How Google connects with the smart city movement

Whatever we do, we know the world doesn’t need another plan that falls into the same trap as previous ones: treating the city as a high-tech island rather than a place that reflects the personality of its local population’.
These words are from Daniel Doctoroff. In 2016 Larry Page (Google) invited him to be chairman/CEO of a new Alphabet enterprise, Sidewalks Labs. This company aims contributing to the transformation of urban environments through technologies that can drive efficiency, raise accountability, and foster a deeper sense of community. In others words, connecting Google’s expertise to the Smart City movement.
 

Choosing Doctoroff as obvious. He was deputy mayor for city development in the Bloomberg administration. He is deeply concerned with the problems of American cities and at the same time he believes in the power of science and technology to solve them. In his view the Fourth Technological Revolution will integrate five core technologies:

  • ubiquitous connectivism
  • sensing
  • social networks
  • computer power
  • robotics.

Deployed together, these technologies will significantly decrease mobility costs for citizens and for the community at large as well, personalize services and improve safety.

Technologists and urbanists

The ultimate aim is improving the quality of life in cities and not the deployment of technology as such. Therefore Doctoroff carefully staffed Sidewalks Labs with technologists and urbanists. In his words, the first group is in general insensitive to the complexities of cities. The second group does not understand technology: Protecting the social fabric of cities comes first. Both groups talk different languages and do not communicate. Doctoroff believes that their successful collaboration can make the difference between Sidewalk Labs and technology-driven Smart City initiatives. 

Shortening decision making

It is too early to judge whether Sidewalk Labs will fulfill these promises. The published research so far (a couple of titles is shown in this article) shows a great deal of involvement in the problems of the American cities, like the crumbling infrastructure, the lack of accessible health care, and the unaffordability of housing. The modeling of these problems, taking into account realistic population data, enables fast simulations of the impact of solutions and thus shortening of length of the decision making process. This research has revealed ingenious redesign of the public transport network, new models of integrated heath care and proposals that might significantly lower construction costs.

The implementation of solutions

Labs does not limit itself to figuring out solutions; the company is also taking care of their implementation by creating start-ups. For instance, Flow is mapping traffic and (public) transport pattern to optimize networks and thus meaningfully increasing mobility. Link NYC is replacing the 7000 payphones with super-fast free Wi-Fi hubs, paid by advertising on the large hub displays.

In its health care research Sidewalk Labs made clear that most medical problems have social and environmental roots, for instance bad food habits and air pollution. At the same time health care in the US is more expensive than in any other OECD country and its quality, accessibility in particular, is unsatisfying. When it comes to solutions, Sidewalk Labs is focusing on e-health, for instance monitoring patients and consulting physicians at distance.

Mismatch between definition of problems and that of solutions?

At  this point I became aware of a growing feeling of discomfort with the strategy of Sidewalk Labs. 
Labs is brilliant in the realm of defining and modeling problems, freed from any reductionist bias. However, its search for solutions is technology-focused, for instance apps that offer real time affordable solutions for renting apartments or apps that shows vacant parking lots. Not to mention the free Wi-Fi facilities in New York. Flaws in the Smart City approach result partly from a technological bias in the definition of problems. Sidewalk Labs definitely cannot be blamed in this respect. But it fails to integrate technical and non-technical approaches in the the solution of problems. Exactly this is corresponding with distinction between Smart City 2.0 and Smart City 3.0 that I made recently.

I assume that the focus on technological solutions in inherent in Sidewalks Lab’s connection with Alphabet. The ultimate ambition of Sidewalks Labs is to reimagine cities from the Internet up. That is why Alphabet has created the company. In the end, Sidewalks Labs’ mission is paving the way for new services to develop or to deliver by Google.
However, cities, their administrators and inhabitants are yearning comprehensive solutions for their problems. These solutions demand an integrated approach deploying high-tech, low-tech and also no-tech solutions. Here Sidewalks Labs falls short, in spite of Daniel Doctoroff inspiring citation above. Probably ongoing discussion between the technologists and the urbanists will enable this integration in the end.

This is the 4th episode in a series of 6 posts dealing with the ambiguities in smart city development. They were published earlier in smart city hub

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Smart Cities 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. What’s next?

