A New Learning Experience – Edufire

I often comment that I’m amazed how little teaching has changed over the last 100 years. The main difference in my eyes is only the number of students. The methods are very much the same. Why this bothers me so much is that kids don’t learn the same way they used to. Their environments are very different than a decade ago, let alone 30 or even 80 years ago.

I have a friend who teaches at the local universities. His classes are the intro to computer variety – occasionally getting into python computer programming. He does it for a few extra bucks and he likes the people part of it. He learns from the experience too. Which brings me to a new model of teaching that is pretty obvious after you read about it. It’s called Edufire.

Edufire is an online educational website. It isn’t like the University of Phoenix, but rather a tutoring or simple knowledge expanding teaching service. Basically if you like to teach a certain subject you can sign up, create a profile by describing yourself, and if people are interested in it you begin to offer the class. Having a diverse list of class options only reinforces the value of the site.

But the ingenious part, at least in my mind, is the pay model. It’s subscription based. For $29 a month you can take as many classes as you wish. This payment method taps into the best intentions revenue stream. Many fitness centers stay afloat off of people who hope they will get to the gym. But the payment model works the other way too. If a teacher is offering something the market is looking for, that teacher will be rewarded for supplying that market need. The site acts more like a broker in this case.

Here is some verbiage from their site (I’m not paid anything for this submission. I just like ideas for teaching and business like this).

What is eduFire?
eduFire is a community of people passionate about teaching and learning online. As a student you’ll find outstanding tutors from all around the world, all available at the click of a button. As a teacher you’ll be able to reach new students and teach from anywhere.

How do I get started teaching on eduFire?
Getting started teaching on eduFire is easy. Sign up and create your profile (the better and more complete your profile the more likely you’ll be to get new students). You’ll soon receive messages from students interested in learning from you. Pretty simple huh?

How do I know if a tutor is any good?
At eduFire it’s our goal to make it easy for you to determine whether a tutor is good or not. You can view the tutor’s credentials and background, watch a sample lesson, read testimonials from other students, and read feedback from other sessions. In addition, each tutor has a score on the site that allows you to tell at a glance whether the tutor is right for you.

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Innovation: A Soup of Abstract Ideas, Timing, and Luck

Innovation is a term that is very easy to talk about after it happens. When a person or company is being innovative it’s usually in reaction to something. Rarely does someone just say “today I’m going to file these three reports, meet with the accountant, innovate, and go for a run.”

Earlier this week I was reading the blogs on HBR.com and John Sviokla wrote an entry that caught my eye. His blog titled Getting Buy-In for Abstract Ideas talks about the Google team that came up with the bidding process for ads called the Vickrey method – the winning bidder pays the second highest bid plus one penny. His story is a little off since this idea first came about by Overture.com, a smaller predecessor web advertising company. And although that isn’t really the point of his entry, it spurred me to think about why, although successful at Overture.com, it wasn’t until Google that the idea turned into a tide wave of profit.

Another entry over to HBR.com helped push my thoughts in another direction. A blog by Daniel Isenberg called Entrepreneurs: Stop Innovating, Start Minnovating is about how entrepreneurs often get the feeling that success is being Bill Gates. Well, there is only one Bill Gates, but the feeling can be overwhelming and squelch many people from even trying. The example Isenberg uses is one where a movie plex in Mexico tweaked the normal offerings of a movie experience with some lime juice and chili sauce instead of butter on the popcorn. That is drastically over simplifying it, but the innovation was the timing and the execution of their product. Generally the idea has to be incubated in an environment that is ready to accept it. That was the case with the movie house.

This bring me back to Overture.com, often times smaller companies are the incubator for these untested ideas. Larger companies tend to be risk averse in their management ranks, especially middle managers. There isn’t enough upside to stake your career on a concept that may not have the time to pan out. At some point in a company’s maturity it changes into a process driven machine. This is good for efficiencies, but it encourages people to follow the steps. Creative thinking isn’t needed. However, there are always individuals at these firms with the right characteristics for abstract thinking and hopefully innovation. These characteristics are:

  • Being comfortable with the unknown
  • Viewing alternative ideas as a component of sustainability
  • Using not just inductive and deductive reasoning, but also intuition
  • Having an enlightened eye (being able to see deeper patterns)

If I were to advise someone in a large company as to how to implement an abstract idea, I would tell them to establish an environment that is ready for it. This means you have to get people to start thinking about the different elements of it well in advance. Otherwise the ideas will be so foreign that they won’t be able to make the connections. The idea will still be good, but someone else will take it and implement it – just ask Google.

