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Friday, January 31, 2014

Sorting Through the Rubble of Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo - NYTimes.com

Sorting Through the Rubble of Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo - NYTimes.com

Panama’s $5 Billion Canal Upgrade Jolts U.S. Ports From California to New Jersey - Bloomberg

Panama’s $5 Billion Canal Upgrade Jolts U.S. Ports From California to New Jersey - Bloomberg

From street to valley - The Yale Herald

From street to valley - The Yale Herald

J. Bradford DeLong shows why trend economic growth can no longer be neatly disentangled from cyclical dynamics. - Project Syndicate

J. Bradford DeLong shows why trend economic growth can no longer be neatly disentangled from cyclical dynamics. - Project Syndicate

Millions Are Now Realizing They're Too Poor For Obamacare

Millions Are Now Realizing They're Too Poor For Obamacare

Atonement

“The weapon is so simple that even a child can use it,” The Economist said in an obituary of General Kalashnikov. “Alas, many do.”

Atonement for Inventor of the AK-47 - NYTimes.com

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TheMoneyIllusion � The 4% and the real problems

TheMoneyIllusion � The 4% and the real problems: �



Economists can predict business cycles more accurately than applied physicists can predict the stuff we really care about, like weather and earthquakes and tsunamis. �The retort is that applied physicists are good at predicting stuff we don’t care about, like the orbits of Jupiter’s moons.

Youngsters check their phones every ten minutes: One in 20 looks at their mobile every minute of the day | Mail Online

You are not an outlier.



Youngsters check their phones every ten minutes: One in 20 looks at their mobile every minute of the day | Mail Online

Any Question Thrown at Him, Richard Sherman Has It Covered - NYTimes.com

Any Question Thrown at Him, Richard Sherman Has It Covered - NYTimes.com:



Q. Do you have any tips to help me become a better student?

A. Work hard. Listen to your teachers. And if you don’t understand a subject, and you want to go back and ask a teacher and wait until your classmates are gone or whatever, if you’re really having trouble with it, don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Conference Call In Real Life | Post Grad Problems

A Conference Call In Real Life | Post Grad Problems

The MOOC stumble: Lessons from Napster and the Music Business! [feedly]




The MOOC stumble: Lessons from Napster and the Music Business!
// Musings on Markets
I have been a long time proponent of online education and have been offering webcasts of my classes since 2001. However, I was a little skeptical about the news stories that appeared a couple of years ago about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) being the next "big thing" in education. If a class were only about delivering content, a MOOC may do the job, but a good class should be (though it often is not) more than that. It has to foster hands-on experience, interaction, excitement and "aha'" moments, and MOOCs (including mine) have not paid enough attention to these pieces. Thus, as the initial buzz about MOOCs has faded, we are discovering the achilles heels of online classes: high drop out rates and poor retention of knowledge. It is therefore not a surprise to read stories like this one about the failures of and financial troubles faced by MOOCs.

As is often the case, some journalists and analysts are over reacting to these news stories to conclude that online education is a failed venture. Some of the more reactionary university administrators and faculty are gleeful and are ready to go back to what they have done for decades: take students for granted and cater to the other interest groups that feed at the higher education trough. That would be a mistake, analogous to music companies reacting to the demise of Napster more than a decade ago by going back to their old modes of business (selling CDs through music stores), only to be swept away by Apple iTunes a few years later. The MOOC model represented the first serious foray of online entities into education and like Napster, it failed because it not only came with flaws but because it's promoters failed to fully understand the business it was trying to disrupt.

It is also worth noting that the failure of MOOCs really rests on your definition of the word "fail".  My corporate finance MOOC, offered on iTunes U, YouTube and online last spring had 50,000+ people registered in it. By my count (and it is unofficial), about 10% of them have finished the class, as of now, and a significant portion took more than a year, and another 5% or 10% may get around to completing the class in the next few months. While that represents only 15% to 20% of the overall total, that works out to 7500-10000 people taking the class, a number that I would find impossible to reach in  a physical classroom, even over many years. If that represents failure, I will take it!

