Doom to college as we know it

One commentator looks at the San Jose MOOC decision and forecasts the fall of American higher education.

Ferenstein presents this timeline:

  1. Pilot succeeds, expands to more universities and classes
  2. Part-time faculty get laid off, more community colleges are shuttered, extracurricular college services are closed, and humanities and arts departments are dissolved for lack of enrollment (science enrollment increases–yay!?)
  3. Graduate programs dry up, once master’s and PhD students realize there are no teaching jobs. Fewer graduate students means fewer teaching assistants and, therefore, fewer classes
  4. Competency-based measures begin to find the online students perform on par with, if not better than, campus-based students. Major accredited state college systems offer fully online university degrees, then shutter more and more college campuses
  5. A few Ivy League universities begin to control most of the online content, as universities all over the world converge toward the classes that produce the highest success rates
  6. In the near future, learning on a college campus returns to its elite roots, where a much smaller percentage of students are personally mentored by research and expert faculty

A big-picture scenario

Here’s a classic scenario process, presented by Jamais Cascio.  Very useful example of the form.

Start with two drivers:

Right now, the overriding challenge facing us is the global environment, especially the climate. We’re seeing climate disruption-linked events happening faster and harder than was expected, even while the world’s moving backwards in terms of carbon controls (e.g., Canada filed the paperwork to withdraw from Kyoto in order to be able to exploit the tar sands, Germany’s carbon emissions are increasingly rapidly as they replace nuclear plants with coal, China is being China, etc.). The only place that’s seeing any real improvement is (believe it or not) the United States, and that’s because fracking is allowing us to swap natural gas in for coal. 

There’s also the state of the global economy. A mild improvement in the US as well as fear fatigue has allowed us to think that the worst is over, that everything will be okay in Europe, etc. That’s not necessarily so, and it wouldn’t really take much to tip us back into the “it’s all about to fall apart” anxiety of a year or so ago.

Next, make a continuum out of the two – nice twist: Read the full post »

Scanning the horizon: one case

Ford’s in-house futurist describes her environmental scanning method.

First, she emphasizes trend identification:

Q: So how do you track trends? Are you constantly on Twitter or how do you do it?

A: Well, I’ve been doing it for nine years, so it’s gotten a little easier over time, but it’s really about pattern recognition — looking for recurring themes, and seeing things that re-emerge and starting to have an eye for something, what are the drivers behind this, why does this seem like it’s going to be important, and will it have staying power?

Next, environmental scanning:

I have this title of Futurist, and people think it sounds so exotic, and I have to explain, it means 95% of my time is spent reading. And I read anything and everything. Now, the things that I read when I first started out are quite different from the things that I read today. It’s a little bit easier for me to spot trends. But I have an informal database of over 200 trends, and I go, well that’s an example of information addiction, or information overload. And I just start to save those, and keep those running. But I enjoy reading things like the New York Times, the Guardian, the Economist, Wired magazine has really interesting examples. But I also like long-form books. I’m particularly fond of the inspiration I get from the TED conferences, which feature technology, entertainment, and design, showcasing thought leadership from around the world. You just never know. So I just read anything that crosses my desk. (emphases added)

Extrapolating through the North Pole

Here’s an interesting little case of extrapolation. Maybe the number of ships crossing the Arctic Ocean will increase, as the northern ice cap continues to recede.
Check out the numbers:

Shipping routes through the opening-up Arctic.

If we trace that arc forward, when do we hit 100 ships, 2020 or so?


Looking back as 2012 as future

Reflecting on predictions is a useful exercise.  In one case it can be heartening: seeing which futuristic predictions came true in 2012.

Overall?  Lots of progress.  The machines are doing well.

One trend set for 2013

Here’s an interesting list of “four unexpected macro trends” for 2013, from Thomas Frey:

  1. The Shift to Natural Gas Vehicles
  2. The Great Insourcing Movement – The Pendulum Swings Back Again
  3. Multidimensional Literacy – The Evolution of Consumable Information
  4. The Legalized Marijuana Movement – Nudging the Snowflake that Started the Avalanche

#3 is of special interest for educators.  He breaks it down into some useful ways:

People in the U.S. are consuming information 11.8 hours every day, and they are doing it in many different ways:

