Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day and the End of the Summer

In years past I've blogged about how at the beach and fishing community where I vacation, the Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer and a time full of possibilities. My neighbors and I
keep boats and so by Memorial Day we tend to launch for the season. Over that weekend we emerge from a winter away, generally pale skinned and in the midst of minor repairs on our properties for the season. We talk to each other about our plans, show each other changes or improvements on our boats or our docks. Sometimes we even have new boats to show off. We talk about the fishing we'll do that year, the excursions we'll take to nearby and far away marinas. Memorial Day weekend is a wonderful time of possibilities. In many ways, it is the sunrise of the summer.

In the blink of an eye, all those fishing trips and excursions and days at the beach and seafood meals are behind us for the 2014 season. Labor Day has arrived and it's more like a sunset than a sunrise – still beautiful, but maybe in a slightly sadder way. We are tanned and full of nice memories. Our kids are going back to school and we will have to spend more time back at home. We'll still have some weekends, and the early fall is really a beautiful time at the beach and on the water, but the summer is really over.

So long summer! I'll enjoy the other seasons, but I'm secretly counting the weeks until next Memorial Day.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Right To Be Forgotten


Cultural differences in our sense of privacy and freedom
Do we have a right to be forgotten? Many of us surely wish to be remembered, at least by our close friends and family. But there are times when elements of our past could reflect negatively on our present. With that in mind, some countries recognize in law the idea of the ‘Right To Be Forgotten.’
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In 2012 the European Commision for Justice and the European Union moved to establish a new privacy right – the right to be forgotten. The concept is based in French law holding that a convicted criminal who has served his sentence can object to the publication of the original crime. This European notion of privacy may be somewhat at odds with the American ideas of freedom of information and freedom of speech.
How do these ideas apply in the Internet age?

 “…it is very hard to escape your past on the Internet now that every photo, status update, and tweet lives forever in the cloud.”
Jeffrey Rosen
Professor of Law, The George Washington University

Image credit: ukfast.co.uk

This privacy-freedom tension was brought sharply into focus when in May 2014 Mario Costeja González, a Spanish citizen, brought a complaint to the European Court of Justice regarding Google links. He asked that Google remove links to newspaper articles about past debts and home foreclosures – debts he had since paid. The court ruled that Google would indeed have to take down the links for versions of its search operating within Europe. This decision, which now affects all search engines operating in Europe, may well seem odd to American citizens who are accustomed to freedom of information and freedom of speech as ideas that may trump personal privacy. The decision certainly must have seemed burdensome to Google, an American company whose existence is based on making published information available as broadly as possible.

Since May, Google has received nearly 100,000 requests to take down links from its European search operations and reportedly has been complying and taking down links at a rapid rate.

What are the implications of this issue? Is this “right to be forgotten” a basic human right? Will it lead to revisionism with risks to accurate history? Are there ways to strike a balance?


Please share a comment and let us know your thoughts.


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Friday, June 13, 2014

Your Mac Is Now A Sideshow

Your iPhone and iPad have become the main event


Okay, I don't know that I really mean a "sideshow." Maybe more like an accessory or a peripheral. What I do know is that for some time, mobile devices have been getting more powerful and more popular and tech powerhouses have been thinking about how to push them to center stage – and what it means for their business models when they succeed. The reason is obvious: more mobile devices get sold every year than computers, and monetizing their larger numbers makes sense. When your company makes both computer and mobile operating systems, as is the case for Apple and Microsoft, it’s your job to figure out how to make the user experience a positive one for the larger population of mobile user and perhaps to put them at center stage. I believe that in the Apple ecosystem, June 2nd was the day when the scales fully tipped and mobile became dominant.

Let me try to make my case.

Early this month, Apple held its 2014 World Wide DevelopersConference (WWDC), a conference at which it communicates primarily with the Apple developer community, while knowing that much of the rest of the tech community watches. WWDC is not an event at which new Apple hardware typically gets announced. Instead, we hear about near future versions of iOS, the operating system that runs on Apple mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, and MacOS, the operating system that runs on Apple laptops and desktop computers. This year, we heard about iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 (also called “Yosemite”).

Many new features and facilities were introduced. Apple announced a HealthKit for developers of health related applications, with the promise of inter-working devices and software to let us track health targets, and they released a basic Health app to get us started. They announced a HomeKit for developers to allow home automation to come together on iOS devices.  They announced a new iCloud Drive service, and a new iOS programming language called Swift.

The thing that caught my attention, though, was Apple’s progress towards a very converged iOS and MacOS experience. Some of the functionality of iOS, such as the Notification center and its “Today view” will now come to MacOS. And Macos is taking on some of the look of iOS.