One reason for the inability of MOOCs to penetrate the education market is that they started with the faulty premise that the core of what you get for the college tuition that you pay is classroom content. As my third child went off to college last year, I had a chance to revisit the question of what it is that you get in return for that check you write out to the educational institution of your choice. The first thing to note is that universities operate like cable companies (and other monopolistic entities) and force you to buy a "bundled product", whether you want the individual pieces or not. The second is that classes are only a piece, and perhaps not even the most critical piece, of the "education" bundle. As I see it, here are the ingredients of the bundle:
  1. Screening: It can be argued that the most value-added day of your education at a selective school (say an Ivy League, Stanford, MIT or Caltech in the US or the equivalents in other countries) is the day that you receive your admissions letter from the school. The rest is purely academic (in the truest sense of the word), since the fact that you were able to make it through the screen becomes the most noticed part of your education. 
  2. Structuring: For better or worse, universities have been able to define the content of an education for centuries. This includes not only a specification of how long it takes to get a degree (in terms of time and courses) but also the breakdown of courses into required or core classes and the sequencing of electives thereafter. 
  3. Classes: Within the course structure are classes, delivered by faculty (generally exclusive to that university) in restricted settings (physical classrooms) owned by the university and with an infrastructure of exams, tests and grades that affirms to outsiders that students have taken and mastered the content in these classes. Students in these classes learn from interactions (usually live) with the faculty and other students and can get help from tutors or teaching assistants for these classes. In special cases, students that have an intense interest in a topic may be get mentoring and advice from faculty who are (presumably) experts on that topic.
  4. Networking: Even those of you who have been victimized by the "old boy (or old girl)" network have to admit that it works remarkably well at taking care of those who are lucky enough to be part of it. The networks that are created when you are a student at an educational institution may provide you with job openings, employment options and business opportunities later in life. This can be augmented by smaller networks also created by sub-groups (fraternities & sororities, clubs) at schools.
  5. Career advice: Recognizing the economic imperatives that most students face in terms of getting employment after their education, universities have invested (some more than others) in providing both career advice and placement services. 
  6. Entertainment: While this may sound irreverent, it is reality that a portion of the college experience is entertainment. Whether it be going to football games at Alabama or Notre Dame, enjoying a concert on campus or just people-watching on Sproul Plaza on Berkeley, you don't realize how much fun you have in college, until you graduate (and get into the real world, where such entertainment is more difficult to find, more expensive and expose you to more danger). At the risk of sounding cynical, I would also include as part of entertainment, the semester abroad programs that schools love to tout as a "bargain educational experience in exotic foreign locales" , since there is generally more fun to be had in your semester abroad in Spain/France/Brazil/Italy than learning.
  7. Education: There is a final fuzzy component that universities claim to aspire to deliver, though there is no way of measuring whether they deliver on the promise. "Send your 18-year old to us", they say, "and and we will turn them into educated people".  A Harvard panel defined educated people as those who "leave school with a deep understanding of themselves and how they fit into the world and have learned how solve complex problems, be creative & entrepreneurial, manage themselves and to be life long learners". Well, good luck with that!!!
There are undoubtedly other bits and pieces that I am not including in the bundle, ranging from on-campus food/housing (which is now a requirement and not an option at most schools) to an implicit belief (misplaced or not) on the part of some foreign students that getting an undergraduate degree at a US university will improve their odds of being able to work and live in the United States. (If I have missed pieces of your specific college bundle, please do let me know and I will add it in).

The value of this bundle and its components will clearly vary from school to school. With some highly ranked, research universities (that I will leave unnamed), the screening, networking and career advice may be the predominant parts, with classes a distant fourth. That is perhaps the admission that Wharton was making when it put a large chunk of its first-yar MBA classes online, for free. With small, teaching oriented colleges, the tilt may be towards classes and structuring (with customized programs), with small but very strong networks, as a bonus. Of course, you could end up at a college that is not particularly selective, has a one-size fits all for coursework, indifferent faculty/content-heavy classes, weak networks and little or no career advice/placement and unwatchable sports teams. If so, I hope that you are not paying $50,000/year for an education, because you certainly are not getting your money's worth.

If you are or were a consumer of the education bundle, some introspection may be called for. If your college education was in the past, was it worth the money you paid for it and the time you spent acquiring it? If so, what part of the bundle has paid off the most? Was it the screening, the class content, the connections (network), the entertainment value or that unquantifiable secret ingredient (personal growth)? If you or your child is in college right now, ask the same questions about your ongoing experience. In particular, are there parts of this bundle that you are paying for that you have no use for? The one thing you cannot do is assume that the threat has passed, just because an immediate threat (MOOCs) may have dissipated.

If you are a faculty member or a college administrator, you have to ask the same questions and your future may ride on the answers. In particular, you have to look at what it is that you offer (as a college or university) that makes your education bundle unique, different and difficult to replicate (either online or in another institution). If you are an online education entrepreneur, your task is to figure out ways to unbundle the product and probe its weakest points. That will be the subject of a companion post.