Mathieu Lehanneur and Design

The other day I entered a post about robotics and how the US has an opportunity to lead in this area. Part of robotics I didn’t talk much about though is the human engagement side and the design of it. Mathieu Lehanneur in the video below shares several great ways of using nature, the brain, and our surroundings to improve our quality of life. Most of his ideas aren’t necessarily expensive, they just reframe the problem through creative thinking.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

A Growing Knowledge Base – Robotics

Last weekend I met up with a friend of mine from college. He is a
teacher in the special education field. As we were having a good time
reminiscing our old times we briefly touched on our current endeavors.
I mentioned this blog and my views on education. And as exciting as
that is – just kidding – he talked about his after school program with
the kids. It’s a robotics program. From a teaching perspective, it has
so many rewarding elements to it: it’s hands on, it teaches complex
problem solving (algorithms), it’s meaningful to the future, and it’s
fun.

This past Friday Roger Cohen wrote an Op-Ed piece for the NY Times
called Of Fruit Flies and Drones. He talks about the tremendous
advances going on in the world of robotics, specifically military drone
airplanes. These planes can be piloted in DC, Colorado, or some other
removed location. Cohen’s message is one of war ethics and how being
geographically removed from the scene can potentially lead to a
desensitized fighter – the deaths are still real.

But Cohen also talks about the different ideas that are needed for
robotics. In the case of flying drones, he elaborates on how fruit
flies see. As a fruit fly flies, it has objects that come in and go out
of it’s view. The objects in view grow larger as the fruit fly
approaches it and if it’s not a desirable banana or something it turns
away from the object. This concept is then applied to a robot. As a
drone approaches an object, the object in view increases in size. The
drone needs to calculate the rate at which the object is growing in
size and adjust the flight accordingly. Although this idea is very
simple, it’s layered with nuance. The first is that you have to teach
the drone what is something and what is nothing. For a non-sentient
being, I imagine this is hard.

In my last entry I talk about the economic advantage the US has in it’s
knowledge base. I reference artistic industries (movies and music) as
my example, but a better example would have been robotics. The
application of this knowledge base is not too far off and it can be
very widespread. Right now there are some kids in San Diego coming up
with something more than Rosie from the Jetsons.

The Near Future: Big Raises Coming for Those with Certain Skills

I started writing this blog over two years ago in an attempt to better understand why wages were not increasing like they were in the 1990s. It seemed like there were several good years of production in the US, but the every man wasn’t benefiting. Very early on I realized the US was headed for a significant downturn in the economy. I said we were half asleep in a fake empire.

My theory is, and was, that the psychological affect of the boom times of the 1990s was still permeating the minds of many workers. Everyone wanted a bigger house, boat, and the perception of importance. It was rationalized that it was earned, and to a degree it was. Productivity soared throughout this decade and corporate profits were way up, so employees wanted to be rewarded for their hard work and innovative offerings. But during this decade the pay structure had stalled out and people began to borrow to keep up their lifestyle – all with the idea that the reward was just around the corner. Well something was just around the corner, the economic crash of a generation.

What went wrong?
How could productivity be so high, consumption be so high and pay be idle? I blamed the uber-rich. I even did some research to show how even though we knew income levels were disproportionate, it was worse than we thought. But blaming the ultra-rich is somewhat of a lazy answer. So I started to think about other aspects of it. I came back to globalization and outsourcing. There is the idea that wages were kept low for fear of outsourcing. There is some truth to that, but still only a smallish part of the story.

The reality is the emerging economic powers of China, India, Brazil,and others had finally reached a threshold of productivity themselves.The best practices of manufacturing were all well known by now, the raw materials needed were all easily shipped, the communication chain was available through the internet, and the education required for these ideas was sufficiently taught. Many of the advantages the US built over the last 100 years were flattened in less than 10 years.

Productivity is and was up, but it’s total rise is obscured by the affects of a foreign labor market. If it were the same environment as the 1980s then pay would have shot up. Corporations can make more stuff cheaper than ever and there was a buying US public that believed they earned it.