Photo Literacy – Currently over 250 million photos are uploaded onto Facebook every day.
Video Literacy – Google recently announced that videos are being uploaded to YouTube at a rate of 48 hours of video every minute.
Coding Literacy – With over 8,000 coding languages currently in existence and new ones coming into play faster than old ones are going away, people who are “code literate” are in huge demand.
Game Literacy – The video game industry is expected to grow from $67 billion in 2012 to $82 billion in 2017 with game playing in 70% of all households.
App Literacy – Between Apple and Android, over 1.5 million apps are currently in existence and this number is climbing rapidly.
Device Literacy – The “Internet of Things” is growing exponentially, and Cisco estimates the number of devices connected to the Internet by 2020 hit 50 billion.
Social Media Literacy – One out of every five pageviews on the web is on Facebook. With over 1 billion registered users, Facebook is leading the pack, but there are many other brands of social media like Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn nipping at their heals.
In addition to the ones listed above are streaming music, podcasts, audio books, movies, courseware, and many more.

On the one hand this recalls classic information literacy arguments. On the other, it’s so broad as to mean “communication” rather than literacy.

Predictions from Scientific American

Car of the future, 1918Here is a fun article looking back at predictions made in the pages of Scientific American, over the past century+.

I’m charmed by this one:

The car of the future will have no such thing as a “driver’s seat.” All the seats in the car save the rear one will be moveable. Driving will be done from a small control board, which can be held in the lap. It will be connected to the mechanism by a flexible electric cable. A small finger lever, not a wheel, will guide the car. [January 5, 1918]

Against Nate Silver

Critiques of Nate Silver’s work have appeared from the right this season, so it’s unusual to read one coming from another direction.

Short version: “Silver Ignores Politics and Loves Experts.”

Longer version: Cathy O’Neil notes that Silver blames the 2008 financial crash on bad modeling… but not on corruption, or unethical business practices.

We didn’t have a financial crisis because of a bad model or a few bad models. We had bad models because of a corrupt and criminally fraudulent financial system.

That’s an important distinction, because we could fix a few bad models with a few good mathematicians, but we can’t fix the entire system so easily. There’s no math band-aid that will cure these boo-boos.

Similarly, in regards to bad modeling in medical research,

flaws in these medical models will be hard to combat, because they advance the interests of the insiders: competition among academic researchers to publish and get tenure is fierce, and there are enormous financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies.

I haven’t gotten to either of those chapters in Silver’s book yet, but yikes!  What blinders.

Four futures for 2030

An interesting futures example, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” (National Intelligence Council) sketches out some geopolitical directions.

It begins by identifying a set of drivers, or “Megatrends”.  These include: increased individual empowerment; diffusion of global power (decline of US unipolarity); certain demographics (some countries age extensively, while there are also , “a still-significant but shrinking number of youthful societies and states”; growing urbanization; a potential resource crisis (the “food, water, and energy nexus”).

The authors also mention a bunch of “game changers”, problems which could also warp things: governance problems, economic fragility, rise of conflict, regional instability, new technology.

Using these drivers and selected game changers, the report presents four scenarios.

  • Stalled Engines. The bad one: “Under this scenario, the eurozone unravels quickly, causing Europe to be mired in recession. The US energy revolution fails to materialize, dimming prospects for an economic recovery… global economic growth falters and all players do relatively poorly”.
  • Fusion, the happiest, in some ways: “With the growing collaboration among the major powers, global multilateral institutions are reformed and made more inclusive. In this scenario, all boats rise substantially.”
  • Gini Out-of-the-Bottle.  That’s “Gini” as in the famous inequality coefficient.  Economic inequality booms, and “the lack of societal cohesion domestically is mirrored at the international level. Major powers are at odds; the potential for conficts rises. More countries fail, fueled in part by the dearth of international cooperation on assistance and development. In sum, the world is reasonably wealthy,but it is less secure as the dark side of globalizationposes an increasing challenge in domestic and international politics”.
  • Nonstate World.  The decline of states and their replacement: “Formal governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful. Multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs,and others that are used to cooperating across borders and as part of networks thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than “weight” or “position.””.

In comparing US outcomes, the team offered this intriguing view of what national GDP might look like as a proportion of global output.  Note which scenario is best for that condition:

US GDP as portion of global, broken down by scenarios.

Also in this project: a nice set of black swans, and a group blog for surfacing ideas..

Where futuring fails

Interesting conversation with Phil Tetlock, concerning the limitations of political forecasting.