A rising wave to float all boats

My digital pen is fired up after going to the Unbundling Education Conference. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to hear from thought leaders in technology, workforce and education. I get so used to the banter of start ups and tweeps but in this room, I just want to listen and ask questions. I think I was the least qualified and youngest in the room. All the better for me, I’m hungry.

How can I synthesise and glean from the thought leaders in technology and education? Bleeding heart technologist for education needs to write. And so my Technology and Education blog begins.

Magic happens when the best thoughts of technologists, enterprise and education leaders collide. I had front row seats yesterday.

The main question the collision raised for me was…

Q. “What sort of helpful Australian government regulation/policy can help Workforce demand and Education supply move towards a dynamic equilibrium?”

For a Technology, Work, Education discussion, Economics turned out to be the winning box seat to understand the conversation.

The primary stimulus for my dynamic equilibrium question was:
1. Andrew Thomson’s (CISCO) description of the interactions between Work and Education as economic market forces.
2. Andrew’s question “How can we have a rising wave that floats all boats?”.
3. Prof Iain Martin (UNSW) point that only government has made a lasting difference to the education model over the past century.

I studied Economics and Computer Science at Sydney University a decade ago. Coding, Algorithms and Game Theory I loved. Economic statistics – not so much. I loved the creative aspect of making things with technology. The immediately tangible art created by logic that would break until it formed a coherent whole. Fresh, naive and hungry, I left university asking the question ‘How can technology be best applied to Education?’.

I left my Economics books in the locker, and carried my Object Oriented Design Patterns books forward.

Yesterday, Andrew Thomson had a wonderful and forceful way of bringing back the value of all I had gleaned from Economics back at USYD. It came rushing back when he said “A rising wave to float all boats”.

Static, Dynamic Equilibriums, Nash – rebooting and retrieving now.

Equilibriums the economic condition in which there is neither excess demand nor excess supply in a market

So “how can we have a rising wave to float all boats?”. This is my sketch of an attempt to move towards an answer.

A Rising Wave

The momentum is building to a wave that will crash all boats

Yesterday’s session began with the words “An avalanche is coming”. At the end I wondered if it is a rising wave that is building. But what sort of wave will it be? A rising wave to float all boats? Or a rising wave to crash all boats?

From admission yesterday, both Open universities and Australian universities are driven primarily by students shaping how higher education shapes their value proposition of “curriculum and campus experience”. This is in stark difference to higher education prioritising the demands of the Workforce.

The head of Open Universities mentioned that markets will move to an equilibrium. But what sort of equilibrium will it be?

From my brief stint at economics, without government intervention the current conditions should drive the market downwards towards a static equilibrium.

Protectionism for Australian educational competitors will not work since technology allows global competitors to disrupt our local market. But how can we achieve a better dynamic equilibrium?

Economic Design Patterns from India

India’s government education policy has noticed that educational curriculum needs to be structured not by the “student buyers” but dictated strongly by what the workforce demands. Dilip Chenoi, National Skills Development Corporation, India spoke about how the enterprises create bespoke educational programs to ensure that the supply coming out from education actually meets the needs of the workforce.

The day had been interjected with reminders of rising education costs, the falling value of a degree to attain work, the demand for particular types of workers and rising unemployment.

This brilliance of the Indian policy is that it realigns the type of educational supply with the demand so that it also closes the gap with a “just in time” delivery. From a supply chain inventory perspective, it means that it avoids the problem of overstocking (unemployment) of unwanted “products”(inappropriately supplied skilled workers for the Workforce consumer demand).

The Indian method reminds me of monetary fiscal economic policy that injects or withholds incentives to dissuade the educational system to pander to the demands of students and rather offer options that will be good for them in the long term.

Andrew Thomson (Cisco) asked “how can we have a rising tide that floats all boats?”. I think that the Australian Government may need to use some of India’s methods to realign Work demand and Education Supply. This can be an external force that may achieve a movement to a higher dynamic equilibrium.

Technology as an Internal Market Mechanism

My following question was…

Q. How can technology support internal forces to speed the communication between the workforce(actual and not perceived) demands, so that education adapts to supply “just in time” what the workforce needs?

If the Australian government can perceive what sorts of technology can function as a mechanism to optimise these internal forces, this is where they can also exercise their monetary injections into such technologies. I imagine they are already doing this, how can technologists and economists work closer to do this better?

LinkedIn seems to have the power in the market to pivot more into this space. We rely on it to form a part of the equation. Their access to the “pathways” people have followed create the data behind a more realistic assigning of value to the “value proposition” that students are after to ensure their future place on workshores.

I imagine that these technologies can be used to provide some sort of buffer from outside markets if access to the internal movements of the demand and supply of our markets is limited but shared discretely. Technology in this sense can buffer local markets in global economies instead of only flood global economies into local ones.

When I followed up Andrew (Cisco) with that question after the panel, he mentioned that in India digitisation can enable an internal mechanism to create forces that can avoid corruption reducing inefficiencies of government monetary injections. Brilliant!

Looking to the Government

I think Prof Iain Martin (UNSW) is right that only the government can really make a long term difference. It will either be a wave that raises all boats, or a tidal wave that crashes us all to the ground.

Looking to Technologists, Economists, Work force and Educational innovators and leaders

For my part, I need to understand better about which area of technology can be best applied to education to close that gap between what the workforce demands and what education supplies.

Q. What technology can best leverage the system towards a dynamic equilibrium rather than just aggravate the current market forces?

The Questions I take away

For the young technologists in my generation, we’ve been warned that an avalanche and a rising wave is coming. How can we offer our crafts in technology to serve wiser thought leaders who know where these need to be applied?

Just because we can make technology faster, bigger, scalable and more efficient – it doesn’t mean that we are contributing to a better society. We were reminded yesterday that “We live in a society, not an economy”. Our more advanced and faster eLearning platforms and new MOOCs may just contribute to a bigger wave. But is it a rising wave to float or sink all boats?

Stewardship of talents is not just about what we can do, but adjusting our offerings to what others really need in the long run. Hat tip – Geoff Bezos (Amazon).

These thought leaders know the intricacies of these problems so much better than I do.

I hear them say that something big is coming. So I want to be prepared and apply technology not just to my personal pet Github projects, I want to contribute to something that others actually need. Only I can take responsibility for my own continued learning to get input from others about the bigger problems that we need to solve. My fellow young and hungry coding brothers and sisters – you have better skills – what will you be building towards?

I have more questions than answers. I am happy to ask naive questions and debugging helps me know that I will get more wrong than right. But that’s what I need to move forward to what others actually need.

Thankfully there are many talented and wise people out there that I can pose these questions to. If you’re out there, I’ll find you. Bleeding heart technologist for education, sink or swim, here I go.