Where do we go from here?
In the long run, this economic situation is great for the US. For too long the US was the wealthiest nation and it consumed a disproportionate amount of the worlds goods and services. Countries like China are now earning their way into the establishment of a middle class, which has great buying power. If and when these countries start consuming their share of goods and services (as long as trade is open) the US will be a supplier of particular goods and services.

Although items like toys and shoes are made elsewhere, the US is still the best at the knowledge economy. Movies and music are largely US dominated and just look at Apple and Coca-Cola, their products are not significant in and of themselves. They sell an association as much as anything else.

There is a type of employee of the 2010s who will get big raises. It’s the worker who engages the market with ideas and transforms easy to assemble goods and services into something with personal meaning.

Unemployment Graphs and Charts – October 2009

I could have regenerated these charts (I have the stats), but the NY Times and the Bureau of Labor Statistics did it for me. Either way, I think they are pretty great in showing the change in unemployment from different angles.

This one shows the make up of the losses by industry from August 2007 to September of 2009. There is a lot of red (manufacturing), some orange (construction) and a thread of blue (professional and business services). But also notice the light blue. It’s Education and Health Services.

I like this breakdown as well. Over the next months I expect manufacturing to remain near the top, but construction should change.

Culturally, this graph is telling.

This one shows the difficulty in finding a new job. Makes me wonder what the market needs in terms of skills?

A general showing of the unemployment percentage.

October 2009 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for October 2009 (based on the job report):


Net
loss of 190,000 jobs in the month (revised to a loss of 127,000 jobs, revised to a final loss of 224,000)

  • Analysts expected a loss of 175,000
  • Twenty-two straight months of job losses
  • September was revised to a loss of 219,000 from 263,000 (revised again to a loss of 139,000, revised to a final loss of 225,000)
  • August was revised to loss of 154,000 from a revised loss of 201,000 jobs (originally reported as a loss of 216,000, revised to a final loss of 211,000)
  • Over 8 million jobs have been lost since the recession officially started in December of 2007

Unemployment rate declined to 10.2%

  • Analysts predicted a rise to 9.9%
  • Highest since April 1983
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group, reached 17.5%
    • Continuing to be a record

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 61,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 62,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 40,000
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 37,000 jobs
  • Government sector was unchanged
  • Health care grew by 29,000 jobs

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $617.76 – a gain of $1.65
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $18.72 – up 5 cents
  • The average hourly work week stayed at 33.0

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

Productivity Report is Strong ahead of October ’09 Jobs Report

Everyone is gearing up for the October Jobs Report that is out tomorrow. It’s fairly significant on several fronts. First the number; I suspect 10% unemployment to be reached, but I also think the unemployment number will be 210,000. Neither of these numbers are good, but they are expected. But some of the older months have been adjusted so the real numbers are even worse. The October and November reports should give an idea of them.

But before we get to tomorrow’s numbers we need to address today’s news. The Productivity number came out and it was very high – 9.5% in the third quarter. That is on top of a rate of 6.9 for the second quarter. Employment costs were low again as well. These two items mean the general working population is generating output very efficiently. These types of surges can only last so long before employee burnout and turnover. The numbers look like the 2003 period.

Year Qtr1 Qtr2 Qtr3 Qtr4 Annual
1999 3.9 0.3 3.3 7.1 3.3
2000 -1.5 9.4 0.1 4.0 3.4
2001 -1.3 7.4 2.5 5.8 2.9
2002 8.8 0.5 3.8 -0.3 4.6
2003 3.7 5.3 9.7 1.5 3.7
2004 0.9 3.7 0.7 0.8 2.8
2005 3.9 -0.6 2.9 -0.4 1.7
2006 2.8 0.6 -1.9 2.4 0.9
2007 1.2 2.8 5.5 2.0 1.8
2008 -0.1 3.1 -0.1 0.8 1.8
2009 0.3 6.9 9.5    

Between he stimulus, health care reform, and green or renewable energies, I feel pretty good about opportunities for economic growth. Developing nations like China, Brazil, and India are also moving the dial. This means the US won’t have to drag the rest of the world up. There are still a lot of “ifs” but discipline seems to be in vogue and economical.

iMinds For My Walk To Work

I’m an iPod shuffle guy. I load up music and sometimes books to listen to, especially for my walk from where I park to my office. Amazon is great for material, but I just found another option that I’m pretty excited about. It’s called iMinds. This site offers mostly 8 minute explanatory audio files. I’m particularly interested in the Stockholm Syndrome and The Dropa Stones.

