For most people who want to start their own business, the most difficult challenge is to come up with the ‘idea’. “I’d like my start up” is usually followed by, “I don’t have any good ideas. Starting your own business means coming up with a fabulous new idea or technical breakthrough, doesn’t it? Well, no. One of the easiest and common ways to create an interesting new idea is to take a bunch of existing (or even old) idea and recombine or rearrange them in some way. The most successful new product in research years, the iPhone, was a combination of a mobile phone with an MP3 player with a dash of Apple design. Steve Jobs said as much when he launched the product back in June 2007. I have a friend whose business combined a pub with a cafe with your lounge room – viola, new business idea. The infamous Cereal Cafe so beloved of the media and the hipsters of Shoreditch is a combination of a cafe with the cereal aisle of your local supermarket. So when you sit down and scratch your head looking for ideas for your killer start up, don’t think too hard about some super niche technical innovation that will knock people’s socks off, just write a list of 30 mundane ideas that interest you and start adding them together – see what you come up with. Recombine your way to start up greatness.
The freelancing or gig economy seems to have washed up on the shores of academia. In a profession where ‘tenure’ was historically the ultimate goal and offered the security to study with our short term pressures on performance, does this represent the ultimate expression of changes to the world of work?
Its easy to see how this might benefit universities as they become increasingly like businesses (as opposed to businesslike). But what does it mean for the individual? The Times HES has a nice piece on one academic’s perspective on the pro’s and con’s of freelancing in academia. In one sense, the most senior academics have always been in demand and, like senior members of the medical profession, have tended to be less tied to a particular institution. It is their reputation which drives the work – even James Clerk Maxwell, a man looked up to by Einstein no less, was something of a wandering minstrel of the academic world. But for the more junior members of academia, does it provide the security required to concentrate on ground breaking research? Or with so much advanced research now being carried out by teams allow projects to be run in a flexible way with a core team supplemented by specialists brought in at the right moment.
Its would be easy to write off the development as another example of the erosion of employment rights or the increasingly precarious nature of work in general, but it doesn’t appear to be quite as straightforward as that. Freelancing could allow academics to mix work at private companies with university work, which would be a particularly useful development that would benefit both sides.
Time will tell who the winners and losers will be, but more importantly, it would be nice to think that someone will be keeping an eye on the impact of freelancing on academia in general. Will it drive greater flexibility and creativity or will it drive an increase in short term thinking that has been so destructive to many parts of the business community. One to watch.
Of late, the press seemed to have picked up on major advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics and translated them into angst regarding the future of mankind. There appears to be a two concerns arising from these developments: how Man (by that I mean we humans, not some bloke down the pub) will maintain our existing hegemony over the world around us, the second being the slightly strange concern as to what we humans will do if all the hard work of cleaning, making and killing is done by robots.
I don’t have much to say about the first of these concerns. Its a work in progress and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. I worry how the law makers and rule generators will generate sufficient insight into these deeply technical areas to make sensible rules, but I’m sure we’ll both make mistakes and also get there in the end. I don’t share some of the apocalyptic concerns that I read in some parts of the press.
For me, the second issue is far more interesting. Just thinking about the myriad of conflicting points is enough to make your head spin. Take, for example, the world of work. If machines do most of the work, labour will be displaced by capital, so will that further exacerbate inequality? Or will it naturally lead to a citizens wage as a way to ‘pay off’ the broader population? What happens to existing the social hierarchy where ‘hard work’ is seen to be such an admirable trait? Will we have to complete re-evaluate what constitutes admirable behaviour? What happens during the transition period? The social and political consequences are fascinating. Its as if we are about to engage in a massive, real time social experiment with unpredictable results.
One thing I’m fairly sure about is that we don’t need hard work as much as we think we do. Or at least not the type of hard work that we currently obsess over. It seems to me that its a historical anomaly for us to willingly enslave ourselves for years to earn money and buy houses, then die and leave them to a combination of the tax man and our descendants. There are so many other things that make us happier, can earn greater prestige and can contribute to the world. As Henry James aptly put it,
“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasure, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
If that isn’t a recipe for life without work, then I don’t know what it. In a way, you could say that this transition has already begun. If work hard/play hard was the motto of Generation X, the generation that followed is maligned for spending too much time socialising with friends on social media. Perhaps its simply an echo of the future – mankind preparing themselves for whats to come. Only time will tell.
One of the topics that receives little, if any attention is the nature in which tutoring changes as students get older. Whilst its fairly obvious that a pre-schooler who needs help learning to read has different requirements to a GCSE students who’s working hard to master physics, there is a marked difference between the GCSE student who’s used to a structured classroom environment with the university student who’s gotten used to the unstructured and self-driven nature of tertiary education.
External tutoring at university level has been quietly growing over the years as attitudes have shifted. Gone are the days when university was viewed as an enjoyable sojourn between school and a serious minded career – Oxford was once described as a stopping point between Eton and the cabinet. It now represents a serious financial investment and crucial element of finding decent and well paid work. The stakes have been raised as most students look to achieve a 2.1 or better.
There was a time when students could refer to their university appointed tutor, but as the pressure on academic staff has risen and time available to students has reduced, students are looking outside the confines of the university for help. Its particularly true of students who’ve been used to using tutors at school or on their way through their academic careers.
University students are frequently looking for a different type of tutoring, something more ad-hoc and on demand to tackle particular problems or areas where they’ve gotten stuck. They aren’t looking for 20 week face-face tutoring. In fact they probably don’t want face-face tutoring at all, given that the current generation of students are completely web-native. This generation of students was hardly even at school when the first internet boom went bust in 2000.
There’s academic research to support how to tutor university students, but almost no discussion of how students want to receive that tutoring – how they want to consume it. So here at Tutorhub Towers, we’re taking a look at the demographics of tutoring on the site to look for ways to tailor tutoring for university and college-age students. We want to make it easier, more flexible and more engaging to use online tutoring to support your degree course.