Never Let Schooling Interfere with Your Education.

Ariel Norling here. I write about education, technology, and my adventures in entrepreneurship- i.e. everything that I've learned outside of a classroom's walls. I am often sarcastic, sometimes serious, but always infinitely curious.

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How Do We Get More Women in Tech? »

Just thought that I would resurrect this article I wrote for Infospace after getting an invitation to speak on a fundraising panel at an entrepreneurship conference because the organizer “wanted some kick-ass female presence on these panels.” Now the hurdle for me is being recognized for being a talented person, not for being a talented female.

In years past, it may have been sufficient to blame the lack of women in technology on inadequate education, preparation, experience, interest, etc. With the recent boom in ways to learn or self-teach web development, design, and computer science, education isn’t the hurdle. We now know that interest and confidence aren’t necessarily the problem, it’s that girls are aware of the gender discrimination in tech. Yet, gender differences in the tech world are not just the result of one gender. So what are we to do?

Read the rest of the article from the title link.

Taking a Break from Education

Despite my increasing commitments to learning and writing about education, I have found myself spending less and less time participating in education. At first I thought it was just because I was spending so much time learning to code, starting up my company, keeping up with classes, and writing about tech for Infospace, but then I realized this new schedule really isn’t keeping me from participating fully. The real problem is that education is estranging me, and there was entrepreneurship with open arms. It’s not to say that I’m jumping ship, or abandoning education, quite the opposite. Now I’m just taking the lessons that I’ve learned from entrepreneurship to change my outlook on education and vice versa. I think that there are a lot of things that they could learn from one another. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned? Attitude is everything.

To put it bluntly, education is depressing. The entire sector is filled with people who are tired, do thankless work, battle red tape and apathy, and incessantly bicker. There’s an economy of schadenfreude and an incessant cynicism for those who do well. Don’t believe me? Just look at Diane Ravitch.

There’s also (in tech terms) a disparity between the consumers and the customers of education. I’m not interested in appealing to the customers. They’re too invested in passing state tests and keeping their tenure and unions. In my time in Silicon Valley and working on my startup, I’ve learned that passion and an idea can take people far places. This concept has pushed me to keep learning new things and keep working, despite the difficulty. Sadly, that’s not the case with education right now, not on a system wide level. Right now, I don’t have the idea to help the consumers, especially on a grander scale.

I’m not abandoning education by any means. I can’t dedicate my life to something that doesn’t have a grander vision. Entrepreneurs lack the same kind of cohesion that education has. There’s a collective vision that happens in education because, at the end of the day, it is (or at least should be) about kids’ education and changing their lives for the better. With entrepreneurs, it can be about making money, changing norms, building value, becoming a better designer/developer/entrepreneur, just doing your own thing, or some combination of all of the above. Their vision can become a collective vision for their company, but what it is exactly that entrepreneurs are supposed to accomplish is designed to be a question mark. I’m creating an online dating site because I care about changing the way that people interact with one another for the better, and if I can help a few people fall in love that would be pretty cool, too. But it doesn’t quite compare to changing a broken system.

So when it comes to dealing with the status quo, dealing with red tape, and fighting off the cynics, I’m going to go in the direction that is encouraging, appreciates experimentation, and doesn’t called failed attempts failures. For now that means that I’ll be spending more time in tech and working on my non-edtech startup (youshoulddate.me). It’s giving me a chance to become non-jaded again, look at things from a new perspective, and learn a few lessons about change that can be applied to education. I’d rather be the continual newcomer with fresh input than a jaded pundit with the same input. So for the moment, I’ll be mostly removing myself from the education space. I need to not burn out on something that I care about.

I’ll still be posting on here from time to time whenever I read something of interest or have some new thoughts, but I won’t be as prolific a writer as before.

There Should Be More to Social Media Than Being Social »

My first post for Infospace, where I’m writing about social media, entrepreneurship, and anything tech.

With tons of new and existing companies trying to innovate the world of social media, there can be a lot of hype around new sites and features. Yet, there haven’t been any substantial changes in the way that users interact with content or one another. The ability to create multiple networks, share (and over share), and  continuously consume content are creating a resounding “Where’s the Beef?”-type response from many users. Here are some of the changes that might help stop the social media ambivalence.

Moving Past Sharing

Twitter initially had a hard time demonstrating to users that there was a purpose larger than updating the world on what they had for breakfast. Fortunately, we’ve reached a point in social media where people are comfortable with the concept of sharing. In fact, most are too comfortable with sharing, so much so that one of the top resolutions this past New Year’s was to share less and with fewer people.

But the problem really isn’t sharing; it’s what we share, with whom, and how. Google+ was a step in the right direction with the creation of circles, and so are Pinterest and Scoop.it with the popularization of content curation, but there’s still a lot to be desired in the realm of interactions with information and networks. I would love to see a move towards a world with fewer “OMG it’s snowing!! :D ” updates and more audience-conscious sharing, sharing of substance, and discussions.

