Thursday, March 26, 2009


An epic showdown!

In this corner, we have Academic Earth. "Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." Looks sharp. Looks keen. And you know it's good stuff because they didn't mess with the regular scholars, only the top scholars on this site, baby.

And in this corner, we have They have thousands of videos as well, but they've let in the rabble. Although you can't sneeze at the sheer number of schools they can boast. Plus, they have video from IITM, for pete's sake!

Who will win? Who will emerge victorious in this epic struggle?

Why, that's already been determined. You and I, my friend--we are the winners.


I read a post by David Wiley over at his blog. I ended up making a comment, and then realize there was a blog post in all my ramblings.

In his post, Wiley talks about how acreditors want to come and see what a university is doing. If the university is doing all of the right things, they get accredited, and they can hand out diplomas (one of the few reasons universities have to exist, anymore). Wiley points out that by putting their courses online, it would be very easy for accreditors to see if the university is doing the 'right things'.

The question I posed was why do we need accreditors in the first place? When universities came to me in high school, they told me if I wanted a good job then I needed to go to college. But are the things I learn at Utah State really preparing me to succeed in the workplace? I had a professor tell me up front that very little of what he taught would prepare me for any kind of job. Who really knows what skills are needed to succeed in the workplace? Why, the workplace itself, that’s who.

When Western Governors University put together their assessments to test competency, they worked very closely with businesses, asking them what skills and knowledge they wanted to see in their employers. WGU based their assessments on that dialogue with businesses.

There are many who think that getting in bed with businesses is a cardinal sin. This notion is extremely unpopular in the world of higher education. But businesses want talented, well-rounded, skillful individuals probably as much if not more than any accreditors.

I wonder how long it will be until businesses look at all this open content out there and just decide to develop their own tests, saying ‘If you can pass this test, it’s good enough for us. No degree needed.’

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Exciting Concept

Competency-based certification. You heard it here first.

In the beginning we had a library; just a collection of books gathered by some rich king. Then the university came along and added a social component to the library. The university secured a monopoly on a thing called a degree. It's the currency we use to get jobs and show how smart we are.

The problem lies in the fact that the internet is now the largest repository of knowledge, and there are many social components to the internet. You can learn all sorts of useful skills and knowledge from folks all over the world. But how do you show you know the skill? Currently, and unfortunately, you do it the same way its been done for hundreds of years. You pay a boatload of money, you go to school, you take classes (whether or not you know the subject), and you demonstrate competency. Once you've done this, you get the coveted degree.

But the times they are a changing. Today we not only have information, but we have information organized in courses. We have hundreds of hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. Universities are just catching up to sites that have been around much longer.

So the real question becomes will universities be able to keep an iron grip on their monopoly of certification? There is a new model that is just emerging. It is the idea that if you already understand the content you shouldn't need to jump through the hoops. This idea should terrify universities, but not to innaction. Competency-based certificaiton is a great opportunity for cash-strapped schools. It has the potential to open up a new and incredibly large new market.

The idea of competency-based certification is already being practiced quite successfully over at Western Governors University. WGU develops no content. They have no professors. Instead, their students learn from some other source--any other source, and once they feel they know the content, they take a test. If they pass the test, they earn the credit. It may take four years to earn a degree, it may take four months, it all depends on what you know.

I'm willing to bet as we see more and more information online, we will hear a larger cry for an alternative to the traditional higher education. Good, smart folks in developing countries can't hope to save the money and come to the US to pay the high price of getting a degree. But they can log onto the internet and pay to take a test, especially if the degree or certificate they get by taking the test leads them to a better life.

The only question not answered is will universities lead the way, or be drug, kicking and screaming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Article of the week...

If you're in the publishing industry--author, publisher, bookseller, whatever--you need to read this. Sure, this article is about the newspaper industry, but you have to ask yourself, are we next?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


You and me, we watch Youtube videos and think, 'ha ha, that is funny'.

This guy looks at them and thinks, 'I could make me a song out of that."

The results are incredible. I can't stop listening.

He's got a bunch, don't just listen to the one I linked to. If his site is running slow, here is the video for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Quote of the day...

John: Whoa! This scripture tells the Jews, "lo, lo". What does that mean?

Mom: That means to listen up.

John: Yeah like, "Hey you guys, loosen up!"

Friday, March 06, 2009

Getting closer...

A year or so ago I put forth the idea of linking wikipedia articles to a location. We're now officially one step closer to that reality. A French company has put the entire wikipedia on on a mobile device. All that's needed is to hook up all of the articles with coordinates (Mt. Rushmore, Pacific Ocean), and link them so they show up on the GPS map.

