As Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, Chief Innovation Officer, and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University, Dr. Bernard Bull is a true thought leader when it comes to education and learning.
He’s also the founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs as well as a keynote speaker and consultant on educational innovation, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture. And he’s the force and voice behind the MoonshotEdu Show, a podcast exploring the frontiers and futures in education.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Bernard about some of the biggest issues affecting education including the future of credentials, the impact of artificial intelligence, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of data analytics.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – Our sponsor this quarter is ReviewMyLMS, a collaboration between our company, Tagoras, and 100Reviews, the company that is behind the very successful ReviewMyAMS site. As the name suggests, ReviewMyLMS is a site where users can share and access reviews of learning management systems, but in this case, the focus is specifically on systems that are a good fit for learning businesses, meaning organizations that market and sell lifelong learning. Contribute a review and you will get access to all existing and future reviews—there are already more than 100 on the site. And, if you don’t have review to contribute, there is also a subscription option. Just go to reviewmylms.com to get all the details.
[01:31]– Highlighted Resource of the Week – How to Predict Educational Trends: It Doesn’t Happen Overnight, by Bernard Bull – a brief look at fifteen factors that are valuable when you are studying trends likely to shape and change education over time.
[02:00] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews Bernard Bull, author and Chief Innovation Officer at Concordia University.
[03:05] – Introduction to Bernard and some background information about himself and his work.
[05:07] – One of the things you’re thinking about is the future of credentials in society. I know this is a big question, but what do you see as the affordances and limitations of current credentials? Bernard shares that he’s been working on a book called, The Lincoln Test. It’s based upon the idea that Abraham Lincoln was incredibly well educated but not well credentialed. The premise of the book is around finding a more humane way of approaching connecting people with organizations, roles, and possibilities. He says credentials now serve as a sort of signaling. He also talks about his recent interview with Bryan Caplan author of The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money about what’s wrong with our education system.
Bernard talks about how we’ve turned the college degree and diploma into the minimum criteria for even applying for jobs. But when you actually do an analysis of the tasks that are required to complete some of these jobs, a college degree isn’t the only way to become competent. One of his biggest critiques of the way we use credentials now is that we use them as sort of a signal that someone must be ready or competent—but that’s not entirely accurate and we’re excluding people (unintentionally) from opportunities and possibilities. The affordances are that we’re coming to a time when we’re exploring microcredentials and digital badges and different algorithmic tools that help people connect – sort of the match.com of other spaces – where people can connect around shared interests and abilities (beyond dating). Bernard says there could be some incredible possibilities for creating more humane, transparent, equitable ways of matchmaking and connecting—ones that are much more effective and accurate than the credentials as we thought of them in the past.
[09:35] – It sounds like you see some potential in things like digital badges and microcredentials in terms of facilitating matchmaking—is that kind of the brightest spot for the future of credentials that you see? Bernard admits this is a bit controversial and that he’s been pretty active in the digital badge/open badge movement almost since it’s beginning. He thinks badges are what he calls a transitional technology, meaning they are helping us get to where we need to be, but eventually we may not use them. A digital badge has metadata attached to it—so it’s not just the badge. And with that much data attached to a credential, he talks about how powerful that is, especially because it can be mined—and if you can mine it, then you can match people on the basis of key terms, phrases, and words. As far as portfolios, even though they have a lot of rich information, Bernard points out most employers won’t likely search through them so that’s where the algorithmic matching comes in.
[12:50] – Another thing you’re thinking about is “promoting wisdom and candid reflection about the implications, affordances, and limitations of AI and the robotic moment.” What are your current thoughts about the implications of artificial intelligence on both how learners learn and how organizations that serve learners should act? Bernard says that AI is the area that reaches one of the higher levels of potential impact on society over the next 20-25 years but admits it’s the area where he has most to learn. One of the most important tasks of someone who is trying to prepare to thrive in this new context is to be consistently engaged with conversations about this. He shares a quote from Bill Gates, which basically says we overestimate the change that’s going to happen in the next few years and underestimate the change that’s going to happen in the next decade.