What really strikes me most is that iOS devices, which number in the hundreds of millions are becoming the primary devices, and Mac laptops and desktops (whose sales are much lower) are becoming accessories or peripherals, working closely with your mobile devices. Apple announced a number of new ways in which iOS devices and MacOS devices can work together more seamlessly and in some cases the iOS device is the glue that holds them together.

Continuity is a set of features that will enable moving work easily between and among Apple devices. This applies to web pages, mail messages, documents, and even communications such as phone calls and instant messages. It was already possible to send and receive iPhone text messages ("iMessages") from a MacOS computer. Now, using the iPhone as the hub, even non-iPhone text messages can be handled directly on the Mac. Get a phone call on your iPhone? That call can be picked up on the Mac – by leveraging the iPhone's capabilities.

Apple is moving quickly (and unlike Microsoft, successfully) toward a unified user experience. More than that, Apple is creating workflows that seamlessly move among your Apple devices. But the subtle point in this is that it's your iPhone that may be providing the glue that holds it all together. The iPhone becomes the crucial device, and your Mac becomes the convenient large screen and keyboard when you need it.

Are you ready for your iPhone or iPad to be the primary device, and a laptop or desktop to be an accessory? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Doctoral Dissertation Defense (Part 2)

Some friends and colleagues have followed along in blog posts and social media as I pursued an Ed.D. (a doctorate in education) at the University of Pennsylvania over the course of the last two years. I've now completed the journey, successfully defending during early April 2014, and graduating in May 2014. I've decided to use two blog posts to share what the defense experience was like. In part one I include my opening remarks. In this second installment, I include an abridged version of the defense question and answer period. 
 ____________________________

Following opening remarks, the Committee Chair (Professor G) opens the floor for committee questions, asking one of the committee members to begin.

Professor Z:                All right.  For everybody else, I have shared with Deke a [manuscript] which is a description of what Deke has correctly labeled the year of the MOOC, in the Times and the like, and the reaction to it. [Next, references a recent Penn survey]. The key question that they’re going with in the rollout of the results is what are the biggest challenge faced by MOOCs? And if you’re at an institution that offers MOOCs, 58% say the biggest challenge is we don’t know the benefit. But you do think they know the benefits. 

Kassabian:                  I can only speak for three institutions.

Professor Z:                You can speak for four.

Kassabian:                  [Laughter] Yes, actually, I can speak about four. Because I did a pilot study at Penn, and I know some people at Penn.  [Audience Laughter]

                                    The small number of people that claim to have some authority on this topic at the universities that I studied really had a very clear message – that there were a small number of benefits that they were ready to lean upon, to rely upon.  And that in two out of the three cases, the first benefit was teaching and learning, innovation, increasing the conversation around pedagogy, and improving teaching and learning on campus.  And in the third university, I think that was their second benefit.  So they are on the same page about this one, and interestingly in the public narrative, in the press, this just doesn’t appear.  This is not what the public is speaking of, not what the press is speaking of.  What the public talks about is educational outreach, and all of the universities are interested in that as well.  But what’s the value proposition in that if only public relations benefit, branding benefit to the university, and so that is clearly a benefit to all the universities as well.

                                    Then for some number of universities – I think they would all say this, but for some universities it is particularly true – there is a research benefit.  This is true for – clearly for Harvard and MIT, and for Stanford.  It’s a little less true, I think, for Penn, Duke, and Columbia.

Professor Z:                Okay.  So I want to give you an opposite interpretation of your data, and I’m not questioning the data, nor am I questioning –. So you are talking to people who have made a bet on MOOCs. And they made a bet in the good glory days; they weren’t going to be like the University of Virginia. They were going to be out there in the troops, in the trenches. And suddenly the damn thing is receding on them. 

                                    And you come along and what they do is give you the easiest answer they can: “Oh, this is all benefiting teaching and learning, stirring the conversation, all of that.”  In your research, do you have any evidence – I’m not talking about the research side. I’ll get to that in a minute, just on any of these campuses, there is an improved teaching and learning conversation?  Could they cite evidence that there was improved teaching and learning conversation?

Kassabian:                  I don't know about evidence, and it’s hard for me to imagine what evidence would look like. What I can say is that multiple people at each site said this. Now, that might be groupthink. They might be saying it to each other, and so they all say it to me.  But some of these people are those who are in charge of the MOOC efforts, and some of them are members of the faculty, and it’s very hard to get faculty to go along with your talking points.  So people said this.

Professor Z:                I know you cite Harvard for the research side, and you’re involved in [research at Penn]. Did you get any sense of what that emerging research agenda will look like?