In a world of flu shots at the airport, twitter, and lottery tickets it makes perfect sense for an option to come along like this. Here’s what their website says:

What We Do

Ever been sitting at a dinner party while everyone discusses
Film Noir and not being quite sure enough to join the conversation?
Ever read about Ponzi schemes and not known exactly what they were
talking about? Seen something on the news and thought you needed more
detail but didn’t have the time to sort through the white noise of
information?

iMinds was born of these moments…. 8 minute knowledge grabs which
whet your appetite and broaden your mind. Across 12 main categories,
learn about Politics, Science, The Arts and History.. find yourself
listening to the tale of Confucius, the facts of Stockholm Syndrome or
the Battle of Waterloo, all backed with music that entertains and holds
your attention. Clean and concise, crisp and engaging.. discover what
you never knew you were missing.

Load onto your iPod, mix with your music tracks and learn a little
bit more every day while you commute, exercise, shop or cook.. spend
your time more wisely.

Have you heard? iMINDS.. knowledge for inquisitive minds.

The Chemistry of an Argument

I thoroughly enjoy a good verbal back and forth with someone. Honest disagreements are fantastic, especially if there is a chemistry to the exchange. I have a few coworkers that allow me to present alternative opinions to them. If the topic is something I’ve given even a smidgen of thought to I tend to dialog at practically a stream of conscience speed. I’m not necessarily overrunning the person(s) I’m talking to, it’s just that I can anticipate what they are going to say, and vice versa. Just about everyone has these friendly debates. And sometimes unfriendly ones.

And that is what my post is about. Sometimes, emotions run high. It could be a topic someone, for whatever personal reason, has an attachment to or it could be that something happened that incites a reaction. In these situations you can still find a chemistry, but it’s usually one of escalating negative behavior – raising voices, to insults, to potentially physical abuse. What is important to consider during these incidents is to intentionally break the rhythm of the discourse. Pausing for a moment and breaking up the cadence of the tit for tat will pay off.

Peter Bregman over to HBR.org calls this The Martial Art of Difficult Conversations. He had a situation arise where his neighbor was steamed at him and his wife. They had her son’s car towed. It wasn’t vindictive or anything, they were just in a bind. Bregman wasn’t the one who answered the door, so he was able to think while his wife was engaged in the back and forth of who was in the wrong. Here is what Bregman did and suggest for others:

Meanwhile, I had a brief moment to consider the best way to rescue Eleanor. I had to diffuse Leslie’s anger, otherwise we’d never get anywhere. The only way to do that was to give Leslie the experience of being heard. Once she felt we understood her point of view and appreciated how angry she was, she’d calm down. Then we could talk.

I decided to do three things that, together, communicate listening:

  1. Ask questions. I would ask open ended, exploratory questions. Who, what, when, where,how, why, etc. Questions that would clarify what she was saying and feeling. Questions that would help me unpack the situation from her perspective. I would stay away from leading questions and statements that pretended to be questions but wouldn’t fool anyone, like “You don’t actually believe that, do you?”
  2. Actually listen. I would shut up and hear what she had to say. And I would avoid thinking about anything except what she was saying. I would also try to hear what she wasn’t saying but was implying, the desires, fears, and assumptions that were behind what she was saying.
  3. Repeat and summarize.I would recap what I heard, trying to use the same words she did. I would also summarize what I heard and check with her to see if I understood her correctly. If she told me I didn’t get it, I wouldn’t ask her to repeat herself because, well, she would and I’d hear the whole thing over again. What I really wanted to know is what I got wrong. So I’d ask her what I missed. Once she told me, I’d repeat that part again and ask her if I got it right this time.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t bother to defend our decision until her anger was diffused. And I picked a sign for myself: once she took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders, I’d make my point.

It’s great to debate ideas, viewpoints, and opinions, but there are times when the chemistry can be destructive. A simple pause can help you to always keep it positive.

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