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Smart City 1.0
A Smart City 1.0 is a town that is maximizing the use of advanced technology as a lever for viability, sustainability, and control. These cities are often criticized because of their technology push and the influential role of large corporates, like IBM and CISCO.
Smart City 2.0
The predicate Smart City 2.0 is appropriate if technological tools explicitly are designed to cope with problems like pollution, sanitation, health and traffic in consultation with their citizens. Unfortunately, participation of citizens in formal decision-making structures and meetings is flawed and appeals to a small minority only.
Smart City 3.0
Meanwhile, a much larger number of citizens is involved in activities like gardening, food processing, improving the attractively of streets and even energy production. These activities, often referred to as commoning or place-making are deploying high-, low- or no-tech solutions. They connect every day collaborative acts with broader goals like social inclusion, democracy, enterprise creation and building social capital. Here, the predicate Smart City 3.0 is in order.

This post is about Smart Cities 3.0.

Until today, no city in the world can justify to be a Smart City 2.0 or 3.0. A limited number of cities might claim the predicate Smart City 1.0. The newly build suburb of Seoul, Songdo, probably is one of them (picture above). Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on their way towards Smart City 2.0. and possibly also towards Smart City 3.0. In both cities a number of collaborative projects are running. The Community Lovers Guide offers well illustrated examples from these and other towns. Some of them are mentioned in this post. According to Tessy Britton, one of the authors, many of these projects operate in isolation, lack support and as a consequence their continuity depends on limited number of forerunners.

The benefits of a platform approach

In theory, a platform approach is a useful tool to initiate, support and link projects, create the roots of a participatory culture and coordinate contacts with external parties. The municipal authorities of West Norwood (South London) were willing to support the exploration of the the feasibility of an approach like this. The platform – named The Open Works – became visible when its  ‘headquarter’ was opened in an empty shop.
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The headquarters of Open Works in West Norwood

Citizens were informed during informal and social meetings and any interested person was welcomed for a cup of tea in the headquarter. Within one year 20 projects have been initiated by groups of citizens and nearly 1000 people have participated more or less frequently.

A very readable and well-illustrated report is disclosing the results.

Key findings

The key findings below refer at the outcomes of the pilot project, but they are supported by experiences in other cases.
1. Building a dense and inclusive participatory ecology is feasible
Many citizens appear to be eager to participate in collaborative initiatives, provided these are activity-based. Inclusiveness is within easy reach if initial projects are chosen properly. For instance, multi-cultural cooking during information markets and festivals.
2. The number of activities has to pass a certain threshold to ignite a participatory culture
Adequate scaling-up of the number and the variety of activities is necessary to prevent isolation of single projects and to fuel the development of a particpatory culture. This threshold is is pretty high: ten percent of the citizens will have to meet three times a week on average. Besides, within a walking distance of fifteen minutes at least five alternative projects to be found.

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3. The desirability of different types of participation

A first type are collaborative activities, focussing at daily needs. The second type are community ventures that might develop into social enterprises. Here a small group of people is offering services for the larger community. A well-known example is The Library of Things, based at sharing of utensils and equipment. In time these activities might create economic value and jobs.

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Pendrecht University (Rotterdam)

4. Projects emerge from needs of citizens
Projects are organized ‘on the flow’. Written plans nor formal approval are necessary and some seed capital is available. Support of the platform (‘the headquarter’) appears of critical value. However the participants stay responsible and do the work, finding supplementary funding included.
5. Revival of community services is within reach
A participatory culture might successfully contribute to the reanimation of dilapidated services, like local stores, a minibus connection with major subway stations, refurbishment of abandoned parcels, crime preventing surveillance and reopening of closed amenities like a former community swimming pool . All based on voluntary work and supported by municipal authorities.
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Men’s sheds (in many cities)

6. Care-taking of vulnerable citizens
Participation of vulnerable citizens in community activities sometimes prevent them becoming homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted or criminal. Recent research, summarized in the above-mentioned Open Works final report, is confirming Putnam’s conclusion that community activities increase a society’s social capital and contribute to the physical and mental health of the citizens involved.
7. The platform approach has proved to be valuable
The three parttime staff members ignited projects, brought people together, organized meetings, took care of administrative burdens, intermediated with external parties and were able to pay small sums to deal with project expenses. The municipal investment in the platform was €10 per local resident.
screenshot

An energy company founded and managed by citizens

8. Municipal administration has to adapt
Cooperation between the city administration and the citizens wil be boosted if the municipality is willing to adapt its involvement to citizen’s activities instead of pulling citizen’s activities into the structures of the municipality. Here too platforms are indispensable intermediaries between the administration and the citizens.