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The barbarians are at the gate! Of universities, moats and disruption! [feedly]




The barbarians are at the gate! Of universities, moats and disruption!
// Musings on Markets
In my last post, I attempted to break down the bundled product that comprises a college education into its component parts, and closed by arguing that the future of universities rests on their ability to preserve the competitive advantages that have allowed them to get premium prices for these bundles and that of online education entrepreneurs on their capacity to find chinks in the university armor. 

In this one, I would like to look at the competitive advantages that colleges/universities have on each component and how close (or distant) the online threat is on each of them. Borrowing from the terminology of value investing, universities have moats around their "educational castles" and the online barbarians (at least as seen by the members of the educational establishment) are trying to breach the establishment. Since so much of this debate comes from one side of this divide or the other,  I decided that it would be good to try to look at both sides. In the table below, I take a look at each piece of the bundle, what colleges/universities bring as a competitive advantage on that piece and the challenges faced by online disruptors.

The University Moat and the Online Challenge
The "University" Moat is deepest at
The Online Challenge
Screening
More selective" schools that have reputations based on long histories and tradition. It is also self-perpetuating, since your selectivity allows them to attract the best students who burnish their reputations further. 
In softer disciplines, where it is difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to observe output or make judgments on quality.
Online entities have a "chicken & egg" problem, since they need good reputations to be selective and need to be selective to generate those reputations.  However, they may have a much better chance of breaking through 
(a) if they can team up with an entity that has a reputation (a university like Stanford/MIT or a pure screener like the College Board) or
(b) in areas where the skill sets of graduates are measurable and observable. (Engineering, software coding etc.)
(c) in disciplines where there is a common certification exam (accounting, law).
Structuring
Colleges that help students create customized study or degree programs, built around their interests and objectives. 
Online education is currently chaotic when it comes to structuring. While course offerings proliferate, guidance for novices on structuring & sequencing these courses is limited or non-existent. 
Classes
Colleges that offer classes that are well taught by "star" faculty and built around interaction, group learning, individualized feedback and informative grading systems (that measure learning and not attendance/memorization) have an edge.
Online classes are often too passive, focused on delivering content and mechanized testing/grading. Creating more interactive, dynamic online classes as well as hybrid variations, which are online much of the time, but have in-person meeting components, may help bridge the gap.
The Network
Colleges that create networks among students that continue long after they graduate, augmented by small group networks such as sororities/ fraternities and campus clubs/activities.
Fostering close networks when your interactions are all online is more difficult ( but as Facebook and Linkedin's success show, it is not impossible) and serendipitous contact (like the ones you have on the college green with strangers) is very limited.
Career Advice/ Placement
Colleges that provide career guidance early in college life, followed by access to good placement services (with exclusive and privileged access to prized employers) .
Getting employers to trust your "products" as much as they trust established institutions (colleges & universities) will take time, though it should be easier in professions where the proof of competence can be tested.
Entertainment
Colleges with strong sports teams and cultural activities on campus.
Entertainment options online are getting richer but it will be difficult to match the real thing. Online universities don't have basketball teams or play bowl games.
Education
Colleges that try to students how to learn & prepare them for life.
Same challenge, but magnified because you are restricted to do this online.

I know that I am probably being simplistic in some of my assessments, but the key is to get this conversation started. 

Last year, I gave this talk at a few schools about the future of education, and I tried an experiment, making one half of the audience play the role of the university (and giving them the job of defending the moat) and the other half of the audience the role of online disruptors. I created worksheets for each group to try to get them to be specific about gauging the state of the moat at their institutions and potential challenges. If you are interested, the links to each side are below:
  1. Worksheet for the University side (on how to make the moat deeper) (Download as pdf file)
  2. Worksheet for the Online disruptor side (on how to get across the moat) (Download as pdf file)
If your sympathies lie with the university side or your future depends upon it's survival (because you are a faculty member or administrator), you can see that keeping the education monopoly will require work and changes in the way universities are structured. Lifetime tenure, a low teaching load and research freedom may all be viewed as inalienable rights by university faculty today (at least at the top research schools) but they will all have to be reexamined in light of the competition. 

If you are an online education entrepreneur, this exercise will be a reality check. Universities will not cede their power easily and have the means to make it difficult for online disruptors to challenge them, since they not only get to define what comprises education but are backed up by licensing/accreditation bodies that have bought into the system. . To wean consumers away from traditional universities, online educators have to think broader, be more creative and use guerilla warfare where necessary. 

