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LISTEN — Class Disrupted S4 E14: How to Design a College Alternative

Don’t try to be everything to everyone — nail one thing and then launch separate offerings so you can nail other offerings.

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Class Disrupted is a bi-weekly education podcast featuring author Michael Horn and Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner in conversation with educators, school leaders, students and other members of school communities as they investigate the challenges facing the education system amid this pandemic — and where we should go from here. Find every episode by bookmarking our Class Disrupted page or subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher (new episodes every other Tuesday).

With declining enrollment becoming a staple in American higher education and more students and families souring on the expense of a college education, Tavenner points out that this can be an opportunity — and then puts Michael to the entrepreneurial test in designing what a college alternative might look like.

Listen to the episode below. A full transcript follows.

Diane Tavenner: Hey, Michael.

Michael Horn: Hey, Diane. How are you?

Tavenner: Michael, this is going to sound crazy, but it is finally starting to feel like spring here. I see the first flowers on my cherry trees. It is crazy to me, because it’s been a couple of weeks since you told me it was feeling like spring where you are, more than a couple weeks, a couple of episodes ago. I’m just wondering, did they really get the branding wrong with global warming? Should it be called extreme weather?

Horn: That is crazy what you’re going through. My allergies are also going crazy, so I hear you, even though frankly our cherry blossoms have yet to arrive, Diane. Now, look, we all know that weather isn’t quite the same as climate, more on that later, but to your point, I think what we’re both feeling is that just there’s been a lot of crazy events that have hit in rapid succession over the last few years, pandemic, racial reckoning, bank runs, and in California’s case, rain, mountains of snow and delayed rites of spring. It’s all part of us wanting to ask this question, how do we help educators and parents rethink what school looks like so that they can prioritize the success of each and every child? Because that’s just not happening right now in most parts of the country, and because school doesn’t have to look like the way it does today in so many communities.

We want to introduce some positive disruption, if you will, not the kind we were just talking about. On this fourth season of Class Disrupted, we’ve continued to follow our curiosity and track and encourage what might be possible as a result of the dramatic upheaval that the pandemic caused. This season, as listeners will know, we’ve doubled down on getting really specific about just how you innovate when you’re in a school. We’ve gotten to do that by tracking some of the things that you’ve piloted at Summit and how they connect to these broader ideas that we’ve talked about around innovation.

Tavenner: We have, Michael, and I and my team have learned so much from those conversations with you that enables us to really connect the theory with our practice. As you said, we’ve been tracking pilots all year long, which has our conversations pretty far down the road on the innovation process, if you will. Today, I thought it would be fun to switch things up on multiple dimensions. There is a bit of context to my thinking here, so stick with me for a moment while I unpack it.

Recently we’ve been exchanging, what seemed like at this point, daily articles about the declining college enrollment, and today it’s even adding in the declining number of students returning after having left, and this just rapidly growing public sentiment that four-year college degrees no longer provide the return on investment that students and families are looking for. This is largely because they’re just looking at the price tag. It’s so darn expensive. In short, we are seeing a bounce back to pre-COVID college enrollments. There are a lot of people, I would argue most people, who are viewing this as a really, really bad thing.

We talked a bit about this during Season Three in Episode 16, when we were diving deep into meritocracy. We had that whole meritocracy period that we worked through and we took a good look at what wasn’t working at higher ed on that front. I think we both saw things moving in this direction, but the acceleration of negative public perceptions around college has been greater than at least I expected.

Horn: Yeah, you’re completely right, Diane. I think what’s notable is it’s in all facets of society. It’s not just Republicans, it’s Republicans and Democrats. It’s not just low-income students, it’s high-income families as well. It’s really across the board. It’s funny that you mentioned this now, because Jeff Selingo and I on my other podcast, Future U, we actually recently looked at this question of whether the bachelor’s degree really doesn’t have a positive ROI anymore. The answer, just to play spoiler to that episode, is that it still does, Diane, but here’s at least one “but” to that statement. Only if you actually earn it, does it have that positive ROI. Far too many students, it’s basically a coin flip, go to college and leave without that degree.

Tavenner: Now, they do debt, right?

Horn: They leave with a lot of debt, and this is the thing. If you take out debt and don’t complete, you’re worse off than having gone in the first place. Now, there’s also more broadly that there’s no question that many families are just looking for more options that just don’t go through this linear path to college, because to your point, college is really pricey. We talk all the time about all the debt and price and cost. In some ways I think families are just frankly looking to return to the pre-1980s when a college degree wasn’t actually required to get a good middle class job.

