Is Small Biz the Future?

In some discussions with an esteemed entrepreneurship researcher, I wondered what we are missing as analysts, researchers, educators, citizens, economic beings in today’s US? After some reflection, we began to discuss whether the drive to find, support and exploit innovation (the Schumpterian type) we had overlooked/missed the importance of small business? Traditional, local, stable small business? Had our global, consumer, and technological marvels drawn us away the humble, democratic supporting small business operators? (Reminder: I am reading David Potter’s People of Plenty).

I had begun thinking about this during Spring 2017 when I taught an undergraduate course in Small Business. Beyond accounting, finance, marketing — this course included a focus on family business, franchising, legacy (generational time horizons) and some other small business specific issues — topics that innovators, startup weekend participants, hackers, and sharks —  pushing to disrupt the world —  don’t generally talk or think about. Much of it was refreshing and more substantive and tangible when compared to our lean wielding, customer interviewing founders.

The reality is, many of the students we teach in class and work with in our extra and co curricular programs — competitions, accelerators — are building small ventures.

We also see a trend towards students working with their hands — from 3D printing and electronics to sewing and graphic design. These great new opportunities, evidenced by makerspaces and labs of all sorts, dovetail well with my epiphany on the importance and role of small business.

The Christian Science Monitor has a really interesting piece on manual labor being a hot new job for middle class students. My own foray into mechanical typewriters and work with a variety of founders highlights the shortage (and now high cost) in some fields where manual labor is required. Schuyler Velasco offers a fascinating Economy story on manual labor and visits the North Bennet Street School in Boston

Miranda Harter, a 2016 NBSS graduate, worked in retail inventory before enrolling in the school’s jewelry program. She’d be tasked with cataloguing accessories in an online database, mind-numbing work that put what she was missing in her career literally at her fingertips. “I was looking at these beautiful pieces of jewelry come across my desk, and I thought, I want to be making these things,” she remembers.

Ms. Harter now works full-time for a local jeweler in Somerville, and the owner allows her to use the space to make and sell her original pieces. It’s already proven more stable than her old job, which she lost during the Great Recession. “I’m working solid regular hours, I have a weekend, a boss who appreciates me,” she says. “That’s not something I experienced a lot in the retail world. To me, it seems like an honest profession, and more recession-proof. People are always getting married.”

Ms. Fruitman at NBSS says 30 is the average age of the student body, which means an “awful lot” of it is made up of career transitioners like Harter. “They’ve done college or some college, it wasn’t for them, or maybe they’ve even been out there working and realized that whatever it is they’re doing just isn’t satisfying.”

Fruitman is also describing herself. Before becoming a furniture maker, she majored in theater at Emerson College and worked as a photo stylist until the work dried up.

“I was at the point where I really wanted to do something that was tangible,” she says. “I didn’t know you could do this. I went to college because that’s what everybody does. And that’s what I was expected to do.”

Ocejo heard similar stories while profiling barbers, butchers, and high-end cocktail bartenders in Manhattan.

Richard Ocejo, a sociologist and the author of the new “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy,” is featured in the piece. I am definitely going to download a sample on my Kindle app.

Iman Jalali: If My School Had an Entrepreneurship Major, I Wouldn’t Have Dropped Out #highered

From Iman Jalali at The Accelerators Blog at WSJ.com:

I dropped out of college because my marketing and business major wasn’t allowing me to create and build. I was listening to lectures that weren’t relevant to me or for what I already knew I wanted to do: Start a business.

I wish they had taught me about idea validation, customer acquisition and bootstrapping. That’s what would make for a great entrepreneurship program, and what would have kept me engaged and happy with the skills I was learning.

Ideally, an entrepreneurship major would not be treated like just another business major. It’s not about book learning; It’s not about lectures. It’s about finding your passion, gathering resources, testing your idea and being able to scale.

Having students create startups during their major while being mentored by founders themselves would be an invaluable experience. Legitimate businesses, with business licenses, credit-card merchant accounts — the whole nine yards. Basically a “Startup Weekend” that lasts the entire time you’re in school. Not to mention the perks of having a job after graduation and possibly creating jobs for peers if your startup is successful.

Offering an entrepreneurship program would not only help students prepare for the challenges that await them, but would also give them the hands-on experience so many current entrepreneurs wished they had at a college-level. I say, don’t deny the business-savvy minds of today’s world and fuel them with the resources they need to succeed.

via Iman Jalali: If My School Had an Entrepreneurship Major, I Wouldn’t Have Dropped Out – The Accelerators – WSJ.