What’s next

At first continuation of the Norwood pilot for an additional period of two years was foreseen in view of scaling-up towards a larger territory. The people behind the Norwood case have been looking for a feasible opportunity. And they have found one. Over the next 5 years Participatory City will work with local residents and organisations in the borough Barking and Dagenham to create a new network of 250 projects and 100 businesses. The take-off is just now! See their new website or watch the short documentary below,
In case of success, this municipality might be the first city in the world to claim the predicate Smart City 3.0. Meanwhile other cities are on the same track, to mention only Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We can only hope that these cities learn from the West Norwood pilot and become tough opponents of Participatory City London North. Hopefully, in the near future Smart City 4.0 wil emerge, a city that offers all newly borns equal chances, where inequality is decreasing and where inclusivity is a matter of course.This is the third paper in a series of six, that have been published earlier in The Smart City Hub, a platform for research and opinions with regards to smart cities.

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How stupid can ‘smart cities’ be ?

home for every new yorker
Demonstration for affordable housing – Photo: Getty Images

Smart cities intent deploying big data, information and communication technology to become more sustainable and livable. At best, they proceed not only in favour of their citizens but together with them in the first place. In addition, they enable citizens to develop initiatives of their own. So far so good.

Who is invited to the party?

The question is arising: who are those citizens? Or using Suketu Mehta’s words: Who is invited to the party? After all, making a living in big cities becomes unattainable for many. Buying an apartment in New York City is virtually beyond reach even for double-income couples. Not to speak about renting one. A mattress in a room in Chinatown NYC during an eight hours timeslot a day, costs you $ 200 a month.

Chinatown

Chinatown apartments – Photo: Getty Immages

Already now 50 percent of households in NYC spend more then 30 percent of their income at housing. Thirty percent of all households spend more than half of their income. As a consequence, 14 million households in the USA have already moved out of urban areas during the last decade. In the same period in Chicago only, the number of school children decreased by 145,000. We are in the middle of a large-scaled process of de-urbanization.

The real estate revolution

Saskia Sassen has been studying real estate in world cities since the eighties. Throughout this period, the size of speculative investments has increased annually. Over the past five years, rise has been spectacular. In 2015, it went up to $ 1 trillion, compared with ‘only’ $ 600 billion in 2014. More striking is that nowadays real estate transactions often include whole territories, for instance old industrial areas or railway yards. The purpose of these investments is demolishing existing structures and erecting fancy offices and expensive apartments. A recent example is the acquisition of Atlantic Yards in NYC for $ 5 billion. Currently a territory with small industries and homes. They will be replaced by fifteen giant apartment complexes.

Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards, NYC – Photo AP

A similar phenomenon can be observed in London. The sale of entire areas – for instance the area of the Battersea Power Station –  is accompanied by the privatization of public space. Granary Square near Kings Cross station is one of the biggest London ‘pops’ (private-owned public spaces) with its own rules and guards.

Granary Square, Kings Cross London – Photo: John Sturrock (the Gardian)

Booming housing costs: A global phenomenon

Booming housing costs are a global phenomenon. Even a sharp rise in rentals (sometimes 300%) indicates the beginning of gentrification in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, which have become safer places due to pacification programs. The next next step will be large scale housing in cheap high-rise apartment buildings, as happened happening in many Asian cities. Leaving a lot of empty space for prestigous destinations.

The tragic human cost of smartification

In Africa, the process of smartification also took off. A number of smart cities are being built from ‘scratch’, for instance Eko-Atlantic City in Lagos (Nigeria). Bulldozers and police force are mighty tools in the process of their creation. Recently, the High Council of Nigeria has stopped the demolition of Mpape, a neighborhood of at least 300,000 inhabitants adjacent to the capital city of Abuja, because of the absence of any prospect of rehousing of the expelled residents.

The abolition of Otodo Gbame, Lagos (Nigeria) – Photo: Common Edge

In the end, the result of unbridled speculation might be that only the rich will benefit from smartification. Amsterdam too must be vigilant. During 2013 – 2014, property sales to investors increased by 248%. In 2016, the average price for housing increased by almost 23% compared with 2015 . Affordable rental is virtually non-existant.

