Thursday, January 31, 2013

Virtual You in Virtual U

As I head back into the classroom next week, I ran across a few interesting stories on virtuality and education.

First, the popularity of Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) continues to grow, but there are some doubts about what sustainable business models will evolve with these educational initiatives.  One reason to believe that the 'Virtual U' is here to stay is the fact that credible institutions (big brands) in education (Harvard, Stanford, Duke, etc.) and popular, successful professors have taken to this new forum for learning.

Update: 26 January, Thomas Friedman revisits the 'revolution' MOOCs are having on higher education in his NY Times column.

On the other end of the spectrum, traditional classrooms are still coming to grips with the influence of digital media in and around the face-to-face learning environment.  Consider the experiment by the Information Technology and Education Group at Weber State University where Luke Fernandez, Scott Rogers and Susan J. Matt gave students assignments and moderated their Internet connections, i.e., some could browse as much as they liked and others had no Internet access.

The results were striking in that, while students acknowledged the disruptive aspect of Internet connectivity, they nonetheless felt that humans can still be in full control of machines (e.g., computers). This confirms what most organizational scientists believe, that technological determinism is 'dead,' and that human free will (agency) lives. It also runs counter to the concerns around smartphones making us crazy.  In fact, despite the experiment making students more conscious of the disruptions of IT, the majority still want to own a smartphone.

Maybe its a generational thing?  And, maybe it helps explain the attraction of MOOCs described above. Or, notwithstanding generational differences, higher connectivity levels are rapidly becoming the 'new normal,' and individual humans will find their own response to those norms.

It will explore this topic more in future posts.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Luke Fernandez, Scott Rogers and Susan J. Matt published in Educause Review.

We proposed turning our campus testing centers into "concentration labs" for writing where instructors could moderate student access to the Internet. For some assignments, access would be unlimited, while for others it would be limited and for still others it would be entirely denied. The idea was that the concentration lab would force students to experience how technology was affecting their writing. In the classroom, we would explore related questions: How are contemporary thinkers responding to the Internet's effect on our culture? How did earlier generations respond to new communication networks such as the telegraph, the phone, and television? Did their experiences anticipate ours?
Early on, we gave our students a survey. Most admitted to being distracted by the Internet. More than 60 percent sympathized with the statement, "Modern technologies interrupt me too often." As one student explained,
"I wrote while texting on my cell phone and occasionally clicking around on the Internet, reading a Wikipedia article or checking an RSS feed. I found myself easily distracted, not very motivated to finish the essay, even though it had a rapidly approaching deadline. Completion only came when I forced myself to intensely focus on the essay, not allowing myself to be distracted by the attractive lure of Internet connectivity."
Although students clearly perceived the interruptive potential of technology, they were unwilling to modify their behavior. Indeed, despite their acknowledgement that much technology is distracting, more than 50 percent agreed with the statement, "If money wasn't an issue, I'd buy a smartphone." They felt confident that resisting modern technology's many temptations was merely a matter of willpower.
To shake that faith, we assigned texts that described how the Internet was rewiring our brains. To our surprise, rather than challenging their sense of control, these readings seemed to enhance it. By learning where the dangers lurked, students felt they could better avoid them. One student explained:
"I do acknowledge that now, more than ever, we must be responsible for our own ability to focus. In a world that is increasingly distracted, I feel that the primary distinction between those who are distracted by the Internet and those who are cognizant and purposeful with their Internet use is simply that we need to be aware that above anyone else, we as individuals are in control of our Internet usage. We are the rulers and moderators of our connectivity, and we alone can assert our dominance [over] it."
Another observed:
"I recognize more how my life has been shaped by technology. I like recognizing that I am being shaped by it but that I have the power to change it if I want."

For the full article follow this link.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Co-creating value with connectivity

I've been in Berkeley for a few days and meeting up with my colleague, Dr. Christoph Breidbach at University of California, Merced.  Christoph has just published, with Ananth Srinivasan and myself, a ground-breaking article on connectivity and IT-enabled value creation.  It is based on Christoph's study of how consultants encounter and overcome connective gaps as they work together with their clients using various media.  Christoph is now working with Professor Paul Maglio on 'big data' projects from a service science perspective.

I also recently spent a week skiing in Colorado, where I encountered an example of what the service science folks call 'value co-creation.'  Or, at least it shows how technical connectivity creates data, which can become a valuable aspect of the user experience.

When you purchase an Epic Ski Pass, you get an RFID (radio frequency identity) card, which allows you to ski  the Colorado resorts of Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek.  But that is not all the plastic card does.  First of all, you keep it in your pocket, instead of dangling outside your coat.  And, when the friendly staff wave a wand over your parka, they know your name and greet you as if they know you.  They may also see other things about you, like the type of pass you have purchased and possibly other aspects, like where you live, but I'm not sure.  So, their access to your data changes the interaction experience you get on the mountain.

But, wait, there's more.  Download the EpicMix app and you find that every lift ride you've taken is registered, giving you summary statistics of you ski day, comparing it to yesterday's performance, and so on. Around the mountain, you will also find photographers who happily take your photo, which will guessed it...on the EpicMix app and website.  (You call also get great tag-along reports from an app called Ski Tracks.)

My experience on the mountain reminded me of the service science notion of 'value co-creation,' whereby the IT application and the data it captures is, in and of itself, not that 'valuable.'  It really only becomes useful or 'cool' when I play along, i.e., smiling back when greeted by name, posing for a photo, and logging into the app or website as a means of extending, recording, and celebrating my day on the slopes.  If I do nothing, the data are there, but not fully utilized, which is the sort of problem the big data analysts are working on.

The question this raises however is how does one 'escape' to the mountains in a world of embedded connectivity?  And, what happens to our data--photos, names, ski runs, etc--once we leave the mountain?  It was a great trip.  I am just curious when and where it all ends.