The Pacific Standard has an interesting article about the use of humor to increase critical thinking. The article notes, however, “while funny things can be reassuring and uplifting, making us feel better, humor isn’t automatically guaranteed to change a viewer’s mind. In fact, humor can do the opposite, reinforcing what we already think.” Indeed.
The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has called on researchers, research foundations, the U.S. government, and the private sector to create new partnerships to address social science research challenges. A recent SSRC research report — “To Secure Knowledge: Social Science Partnerships for the Common Good” — argues that social science research faces serious threats from reduced federal funding and the public’s skepticism about data. The report includes recommendations such as creating a central database for public and private social data, and forging new public-private funding relationships. Hopefully these and other recommendations will be fruitful.
CityLab has a new article about how urban and rural residents can find common ground. In the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange (RUX), for example, “participants go on three weekend-long retreats to strengthen bonds with people from other parts of the state, creating a ‘currency of connection’ (in the words of RUX organizers) to increase mutual understanding, spark collective problem-solving, and, of course, develop friendships across divides, whether real or perceived.” Fascinating!
In the September 2018 issue of Wired magazine Clive Thompson argues that we need software to help slow us down, not speed up. He discusses “friction engineering,” which is “software that’s designed not to speed us up but to slow us down. It’s a principle that inverts everything we know about why software exists.” In social scientific circles, a great example the article cites is the social media site Nextdoor’s attempts to redesign its software to reduce racial profiling [see also my August 13, 2018 post.]
One strange item about the article: the online title is “We Need Software to Help Us Slow Down, Not Speed up.” In the print magazine, however, the article appears on page 38 as “Slow Software: In Praise of Fiction.” Weird.
“It’s not surprising that elite schools report high graduation rates or alumni success.” So begins the description of MONEY magazine’s 2018-2019 Most Transformative Colleges article. The description continues: “What’s impressive is when a college helps students do far better than would be expected from their academic and economic backgrounds. We call this a college’s value add. For this list, we ranked colleges based on our exclusive value-added scores for graduation rates, earnings, and student loan repayment, eliminating schools with any negative scores or a graduation rate below 50%.” SJSU is #4 on the list!
The Pacific Standard recently posted an article about micro-grants for college students: “Often college students nearing graduation have bills that, while small, could prevent them from graduating. Many universities now offer micro-grants to cover such expenses, which helps keep such students on track to graduation.” Today is the first day of fall 2018 classes here at San José State University. Luckily we have a small micro-grant program as a component of the SJSU Cares program. As the article notes, this type of program is very beneficial.
In an August 2016 post about racial profiling on Nextdoor.com, I noted that the social networking site was experimenting with ways to curb actions based on racial stereotypes and biases. I just discovered a May 2018 Harvard Business Review article that provides an analysis of their efforts. The author notes, “how Nextdoor responded illustrates not only the importance of reacting quickly in a crisis, but how useful a data-driven, agile approach can be. Agile teams benefit from different perspectives, skills, and expertise, so the co-founders assembled a small, diverse team to tackle the issue.” Hopefully Nextdoor will continue to have success in its efforts to combat racial profiling.
Inside Higher Education recently published a very interesting article, “Higher Education in a World Where Students Never Graduate.” The author notes, “much has been written about the potential decline in demand for traditional one- and two-year master’s programs in favor of short-term microcredentials.” He predicts that
As these trends crystallize, and professional education becomes unbundled and more transactional, universities can compete by focusing on the uniqueness of what we really offer: the deep relationship students build with us through their interactions with faculty, advisers, peers and professional networks. We must realize that we are in the relationship business; degree and certificate programs represent only a small part of the value we offer (and the one most likely to be disrupted by competition).[There are] concrete steps for universities to foster lifelong relationships to become the central hub to which students return as their life needs change.
He discusses the radical transformation of the newspaper industry as a cautionary tale for higher education. “Fortunately,” however, “there is one fundamental difference between news and education. Whereas news is based on content, education is fundamentally a complex set of relationships that encompass content/knowledge, mentoring and community. Whereas content can be commoditized, good relationships tend to be sticky and hard to replace.” Institutions of higher education can build on deep connections with students:
A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students — through our faculty, guidance counselors, student activities organizations, corporate partners, career counseling consultants and alumni organizations. These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks. We do a reasonably good job of offering such a multifaceted life-changing experience to our undergraduate students.
The author concludes, “In a world where students never really graduate, the role of the university is to take lifelong care of them, as we would take care of our true foster children. The transformation is not going to be easy: it will involve change in the way we handle everything, from academics to career counseling and alumni relations. But it is going to both better serve 21st-century learners and, ultimately, leave our institutions stronger in the face of a potentially disruptive future.” Indeed!
In the CityLab article “Inclusionary Zoning: Everything You Need to Know,” the authors state, “If you’ve hung around the CityLab site, sat through a City Council meeting, or hobnobbed with a housing developer, you’ve probably run across the term ‘inclusionary zoning.'” I have not, and suspect that many others haven’t either. It does appear to be a promising tool to produce affordable housing through the private market. The article is the pilot entry in the new “CityLab University,” a resource for “understanding some of the most important concepts related to cities and urban policy.”
In “The Rise of ‘Urban Tech,'” urban planner Richard Florida argues, “from food-delivery startups to mapping and co-living companies, technology focused on urban systems is drawing billions of dollars in venture capital.” These “urban tech” firms are “unleashing a new round of creative destruction on cities. Like previous economic transformations, the rise of urban tech and the emergence of the city as the primary platform for economic organization will not be without growing pains. It will be up to urban leaders and the struggles of workers and citizens to channel this transformation in a democratic way, so that it respects the needs of all city dwellers and creates prosperity for all.” Vigilance is required.