[16:12] – Learning, data, and data analytics is another area of interest for you. And it has you thinking about things like, “How do we promote a deeper consideration and dialogue about the real benefits and the real downsides to learning analytics and big data, how measuring can change or affirm values and priorities?” I feel like the potential benefits of learning analytics get touted a lot. What do you see as the downsides to learning analytics? Bernard shares that he recently did an interview with Dr. Tim Renick from Georgia State University about student success and bridging the achievement gap. He says Georgia State University is probably the university that’s touted as doing some of the most incredible work around using analytics to bridge achievement gaps. They have managed to take the population of students who are coming in from families in the lowest 25% of household income in the nation and bridged the achievement gap between that population and students coming into their school from families in the top 25% of household income. They have around 800 data points they’ve tied to having a measure of predictability for student success.
The potential downside to this is the “Minority Report” danger (like the movie)—essentially you become so good at predicting and you take agency away from people that you predict will fail and start guiding them away from risks and challenges, yet that’s part of what helps us grow. At Georgia State, Bernard says they don’t force students to do anything but they do share levels of success and recommend ways to increase their chance of success. Another limitation/risk related to this that we need to be cautious about is the level of transparency with which we use the data—so we need to proceed with care. He also recommends, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil, which has some good case studies that illustrate this.
[21:30] – A further discussion about the importance of proceeding with care when it comes to using algorithms and technology. Bernard points out that while people are really excited about technology we need to have a healthy awareness about the risks. He admits he’s an advocate of technology as much as anyone you can find, but he’s also a critic of it as much as anyone you can find—and having those together is a healthy way of approaching it.
[23:59] – There’s been a growing amount of discussion in recent years about the gap between the skills and knowledge employers need and those that the typical college graduate possesses. First, do you see the skills gap and workforce development as important issues? If you do, what role do you feel learning businesses—those our listeners are involved in—so not undergraduate and graduate programs, but continuing ed programs at academic institutions, associations, training companies, edupreneurs—what role can or should learning businesses play in addressing the skills gap and workforce development issues? Bernard acknowledges the skills gap is a real pain point and says some companies lack creativity in how they’re trying to address this problem. He recommends that companies do some honest task analysis to figure out what’s actually necessary to do the job—and this is a good service that could be provided to companies.
We need to think more creatively about levels of qualification. Reimagining the way we think about training and thinking about it more in terms of layered and levels of training can be quite helpful. Bernard shares an example to highlight this and says we may have our order mixed up in terms of credentials—we go to college, get a degree, then get a job. But why not get a job and then get increasing qualifications along the way? There’s a ton of opportunity and need for edupreneurs and people working in workforce development to help companies think through this and to provide some really valuable and flexible products and services to accommodate these types of models.
[29:30] – Bernard adds that it’s valuable for us to define “skills gap” more broadly and not just think about discreet skills for a specific job or task. He says skills transcend a given job and if there’s going to be humane conversation about this, it should take into account the needs, goals, and aspirations of the individual as well. An individual’s life is greater than the sum of tasks that they accomplish during their work hours. And when we talk about the skills gap some of them have far reaching implications.
[31:19] – When you think big picture about what’s going on with learning these days, what most excites you? Bernard admits he find’s too many things exciting and some of those things he’s chosen not to dive into and there are others he wants to devote his life to figuring out. In the first category, the thing that excites him is where augmented virtual and mixed reality is going to take us in terms of creating really rich and engaging learning experiences and environments. He’s also intrigued with where we’re going with microcredentials. But more exciting than anything else for him right now has to do with a lot of the growing research around positive psychology and it’s implications for training and education. Bernard talks about how there’s a growing number of researchers who are studying the psychology of wonder and awe and how when you experience this is prompts wander.
[36:13] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Bernard admits he has the curse of curiosity and that he’s curious about pretty much everything. He shares a powerful learning experience he recently had was when he attended HAIL Storm – an invitation only event for higher ed leaders. Another impactful experience he had was when he went on sabbatical for a semester and had a fellowship at Wesleyan University. He talks about how teaching the course was only part of it because the other part involved traveling the east coast with his family and using that as a tremendous learning experience.
[40:11] – How to connect with Bernard and/or learn more:
Bernard encourages anyone to reach out to him and connect with him directly.
[41:29] – Wrap Up
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[43:27] – Sign off