Monday, May 20, 2013

No Strings

Last Tuesday, I attended the middle school concert, which included my younger daughter who is a clarinet player in the band. The band section of the program was second on the schedule and I was hoping that the first part of the program would be brief. But once the players started playing, what came second in the program was no longer the major focus of my attention. It turned out that the first part of the program was the middle school IPad band and they were great. Their selection was Sunshine of My Love by Cream and it was as well performed as I had ever heard it. Ten middle schoolers with IPads and a mixing board had redefined what constitutes a band performance.

For both my daughter in middle school and my daughter in high school, being assigned IPads. The instant access to up-to-date information and the books available in the palm of your hand, are both tremendous steps forward. A calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, and so many other helpful learning tools are always right there whenever you need them. I would have loved this convenience when I was going to school. In my time in school, just getting a hand held calculator was in my opinion a major step forward.

What I haven’t liked is that the IPad allows for the playing of endless different games and also allows free access to social media and therefore too much time spent on social media. The same criticism can be leveled against the smart phones that so many kids in middle school and high school are totally reliant on. In a meeting earlier this week, the presenter noted that 25% of the high school students looking for information on colleges and universities access that information solely on hand held devices (smart phones). I think we all realize the days of glossy brochures are ending but for many of our potential college students, the days of using a computer to access information are also ending. The desired level of portability just isn’t there even in a laptop and our students, our potential students, and our children want the capability to always be at their instant beck and call.

Even with the sense that IPads are a mixed blessing, I am pleased that my kids are working with them in school. On a continuing basis there are more and more school related applications and assignments that make use of the IPads. IPads provide adaptive technology when needed, including large type, the ability to dictate and the ability to print. More textbooks are available on the IPad, and the access to information has in my opinion also led to an increase in our students’ knowledge base. Personalized assignments are next. These assignments reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the student and provide ongoing information to the teacher and ongoing feedback to the student.

There is a downside to being among the first to implement a new learning tool. The implementation isn’t instantaneous and there are issues yet to be resolved. On balance, I’m glad that they are working with IPads. All of education will be utilizing tablets as we move forward and my kids will greatly benefit from having experience incorporating this technology into their learning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Kinky Product Differentiation

Kinky Boots is a wonderful new Broadway show. Absolutely topnotch and one of the best shows I have seen in years. It has energy, style, substance, great music, and is thoroughly enjoyable. It also has an excellent story which encompasses economics and marketing, as well as psychology. And I can’t think of a better way for learning to take place than a spellbinding presentation of what is basically a true story.

The story line revolves around Price Shoes which is a failing shoe company in England (losing out to low priced imports) that makes a “range” of shoes for men. Charlie Price, who has no interest in the shoe business, takes over when his dad suddenly dies and is faced with the prospect of firing people together with closing down the company. There is also a recommendation to turn the factory into a condominium project. While in London to arrange a sale of the shoe inventory, Charlie comes to the rescue of a women being harassed by a number of drunks. In the course of the rescue, the women accidently knocks Charlie out and he wakes up in her dressing room.

It turns out, however, that it is not exactly her dressing room. It isn’t the dressing room that is “not exactly;” rather it is the woman (Lola) who is in fact not a her and is instead a drag queen entertainer. Lola complains that there are no sturdy boots available that can easily handle the weight of male transvestites.

Charlie, however, seems to be at a loss of how to save the company. Coming to the rescue is a factory worker who says to Charlie that what they need is to change their product line and to differentiate into a niche market where there is a demand. Certainly excellent advice both from the vantage point of an economist as well as a marketing expert. We know that foreign competition is fierce in many product areas and we also know that product differentiation can make a very positive difference. By the way, I had a much easier time explaining product differentiation to my 11 year old than explaining the shoe needs of transvestites.

Charlie makes the decision that he will produce sturdy dress boots for male transvestites and that these boots will be designed by Lola. As you can imagine, not all the employees are thrilled with the transformation from producing a range of shoes for men to what is accurately described as producing shoes for a range of men. The story lines build until there is a major successful unveiling of Lola’s Kinky Boots at a Milan show. At the same time there is also an important message about respecting people for what they are.

It all comes together beautifully and this is a spectacular show that will run for years. And the show demonstrates the same lesson as Charlie’s shoe transformation. If you create a show that is very special from beginning to end, the demand will be there. Product differentiation is alive and well on Broadway. And Broadway has certainly put its best foot forward.

Monday, May 6, 2013

We Need to Talk

At this time of year, I’m always reminded of the spring a few years ago when I had University related events for 27 nights in a row in addition to all the normal day activities. Just as this period was ending, I bumped into a senior faculty member, now retired, who wanted to tell me that he was certain that the Provost was a glamour job and that he couldn’t imagine anything more fun to do in higher education.

Perhaps glamour and fun are not the most accurate descriptors. But the provost position provides an excellent vantage point to see clearly what is going on, on a college or university campus. And what I see clearly this time of year by going to honor society inductions, or our Latin Honors Recognition Convocation, or technology competitions, or distinguished faculty lectures, or senior athlete dinners, or recognition of Provost Scholars (who are straight A students), or graduations is all the excellence that is present on a university campus. We are fortunate to have so many students who have accomplished so much. And we are fortunate to have them taught by such an excellent faculty. It is actually a validation of all the good work done by faculty and others to see how much the students have accomplished.

While all the end of the semester activities are taking place on campus, this is the time of year that my school board related activities also increase. We are advocating for the budget we are recommending, we are preparing to ask the community to support a bond issue and we are also about to recognize all the student accomplishment that has taken place during the K-12 years of school. The schedule is such that just as the recognition events end on university campuses, they build up and peak at our elementary, middle and high schools. Once again it is terrific to see at the K-12 level all that our students have accomplished and once again it is the excellent work and dedication of the teachers that has made such a huge difference.

What doesn’t seem to take place at this time of year or, for the most part, at any other time of the year is the communication between K-12 education and higher education that could strengthen education at all levels. In a college or university, we work with the products of K-12 education. We know what works well and what needs to be enhanced and we know it on more levels than just standardized test results. But we rarely share information with our K-12 colleagues. In K-12 education, teachers know what would enhance the chances of success in higher education but here too the information is rarely shared.

My message is very simple: we need to talk.