Showing posts from November, 2012

Books Become Social: An Idea For the Future

I am already a fan of Open Utopia, an experiment in social reading. I met this with a pure deja vu feeling: First, an article by Jennifer Howard on the project, and then, coincidentally, an email from a Linkedin contact complaining about how rough Amazon and the various self-publishing organisations treat the authors, set me up for this. If I was feeling despondent about books and more so, about creativity, here is the answer.
Indeed, I am talking about the idea rather than the specific project. Open Utopia is an experiment, carefully crafted, though I think Utopia is rather an unfortunate choice. This experiment could have been easily crafted on some other book, one, I may hope, that had a world-changing impact, and by implication, showed a deeper confidence in the way the future will indeed play out. Open Utopia, I would like to believe, is not an utopia, but more a precursor of an excitingly creative future.

Printed books have to change. Those of us in love with paper, with that i…

The 'Inside Economy': Recovering From Rhetoric

Joshua Cooper Ramo somewhat spills the beans in his latest article in Fortune (read here) and says a thing that everyone knew but was afraid of saying: That, to quote Ramo, "globalisation has a reverse gear". Citing arguments that would be familiar to those who followed Pankaj Ghemawat's work (see his TED presentation here), Ramo makes the case for the "inside economy", one made of local consumers and producers, that is fast filling the gap left by the receding global trade.
The point is - we know this already. India, as I have argued before, rode through the tides of global recession looking inward: While its outwardly-orientated industries, IT and Aviation for example, took a beating, the ones serving domestic demand, manufacturing, retail and financial services delivered steady growth and jobs. China turned its economy slowly from an export-driven one to one aligned to local consumption - the slowing of Chinese growth, in my view, is an indicator of this ch…

India at Crossroads: Waiting for Mr Modi?

India faces a momentous election in approximately 18 months time, but next week, its first battles will be fought. Gujrat's enigmatic Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, will face elections in his own state, and most probably win. A big win, as predicted, will set him on course to be the Prime Ministerial candidate for the Hindu Chauvinist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which will, given the woes of the current ruling coalition, put him in a pole position to win the premiership.
This will be a tragedy for three reasons. 
First, this will turn the debate about India's future into a debate about its past: Mr Modi, despite his new development-friendly avatar, represent a Hindu supremacist view of India. His track record, which he is desperate to leave behind, irreversibly features the pogrom he organized or encouraged or tolerated (depending on what one believes), which killed more than 2000 muslims and displaced ten times that number, making Gujrat a more homogeneous state than it wa…

Counting Down to Christmas

Finally, it feels that I am in the home stretch to end what has been a freaky year. In a way, I am exactly where I was a year back - not a good thing - in the middle of raising money for a start-up business and completing various personal commitments; seen another way, I am far down the line, not just a year older, but much wiser, having gone through a real double loop learning with business, and having connected with a number of very interesting people along the way. I feel confident and happy, and looking into 2013 to be the year when all this must deliver.
Standing still isn't any good, and I regret that the fact that we haven't moved much forward in real terms. For this, I blame the middle months and a diversion, a period when we abandoned the start-up proposition and tried a MBO of a much bigger entity. There was an enormous learning, but we failed - in my estimate - to consider the human factor at play, a mistake I regret personally. One of the things I consider my stre…

The Commonwealth Dream: Why Britain should move on

There is talk of reviving the commonwealth, particularly among the British Tories, as they drift away from Europe. William Hague talks about putting the C back in FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and various advantages of doing business with commonwealth countries are mused about. There are sceptics, such as The Economist, who highlights the various roadblocks, and particularly laments that various commonwealth members are not compliant followers of the British, or Western, view of the world. [Read the article here]
The point, however, is not whether commonwealth is relevant from the point of view of Britain, but from its other members, particularly the old colonies. Unlike what the modern British citizens would like to believe (and a comment to that effect was made on The Economist article), Commonwealth was set up much before the liquidation of colonies, and not to assuage the post-colonial 'guilt'. Commonwealth was extended, after India's independence, with modifi…

The For-Profit Debate: An Essay in Progress

While the public policy shifts to encourage the growth of For-Profit Higher Education Institutions in the UK are discernible, relatively little is known about how these institutions operate. The policy makers, driven by the agenda of cutting public spending, have significantly altered the way Higher Education is funded in the UK, and at the same time, allowed significant concessions to private for-profit Higher Education institutions in the hope that this will attract private capital to the sector. Apart from recently lowering of the bar on how many students an institution requires to qualify for degree-granting powers, and the proposed extension of VAT exemption to For-Profit institutions, the government has even allowed For-Profit companies to take over and convert Not-for-Profit degree granting institutions into one of its own, in a significant departure from how Higher Education institutions have been formed in the past. (THE, No. 2078, 29th Nov 2012, PP 6-7)
The main body of liter…