Kassabian:                  You know, the research agenda is pretty broad. There is a lot to study. I think there is a great deal of opportunity, and one of the areas that I’m particularly interested in is a closer look at the details of how a student engages with online education resources, and what we can learn from that. And so the kind of casual way to look at this is if you take the quiz shortly after watching the video, do you do better than if you take the quiz a day after watching the video? 

                                    The kinds of things you can learn by having the actual data to look at, some of things that you’ve pointed out in talking about [APUS]’s data. When you have enough click data, you can learn an awful lot about how students engage.

Professor Z:                That’s what they’re doing?

Kassabian:                  That’s what they’re doing. So they’re looking at this at massive scale. And then in some cases, are able to observe important things very quickly.  So Andrew Ng, one of the founders of Coursera, has a great example, where in one of his own courses, he saw 2,000 people among the early quiz takers get something wrong, and he realized it was a matter of his presentation being misleading.  And he went and quickly changed the presentation and watched the next 2,000 people get it right.

                                    [expanded discussion on faculty/student involvement, removed]

Professor W:               I want to turn back to a question to Deke actually. We could have a much longer debate beyond the scope of the dissertation. But, I guess the question is whether these issues are connected. One’s view about the goals and potential of MOOCs for a university is visibly shaped by one’s perception of who the students are. And so just sort of a follow-up on [the previous] question about the discussion about students, I wondered if you have any perspective from the research about whether this thought process and the goals of the institutions were just totally divorced from those questions, or whether maybe that was what was happening, that some realization was taken and MOOCs was influencing them.

Kassabian:                  Let me take a shot, and you can guide me if I’m answering the wrong question. So I think the three universities and the faculty members who taught MOOCs at those universities, with whom I spoke, recognized two groups of students. One was a set of students who were taking their MOOCs, and one was a set of students they saw on campus everyday. And so to them, there were benefits to the set of students who were taking the MOOCs in that they were taking some content from behind the closed doors or walls of the university, and making it more available to more people in an open way. And so this was, for them, the primary benefit. To them, it was clear that getting their content out to more people was a winner–  just an unqualified winner.

                                    And then there was a community of students that they saw every day on their campus. And for that community of students, there was a benefit in that if they could hone their message, if they could improve their teaching, if they could create content that they could plow back into their classrooms, if they could benefit that community, there was another win and they would take that win as well. And so there were two communities of students that were on their mind throughout.

Professor W:               Absolutely.  So again, this is a really valuable line of research because it does give a whole lot more texture of probably the process that hasn’t been fully investigated.  The question I have is universities are not unitary institutions, right, there is no – you can’t say this is the goal that Columbia has or always has had.  It’s a variety of voices over a period of time, and that’s what the research dug into.

                                    But a specific question I had is, you know, if one asks what are the goals of these institutions visàvis MOOCs.  I think there are at least two ways one could investigate that.  One is what were they thinking, especially the small number of decision makers who made the decision in engaging with the MOOCs to begin with, which I think is not really what you investigated, and it may not be realistic to think that you could.  But what you looked at was really once the institutions have made this decision, what are the processes they put into place, and what are the justifications they articulate, and what are they doing that seems consistent or inconsistent with that.  So I’m curious if that distinction makes sense to you, and your thoughts about the other predecessor question about what made them engage that that might be different, and if there is something lacking in not being able to engage with that.

Kassabian:                  That’s great. That distinction makes a lot of sense. And in fact, along the way, and initially articulating my research questions as what were they thinking and what were their goals, and evolving to what are they thinking, what are their goals is at the crux of the distinction you make.  So I have no good ability to know what conversations took place between the presidents of Stanford and Penn, and the presidents of Coursera and MIT. And frankly, those conversations have as much to do with competition among the top universities in the country as they do with research agenda and pedagogy. What I do have an ability to do is to explore in-depth in the programs in place at the major elite universities involved in MOOCs at this stage of the game, what their goals are and how they will pursue those goals, measure progress, and see value proposition. So I like your distinction and I think I’m able to explore and try to answer questions associated with the latter, not the former.

Professor W:               So the second thing I wanted to ask you about: so your biggest finding, or the ones that you found most surprising, was this notion of what the institutions are – what their goals are, are different than the public narrative. And so I can think of two ways, two reasons that might be the case. One is the media just isn’t paying any attention to what the university is actually saying and doing, and these are just two separate conversations. Another possibility is that the universities are saying different things to different people or at different times.  They post that here are three big goals on the website that you cite, but in conversations with the media and other places, they’re nurturing this different view about access being important. And I’m trying to look through in the dissertation if there is any evidence or anything from the research that would allow one to discern which of those two things are happening.

