A pair of young Yale graduates is taking an Uber-esque approach to the educational experience, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (9/3/14). Like Uber, Panorama is "using unconventional methods of tech start-ups to reinvent industries that have long been seen as tech backwaters." In this case, they are collecting and analyzing "large troves of data" to help "address problems in American education" — specifically teacher performance. Basically, Panorama has come up with a new way to capture student evaluations.
"Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means," says Panorama co-founder Aaron Feuer. "Five years ago we thought test scores were the answer to everything. We’re offering a way to focus on the right metrics." While conducting student surveys is not a new idea, Panorama has made "its surveys more widely accessible than older educational surveys" via "its own scanning system" and "says its surveys and analytics services are about half the price of older survey methods."
Panorama has also developed an analytics dashboard that makes it easy for teachers to access results. Leila Campbell, a young high-school teacher, says Panorama "has been transformational" for her. Even though her students’ test scores were good, students said she wasn’t connecting with them. So, she says she now opens up to them with stories about the vulnerabilities she felt as a college student, and explains why she’s working with them. "They start to get me as a human being," she says. "And they’re willing to follow me when I push them harder." Panorama currently runs its surveys in more than 5,000 schools.
"No one truly understands millennials … not even millennials," reports Dionne Searcey in The New York Times (8/22/14). That quasi insight comes courtesy of Moosylvania, a digital marketing company, in a report on how much money millennials spend — "$1.3 trillion … out of total spending of nearly $11 trillion." That’s not as much as baby boomers spend, but projections are that this will change by 2020. The conundrum, according to Mooslyvania, is that millennials "need a lot of assurance but don’t like to be marketed to."
The apparent paradox may be personified by Leslie Coronel, who is "careful to shop for most groceries at major chains where she can buy bread at a discount. Yet she often stops at the bakery at Whole Foods for more expensive treats." She will also splurge "if she finds a really expensive dress or shoes she really likes." Exactly how such contradictions differ from previous generations — especially boomers who "embraced consumer crazes" like "Frisbees and bell-bottoms" while also engaging in "counter culture activities" — isn’t clear.
Boomers, like millennials, have also been described as "selfish, entitled and unwilling to grow up." Jason Furman of the Council of Economic Advisors is among those who think the generational gaps are overblown. "There is no strong reason to believe that millennials are dramatically different than the generations of Americans who preceded them," he says. "Rather, it is the unlucky economic times with which they were presented that explains much of their challenge."
Researchers are grappling with the ethical dilemma of deceiving their subjects "in the name of science," reports Shirley S. Wang in The Wall Street Journal (8/26/14). The argument goes that there are some circumstances under which failing to tell subjects they are being studied is the only way to get accurate information. Geoff Pearson of University of Liverpool applied this premise in a ten-year study of "the behavior of rowdy soccer fans in the UK" after deciding "that just talking to them wasn’t good enough."
So, instead "he joined the fans at football matches to watch how the crowd behavior went from calm to rowdy … He wrote down his observations while huddled in the restroom, talked into a recorder by pretending it was a cellphone and jotted down copious notes after matches. Most important, he didn’t tell fans he was studying them." This flies in the face of "one of the main tenets of ethical research … that participants should be informed that they’re being studied and for what purpose."
Kypros Kypri of University of Newcastle meanwhile reports that "just asking heavy drinkers about their alcohol use sometimes changes their behavior." In this case, the research doubled as a kind of intervention, but without subjects knowing it. Kypros argues that the health benefits outweighed the ethical issues. In Geoff Pearson’s case, the undercover research helped improve policing at soccer matches. A key insight was that disorderly conduct was more likely when police "dressed in riot gear." Things went more smoothly "when police engaged in friendly conversation with the crowd."