(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
What’s the end goal for education? Wisdom? Knowledge? The ability to function as a responsible and productive citizen?
All of that, ideally, but an immediate concern in the U.S. is a bit more practical and focused. How does education align with a person’s professional success and our society’s economic flourishing? As an example, some see the continued drop in college enrollment as having adverse long-term economic and social consequences.
A sharp and persistent decline in the number of Americans going to college — down by nearly a million since the start of the pandemic, according to newly released figures, and by nearly 3 million over the last decade — could alter American society for the worse, even as economic rival nations such as China vastly increase university enrollment, researchers warn.
There seems to be a growing consensus that part of the problem can be attributed to a growing disconnect between employers/employment and the education systems that are tasked with preparing learners for jobs. This has led to calls for things like embedding workforce education across the college experience and creating an improved learner-to-earner ecosystem. Others are approaching the problem from a different perspective, saying the future of learning itself needs a complete makeover if it’s going to address our lifelong working needs.
And, of course, the press about web3 and web3 in education rolls on but, this week, with a welcome added dose of skepticism. One article asks, “Are crypto-entrepreneurs imagining better systems for education—or just systems that pay off better financially for themselves?” Another suggests that if web3 is the financialisation of the web, then ed3 is merely the (further) financialisation of education.
This past week also saw the U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, gave a speech in which he outlined the government’s vision and strategy. Cardona suggested that we need a ‘reset’ and that now is the time to “make education the great equalizer.” According to Cardona, we can accomplish this by unraveling barriers to high-quality education for underserved student populations. This includes a focus on the affordability of higher learning, although Cardona did not mention anything about broad student-loan forgiveness.
Finally, while the Omnicron variant and Covid-19, in general, have continued to disrupt higher education in the U.S., some think that the changes resulting from the long disruption may prove positive, giving us the higher education we actually deserve.
On the AI front, I noticed that Meta is saying its new AI supercomputer will be the world’s fastest by mid-2022. Perhaps of greater practical interest, this TechCrunch piece gives some nice insight into the role that AI companies look to play in China’s move to “smart manufacturing.” Of particular interest is the process involved in the development of AI expertise — requiring that researchers get “their hands dirty” to understand the real requirements. My particular favorite post on AI was this article by Chen Qiufan and Kai-Fu Lee on what AI cannot do. Specifically, the authors see three capabilities where they see AI as falling short, and that AI will likely still struggle to master even in 2041: Creativity, Empathy, and Dexterity.
With regard to web3, there was certainly some needed skepticism from the broader technology sector about this being “new” or the “next big thing.”
While we may not want to throw the Web3 baby out with the bathwater, we must take lessons from how the internet’s earlier iterations unfolded. As digital policy expert Francesca Bria observes, “People pushing the Web3 agenda have learned very little from the experiences of all the other movements, from free software to Indymedia to the rise of digital democratic cities.” In fact, it is precisely because we have been here before that we need a critical perspective. To ignore the historical context and allow the same patterns to emerge around Web3 would be negligent and even reckless.
Also, as Stephen Downes is quick to point out, web3 and its associated technologies are hardly a new thing.
Looking forward, I found this article from O’Reilly on technology trends for 2022 interesting. In it, the author takes a deep dive into what users of the O’Reilly catalog are most interested in. Among other things, cybersecurity, API gateways, Rust (programming language), Cloud computing, and AI/ML.