Kassabian:                  So let me say that when they can pin down leaders at Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere, to speak about their goals, those leaders tend to talk about the access goal, and, fair enough, that is among their goals. What they don’t pin those leaders down to is this idea of improvements in completion or in cost efficiency, which the press still seems to be entirely enamored with.  Those are not the goals of these universities, at least as articulated in their formal goals, and then in their conversations with me. 

                                    The press holds onto these goals, in part, because this is a hot topic in higher education, I believe. They want to see whether this next shiny new thing is going to solve what they perceive to be a set of problems in higher education. And so I don’t recall ever seeing the leadership at HarvardX or MITx, or at Stanford, talking about MOOCs as solving this set of problems.  I do see them talking about the access issue.

Professor Z:                Daphne Koller says all those things. If you want to know where the press gets it, she just gives you one sound bite after another.

Kassabian:                  Oh, fair enough. And I think you can get all kinds of stories from Sebastian Thrun and from Anant Agarwal, and these are the leaders of the MOOC providers. These are not the leaders of the universities. I don’t think Robert Lue or Peter Bol of Harvard give that same message.

Professor Z:                I’m just saying where the press picked up. The press picked it up because of the people promoting it. This was fed to them by people who came to them, who looked an awful a lot like they were coming out of those very elite universities as far they were concerned.

Kassabian:                  Because they did. They came out of the universities, but they were not representing the universities anymore. And Sebastian Thrun, probably more than any of them, tripped over this badly himself. But it was not universities, and not the leaders at the universities, and they never have as far as I can tell, pursued those lines of reasoning.

Professor Z:                Can I go back to the “reputational” for a moment?

Kassabian:                  Sure.

Professor Z:                So yesterday’s New York Times, did you read the story of New York Times, these elite universities are turning down 95 percent of their applicants?

Kassabian:                  I did not.

Professor Z:                That’s front-page New York Times yesterday actually. And I’m sort of struck – I’m still not – and I know it wasn’t your dissertation, but this is you – you delved into this.  I still don’t know what the attraction was. They don’t need brand enhancement. And it’s still not clear to me what they’re getting out of it.  They’re spending real money. What in the world do these institutions get out of this?

Kassabian:                  I’m probably more inclined than you are to take them at their word. 

                                    [Audience Laughter]

Kassabian:                  So I think that they want to have the opportunity to pursue new ways for student learning in the Internet age. So Anant Agarwal from edX has a nice thing he says about this. He says that the new crop of students who come along grew up learning some of what they learned from Kahn Academy, some of what the learned from Ted Talks, some of what they learned from YouTube. If they show up at college and university and we’re not using those same kinds of resources as part of their education, we’re missing the boat. We’re failing to recognize how they learn. So I think there are some who believe that this is the way learning evolves, that the Internet provides an opportunity, and that it makes sense to get onboard early. You don’t want to be the institution who failed to recognize this. 

                                    Now, will the president of Harvard get a “Theresa Sullivan” done to her? No. That’s not going to happen at Harvard. It’s not going to happen at Columbia or at Duke. But they have an opportunity to recognize a changing landscape of learning, and to show some educational leadership. And if they get a little bit of credit for showing that they are adaptable and providing some leadership at a time of higher education change, while also putting content out to the general public, and increasing connection, why wouldn’t they do it? The price for an elite university, a few hundred thousand dollars a year is nothing to them.


Professor Z:                [Compares a recent dissertation that studied Duke with my work]. I’m going to draw a conclusion having read both and believing in both since I’m going to sign both. “What they’ve got is a real problem at Duke,” [according to the other dissertation].  “They got a faculty who keeps thinking they’re getting pushed in these directions, and they periodically [object]. You don’t find that in talking to your people. I didn’t have the feeling that people at Duke were worried about their faculty.  Were they?

Kassabian:                  They were.  There was the Arts and Science Council that actually rebelled, and I cover it briefly in the dissertation. They rebelled at a time when Peter Lange, the provost, wanted to go beyond MOOCs and have some for-credit online courses using Semester Online and 2U. And they said, you know, hold your horses, we are not going to pursue that right now, and Duke had to back away from that agreement. 

                                    And in the shadow of that rebellion, MOOCs became the safe ground.  So what happened was when they resisted pursuing for credit online education, they kind of came to consensus and said but we’ll do not-for-credit MOOCs.  So there was a rebellion within Duke Arts and Science.

Professor G:               Any last thoughts or observations before we ask Deke and his friends to leave the room?

Professor W:               Nothing from me.

Professor Z:                No, nothing further.  This has been a good conversation.

Professor G:               Very good.  Thank you.


[End of defense]