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The Big Picture: Temple Grandin, Henry Eyring, Farhad Manjoo

University Business, September 2012

Recognize and Nurture Different Kinds of Minds

Educator, inventor, author, and perhaps the most famous person with autism in the world, Temple Grandin addressed higher ed administrators in UBTech 2012’s opening keynote—during which she called out politicians, top-down thinkers, and bullies and inspired the crowd with her experiences and perspective on everything from how labels hurt kids to how educational institutions should allow those with hands-on experience to teach, even without a teaching degree.
One of her big concerns is kids getting “handicapped” by labels as they move through the education system. At the college level, they may need to take a lighter course load or get tutoring. But beware of coddling these students, she said. More important: Address specific issues they may be having that affect their success.

Grandin noted that there needs to be more thought put into course requirements. “I know kids who are acing computer science and physics who can’t do algebra,” she said. “I am worried about a lot of smart kids getting screened out and ending up on Social Security. That’s not where we want them.” These young people need to be out solving the world’s big problems, she said.

Grandin shared the way her mind works, thinking in pictures, or photo realistic thinking (these thinkers are likely to be bad at algebra), and compared it to how others, who are pattern thinkers, are good at music and math, but may struggle in reading. There are those with verbal minds, who are poor at drawing, and those who are auditory thinkers, who can remember everything they hear.

“The world needs different kinds of minds to work together,” she pointed out. So it’s important to recognize students’ strengths and abilities and nurture them, rather than focus on their difficulties. That may mean making some accommodations for sensory processing disorders. One out of 50 students in her livestock handling class, she shared, has a problem where the words on a page vibrate. As it turns out, using a laptop or tablet or adjusting the background can help significantly. One student she taught “would have flunked out of school” if those simple accommodations hadn’t been made.

On distance learning, Grandin shared how she heard about an online program for window and door installation. “I don’t think you can install doors and windows without having some field experience,” she quipped, adding that there was an optional internship in that program.

Grandin advocates for jobs and course assignments that accomplish things, because “you’ve got to show kids interesting stuff to get them interested in stuff.”  In addition, she said there needs to be more emphasis on career preparation and simply exposing students to paid jobs. “I’m seeing too many smart people with different labels not getting employed.”

She is concerned that millions are spent litigating patents and that more money is spent fighting patents than inventing. “I’m worried about this sort of stuff stifling innovation,” she said.

On politics, she said, “The problem is all the practical problem solvers have left politics. We’ve got to figure out how to fix stuff, not just fight over it.” Of concern to her is people who get college degrees and go right into a life of politics without having done anything else first.

There’s a need to think in specifics, no matter what the topic. And educators, and parents, need to “get these kids out there, you’ve got to stretch these kids”—the geeks of the world. Grandin’s mother did that for her, and just look at her now.

Innovate or Else

Fundamental change is coming to higher education, says Henry J. Eyring, and rather than something to be feared, this disruptive innovation is necessary for colleges and universities to survive and thrive.

Eyring, vice president of advancement at Brigham Young University-Idaho, and co-author of The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (2011, Jossey-Bass), discussed the subject in a keynote called “It’s Your College: Innovate or Else.”

Institutions need people who understand the its strengths as well as its weaknesses, he said. “How can we provide the help that the institution needs?”
The answer, he said, is in disruptive thinking, or finding the best ways to increase innovation within established organizations.

Using the example of the nation’s railroads, he illustrated how institutions can adapt to new technologies and thrive. Railroads, he said, faced extinction when new forms of transportation came along to challenge their supremacy in cargo hauling.

Using the initials “FPI,” Eyring explained how the railroads came back:

  • Focus. Figure out what they do very well. In the case of the railroad, its leaders realized no one could beat them when it came to long-haul travel over land.
  • Partner. The railroad began to work with overseas shippers to find new ways to transport shipping cargo containers easily on rail.
  • Innovate. Railroad leaders also came up with new switching stations that could move the containers easily from one track to another and even stack them two-deep to reduce cost.

The result? The railroads still do long-haul transport across land better than anyone. “They ain’t dead,” Eyring said.

Could something similar happen in higher education?

Yes, he said, and we’re beginning to see it now with things like the Khan Academy, and more recently with edX. LinkedIn and Facebook also help Eyring’s institution connect students with mentors in their chosen careers throughout the country.

Higher education is exploring how to use technology to enhance the way people learn, he said, customized to their own particular learning styles and needs. Eyring likened it to the way Amazon offers book recommendations based on what one has purchased or searched for previously.

These advances, he said, “change everything, but don’t destroy everything. They allow colleges and universities to do more of what society needs them to do most.”

The Big Apple

In the closing keynote, Slate magazine technology columnist Farhad Manjoo spoke on four companies “that will rule your future”—Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He covered how each one—especially Apple—has a power over people. 

Take mobile devices, for example. Smartphone and tablet-type devices will be used more than the standard PC in the near future, Manjoo predicts. Apple is one of the top smartphone providers, with its large variety of mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch.

These companies “want people to do everything” on mobile devices. With Apple, consumers can buy music and apps, as well as go through other merchants on the web on their Apple mobile device to make a purchase.

Then there is the data collected from these companies through the devices. Facebook and Google will collect more data through what a user will “like” on Facebook or search with Google. Recommendations are made for products customers may like after making a purchase through Amazon or Apple.

Apple has evolved from simply being a consumer electronic company to being a phone, tablet, music, movie, and TV company. It has an advertisement platform and still makes computers. They are “great at making products that everyone wants,” Manjoo pointed out, adding that its products are mass market luxury goods that feel like they should cost more than every other rival product, but cost the same or are cheaper.

Television may be the next platform these companies are trying to market and make their own. Manjoo explained the overall problem with the television experience: multiple devices like video games, cable boxes, DVD players, as well as different remotes for each device.

Apple’s solution to this problem is Apple TV. The system brings content from the “Apple universe” and allows users to plug Apple devices into the TV.  Apple, along with Google, Facebook, and Amazon, may allow for cheaper cable prices with their services compared to current cable subscriptions. Also, there might be more interaction with TV and the consumer, making it more social.

Still, with all the developments Apple has, the company is criticized for the working conditions at their factories, more than most other mobile device companies, Manjoo noted.

A member of the audience asked Manjoo for his thoughts on which company would be the dominant one in the next five years. Perhaps not surprisingly, his response was Apple. “It’s making the most money from its devices and it certainly seems to be the most unbeatable at this point with the iPad and the iPhone,” Manjoo explained.

Register now for UBTech 2018

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