Because of the exclusion of a large group of citizens, the process of smartifcation is at risk turning into a proces of foolification. Foolish cities are sterile cities, inhabited by a rich cosmopolitans. Without young people socializing at in the squares, craftsmen in their workshops, middle classes people in their shops and a diverse and plural group of inhabitants, they will become dead cities, in spite of all smart technology.

This is the second of a sequence of six reviewing aspects of the smartification of cities. Fiction or reality, mission or marketing, progress or illusion. This article has already been posted in The Smart City Hub.

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If smart cities are the solution, what was the problem?

Looking for an answer to this question[1] I found the proceedings of the symposion Beware of Smart People! Redefining the Smart City Paradigm towards Inclusive Urbanism held in Berlin on 19 – June 20, 2015[2]. This post is partly based on this report, in which I recognize many ongoing discussions.

The world’s population is growing and concentrating in cities. Needless to say that this causes major problems, especially in emerging countries. At the same time, business also concentrates in urban areas. Consequently, cities compete at world level and – inspite of all problems – position themselves as global, affluent, mundane, and smart.

The concept of a smart city refers at a loosely connected set of confluences between data, digital and other technologies, and urban proceses. The promise is of the digitally-enabled data-driven, continually sensed, responsive and integrated urban environment and a manageable entity[3]

Whether this promise will be kept is questionable: What remains to be seen, is the extend to which the smart city agenda is anything else than another instantiation of corporate power grabs, entrenching surveillance, private control over urban management and repacking neoliberalism in the dressing of seductive technologies and reimagined municipalities and citizens[4]. The modern city is a battleground of market forces, an icon of consumerism, and it is characterized by growing inequality, alienation and intolerance. Digital technologies are associated with control and power.

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Control center in Rio de Janeiro

Opposite to the technology-dominated image of smart cities is the concept of commoning: Citizens share, shape and maintain their living space together based on principles of share-economics and direct democracy more than on the basis of technology. Residents’ initiatives to enforce an alternative land-use at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin are a frequently cited exemple.

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Commoning at the former Berlin airport Tempelhof

Another way to frame the smart city is the perspective of urban utopia. Examples are Songdo (South Korea), Mazdar (UAE), Dholera (India) and PlanIT Valley in Portugal, who are all developed from scratch. Investors value these cities as assets in global competition, because of attractive living conditions, full-featured office space, outstanding connectivity and accessibility and high environmental standards. Residents are considered as benificiaries but in a lesser degree as active participants. In spite of the huge investments, these smart utopias rarely are a successful. In some cases they turned intp ghost cities, like Ordos in China. Songdo (South Korea) is sucessfully attracting residents from the adjacent overcrowded town of Seoul but the number of international companies remains far behind expectations. Trafic on the $ 1.4 billion,12 km long six-lane suspension bridge connecting the city to the airport is low while a fast rail link with Seoul is seriously missed.

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An artists’ view of Songdo

One might wonder whether these different approaches of smart city are compatible.

I believe that the the answer is confirmatory. However, four questions must be answered in advance:

  1. What is the most desirable use of urban space, seen from a multi-actor and multi-stakeholder perspective?
  2. How can all residents maximize their participation in urban life?
  3. What mix of companies generate the most diversified sustainable employment?
  4. What is the best way to involve as many citizens as possible in decision making at all levels?

The role of data, digital facilities and other technologies must be considered in conjunction with answering these four questions. The ‘real’ smart city needs to start with the city and its attendant social problems, rather than looking immediately to smart technology for answers[5]. Proceeding this way prevents narrow technologal thinking and opens the road to low-tech or no-tech solutions. Consequently, a city can claim to be ‘really’ smart if “… investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory government.[6]

A special contribution during the symposium came from Gautam Bahm from India. In his opinion, the smart city does not exist; placeless concepts have no meaning. A smart city in India is something completely else than a German one. In Indian cities commoning is the norm: Big parts of cities are auto-constructed, deploying another logic than planners and architects do. However, there is a great need for a basic infrastructure: About 17% of the ground is covered with ramshackeled pipelines for water supply and sewerage. The same goes for the wires for electricity and telephone. Here is an tremendeous challenge for urban planning, which is willing to adapt the existing fabric of local communities, rather than destroying it, as is happened in China and many other places.

