax breaks, to be passed and provided by the state government. Those kinds of tax incentives can get a manufacturer to plant a factory in a given location—but generally at a significant cost to the state budget, and without doing much to help the economy overall.”

What does $3b mean?

“The Washington Postestimates that the breaks could cost the state as much as $230,700 per job created. Tim Culpan at Bloomberg Businessweek puts it at $1 million per job, enough to buy every man, woman, and child in Wisconsin a new iPhone.”

So the margin of error is only $770k/per job created. I recommend the rest of the succinct piece.

Advice for New Investors

Or old. My previous reference and link to Amazon’s historic stock run up was a disservice to all of the esteemed readers of the humble blog. Same with my occasional references to Apple. Please strike all my references to individual stocks from the record.

Jeff Sommer restores order with “How Stocks Can Make You Rich. But They Probably Won’t“.

Heart of the matter:

How can those two sets of facts — the underperformance of the typical stock and the outperformance of the overall stock market — both be correct?

It is because a relative handful of stocks tend to outperform all others by tremendous amounts.

The conclusion:

“. . . most people picking stocks are unlikely to do well for very long.”

In related news, during the evening commute I enjoy listening to Seattle radio’s “Ron and Don”. They care about their community, they’re funny, and they have a beautiful rapport. However, their good work is seriously undermined by their pimping of an on-line trading school. They’re smart enough to know that 99% of day traders get their asses handed to them, despite that, they promote the shit out it.

I wrote them and asked why. No reply. Yet.