I confess. I am a Googlephile. Right now on my desktop, I have Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs and Google Calendar open in separate tabs on my Chrome browser.

I know that every keystroke inputted into Google is saved and stored. For now, it’s all rather innocuous. Mostly work e-mails, calendar entries of kids parties and dentist appointments, etc. Rather than be worried about this, I’m willingly participating in Google’s effort to learn even more about me. I have an Android phone that tracks my whereabouts, lets me check e-mail, rss feeds, calendar etc.

But link what Google knows about me to what Google knows about you and what it seeks to know about the world and you have a massive project. As Daniel Soar points out in the London Review of Books, Google’s efforts at rolling out new ways to create data is creating an increasingly smarter, more intiutive, perhaps essential, information behemoth:

Google is getting cleverer precisely because it is so big. If it’s cut down to size then what will happen to everything it knows? That’s the conundrum. It’s clearly wrong for all the information in all the world’s books to be in the sole possession of a single company. It’s clearly not ideal that only one company in the world can, with increasing accuracy, translate text between 506 different pairs of languages. On the other hand, if Google doesn’t do these things, who will?

The broader question about Google is whether private surveilance is inherently less nefarious and intrusive than state-based public surveilance? After all, Google doesn’t have an army. In addition, Google still needs to respond to customer demands. Last year, Google acquiecsed to the German public’s privacy concerns by allowing users to “opt out” their home addresses of it’s street view application.

The bigger issues comes from Government seeking access to Google’s repository of data. The public and the private are then in danger of becoming blurred. Google makes it’s interaction with government agencies public via it’s transparency report. But what happens when the state, with its monopoly of force, wants access to Google’s data?

6a00d8351b44f853ef0115712edacd970c-320wiOn the UC Berkeley campus, the Center for Open Innovation is doing work in this interesting new area::

Open innovation is the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively. [This paradigm] assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technology.”

Henry Chesbrough, Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm

In a recent talk, part of the discussion was on innovation and how it related to higher education.  There was talk of “silos” of knowledge.  So, when students are taking courses, they specialize in tracks, in terms of a functional area like finance or a specific type of engineering.  The problem with this is that this may not be the best preparation for students to work in the area of innovation and I would extend this much more broadly.  In other words, universities should be preparing students to think and problem solve  innovatively.  My experience is that there is lip service paid to this, but what becomes the focus is instilling a corpus of knowledge.

6a00d8351b44f853ef0115712edc22970c-320wiLast spring, Mark C. Taylor created a firestorm of controversy by calling the university on the carpet as an antiquated institution…and graduate education as the “Detroit of higher learning”.  Oh, you didn’t hear about this? That’s because the controversy was mainly in the halls of acadème with the rest of the world marching on without missing a beat.  Nevertheless, Taylor brought up some excellent points, six key ones to be specific.  Two that struck me were revising the curriculum and abolishing departments.  His example on a focus on problems used “water”::

“Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.”

Many in the academy went ballistic, but often citing “pragmatics” that, to me, were often thinly veiled rationale for preserving extant institutional structures, power bases, and resource allocations.  In a Kuhnian philosophy of science sense, there was a lot of clinging to the existing paradigms and the marginalization of any “crisis.”  There is a crisis.  It is one of relevance.

Open innovation is a new paradigm that’s focused on problems.  If I looked back on labels that have been used to describe my work, it includes marketing, branding, Internet marketing, economic sociology, and social media.  A common theme is “technology & media,” which in my mind defines a particular paradigm examining the intersection of both, which encompasses the humanities, the social sciences, the professional disciplines, and the applied technological.  If I had my druthers, courses would be less about checkboxes and more about developing and synthesizing knowledge structures.  Maybe life sciences with a lab could be substituted with a rigorous survey of the issues, challenges, and opportunities of bionanomedicine.

While paradigms and departments are both social constructions, they can be forced into an artificial structure or allowed to evolve organically…or even die.  I once sat in on a session where local employers close to a university I was working at stated what they wanted in an ideal undergraduate candidate.  There was a lot of passive reaction to what often boiled down to a desire for vocational education for job candidates.  Can students use the advanced features of Outlook or do a mail merge?  Please.  Universities need to redesign what they’re offering after reconceptualizing what they really are trying to do, knowledgewise, starting with the curriculum.  Over a decade ago, I was reading about differential perspectives on knowledge.  Some organizations treat employees {as repositories of knowledge} like stones in a wall to be built.  Others treat them like uniform bricks.  Universities play a role in this shaping.  Over the years, I grew weary of the pressures to create bricks and questioned the true utility of this.

I also think it’s time for universities to move away from churning out undergraduates, graduate, and professional students and become true fixtures of communities with a mission of serving lifelong learning–in the era of the free.

Twitterversion:: Innovation & innovative thinking in higher ed. Will knowledge “silos” persist & how will ivory tower adapt? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: LITTLE BOXES – The Submarines

Huzzah! You tube has launched an academic channel! Now the masses will be exposed to the great ideas from Harvard, Berkeley, MIT and the University of Toledo? This comes two days after the launch of a site called Academic Earth that offers thousands of academic lecture in one convenient place.

Not sure what to make of this Dionysian Bacchanalia of knowlwedge at my fingertips. Let me play devil’s advocate to my own webtopian inclinations.  Does all this access to university lectures cheapen knowledge? If the years of accumulated knowledge required to give a careful, reflective treatment of the Civil War or The Origins of the Financial Crisis has no monetary value in the marketplace, will it provide a disincentive for people to acquire this knowledge to begin with? If I can get MIT lectures for free, what the point of MIT? Is academia facing the same dilemmas the music industry faces? Will it need to create a new business model to survive? If people get a taste of what MIT has to offer, will they’ll want to pay for more? Will the norm of putting public lectures on-line raise the bar so that all faculty have to bring their “A” game at all times (shudder)?