Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

Understanding Our Value

A bit off the beaten path for topics on this blog, but it’s an educational tidbit worth sharing:

Today is National Equal Pay Day, a day to raise awareness on how far women have come (and have yet to come) in gaining fiscal fairness in the workplace. There’s still a long way to go to achieve parity, but it’s important to celebrate and shed light on the concerted effort to get there.

From Ellen Pao to Patricia Arquette to Chelsea Clinton, women are speaking up more than ever because there’s evidence that women are both underappreciated and underselling themselves. This is detrimental to both men and women alike in the workplace as it poses several Catch-22’s. Sometimes, it’s as simple as educating ourselves of the challenges both men and women face so that men can be advocates and women can learn to speak up more. Levo League is a community intended for the modern career woman, but its professional advice and #Ask4More, #Good4Her campaigns apply to all.

Candid and honest conversation are vital to help each other be better advocates, negotiators, and employees. Yes, women should have each others’ backs, but more over, we should all be supporting each other in the pursuit of understanding and achieving our maximum value potential. Nah mean? 🙂
In spirit of girl power,

On Blended Learning

United States student loan debt sits at a whopping $1.3 trillion. Couple that with rising tuition rates and diminishing median household incomes across the country, and you’ve got what entrepreneur Mark Cuban predicts as a Student Loan Bubble that is bound to burst. Universities across the country are having to address their fundamental business models to reshape their offerings, reconsider their delivery, and ultimately determine how to best attract and retain students.

Higher education is intended to offer knowledge, opportunities, personal growth, and employable skills. And one way institutions are responding to challenges in the knowledge acquisition arena is by implementing blended learning tactics in the classroom. And what is blending learning?

The Christensen Institute defines blending learning as the restructuring of traditional classroom instruction with the injection of online learning tools to provide students with greater autonomy and personalization of their education. Blended learning shifts the instructor’s role from that of a lecturer to one more akin to collaborator and guide. By leveraging technology, blended learning offers benefits for both teacher and student. Teachers can deliver content, create assessments, or evaluate exams with greater ease so that they can spend more time interacting with their students. Students, on the other hand, can access content at their own pace, learn in smaller groups, and select their preferred modality to maximize the learning experience.

Knewton provides a comprehensive infographic on blended learning where it breaks it down into six distinct models based on preliminary classifications. These models vary by the teachers’ roles, modality, physical space, and autonomy:
Blended Learning Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Unbundling Education, a Framework

For the last several years, educators and students alike have experienced a disruption in the traditional path to higher education. An increasingly globalized network of students, coupled with the availability of knowledge across the web, is forcing higher education to reconsider its value propositions to its consumers. Whereas a traditional university degree and the occasional undergraduate research publication stood as valid proxies for assessing skills and aptitude, competencies today can be validated through a variety of other mediums such as digital portfolios, blog publications, and skills based online courses.

When Vermont-based womens’ liberal arts institution Sweet Briar College made headlines regarding its recent decision to shut its doors, questions swirled wondering how a school with an $84 million endowment could be going out of business. Despite tuition cuts and initiatives to attract more women interested in STEM fields, Sweet Briar’s enrollment continued to fall; ultimately putting it a financially precarious position that led to its dramatic decision. In today’s higher education economy, it’s important to understand how and why institutions like Sweet Briar failed to address the needs of its consumers. What is the value of a college degree and which of its components are being addressed elsewhere that has led to this disruption? 

Inigral (aka Uversity) founder Michael P. Staton offers one framework for the great unbundling of education. He divides the value proposition of higher education into four major components that can be broken down further into twelve services.
The following four main components are the overarching reasons for seeking a degree:
1. Acquire knowledge
2. Access opportunities
3. Develop metacontent and skills
3. Undergo personal transformation

- Michael P. Staton
– Michael P. Staton

These four components provide twelves services and that, according to Staton, those within the knowledge acquisition and opportunities access are most at jeopardy for disruption via technology.

I’m going to begin with this framework to consider new technologies that are disrupting the higher education landscape. By identifying the value of a traditional university education versus that of today’s skills based and tech savvy paradigm, we can determine how to best address everyone’s educational needs.

A Degree Does Not an Education Make

When I was growing up, going to college was never even a question. Working hard in high school to ensure admittance into a university that would foster my growth, intelligence, and ultimately raise my chances of acquiring a respectable post-graduate job wasn’t just an expectation, it was the norm. And statistics would show that this sentiment resonates with a lot of people since in Fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the U.S..

I’m thrilled that more students can partake in the unique experience we call our “college years.” But looking back on my undergraduate years, I also distinctly remember too many times where my professors and classes were not sufficiently challenging, mentally stimulating, or were truly educating me. I listened to lectures, took my notes, and simply regurgitated information, and as students, we were no better; we sought the “easy-A” courses, in hopes that we’d churn out good GPA’s for those elusive high-paying jobs. College today, feels more like a training ground for the ideal employee and not a place of true learning and intellectual challenge. What’s more, we rarely seem to question this status quo and collectively groan at the prospect of 8:30 classes or the notoriously demanding professors because who were we kidding, we were here to pick the “right” major and get a degree for that lucrative job – applying oneself and learning, optional.

Call it idyllic, but my idea of a college education is about more than getting 4.0’s, choosing the major with greatest job security, and then finding employment.  I see it as an opportunity for engagement, critical thought, and innovation, yet sometimes it feels as though our universities have forgotten how to provide that kind of creative environment while students  have become complacent in seeking one. There is so much more to an education than what can be taught out of a textbook. There needs to be dialogue and intrigue and even some adventure because amazing things come to fruition when individuals are inspired to communicate and share ideas. Undoubtedly, academia is important. There needs to be some standardized method to gauge how much effort a student has input to learn and retain the appropriate material. The application of the knowledge our degrees provide us is also important. However, I would love to see our universities and students try harder in upholding the integrity of a true education with the reminder that it’s not just about the degree.

Our college years are some of the most uninhibited and wondrously selfish years of our lives, yet many of us are so busy cramming for exams with our eyes glued to powerpoint lectures that we completely forget there exists is an entire world at our fingertips. There are books to be read, exotic foods to try, cities to explore, and interesting people to meet. Such experiences provide character, depth, compassion, and a wealth of cultural knowledge that exists outside our narrow bubbles of thought. A true education equips us with, not only facts and figures, but also the willingness to ask questions and seek answers that can’t be found on a multiple choice exam.

So with my remaining few months as an undergrad, I plan on maximizing my education. I’ll be honest, some days I do wish I could re-do it all. As much as I have no regrets, I would definitely do some things differently. I would have told myself to be more confident, more motivated, and more inquisitive than I have been the last three years. And here’s to hoping that when the time comes to put on my cap and gown and walk side by side with the friends that made college a home, I can truly say I had the best education possible.