These Education Books Sparked Conversation in 2018—And Give Us A Glimpse...

Opinion | Digital Learning in Higher Ed

These Education Books Sparked Conversation in 2018—And Give Us A Glimpse At What’s Ahead

By Bernard Bull     Dec 11, 2018

These Education Books Sparked Conversation in 2018—And Give Us A Glimpse At What’s Ahead

Bernard Bull was nominated to share his thoughts by futurist Bryan Alexander, who wrote for the project in 2017.

What should educators learn from 2018 and where are we going next year? While many people look to news headlines about innovations and promising practices, we are also wise to note several new and substantive books that sparked important conversation over the last year. For 2018, consider four that caught my attention.

The year started with Bryan Caplan releasing his newest book, “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.” Likely resonating with a growing number of people lamenting the cost of higher education, Caplan applied the tools of an economist, striving to make his best case that higher education is often not worth the money. When I interviewed Caplan early in the year about how to address inequities in education, he didn’t join the common argument of removing barriers to a college degree. Instead, he offered the provocative claim that we might actually achieve a better living wage for more people if we reduced college enrollment back to what it was in the 1970s.

Next, with 2018 being the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we witnessed a major thought-provoking documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers, along with a number of new books; I’m particularly fond of Maxwell King’s “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” Mr. Rogers may not immediately come to mind when it comes to educational technology, but the documentary, biographies and countless conversations over the past year highlighted him as a mission-minded educator who leveraged the cutting edge technology of his day to share positive messages and left a lasting mark on a generation.

In 1969, Rogers testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communication in defense of public television. The event garnered renewed social media attention in 2018, with many recognizing it as one of the more moving and compelling educational technology pitches of the last century. This spurred new conversations about the power and purpose of educational technology today, with many pointing back to Rogers’ work as an example of how educational innovation can thrive well beyond the walls of any school building.

Also this year, Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, published “Leapfrogging Inequality: Remaking Education to Help Young People Thrive.” Using a global analysis of thousands of educational innovations, Winthrop examines the concept of “leapfrogging,” something more commonly applied in the business sector, to describe important trends. One example is around telecommunications and how some nations have skipped land-based lines right to a robust cellular network. Similarly, Winthrop highlights examples of nations and communities leapfrogging legacy education systems by creating new models that embrace education as a human right.

In education, Winthrop points to when Brazil tried to build a secondary education system that could meet the needs of students across a largely rural state. With no existing secondary education system in place, the country started from scratch, analyzed their assets and available technologies, and considered what would fit culturally. The end result was a hybrid system where teachers with higher levels of expertise broadcasted lessons from the capital through a dedicated television station, while “mentoring teachers” resided in the rural and other classrooms. In less than a couple years, they built a system that reached across the state.

Last, Stephen M. Kosslyn and Bob Kerrey’s book, “Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education,” gained traction this year (though it was published in 2017). The book describes the successes of Minerva, a university touted by its founder as “the first elite American University launched in a century.” In the book, the school’s founding dean and others offer evidence in support of this new and experimental college model, which places students around the world to study remotely while working or apprenticing. The book also provides a blueprint for how others might embrace a similar approach.

Reading Ahead

If these books serve as a highlight for some of the important conversations and considerations in 2018, what might we expect in 2019? To answer that, here are four books waiting to be written. Full disclosure: These aren’t actual books, but the titles represent themes that I see for the year ahead (and, who knows, maybe these could inspire future writers!).

“Match.com Goes to College”: This book would draw attention to the shift in how people are finding learning resources and even colleges. While online search engines dominated how people discovered such things in the past, more innovators and entrepreneurs are striving to use algorithm-informed platforms to help match people with learning opportunities. As these experiments develop in 2019 and beyond, look for the potential impact on alternatives and supplements to traditional schools. This will spark conversation about the risks and opportunities of matchmaking technologies applied to education.

“Skills-based Hiring: The Future of Finding Top Talent for Your Organization”: While not an actual book, this title comes from the work of organizations like Skillful that are seeking to help employers reconsider how they hire new talent. Instead of sifting through applicants on the basis of credentials and degrees, what if we looked for discrete skill sets that will likely result in the best job performance? This concept of skills-based hiring, while not the dominant approach, is gaining support across the political spectrum. Look out for discussions about the implications of this for education providers as well as new school-company partnerships.

“Toward a More Humane Education in the Digital Age”: There is a growing (and encouraging) increase in attention towards the ethics and purpose behind educational technology in both K-12 and higher education. I predict that in 2019 we will see these sentiments applied to developments like competency-based education. While some critique early efforts in competency-based education as less personal, there is already growing interest in ways to blend competency-based education with humanistic sensibilities, and technology is quickly maturing to amplify such efforts.

“The New Era of Education: Mergers, Acquisitions, and Collaboration”: The past year has been studded with examples of school closures, acquisitions and mergers. But these kinds of changes in education aren’t new; mergers on the college level go back to the first half century of American higher education. Similarly, education service, product and content providers give us a long and colorful story of mergers and acquisitions. Expect this to go to an entirely new level in 2019, with any number of high-profile collaborations and mergers. As an alternative to full mergers, more institutions will seek partnerships in an effort to maintain their distinct identities while benefiting from the resources of other colleges and organizations.