Zero Pedagogy: Curation and Creation Over Education in MOOC Era | #moocmooc)

Regular readers know my research brings me to the fun, innovative edges of higher education — where technology, innovation, human talent, money, policy and competition merge. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is one of those edges where I have and continue to explore. Part of my work has brought me to the MOOC MOOC (a MOOC on MOOCs) this week. The experiment is being led by the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy and is inhabited many thoughtful, fun and inquisitive folks trying to bring meaning and value out of the new learning platforms and models collectively known as MOOCs. Many pushing deep into MOOC pedagogy believe MOOCs are innovative because in many MOOCs participants, not ‘teachers’,  bring content and value to other participants in ways (theoretically) a single instructor or traditional lecture never could. Today (day #3) the topic is Participant Pedagogy. Thanks Dominik Lukes for this interesting blog post on learning, participants and pedagogy:

Despite its etymology, pedagogy [leading of boys], cannot be given. It must be sought. The learner is her own pedagogue. There may be more or less clearly given explanations, more or less productive sequences of learning, more or less accessible learning materials. But none have made, will make or can make a difference to the resistant learner.

If pedagogy could really make a difference to mass learning, it would have already done so. Advances in mass literacy, numeracy and other skill increases seem to always happen prior to putative advances in pedagogy but following the expansion of access. (my bold)

A self-directed, self-motivated learner, will take any resources (no matter how pedagogically naive or badly instructionally designed – Khan Academy, iTunesU lectures, iPad ebooks, labs, conventional classes or TED videos) and use them to learn. As the learner becomes more aware of their own learning (gaining metacognitive skills), they will look for resources that suit their learning better. And, in many cases, will create such resources. That’s why we need to encourage a culture of the remix. Or in starker terms: Curation and creation over education.

There is no doubt from my experience teaching entrepreneurship, working with students and alumni that want to launch firms, and being a student for decades, learner motivation is the center factor in success. Moreover, as I work with colleagues at GMU in creating MOOCs, we will have to focus on creation and curation of materials and tools that support the self-directed searching for support in achieving their goals.

via Zero pedagogy: A hyperbolic case for curation and creation over education in the age of the MOOC (#moocmooc).

College Dropout Advocate Thiel to Teach at Stanford | San Jose Mercury News

Patrick May of the San Jose Mercury News reports on Peter Thiel’s continued bizarre dance with higher education:

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investment guru who last year offered students $100,000 each to drop out for two years to test their entrepreneurial mettle, is going back to college himself — to teach a class at Stanford University called “Computer Science 183: Startup.”

And on a campus that serves as a veritable metaphor these days for the valley’s innovative spirit, it’s not surprising that the course Thiel is teaching at his alma mater is already oversubscribed.

“It’s puzzling to us what he has to say,” said electrical engineering senior Nruthya Madappa, who jumped at the chance to sign up for the class. “He’s famously known to make people furious with his views and the way he questions things. But he’s challenging us to look at our education here in a different way.”

The apparent irony of Thiel’s current embrace of academia, of course, is not lost on some in the Stanford community who see the uber-investor’s message as a bit hypocritical.

“If he’s opposed to higher education, why would he be a part of it?” wondered Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center of Corporate Governance. “On the one hand, he’s telling these kids to ‘drop out, you’re wasting your lives.’ But then he comes back to teach. The question to ask him is: Will he pay students to drop out of his class on the first day?”

American higher education has a draw for the smartest people in the world, even those who claim to hate it.

via College dropout advocate Peter Thiel to teach course at Stanford – San Jose Mercury News.

Michael Horn on Disruptive Innovation in Higher Ed | #SocEntChat | @AshokaU

Gonna try and make this twitter chat from @AshokaU on disruption in higher education. This chat will focus MITx : MITx, One Small Step for MIT; One Giant Leap for Higher Education — hope they go broader in the #socentchat. See you there.

At first, disruptions tend to be primitive, but two key elements allow them to take root and flourish. The first is a technology enabler, which allows the innovation to improve predictably and scale to serve more and more users over time. In the case of higher education, online learning—and its associated components—is the technology enabler.

The second key element is a new business model. A new business model is important because plugging a disruptive innovation into an existing business model never results in transformation of the model; instead, the existing model co-opts the innovation to sustain how it operates. Many online universities started with new business models in place such that they could prioritize the disruption and grow, and now at last we’re seeing MIT come of age and take the next step into this disruptive future as well.

This past December, MIT announced that it would be soon be launching MITx—a learning platform that will provide interactive, online courses that will not only be free for users around the world, but that will also allow users to receive credit for having taken these courses. For a small fee, users will be able to demonstrate mastery and receive credit from MITx, not the traditional MIT program.

This is a wise move. Although our studies have shown that historically it has been difficult for existing institutions to prioritize offerings disruptive to their own model, there have been exceptions. In every case, those exceptions have occurred when the institution created an autonomous business model—often with its own brand—such that the disruption could operate unburdened by the parent organization’s existing processes and priorities. MITx appears poised to do just that, as MIT will likely finally provide its online courses a home in a coherent business model, even as MIT protects its own traditional brand.

via Michael Horn on Disruptive Innovation in Higher Ed: teaser for the #SocEntChat | AshokaU.

