TEDxUT Notes

Today at TEDxUT, I was live tweeting all day until I maxed out my update quota. This was my second TED-inspired event, really like the format, though I’d also like to do something a little more … experiential. The venue (UT’s AT&T Center) was great, and the talks were diverse and compelling. Since tweeting was allowed, I did that instead of taking conventional notes, so I’m posting that link instead of a summary.

Selected tweets:

Jim Walker: Sustainability has basic equity component, impacts everyone globally. Challenge: how to pursue sustainability, keep qulaity of life. How do we improve the lives of millions of people living on brink AND improve environment at same time, become sustainable. Gulf between academy and athletics at UT. Nobody’s fault, matter of evolution. Both leaderships focused on relationships.

Melissa Lott (on Energy): In 10-15 years, we’ll have translational tools to put data into useful formats for feedback and management. Powerful to be able to see electric flows per appliance/device in home. We need to make people passionate about the science of sustainability. Space program analogy. We need that kind of excitement. Astronaut Barbie becomes Energy Wonk Barbie.

Derek Woodgate: How can we augment the learning process? Convergence, ambience, collaboration, remix. Delivering context and relevance… context-based, media-rich, collectively generated, diy and access culture. Mulltiuser immersive enviironments, recombine knowledge into different perspectives. Continuum of learning throughout life. Concept of the sense event. Intesnse, interactive, with augmented ambience. Deliver a sensation, built into an experience. Teachers and students co-create and design educational experiences, real sense of being there.

Ramon Alberto Garza: What’s happening with information? People not consuming broadcast as much. Information a commodity. What will people pay for? Understanding and entertainment. [I would add context.] Global Alliance for Information Tech Development formed to expand global connectivity.Propose and information society bill of rights. In broadcast world, editorial funnels decide what information we get. In the web world, information is firehosed into our brains. Cellphones bringing dark ages villages to the 21st Century quickly.

David Cameron: If you give people more control over their lives, you can build a stronger and better society. Politics will succeed only if you go with the grain of human nature: treat people as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Evolution from local power to central power to people power. Pre to post bureaucratic. ehavioral economics: give people comparison data showing what others are doing, as in energy efficiency. JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Now you actually have the knowledge to do (for your country). RFK on what GNP doesn’t capture (longer speech) http://bit.ly/bdtUkT

John Daly: Teaching influence: create need, have a plan, show benefits,what happens if we don’t adopt. Simple persuasion model. Creating a need: unless there is pain, there’ll be no change. Creating a need: unless there is pain, there’ll be no change. Correlation of healthcare to donor class is practically perfect right now. No pain. Significance of affected parties: rich matter more. Poor and uninsured don’t have power to make the case for healthcare. Campaigns not a battle of facts, but a battle of stories. Republicans sucked people into discussion of plan before need had been established. Pretended there was one plan, cherry picked. People fear regret more than they’re excited by opportunities.

Peter Stone: Stone is into robots, fully autonomous agents in the real world. Could be robots, could be software agents. Robots doing sensing and decisionmaking in the real world in early Robocup, but not well articulated. Have to alter rules of soccer for human vs robot game. Thinking how to do that. Cars with autonomous agents who have a reservation path can make traffic lights and stop signs obsolete. A goal of AI to achieve robust, fully autonomous agents in the world. Result: Jetsons or dystopia?

Meg Withgott: Tree in Amazon jungle with aerial roots that seemed to lift it from the soil – “its a tree that walks,” says the guide. Changed the way she saw culture, life, creation. First tree she new was a huge spreading apple tree. Neighbor said the tree was planted by Johnny Appleseed. Meg thought this was a tall tale or myth. Story of a tree that thinks, the Dream of the Rood. Tree linked old native story to a new story. Tree thinks and speaks. Tree tells the story of the crucifixion. Rebirth is important for this tree. Talking tree promises healing for those who believe. Later Anglo Saxons look to trees for healing – is this a myth? Do trees think? We’ve learned that plants respond to touch and have memories, signal, communicate, plan, do cost-benefit analyses. Back to Amazon, trees really can walk. Socratea exorrhiza. Trees use aerial roots as legs. The Walking Tree can step a meter a year. She had blinders that obscured her outlook when the guide originally spoke… thought plants were more machinelike.

Bruce Sterling: Nonprofit idea that is worth spreading: Design Fiction. Becoming chic in the design world. Has a lot to do with lower coordination costs. Has dropped people across disciplines into each other’s laps. Design Fiction = Has dropped people across disciplines into each other’s laps. Most products of human genius are never real objects, anyway. Designers and fiction writers are up to date with storyboards, user observation studies, scientific experiments, brainstorming. Everybody who’s involved has a different idea about what design fiction is. Recommendations who to follow. FIrst, @bruces. Then Branco Lukic. Dunn and Ravey, critical design, Royal College of Art. BERG, and experience design company in London. Have an onboard sci fi writer, Warren Ellis. Julian Bleecker, guru of Neat Future Laboratory.Make diegetic prototypes,actual objects, commonly electronic, to make political point. Jake Dunagan, Institute of the Future. Into immersive futurist experiences: future shock therapy.Design fiction has to be scripted, thought up. Not standard futurism. Social intervention or activism.