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Commoning is the hard of many cities in India

The concept of ‘smart city’ might become an icon of a new digitally facilitated form of living in urban space. This requires a view of the city as a place that is inclusive, shared and negociated and that considers residents as active producers and contributors because of their thorough local knowledge, expertise, creativity, networking skills and entrepreneurship

This post has already been published in the Smart City Hub

[1] Free paraphrased expression of Cedric Price, architect (1933 – 2003) who wrote: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?

[2] Find the report at https://goo.gl/cgDemx.

[3] This and the following quote are from Colin McFarlane’s contribution (p.89)

[4] Smart cities are strongly pushed by IT-companies. These companies are the main investors behing PlanIT Valley in Portugal.

[5] Robert Hollands: Critical Interventions into the Corporate Smart City Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. Vol 8 (1) 2015, p. 61.

[6] Andrea Caragliu, Chiara del Bo en Peter Nijkamp: Smart Cities in Europe, Journal of Urban Technology, Vol 18(2), p. 652011, 70).

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Instead of diplomas: Badges

For a long time courses are completed with a diploma. However, the number of different qualifications has grown exponentially. in the US there eight times more different diplomas than 20 years ago. There are thousands of providers and most of these are not accredited. In addition, we are dealing with diplomas from many countries. In short, the value of a degree is difficult to judge beforehand.

But there is another side. Many people – young and old – do not aspire to graduate. They want a specific job, have appropriate training and receive a certificate that proves they possess the required competences [1] .

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For both problems is a solution in the form of badges, micro-credentials or email credentials: These are (digital) documents proving that someone has specific knowledge and / or skills. There are now more than 3,000 organisations who provide badges, including educational institutions and 9corporate)  training institutions [2] .

For a well-functioning system of badges  several conditions must be fulfilled. Here are the main ones:

Level

The knowledge and / or skills a badge is referring at must be unambiguous. Also, there must be an unmistakable reference to the level of mastery that has been acquired. It measurement should be made explicit. The Degree Qualifications Profile , prepared by Lumina is a useful tool to identify the level [3] .

Compatibility

Badges must have a common technical standard and they have to include include information about the owner, the supplier, the content and the way in which this knowledge and skill is measured. The Open Badges Standard of IMS Global Learning is likely to operate as such. In the Netherlands, SURF is working on a technical specification of badges [4] .

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Visibility

Owners must have a platform to show their badges. For this purpose various websites are in use, such as Backpack [5] .

The main enabler of badges is the rapid spread of competency-based education. This type of education requires an accurate description of learning outcomes; The knowledge and skills that a person has acquired after participating in formal, non-formal and informal learning activities.

Concordia University in Wisconsin is – as far as I know – the first university program -Master in educational technology – that is certified by  badges. There are 50; each of which corresponds with some learning outcomes [6]. The time that students have spend to reach this goal is irrelevant.

Another interesting development is that providers of training (formal and non-formal) in a specific region or city work together and offer a broad range of badges. Here too, local employers are concerned [7] . The Open Badge Network [8] (Europe) has drawn up a brief Charter. In the US, the Cities of Learning initiative, for example, Chicago City of learning, can be mentioned [9] .

screenshot second copy

I see many advantages in the development outlined here, but at the same time I am also afraid of a fragmented focus on learning.

I have repeatedly accentuated the importance of the acquisition of critical thinking. It is inconceivable that students learn to think critically by taking part in just one educational activity. Therefore critical thinking can not be checked by just one single badge. The ability to think critically develops gradually if students are confronted repeatedly with realistic social and scientific problems, gain knowledge about these problems, do research, weigh solutions and eventually come to a judgement. This means that earning badges alone is not enough, but additional requirements are necessary concerning their consistency.

A more precise use of the term competence can contribute to this. A separate badge means that a student has demonstrated to own a certain amount of knowledge and skills. In that case, badges can be connected to modules, courses or work in practice. In contrast, a competency  refers to the (intellectual) capabilities of a graduate.

The badges system is far from mature. It is a hopeful start to honour  extracurricular experiences, and to enable the debundling of the acquisition of knowledge and skills by deploying various learning opportunities at home and abroad.