Tavenner: OK, well, as long as we don’t return to the hairdos of that time. Michael, I think you’re illuminating the complexity around the issue. It isn’t one thing or another, it’s really dynamic. I think that might be why we are a bit concerned that this trend is viewed as negative. I think in my view, I’m not sure if fewer students going to four-year college is good or bad. What I do know for certain is, it’s a really interesting and useful set of information for an entrepreneur who’s seeking to serve those students.

That’s what got me thinking. What if we went all the way back to the very beginning of the “innovation cycle?” Since you are way more expert in higher ed than I am, what if you are the entrepreneur today and I get to be the interviewer theory person, what do you think? Are you game for that?

Horn: OK, I like it. I like the challenge and it’s going to be fun. I will just say, I think you’re right. We both view this trend as not necessarily negative, a chance for opportunity. While I’m not sure I’d say I’m way more expert in higher ed, let’s have some fun.

Tavenner: OK. Well, great, I’m super excited. I’m going to start where I often start when I’m talking about innovation, and that is with Eric Reese’s definition of the entrepreneur from Lean Startup. He says, basically, an entrepreneur is anyone who works with a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty. I think that’s where we are, pretty extreme uncertainty.

For today, Michael, you are an entrepreneur who’s looking at a boatload of information about declining college enrollment, and you want to respond to that opportunity with either a new institution or product or service. This is literally the phase of the process that is completely wide open, a blank sheet of paper. I’d love to just start with you thinking out loud for us, what comes to your mind and why?

Horn: It’s a good question. The first thing that I think comes to mind is that whatever I create, I want to focus on doing one thing well and not try to be all things to all people. That’s frankly what I think has gotten a lot of colleges in trouble right now. It’s driven up costs, it’s made the experience suboptimal. As a quick aside, it turns out that complexity, when you’re doing lots of different things, that actually drives administrative overhead and cost increases. In my case, when I reflect and say, OK, I want to do one thing really well, to me that means I want to nail a meaningful and pressing job to be done in someone’s life.

Now, for those who aren’t familiar with that phrase, “job to be done,” it’s this theory that we haven’t talked a ton on this podcast, but to me, it’s really the building block of any new product or service. In the toolkit of innovation theories, to me it’s maybe the most important. It asks the question, what’s the progress that someone is trying to make in a struggling circumstance? If we understand that, then we can really understand what would cause someone to hire something new to help them make that desired progress. I want to start with identifying some folks who are really struggling and understand how to help them make progress.

Just to riff a bit more, maybe I’d look at folks who tried college and stopped out and now are stuck in their life and career, or maybe I would look at people who are graduating high school and just totally unsure of what to do for that next step but feel like college isn’t right for them for some reason. Then what I would do is really dig in to understand those struggles. What’s not good about their current circumstances? Why is that the case? Five “whys” that you love I would ask here. What does “better” look like for them? Not from my perspective, mind you, but from theirs. What does “worse” look like? Is there real urgency for them to do something new? What’s the evidence of that? As we often say in the jobs to be done, “bitching ain’t switching.” I want to dig into folks who are not only struggling but are actively looking for new solutions. I want to see folks that are coming up short as they’re looking for new solutions.

Frankly, I don’t want to just look at the functional dimensions of all this, like, oh, they have a lot of debt and can’t earn a high salary, but I also want to understand the social and emotional dimensions of those struggles because we’re not auto, automatons. We do things for deeply social and emotional reasons. When you reduce that, you lose some element of why humans act the way they do.

Now, to be fair, I would cheat a bit on this, Diane, because as you know, I wrote a whole book on this topic that was perhaps misnamed Choosing College, but I would check out the jobs to be done that we identified in that book and then hone in on a particular persona within them and really start prototyping with that knowledge to solve for the progress that those individuals want to make.

Tavenner: OK. I love where you’re starting. Fun fact, you’re probably going to have to correct my memory here, but this concept of the jobs to be done, well, this is fact, was profound at our work at Summit and it ultimately led to us building Summit Learning. This was the early work we did, literally. If I remember correctly, you may even have done a bit of writing on our work about this, or there’s a chapter in a book somewhere.