Sidney Burrus: Open Educational Resources. Burrus is involved with Connexions at Rice – similar to MIT Open Courseware. Connexions is a respository of modules of informaiton online, plus tools for athoring and maintaining content. Book is mature technology being replaced by net-based content delivery, which is more immediate and current. A book created by a stay at home rural Illinois mom (Catherine Schmidt-Jones, Music Theory) via Connexions is globally one of the most read books in its field (music). Within 3 days Minh Do created Fundamentals of Signal Processing for his class – with chapters by global experts. Software to enable virtual laboratories. Powerful learning tool. Creative Commons important for broader distribution of learning.

SXSW 2010 Notes: Universities in the Era of Free

I think what’s happening with universities today reflects what’s happening in other fields – journalism, other forms of publishing including the music industry, energy, manufacturing, retail, the old doctom era, etc. Things are just changing everywhere. Old business models aren’t working.

The presenters here, Glenn Platt and Peg Faimon, note that the university has been an enduring institution but it’s resting on its laurels and has to think about changing. They described an image, taken from Daniel Quinn but we’ve all seen it, of a peddling flying machine attempting a takeoff over a cliff, having that momentary sensation of flying but actually falling. Higher education is facing unparalleled crisis, tectonic changes. Universities are in a state of collapse. Some entrepreneurs are doing well in this space, but the traditional universities are crumbling.

The speakers went on to convey some lists…

What are universities for?
1) Convey knowledge
2) Create knowledge (research)
3) Develop the (well-rounded, not just professional) person.
4) Contribute to society, at levels both local and global.
5) Have a “signal ability” – higher education as a signaling model, signaling the quality of a person coming out of the institution. This is a validation: “I’m smart because I have a degree.”
6) Seed innovation, working with industry.

But the system’s breaking down:
1) Costs are too high. Tuition is becoming too expensive for common enrollment, the University’s out of reach for some, yet schools are still in the red. I.e. they can’t charge enough to sustain their activities.
2) “You have to go to the mountain” and prostrate yourself to the guru in order to get single-centered knowledge.
3) There’s no control over the clock. You have to do it over the university’s timetable (~6 yrs.) and schedule.
4) The experts are local. You can only access the teachers on your campus. Expertise lies in networks – higher education finds that disturbing.
5) Universities change “one funeral at a time.” Because of tenure, professors aren’t judged by productivity. There’s no sense of market pressures. Change management is difficult.
6) Faculties hire people just like themselves.

What’s driving the breakdown? Tectonic change:
1) Change in learning styles. People learn differently now. They way they manifest themselves has changed.
2) Collapse of disciplinary structure: “know more and more about less and less until they know nothing” – against the tendency today to be broad AND deep.
3) Acceleration of K-12, where people are learning things previously taught in college. “Senior to sophomore” – seniors are testing out of the freshman year at collage, starting with a full year of credit. This has a negative impact on some curricula that depend on that first year to lay a foundation.
4) Networking technologies are flattening hierarchies.
5) Students and parents as consumers – there’s more of a consumer mind set in determining about schools to attend and what to study.
6) Employers are more active in developing curricula, companies have more influence. There’s more of a market focus, but universities don’t do this well.
7) Location independence.
8) The Internet.

Entrepreneurs stepping in – disruptions:
1) Open Courseware, various online learning opportunities including those at MIT, Itunes University, LectureFox, NPR Forum Network, TED, Open Culture, Research Channel, etc.
2) Textbooks more accessible online, via Google Books, Flat World, Textbook Revolution, Course Smart, etc. There’s also Cramster.com, GradeGuru.com, ShareNotes.com, etc. And there’s University of the People, a tuition-free online university. Also OpenUniversity in the UK. And the University of Phoenix currently has 150,000 MBA students.

How does the traditional university evolve? The professor of the future is….
1) Experience designer.
2) Project manager.
3) Angel investor – identify resources and solve problems, map the road to success.
4) Curator – find and make sense of the wealth of free information online. What’s more and less valuable?
5) Resource allocator.
6) Life coach.
7) Validator (as with the signaling model)

Where to begin. These recommendations are about bigger picture thinking, more holistic approaches, working across disciplines, being grounded in the “real” world, etc.  Internet/social  technology is an enabler.
1) Experiential learning. Interdisciplinary, project-based courses. Resume builders that also teach how to deal with ambiguity.
2) Multi-institutional collaborations. Need to engage with one another, think globally, maximize resources of each institution. Study-abroad programs are included here. Branch campuses.
3) Train PhDs to think more contextually. PhD’s are thoroughly trained in their specific subjects, but there are no classes that teach PhDs how to teach, or how to be contextual. (I assume what they mean by “be contextual” is look at, think about, and present facts in context, rather than divorced from context).
4) Strategic industry and non-profit partnerships: “we all need each other.”
5) Get rid of tenure. (This is evidently a big issue for Platt.)
6) Student-driven inquiry.
7) Facilitate collaboration.
8) De-privilege institutional content – the Creative Commons/Science Commons idea of making data and other content shareable and usable  across institutions.
9) Reward failure. Get rid of the doctrine of “publish or perish.” Allow time to fail and innovate.
10) Get rid of Departments and focus on Questions. Bennington is  doing this, according to the speakers, and I found this idea particularly intriguing and challenging. This would drive multidisciplinary approaches. Teaches students how to ask and answer questions – presumably how to find the right questions, too. Kevin Leahy would like this (http://knowledgeadvocate.com).
11) Think like an entrepreneur.
12) Give more than you get.
13) Hire people that think this way.