Bernard Bull was nominated to share his thoughts by futurist Bryan Alexander, who wrote for the project in 2017.

What should educators learn from 2018 and where are we going next year? While many people look to news headlines about innovations and promising practices, we are also wise to note several new and substantive books that sparked important conversation over the last year. For 2018, consider four that caught my attention.

The year started with Bryan Caplan releasing his newest book, “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.” Likely resonating with a growing number of people lamenting the cost of higher education, Caplan applied the tools of an economist, striving to make his best case that higher education is often not worth the money. When I interviewed Caplan early in the year about how to address inequities in education, he didn’t join the common argument of removing barriers to a college degree. Instead, he offered the provocative claim that we might actually achieve a better living wage for more people if we reduced college enrollment back to what it was in the 1970s.

Next, with 2018 being the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we witnessed a major thought-provoking documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers, along with a number of new books; I’m particularly fond of Maxwell King’s “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” Mr. Rogers may not immediately come to mind when it comes to educational technology, but the documentary, biographies and countless conversations over the past year highlighted him as a mission-minded educator who leveraged the cutting edge technology of his day to share positive messages and left a lasting mark on a generation.

In 1969, Rogers testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communication in defense of public television. The event garnered renewed social media attention in 2018, with many recognizing it as one of the more moving and compelling educational technology pitches of the last century. This spurred new conversations about the power and purpose of educational technology today, with many pointing back to Rogers’ work as an example of how educational innovation can thrive well beyond the walls of any school building.

Also this year, Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, published “Leapfrogging Inequality: Remaking Education to Help Young People Thrive.” Using a global analysis of thousands of educational innovations, Winthrop examines the concept of “leapfrogging,” something more commonly applied in the business sector, to describe important trends. One example is around telecommunications and how some nations have skipped land-based lines right to a robust cellular network. Similarly, Winthrop highlights examples of nations and communities leapfrogging legacy education systems by creating new models that embrace education as a human right.

In education, Winthrop points to when Brazil tried to build a secondary education system that could meet the needs of students across a largely rural state. With no existing secondary education system in place, the country started from scratch, analyzed their assets and available technologies, and considered what would fit culturally. The end result was a hybrid system where teachers with higher levels of expertise broadcasted lessons from the capital through a dedicated television station, while “mentoring teachers” resided in the rural and other classrooms. In less than a couple years, they built a system that reached across the state.

Last, Stephen M. Kosslyn and Bob Kerrey’s book, “Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education,” gained traction this year (though it was published in 2017). The book describes the successes of Minerva, a university touted by its founder as “the first elite American University launched in a century.” In the book, the school’s founding dean and others offer evidence in support of this new and experimental college model, which places students around the world to study remotely while working or apprenticing. The book also provides a blueprint for how others might embrace a similar approach.

Reading Ahead

If these books serve as a highlight for some of the important conversations and considerations in 2018, what might we expect in 2019? To answer that, here are four books waiting to be written. Full disclosure: These aren’t actual books, but the titles represent themes that I see for the year ahead (and, who knows, maybe these could inspire future writers!).

“Match.com Goes to College”: This book would draw attention to the shift in how people are finding learning resources and even colleges. While online search engines dominated how people discovered such things in the past, more innovators and entrepreneurs are striving to use algorithm-informed platforms to help match people with learning opportunities. As these experiments develop in 2019 and beyond, look for the potential impact on alternatives and supplements to traditional schools. This will spark conversation about the risks and opportunities of matchmaking technologies applied to education.

“Skills-based Hiring: The Future of Finding Top Talent for Your Organization”: While not an actual book, this title comes from the work of organizations like Skillful that are seeking to help employers reconsider how they hire new talent. Instead of sifting through applicants on the basis of credentials and degrees, what if we looked for discrete skill sets that will likely result in the best job performance? This concept of skills-based hiring, while not the dominant approach, is gaining support across the political spectrum. Look out for discussions about the implications of this for education providers as well as new school-company partnerships.

“Toward a More Humane Education in the Digital Age”: There is a growing (and encouraging) increase in attention towards the ethics and purpose behind educational technology in both K-12 and higher education. I predict that in 2019 we will see these sentiments applied to developments like competency-based education. While some critique early efforts in competency-based education as less personal, there is already growing interest in ways to blend competency-based education with humanistic sensibilities, and technology is quickly maturing to amplify such efforts.

“The New Era of Education: Mergers, Acquisitions, and Collaboration”: The past year has been studded with examples of school closures, acquisitions and mergers. But these kinds of changes in education aren’t new; mergers on the college level go back to the first half century of American higher education. Similarly, education service, product and content providers give us a long and colorful story of mergers and acquisitions. Expect this to go to an entirely new level in 2019, with any number of high-profile collaborations and mergers. As an alternative to full mergers, more institutions will seek partnerships in an effort to maintain their distinct identities while benefiting from the resources of other colleges and organizations.

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