Rosetta Stone Partners with Higher Ed in Uncollege Movement

6 years ago, I cold called my way into a meeting with Lee Abrams, head of programming for XM Radio (Abrams in no longer there). I was trying to get an on air job, but in an effort to provide value to Lee, I provided him a list of 20 ideas for XM (this was pre merger); many of them were premium channels and one of the premium channels was a language channel based on a partnership with Rosetta Stone or Berlitz. For example, Spanish 101 would be on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8 am – 9 am, 12 pm -1 pm, etc…Well, Rosetta Stone is now playing a role in the reconstruction of higher education. From

Depending on whom you ask, Rosetta Stone is either modernizing higher education or jeopardizing the quality of foreign language instruction by offering classes for transferrable college credit.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association and a Spanish professor, calls the idea “scandalous.”

David McAlpine, president of the board of directors for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), said teaching a Spanish class completely online threatens educational standards and leaves students floundering behind their peers in traditional courses.

But James Madison University officials say the academic demands in an online class they offer through Rosetta Stone are the same ones that students face in their Harrisonburg, Va., lecture halls. Of course, the people making these statements aren’t Spanish professors – many language professors at the university don’t like the idea, but weren’t in a position to stop it. The university’s foreign language department chair is skeptical, arguing the software is best used as extra practice for students and not a course in itself.

In April, James Madison became the first college to partner with Rosetta Stone, an international company that creates instructional language software, to offer a for-credit course to the general public in which instruction is provided by the company’s software.

For $679 and a $20 James Madison application fee – of which the college keeps $380 – anyone who has finished their sophomore year of high school gains access to a 16-week class designed to line up with the regular JMU curriculum.

Groups such as the MLA find this appalling.

Feal, the MLA president, said James Madison’s program “sounds like buying college credit.”

“If a college is charging tuition and essentially turning their students over to Rosetta Stone with very little value added, that is scandalous,” said Feal. “Why would a student need to go through a college for that experience?”

Feal doubts students are getting an authentic cultural experience through Rosetta Stone, and said the program raises bigger questions about the role of professors. “It sounds like what our worst critics of higher education say. If we don’t value the role a highly educated faculty member brings to the student learning process,” she said, “then why should the public?”

While I am not going to outline the shallowness, arrogance, and ignorance of the above statement, I will say I am glad to see universities experimenting with models that are efficient and extend opportunity.

The JMU / Rosetta pilot has only attracted a handful of students, but interestingly none of them were full time JMU students. Is not the goal of higher education to educate students, regardless of their status, age, race, creed, etc….? I am sure Charles Van Hise would be very proud of JMU and Rosetta Stone.

via Educators question taking Rosetta Stone for credit | Inside Higher Ed.

MLA Considers Radical Changes to Dissertation | Inside Higher Ed | Disrupt Higher Ed

I am currently in the process of publishing my first two papers and preparing my dissertation — I have been against this academic publication model since entering my PhD program (why I chose a PhD program is another discussion).

Faculty and administrators  always ask why I blog, tweet, participate in online chats, and video record my interviews and ethnographic observations. Its all because I believe other media output and methods of distribution (beyond academic publications and books) are the present and future of knowledge and content. Higher ed is woefully behind in the production and distribution of content (knowledge) when compared to other sectors of society.

Looks like the uber powerful Modern Language Association is coming around to my point of view. From Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education:

So much has changed, he said, but dissertation norms haven’t, to the detriment of English and other language programs. “Are we writing books for the 19th century or preparing people to work in the 21st?” he asked.

Leaders of the MLA — in several sessions and discussions here — indicated that they are afraid that too many dissertations are indeed governed by out-of-date conventions, leading to the production of “proto-books” that may do little to promote scholarship and may not even be advancing the careers of graduate students. During the process, the graduate students accumulate debt and frustrations. Russell A. Berman, a professor of comparative literature and German studies at Stanford University, used his presidential address at the MLA to call for departments to find ways to cut “time to degree” for doctorates in half.

And at a standing-room-only session, leaders of a task force studying possible changes in dissertation requirements discussed some of the ideas under consideration. There was a strong sense that the traditional model of producing a several-hundred-page literary analysis dominates English and other language doctoral programs — even though many people feel that the genre is overused and frequently ineffective. People also talked about the value of digital projects, of a series of essays, or public scholarship. Others talked about ways to change the student-committee dynamic in ways that might expedite dissertation completion.

“We are at a defining moment in higher education,” said Kathleen Woodward, director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. “We absolutely have to think outside the box that the dissertation is a book or a book-in-progress.”

I will continue to hop through the hoops of the PhD (its too late for me), but will come out armed with multiple output, assets, and skill sets beyond the minimum outdated methods and content required of a 19th century business model. (#bmgen)

via MLA considers radical changes in the dissertation | Inside Higher Ed.