Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Draft Concept: English Edition V2.5

Self-organizing Education Environment (Active Ad-hoc Education)


CIS (former Soviet Union) Region
The speed of changes in IT & telecoms makes it very difficult to define education standards and programs in non-fundamental disciplines. The State (especially in countries like Russia) has no ability to set directions in this area. Meanwhile the industry shows strong growth every year. Accordingly the need of qualified employees grows too. The current situation is that the number of advanced students (who do not rely on the University program and practice self-education) cannot satisfy companies’ needs anymore. What’s more, there is no culture among students to investigate what knowledge and skills will be expected (e.g. by reading job postings). Moreover, demographic issues are going to start affecting the labor market in the nearest years. So to allow further development and save (secure) competitiveness of the region (cost of workforce and high professional level) the business should play an appreciable role in educational process, which could be done in some aspects without spending many resources on it (that is now possible as a result of new technologies).

It seems that the lack of IT professionals will remain for years in all parts of the world (including EU and USA). At least if we do approximation basing on the previous times. There are also countries where the situation is similar to Russia.

System concept
An online environment can be established which will allow to create and boost positive processes. Business publishes what knowledge and experience it expects from graduates (in the near perspective of 1-3 years and middle-term of 4-6 years). Sometimes it is not so easy even for the technology leading companies to precisely predict areas that will emerge, but they've got strategy planning teams and there are market research agencies. They can put their vision. It could be more valuable for students when not the government institutes, but the top companies and the brightest local ones say what to learn and what to do. Because companies give jobs and they (at least in theory) know what they need. Usually companies (but not government) are considered as employers.

The environment should contain:

    1. Scope of areas to learn with appropriate resources to study (recommended books and online materials – only links, not content)
    2. Common actual tasks (Linux installation, apache configuration, punching UTP cable, make a floor plan in AutoCAD…). Such a list could help with orientation – which areas are interesting to dig out and which are not. Practice is very essential. It is boring to study without playing with real things.
    3. Open, non-critical for the current business tasks which companies post on the system (e.g. small tools development, beta-testing, process optimization, playing with frontier technologies, light research, market research even in non-tech areas). It is all interesting to play in a sandbox but it cannot always drive mad with enthusiasm. Contact with the real world is important. Curiosity should be maintained by real world tasks
    4. Enthusiasts search for enthusiasts. Posts of ideas to implement. (E.g. a professor searches for student(s) to implement his/her idea e.g. a test model creation or developing some software). This feature could attract people who have the same needs and interests and some free time and experience.
    5. Enthusiasts search for a serious task. A team with relatively comprehensive skills (4-5 year at the University) looks for an interesting project (idea) to implement within area they already got some experience.
    6. Some business incubator function (seeding startups). Projects started in the environment could evolve into new original businesses.
    7. For relatively complicated tasks the system’s engine should support some project management functionality (that supports online collaboration, project tracking, documents management; allows integration (at least links) with other new systems like sourceforge.org, blogs, wikis etc). It is important that the environment should establish proper project management culture.
    8. Rating system - E-Bay alike (task openers and task doers rank each other). Companies with good history will attract more attention, as well as a student with few successfully done projects will be the top candidate for many employers. Ratings of areas of knowledge, skills and standard tasks also could be started.

Content of features #1 and #2 is a consolidated result of many participants. From the other hand could be useful an ability for a particular team in a particular department of a particular company to post its own list of desirable knowledge and skills that are required. Such customized lists can be interesting for the students who target particular companies and particular areas.

The main goal of the environment is to promote this active ad-hoc approach to education and to form the environment that boosts use of it. The environment should attract and involve people by showing interesting examples.

The proposed system possesses a property of self-organization, the system that inherently has an ability to catch new directions and trends. It does not matter what the area it is: IT, power generation or economics. The more new knowledge and experience emerge, the more projects that required them are posted on the system and more buzz for these areas appear. As a result, more people will face emerging areas. And this is what we need in fact. There is no task to swap existing institutes (the Universities, high schools etc.). The system concept is an attempt to catalyze a parallel and independent process, the process that could in time adapt to any changes that appear at high speed. Futurists predict that 25% of the jobs available by the year 2025 will be in positions unknown today.

The environment of that kind has more chances than ever before since the very special knowledge, devices and software look as features of the past century and technologies which are common and posses open nature here come to stay. More and more study materials, documentation and SW are available for free via Internet and the only hardware needed in the most cases is a PC (better 2 or 3 networked) and its standard off-the-shelf periphery. The second reason is that the Internet (forums, wikies, blogs) allows acting in ‘one to many’ mode. There is no need to waste time explaining a task for each who is interested. An explanation that is done once is in use for everyone. And of course online collaboration will play a great role.