MOOCs: Falling In The Degree Trap

MOOCs are taking big strides towards becoming accredited, but is that the right thing to do?
As some of the Coursera courses get recognition for college credit, the mood for MOOC enthusiasts is definitely celebratory. The idea is gaining traction, they say, and here is proof that it is no longer a fad. The MOOC will now challenge college education, bemoan its detractors, pointing out that it is surely the inferior alternative. 
The full college degree, as everyone is expecting MOOCs to get to some day, is a far cry from sme college credit. MOOCs will have to change their essential character to do full college degrees, as their major challenge, assessments, will become central in that game. Without the massiveness and the openness, MOOCs are not much of a phenomenon; Open and Distance learning existed for a long time. Russian engineers were training themselves by the Radio in the 1950s, as around the same time, earning diplomas. The game-changing possibility of MOOCs is whether these …

Living With Big Data

We consume a torrent of data as we live, and we produce the same too. However, the more we produce details of each little step we take to live, we obscure the little data more and more, such as feelings and pleasures of human exchanges. The Big Data, the faster, bigger and more complex stream of data, does not so much chronicle our life as much as it changes it. While the technologists and marketers of various descriptions celebrate its arrival, it is time to pause and reflect how it changes us, our lives and institutions, and further, what it means to be human in the age of big data.
One would wonder why big data is any big deal, as data gets bigger with every passing generation. As our networks grow, we know more; our storage technologies get cheaper and better, and we store more. Having lived in the age of floppy drives and 4kb memories, the big leap into megabytes was as significant as moving from cheap gigabytes to plausible petabytes. While the rhetoric is that the torrent of d…

India 2020: The Uses of Crisis

India goes from crisis to crisis, but that may not be a bad thing. In fact, if you imagine the country to be a jungle, these small events are equivalent to small fires, one that prevents big fires from happening. India, chaotic and crisis-prone, can be relied upon not to have a big upheaval, even if the Hindu extremists get the power to run the country. One would expect them never to get there, given the extreme complexities of Indian democracy, which will always ensure a coalition of interests, rather than one extreme view, gaining ascendency. 
But, apart from the prevention of big crisis, the perpetual state of crisis is helpful to move the country forward. Though largely unacknowledged, the Indian government has scored some significant victories over the last couple of months, passed a raft of unpopular reforms, stalled for years, within a few weeks, got rid of an obstructionist ally, and promoted a new group of Ministers known for their effectiveness, and importantly, honesty. Wi…

Breakpoint: Towards A New Model

We barely started, but already experienced a pivot point: In the last couple of months we are at it, our idea of the kind of college we want to build has evolved already. We learnt, as we liberated ourselves from the constraints of practise, that there is a bigger opportunity out there in connecting, rather than recreating the wheel and trying to deliver, educational experiences. The metaphor for what we are creating is no longer a college - we shall work with colleges rather than create a new one and compete with them - but a global network based on shared values and commonly agreed frameworks. This is so much closer to what we believe adult education should be, an enabling mechanism to connect with the world and collaborate with the like-minded, and our technology tools and business model are fast evolving in line with this education ideal.
Initially, when we imagined the learning environment, we imagined the students will come to a portal offering various services, just like a col…

The Dampness of Hope

I maintained social media silence on the playing out of the American election, despite the alluring narrative of this being Wall Street versus the world. Despite, admittedly, there was much at stake: If Wall Street could impose its views of the world on America, the World would have been in line, with the guns and bombs and enough American young men still ready to sacrifice their lives without really knowing why. While I got up early enough on Wednesday to catch Obama give his victory speech, and exclaimed on Facebook that he seemed to have got back his oratory just in time, this was very different from what I did four years back: Sat through a night of vote counting, in a hotel in the middle of a business trip, just because I hoped that this President would be different. In 2008, in a world of continuous war, terrorist attacks and recession, I needed the hope as badly as anything: I surrendered my sense to the blind belief that if someone looked different, he must be.
Obama turned o…

Open Courses and Its Enemies

Open Courses have arrived, with thousands joining in from all over the world, and that does not make everyone happy. Depending on who one speaks to, it is described as anything between a fad, soon to disappear into irrelevance, and a game-changer, something that will soon render our great universities useless: Both of these views are indeed extreme, and it is fair to assume that the truth is somewhere in the middle. However, the extremities of these positions indicate that the advent of open courses generate strong passion and heated arguments, and surely its enemies can match its adherents, if not by number, but certainly by strength.
Open Courses are indeed upending an industry, though it is not higher education and the universities. If anything, I shall argue, Open Courses are saving the universities and helping them to re-establish themselves with a more democratic credential and connect with a large number of people; the universities are regaining, through these courses, a sort …

Universities of the Future: A Report

An Ernst & Young report looks at the Australian universities and come to interesting conclusions. The British universities, which look at their Australian counterparts with envy these days, may take note of this: The report offers some insights which may have universal significance, and universities all over the world, barring the few at the top of the pyramid, may have to reassess their strategies in the rapidly changing context of today's Higher Education.
In summary, the report points to five disruptive forces that confront what it calls a 'thousand year old industry' (though many in Britain will be affronted by the 'i' word):
First, 'democratization of knowledge and access', which means not just the MOOCs, but more fundamentally, Google, and YouTube, and the like; as well as the expansion of Higher Education systems in the developing world, based on the emerging consensus on Higher Education as the key to good life.
Second, 'contestability of m…

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