[1] For the requirements that can be imposed on badges: http://www.openbadgenetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/O4A3-OBN-Guidelines-for-Open-Badges-in-Territories. pdf

[2] For an overview of what has been achieved in five years https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7kHRuri9QdPQmRfdXZrblpSX0U/view

[3] The framework is developing rapidly and has eight levels. It is specified for knowledge and skills. these are in turn broken down into specialized skills, personal skills and social skills: https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/connecting-credentials.pdf . This framework is very similar to the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning a life https://ec.europa.eu/ploteus/sites/eac-eqf/files/leaflet_nl.pdf

[4] , see: https://www.surf.nl/binaries/content/assets/surf/nl/2017/open-badges_surfnet-pilot-scenario’s_frans-ward_3feb.pdf

[5] are now more than a million badges placed on the Backpack website https://backpack.openbadges.org/backpack/welcome

[6] Educational institutions collaborate with employers. For example, this is done by the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the New World of Work

[7] Examples of this are: Open Badges Scottish Education Group, the UK Badge the project and the Open Badges DACH User Group in Germany. For a discussion; http://www.openbadgenetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/O4A3-OBN-Guidelines-for-Open-Badges-in-Territories.pdf

[8] portal:  www.openbadgenetwork.com

[9] https://chicagocityoflearning.org

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Own country second, world first!

Redeeming the losers of globalization

Multinational companies[1] worldwide earned gold money in the years 1980 – 2013. In 2013 their profit after tax reached $ 7200 billion, almost 10% of the gross national product of the world. Half of the 2013 profits belong to North American and West European corporations[2]. The tremendous increase in profits is a direct consequence of globalization: The expanding global trade of goods and services at ever-lower prices, made possible by global competition, automation, offshoring, and low cost of raw materials[3].

Samenleving - olifantscurve

The question is who has benefited most from the increased wealth and who least? For many years the Serbian-American economist Branco Milanovic has focused  on answering this question[4]. He divided the world population into 10 groups for 30 consecutive years: The poorest 10%, the second-poorest 10% and so on. He calculated the change in income for each of these groups within this period. The graph below depicts the outcomes. This graph is called the elephant curve because of the eye-catching similarity with the back of an elephant.

The-Elephant-Curve

Worldwide, there are two groups of winners and two groups of losers.

The winners:

  • The richest 5% of the world, the 1% richest in particular. Half of the benefits of economic growth went to this group. Fabulously wealthy people can be found in all countries. However the majority are living in North America and West Europe.
  • The middle class within Asian countries. Its income increased about 200 to 300%. Hundreds of million people are involved, but the total monetary value of this growth is relatively limited as incomes were low.

The losers:

  • The poorest 10% of the world population. This group has gained nothing in 30 or more years. In the Republic of Congo, the average real income remained unchanged in 100 years due to corruption, self-enrichment by the rulers, natural disasters and wars.
  • The middle class in the rich countries. This group has also seen no progress in 30 years. As a matter of fact, many jobs were lost due to offshoring and automation in particular. Many people who belonged to the middle class in the end of the 20th century now have to settle for a job in the lowest paid sector. Here they enter into competition with migrants, who belong to the other group of losers.

Samenleving - wrong side of capitalism

Social democracy in Western countries has failed to notice this structural change and as a consequence its voters left for the extreme right or the extreme left. In the USA, the frustrated middle class helped Donald Trump to power and in the UK it voted for Brexit.

Policy makers in Western countries can learn from the elephant curve. Among others, the following policy measures will support the revitalization of the middle class worldwide:

  • Reduction of difference in status and income between jobs
  • Redistribution of jobs through a reduction of working hours and flexible retirement, supplemented with the option of a basic-income
  • Fair tax payment by companies, among others to co-finance the external effects of automation.
  • Realistic prices for raw materials and agricultural products for the benefit of the workers in poor countries and the farmers in rich countries
  • Supporting entrepreneurship in developing countries
  • Discouraging labour migration, among others to limit brain-drain
  • Continued support for peacekeeping in conflicts around the world, therefore strengthening UN rather then NATO.

In the long term fighting inequality is in everyone’s interest.

[1] Included are listed and unlisted companies with a turnover of at least $ 200 million. See: https://hbr.org/2015/10/the-future-and-how-to-survive-it

[2] Companies around the world still make huge profits, but the share of ‘Western countries’ has decreased as the distribution over the world of production is becoming more evenly . Further, especially in Western countries small innovative companies take over part of the production of the powerful but rather inflexible multinationals.