An important thing is openness. In this context - anyhow the way the process goes it should be visible – intermediate results and current project state must be reflected (presented) in the system. At least the minimum that must be shown are a task definition - 'request for result' and results - what was done, how it was. The best case is when all interim, support and final documents, negotiations, time tables etc (i.e. the whole history of a project - are available for public access (directly on server or links to external places). Possible gradations of openness: totally open, …, closed research (only area of task and opinions on results).

Involved parties

      • Companies (employers)
      • Students (employees), enthusiasts
      • Recruitment companies (they get a resource to trace bright candidates on early stages, meanwhile such companies could coordinate activities within some components of the system)
      • Publishing houses (just to sell more books and periodicals, from their part some information support could come)
      • Market research agencies, consulting companies (can play roles of mediators and coordinators)
      • Venture funds

Benefits for employers

      • Recruited people already shaped (at least they’ve got an idea) to current activities at company
      • Gain overall students’ competence level
      • Tasks which were done successfully
      • Reaching talent people from regions
      • Company’s promotion (making positive image)

Benefits for students

      • Gain motivation and get broader view in current technologies and labor market requirements
      • Opportunity to understand what is interesting to work with and what is not in fact before any full-time contracts (before going into industry)
      • Actual knowledge and experience
      • Opportunity to get grants, part-time contracts via the system
      • Opportunity to get over geografical borders in some cases

Web-based platform, maybe with offline clients. Not to create implementations of existing tech engines, to integrate them or just use in the current context (maybe use external blogs, wikies, CVS (sourceforge.org), instant messaging systems etc.). Cashing information from external resources is possible. Among the known existing open (GPL) engines NetProjectJournal looks the most suitable (see here: http://www.npj.ru/node/english_description). Unfortunately, it’s still under development although it’s already usable. The other strategy is to adopt loosely coupled architecture using free services provided by other systems.

The whole engine of the system should allow activities related not only to technical stuff but maybe economical, social, culture, art. The environment should be allowed by its born to evolve into something like a project fabric (forum, market, mall…).

Open source (www.sourceforge.org , www.osdl.org, code.google.com/summerofcode.htm ),

shared R&D idea (an article in Financial Times http://www.rand.org/commentary/082504FT.html ),
www.wikipedia.org, www.wikibooks.org, www.iec.org, http://creativecommons.org/education/,
www.intuit.ru, www.e-graduate.ru, www.respublikaidei.ru, www.e-generator.ru, www.firststeps.ru.

Examples of tasks to post

      • Write a tool to analyze (compare etc) logs
      • Deploy Jabber infrastructure (for 50 workplaces)
      • Develop a small DB
      • Build cluster on old computers
      • Deploy an open source ERP (in University)
      • Make IT audit - define scope of work. Team that successfully finished a project can define scope of work for another project.
      • More broad initiative: digital home open architecture (protocols, components, SW & HW implementation, accent on standard components, old HW reuse)

Other issues (additional comments)
Companies with well established processes could be more interested in the first two components of the environment, while for chaotic and stingy companies the main interest could be in the remaining parts.

To establish and maintain the core system functionality a forum (consortium) of international and local companies could be formed. It is especially important for local companies to gain average level of graduates, since global players have more abilities to attract the most interesting people.

The very important thing is strong and aptly targeted marketing of the environment.

The system should not be considered as a profitable business, it is rather a strategic social/technological project to develop the ground for further ICT industry growth. Nevertheless if the system works well, points of profit could appear.

The system must not be targeted only at high-school and university students. It could also be a resource for retraining.

Companies make students and techies competitions. All that is known after a competition is often only names of winners. Conditions, results and maybe some intermediate stuff could be placed at the server. In this case distributed teams can be involved.

I classify students into 3 groups (it’s a very rough and subjective division based situation in Russia). The question is how it correlates with the reality.

    1. those who are interested in nothing (regarding to education)
    2. those, who are interested. And they discover and dig out and study by themselves (in borders of standard educational programs and often far beyond the borders – in emerging areas). They not just attend lections and practice, they do a lot more.
    3. Others (about 30% - 60%) could potentially be interested. But it’s hard to begin because it is not, of course, a trivial challenge (and there is no motivation often) – to take control on the education process.

And the idea is to help group #2 - give them a more focused roadmap and a playground for their activity. And to stimulate an incentive for group #3 - to show them that they could do things like those who are in the second group.

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