My money says somebody will do it by year's end. And then the whole lid will come off of this bubbling pot, and we'll see some real content-to-location love.

One Trillion

Can't quite wrap your head around the concept of a trillion? Don't feel bad, neither can I. It's hard to really understand the concept. We hear about it in the news, but let's face it, we all went to public school, and we're just not that good at math. We're much better at visuals.

So, without any further ado..I present to you, a trillion.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


When my oldest son was little, I started reading him Shel Silverstein. He got mixed up when I told him that these were poems, and poetry, and he called it all poemtry. Although now he knows what it's really called, as each son has grown up, we've called it poemtry, just for fun.

Anyway, last night my number four wanted me to read him some poemtry. And while I could never pick out my favorite Shel Silverstein poem, this one certainly has to rank in the top ten.


She drank from a bottle called DRINK ME
And up she grew so tall,
She ate from a plate called TASTE ME
And down she shrank so small.
And so she changed, while other folks
Never tried nothin' at all.

Authors Take Note

Good article over at the Huffington Post by Hugh McGuire. This particular sentence jumped out at me.

"After a day on the web, it's often hard to get my brain to switch back to the slowness needed to read a novel or deeper text."

When I was in school, I read all of the time. I had a 50 minute bus ride to and from school. The bus driver played country music, so my only defense was to go to my 'happy place'. That happy place was Narnia, Middle Earth, Xanth, and Shannara, not to mention the endless depths of space. I had an entire hour to read, inturrupted only every once in a while by Tony Norr stopping by and giving me the obligatory knuckle noogie.

But lately I've found myself with less and less large blocks of time to read. I used to watch movies with my wife at night to relax. Then we found that even 2 hours was difficult to manage. We've switched to 50 or 24 minute television shows on Hulu more to our liking.

It's hard to pick up a book like Anathem (960 pages) and read it in 8 minute chunks from now until 2012.

And it's worse for our kids. They don't even like to watch a 30 minute TV show, instead watching 4 minute clips on YouTube.

I feel that McGuire makes two important points in his article.

"This is why I think that ebooks & mobile devices are so important to the publishing business: ebooks allow me to read at times & in areas when I wouldn't otherwise be reading."


"The worry I have with high prices/abusive DRM terms etc for ebooks is that the business will price itself out of a new market space while watching (in horror) as the traditional market shrinks in the face of the gazillions of other things people can do these days to pass their time."

The RIAA and the MPAA have both gone through these growing pains, and the publishing industry is just now starting to do the same. In my opinion the RIAA really fouled things up, while the MPAA only sort of fouled things up. It's my hope that publishers and authors can do a better job, but I'm not holding my breath. After seeing the authors guild sue Google and hinting at suing Amazon, I fear that we are going to make the same mistakes all over again. As McGuire says:

"The job of the publishing business is going to be to find more ways to make it easier for people like me to read. And it seems with ebook pricing & DRM, the publishing biz just want to make it harder for me to do so.

"And that can't be a winning strategy."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

Interesting Conversation...

Interesting article over on Reflections of a Newsosaur. This guy thinks that media outlets made a huge mistake by putting their content on the web for free. A few of the unintended consequences of this 'original sin':

:: "By giving away their content on the web, publishers made it unnecessary for consumers to subscribe to the publications that generated the high advertising revenues that subsidize the cost of producing content.

:: "Publishers devalued their once-powerful franchises by letting anyone link freely to their content on the web.

:: "The wide availability of free content on the web quickly convinced consumers, who didn’t need much persuading, that content should be free."

His solution to the problem is to put their content behind a paid subscription...which has proved completely ineffective in the past.

I thought one of the comments summed it up the best:

"What worries me is that I'm not sure that most newspapers have anything to charge for. Reviews? I can get those from my friends on Facebook. Columnists? Good Lord there's a whole blogosphere to choose from. Breaking news? Um, no." (Can you say Twitter?)

"So what then?

"There is plenty of free content on the web. Most of it crap, some of it mediocre and, yes, some small bit of it top notch. Newspapers will have to compete with all of it and this means their content will have to compete with top-notch.

"And I'm not sure it can."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Quote of the day...

Me: Our site is down. I'm not sure I know exactly how to get it up, can you help?

Tom: Yeah, I was just heading out to spray some disinfectant on a chicken's butt, and then I'd be happy to take a look at it.

Me: You are, as they say, the man.