[3] He is from 2014 professor at New York University and was a researcher at the World Bank. For a recent interview: Humo February 8, 2017: https://blendle.com/getpremium/item/bnl-humo-20170207-132032

[4] Where necessary, he further subdivided these groups.

 

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Smart higher education: both face-to-face and online

The number of participants in higher education is growing rapidly worldwide. Apart from the growing number of adult participants, the variety of students in general is increasing. However, the organization of universities is hardly able to deal with this growing variety. Students can chose between campus or distance-teaching universities and between full-time or part-time studies. A thorough redesign must offer relief.

The value of personal contact between students and teachers

Whether students are enrolled in a campus or a distance-teaching university, they spend most of their time on independent study: At home, at work, on the train or in the library. The difference between the two types of universities is the way they support these activities. The majority of campus universities are deploying a combination of lectures and seminars. Distance-teaching universities offer a sequence of assignments, which students have to submit in order to receive feedback. When it comes to getting acquainted with knowledge or theoretical insights, both ways are effective. However supporting independent study online is definitely outperforming lectures and seminars with respect to efficiency and scalability[1].

Unknown-1The value-added of campus universities should rather be sought in teaching methods where the degree of interaction between students and teachers goes beyond incidental questioning and answering in lectures and seminars. Think of tutorials (meetings a few students with a tutor), projects (intensive meetings of students, occasionally attended by a teacher), working groups in problem-based learning (10-15 students, who meet with a tutor regularly) and some types of training. Activities like these outperform the capabilities of education online with respect to the support of aims like critical thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, the domination of lectures and seminars prevents that campus universities take advantage of this potential value.

The value of self-paced learning

The majority of educational programs – campus-based or distance teaching – are starting once or twice a year and their length is fixed. For the rapidly growing group of students who combine study with a job, music or sport, a family and a social life, this system is untenable. Students differ with respect to the time they can spend on their study each week, to the distribution of the available time during the year, to the speed at which they learn and to the knowledge and skills they already possess.

Fortunately, a growing number of distance teaching institutions is able to deal with differences between students with respect to the time they need to complete their studies. These institutions offer unlimited opportunity to enrol as well[2]. In order to stimulate that students prioritize their study as much as possible, they offer active mentoring and count a fixed monthly fee under the motto learn as much as you can. Unfortunately, the majority of online programs fail to realize the benefits of flexibility.

Distance teaching and campus-based education both have potential advantages, whose benefits are not fully used. However, students will benefit best, if these advantages are made available for all of them.

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The value of blending learning

Education online is perfectly well equipped for enabling educational aims like the acquisition of knowledge and the development of theoretical insights. With respect to this aim, campus-based universities can economize by substituting lectures and seminars by online teaching methods. As mentioned before, some types of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students are superior in the realization of educational aims like critical thinking and problem solving. All students – in campuses or online – will benefit from occasional participation in tutorials, projects, small group meetings or intense trainings like boot camps. For some students it will be feasible to be on campus daily, for others one day every week suits best or they prefer a few residential weeks a year. By offering a variety of blends of face-to-face meetings and activities online, university campuses could become nodes in educational networks and be able to host many more students than at present. The functional combination of independent study with both face-to-face and online support is representing the best of both worlds at lower costs.

The value of freedom what or where to learn

The body of scientific knowledge is doubling every nine years, disciplinary borders get blurred and best research is interdisciplinary. As a consequence, the disciplines that emerged in the 19th century have become obsolete. Nonetheless, they still dominate the educational landscape. It is time to exchange traditional subjects for broad fields of study that offer ample opportunity to chose introductory and advanced course and projects.

At the same time, students will increasingly obtain their degree by visiting several universities within their country or abroad. Thus, students take maximum advantage of the differences between institutions. In order to assess students, universities should describe their examination rules in terms of competencies to achieve instead of courses to follow.

A variety of blends of face-to-face and online activities to support students’ independent learning could become the new normal.

[1] Read my post: The lecture is the iconic symbol of wastage in higher education: http://wp.me/p3lna5-6M

[2] Self-paced learning is a common characteristic of the most innovative educational institutions in the USA. For instance, the College for America, which is a part of the Southern New Hampshire University (60,000 students) and the Western Governors University (70,000 students). See: Alana Dunagan College transformed. Five institutions leading the charge in innovation http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/College-transformed.pdf

 

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