I believe that change is coming to education but that it will come in stages and be under-the-surface. The first to feel the heat (if they have not already) will be colleges that have loose or non-existent screens, mechanized degree programs, content-heavy but learning-light classes and nonexistent networks. As they fall prey to online or alternative education systems, it is an open question as to how schools further up the food chain will react. I won't claim to know the mindset of faculty/administrators at the top schools but my interactions with them suggest that many of them will, for the most part, resist change (especially if it inconveniences them) and argue that there is no chance that their civilized citadels will fall to the barbarians. But they are fooling themselves, since the disruptors have the luxury of being able to experiment, with nothing to lose, until they find the weapons that work. It is only a matter of time!


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Mark O'Friel
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F : 419-710-3449


Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 Sundance Film Festival Short Films on YouTube - YouTube

2014 Sundance Film Festival Short Films on YouTube - YouTube

YouTube Brings the Sundance Film Festival to Viewers | Arts & Culture

YouTube Brings the Sundance Film Festival to Viewers | Arts & Culture

The Myth of Industrial Rebound - NYTimes.com

The Myth of Industrial Rebound - NYTimes.com

What Drives Success? - NYTimes.com

What Drives Success? - NYTimes.com

The Gadfly of Greenwich Real Estate - NYTimes.com

Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train - NYTimes.com

Why regulation is not a bad thing.



Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Commissar for Traffic presents the latest Five-Year Plan � Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science



Forecasting is hard, especially about the future.



The Commissar for Traffic presents the latest Five-Year Plan � Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science

The Case for Aid

The Case for Aid

Pope Francis Message For Davos - Business Insider

Pope Francis Message For Davos - Business Insider

2014 Gates Annual Letter: Myths About Foreign Aid - Gates Foundation

2014 Gates Annual Letter: Myths About Foreign Aid - Gates Foundation

Harvard and MIT release working papers on open online learning | Harvard Gazette

Harvard and MIT release working papers on open online learning | Harvard Gazette

Aspen

Men's Journal Magazine - Men's Style, Travel, Fitness and Gear

Monday, January 20, 2014

▶ #LoveToday: "Today is Pretty Great" 2014 Civic Full Video - YouTube

▶ #LoveToday: "Today is Pretty Great" 2014 Civic Full Video - YouTube

Three-Piece Suits, Breakfast Meetings, and Overwork - NYTimes.com

Three-Piece Suits, Breakfast Meetings, and Overwork - NYTimes.com:



 Working insane hours is a sign of commitment, of willingness to sacrifice for the job; the personal destructiveness of the practice isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Noahpinion: Does America's survival mean that it's a resilient country?

Noahpinion: Does America's survival mean that it's a resilient country?

The Grumpy Economist: Larry Summers' Martin Feldstein Speech

The Grumpy Economist: Larry Summers' Martin Feldstein Speech

David Remnick: On and Off the Road with Barack Obama : The New Yorker

David Remnick: On and Off the Road with Barack Obama : The New Yorker

Digitopoly | Stagnation, the Machines and the Policy Recommendations

Digitopoly | Stagnation, the Machines and the Policy Recommendations

The future of jobs: The onrushing wave | The Economist

The future of jobs: The onrushing wave | The Economist

A Colossal Bridge Will Rise Across the Hudson - NYTimes.com

A Colossal Bridge Will Rise Across the Hudson - NYTimes.com

A Loophole Allows Lawmakers to Reel In Trips and Donations - NYTimes.com

A Loophole Allows Lawmakers to Reel In Trips and Donations - NYTimes.com

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hiroo Onoda, Soldier Who Hid in Jungle for Decades, Dies at 91 - NYTimes.com

Hiroo Onoda, Soldier Who Hid in Jungle for Decades, Dies at 91 - NYTimes.com

How Japan stood up to old age - FT.com

How Japan stood up to old age - FT.com: Yanagihara

What If Google Was a Guy - CollegeHumor Video

What If Google Was a Guy - CollegeHumor Video

The What, Why, and Will They Help of these New Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation | Jared Bernstein | On the Economy

The What, Why, and Will They Help of these New Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation | Jared Bernstein | On the Economy

Salman Khan - Harvard Business Review

Salman Khan - Harvard Business Review

David Brooks' Primitive Defense of the Rich | Beat the Press

David Brooks' Primitive Defense of the Rich | Beat the Press

Blue and Gray Still in Conflict at a Battle Site - NYTimes.com

Blue and Gray Still in Conflict at a Battle Site - NYTimes.com

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tonight’s Must-Read: Howard Marks memo on Luck | The Reformed Broker