Creating More than Networks

It isn’t enough to connect users with their networks anymore. Users have already friended or followed their networks, and are not interested in doing so again. Part of the shortcomings of Path and Google+ are that they encourage connecting with the same networks in different ways, which could technically already be accomplished on existing social networks. Since there are already huge networks built up, the emphasis should be less on building users’ networks for various purposes, but filling gaps, creating communities, and facilitating meaningful communication (whether online or in real life) in new ways.

This lends itself to the use of existing networks for new sites and applications. This is tricky because users often want the ability to push their updates elsewhere. Yet there’s a fine line between using a social media tool to share with different networks, and simply pushing updates to networks because it’s easy. If users end up sharing the same content along all outlets then there’s no differentiation between services for users and competing platforms.

Being More Than Brag-Worthy

There was a certain element of awesome when the first mobile apps started using gamification to incentivize users sharing things, but now most gamification is overkill. There are only so many badges/points/whatever one can earn before you start questioning their value. In order for accomplishments to be meaningful, they have to offer something of value, whether it is a coupon, or something that could get a user hired.

Personalization

We all know that the biggest thing that social media companies want is our data. Shouldn’t users get something in return? With the vast amount of data out there from the content we make, share, interact with, and archive, companies have immense amounts of information, which eerily, accurately characterizes us. This is already being put to use by companies with advertising, but could also vastly improve the way that we interact with our social networks and content. I appreciate companies like Hunch and Percolatefor making strides in customizing recommendations for products and media, but think that it needs to go a step further to the less tangible. There are plenty of applications for this data once we get a little creative. There are possibilities in online dating, career matching, and much more.

If users don’t start finding more value in social media, we might just find ourselves in the age of unfollowing, where users cut back on their listening, sharing, and participating. This would translate into less traffic, time, and data for companies and a lose-lose situation for all.

Our open, publicly-funded public school system, deeply woven into the fabric of our open, freedom- and innovation-loving society, is the gem in the crown of America that people from around the world for decades have tried to replicate…

Poverty, hunger, homelessness, parents who are ineffective or unable to parent – these are all analog problems kids have that need the help of other people, not only computers, to solve. What Gene Marks and other Silicon Valley “edupreneurs” forget is that we live in a complicated three-dimensional world that doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet or a computer screen. Digital bootstraps aren’t enough; to help all the nation’s kids we need lifelines offered face to face to real kids, from a person who cares in their neighborhood schools.

"Digital Bootstraps for Analog Problems" - Cynthia Liu

Am I the only one who catches the irony of a tradition-laden school system in an innovation-loving society? 

Education technology is not supposed to be the magic cure all for all of society’s ills, or even education’s. But if students aren’t getting what they need from the traditional method, don’t they deserve to have a chance to digitally bootstrap? Support is the most powerful thing that someone can give a student, and if a teacher, counselor, parent, or administrator isn’t there to give it to them, why should we criticize those who are digitally offering support? Besides, there’s more to education technology than AV technology and learning management systems, something that is often ignored in #pencilchat-type debates. Most importantly, people forget that there are people behind these products. People who care about students and education. From experience in trying to build a technology startup, one simply cannot start a tech company just for fun. They have to be committed to the idea, or else their hours, blood, sweat, and tears, and minimal income (especially in the education sector) are going to waste because lack of passion will kill them and their company.

Digital bootstrapping may not be sufficient for many, but why should we be angry at edupreneurs for trying? They’re the ones trying the hardest to innovate our public schools, and they’re moving faster than policy makers and individual teachers can. Maybe we should let them go full speed ahead, and let the rest of us focus on solving “analog problems.”

The Current State of Learning Analytics »

My EdLab blog post about current learning analytics and adaptive learning technologies.

I think it will be interesting to watch the development of learning analytics platforms that expand past the required NCLB data and into social interactions and personalization.”

Blended Learning or Bland Learning? »

Young students who are exposed to technology with drill and practice type activities (the overwhelming majority of offerings in educational technology) have shown decreases in children’s creativity and motivation.

Yes, increases in reading levels are obviously necessary, but there are other ways to tighten budgets without sacrificing the characteristics necessary for meaningful employment and economic growth in the future, or the things that make childhood great. If anything, this is a call for entrepreneurs to develop learning programs that go beyond drill and practice and help children to develop their creativity and nurture their sense of wonder.

My EdLab blog post about the problems with teaching younger children via blended learning. Teaching reading, but sacrificing activity and creativity.

Les geeks sont-ils anti-“intellectuels” »

ehreelsdiary:

Tom Roud revient sur un récent billet de Larry Sanger, un des fondateurs de Wikipedia, qui explique que les geeks sont de plus en plus contre la connaissance académique.

This is a French blog post, so my apologies to those of you who can’t read French (or don’t have Google Chrome). I think it does a nice job of covering all of the arguments that people, especially in the tech world, have against higher education, and it does a nice job of explaining their reasoning for still seeing value in higher ed. Plus, I’m giving them extra kudos for throwing in a literary simile as a lagniappe.