Tonight’s Must-Read: Howard Marks memo on Luck | The Reformed Broker

Snowboarders Sue Alta Ski Area | News from the Field | OutsideOnline.com

Snowboarders Sue Alta Ski Area | News from the Field | OutsideOnline.com

Jimmy Carter Announces Guinea Worm Disease On The Brink Of Eradication (VIDEO)

Jimmy Carter Announces Guinea Worm Disease On The Brink Of Eradication (VIDEO)

Harvard Financial Aid Initiative | Harvard College

Harvard Financial Aid Initiative | Harvard College

Nation Recalls Simpler Time When Health Care System Was Broken Beyond Repair | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Nation Recalls Simpler Time When Health Care System Was Broken Beyond Repair | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Financing a cure for cancer - MIT Sloan School of Management

Financing a cure for cancer - MIT Sloan School of Management

The future of jobs: The onrushing wave | The Economist

The future of jobs: The onrushing wave | The Economist

Was Harry Truman a Zionist? | New Republic

Was Harry Truman a Zionist? | New Republic

U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents - NYTimes.com

U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents - NYTimes.com:
Okay as long as statistics can still be used.

" federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Amazing sushi-roll art - Boing Boing

Amazing sushi-roll art - Boing Boing

These Two Guys Tried to Rebuild a Cray Supercomputer - Alexis C. Madrigal - The Atlantic

These Two Guys Tried to Rebuild a Cray Supercomputer - Alexis C. Madrigal - The Atlantic: \

Cray-1 boasted more memory (one megabyte) and more speed (80 million computations per second) than any other computer in the world.

Why Quants Don’t Know Everything | Wired Business | Wired.com

Why Quants Don’t Know Everything | Wired Business | Wired.com:

" And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating."

The Epicurean Dealmaker: A Fine Disregard for the Rules

The Epicurean Dealmaker: A Fine Disregard for the Rules

Failing elites threaten our future - FT.com

Failing elites threaten our future - FT.com

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The art of getting things done | HSPH News | Harvard School of Public Health

The art of getting things done | HSPH News | Harvard School of Public Health

I Finally Visited a Millennium Village: Some Reflections | Center For Global Development

I Finally Visited a Millennium Village: Some Reflections | Center For Global Development

Texting And Driving Crash Footage - Business Insider

Texting And Driving Crash Footage - Business Insider

Breathing In vs. Spacing Out - NYTimes.com

Breathing In vs. Spacing Out - NYTimes.com

The Rise of Walmart

Shot@Life - Q&A: How India Stopped Polio

Shot@Life - Q&A: How India Stopped Polio

Suntory rating on downward review after $16bn deal for Beam - FT.com

Suntory rating on downward review after $16bn deal for Beam - FT.com

Japan No Longer an Export Powerhouse - Japan Real Time - WSJ

Japan No Longer an Export Powerhouse - Japan Real Time - WSJ

The case for an antibiotics tax

The case for an antibiotics tax

Alan Blinder: How Government Wages War on the Poor - WSJ.com

Alan Blinder: How Government Wages War on the Poor - WSJ.com

CONVERSABLE ECONOMIST: Larry Summers, Who Always Has Something Interesting to Say

CONVERSABLE ECONOMIST: Larry Summers, Who Always Has Something Interesting to Say

Thursday, January 09, 2014

What's That You're Calling a Bubble? - Justin Fox - Harvard Business Review

What's That You're Calling a Bubble? - Justin Fox - Harvard Business Review

Duck Decoy | Ten Miles Square | The Washington Monthly

Duck Decoy | Ten Miles Square | The Washington Monthly

this is not the sort of photographs rednecks ever take.

IBM Struggles to Turn Watson Computer Into Big Business - WSJ.com

IBM Struggles to Turn Watson Computer Into Big Business - WSJ.com

The ARPANET Dialogues � Blog Archive � Vol. IV

The ARPANET Dialogues � Blog Archive � Vol. IV:

AYN RAND on the muppets:

To be honest I find it to be senseless entertainment. I prefer the celebration of men and what they can achieve.

Noahpinion: Bad event studies

Washington Post Says That Politicians Are Philosophers | Beat the Press

Washington Post Says That Politicians Are Philosophers | Beat the Press

Grim Sequel to Iraq’s War - NYTimes.com

Grim Sequel to Iraq’s War - NYTimes.com:

 In places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and Syria, Mr. Obama has opted for selective engagement and accepted that sometimes there will be bad results, but in his view not as bad as if the United States immersed itself more assertively in other people’s problems.