Horn: There’s a chapter I believe in Blended about this very thing. I think that’s correct.

Tavenner: I don’t think it’s cheating at all to go back and look at the work that you and others have done, I actually think that’s really smart. I think in writing your book, you did a bunch of early work that a good entrepreneur can and should do. Certainly, it is work consistent with what we did. I remember one of the things we did was to have a bunch of people from our team shadow our students for full days. Literally, as an adult, you would show up and meet your student in the morning and you would go through their entire day doing everything they were doing, from the classwork to the engagement to the lunchtime, everything, so you got the full immersion in what the student experience was. Then we would structure a debrief and a knowledge capture, and of course in an interview with the student that always would have some “whys” in it for sure.

There are obviously many ways to figure out the job that needs to be done all the way down to the social and emotional level, that was one approach that we used, but this idea that building on the work you’ve already done I think is really brilliant. Let’s keep playing the role of entrepreneur. Do you see how I have to include myself in it because I like it so much? You keep playing that role and pick one of those jobs to be done that you identified and would want to potentially form a new product or company to address. Tell us about that. Where would you go?

Horn: Yeah, you bet. First, I’ll just say I love how you watched what students did, not just what they would tell you they wanted, because when you ask someone what they want, they’ll say like, “Oh, more ice cream at lunch,” or something like that, but when you watch what they do and see the struggles, gosh, you really learn a ton.

But to turn to this question, the job I think I’d focus on is one we found that I suspect is going to resonate with you, and it’s what we call the, “help me do what’s expected of me” job. The persona I have in mind when I say this is your 18-year-old high school senior who’s basically trying to figure out what to do after high school and they haven’t had a high school experience that’s really helped them build passions or have a sense of purpose. They’ve played the high school game, they’re about to graduate, and they’re just trying to figure out what’s next.

Now, they have this sense, this nagging sense that they have to satisfy or obey other people’s expectations of them. That could be their parents, it could be a teacher or a guidance counselor, maybe their friends are all going to college, you get the idea. They literally just can’t see any other options besides going to school because it just feels like the next logical step. Look, if you go to college, they can check a box and say, “OK, I’ll have a degree and a safety net to fall back on,” nevermind the stats.

But here’s the thing, Diane, folks who experience this, they actually don’t do well in college at all. Roughly three quarters of our data set dropped out or transferred. College just doesn’t do a good job of serving these folks because they have so little passion or a sense of why for college itself that when the going gets tough, they get going, they just leave because they don’t have a deeper “why” for being there in the first place.

Tavenner: They will get going, Michael, because college will get tough. It’s inevitable, there’s no way around it, you are going to encounter some hurdles and some bumps. If you don’t know why you’re there, of course you’re not going to stay when you encounter that. This just feels so much like exactly what I have seen for all of my career, which is I think you’re talking about the group of kids that their parents will often say, when people ask them, “How’s your child doing in school?” “Fine.” It’s the, “fine.” They’re doing what they’re supposed to, society says you should get a college degree, okay, I guess that’s what I’m going to do but I don’t know why. It is complex and complicated and hard and so I’m not going to make it through. Then as we talked about earlier, they’re in worse shape because now they have debt. Wow. Where do we go from there?

Horn: Great question. Well, I picked this one actually because I think there are a lot of good solutions emerging to some of the other jobs to be done that we found in our research. Individuals who want a higher education, for example, to help them step it up in their lives, you’ve seen a lot of college alternatives emerge. They mix the best of the mindset of a Summit Public Schools with a really disruptive model to dramatically lower costs and help individuals get into the workplace quickly. Think like a Marcy Lab School in Brooklyn, if folks want to look that up, or Duet, which is one of these so-called hybrid colleges, which is out of Boston, or frankly, the resurgence of apprenticeships in a wider variety of fields from training Salesforce administrators to software engineers, or honestly, community colleges have done this to an extent with these so-called guided pathways, which are a structured set of courses in a discipline that seem to have done a lot of good for folks who know what they want next.

But here’s the rub, the one I picked is tricky. My judgment hasn’t been met at all and it’s because these students don’t know what they want next. A lot of these designs that we’ve seen, where they really focus in on no choice, we’re going to get you in and out as quick as possible, just push you through a structured sequence of courses, it actually works against what these individuals need. What’s tricky about it is that the energy around it for these individuals is really low. They’re very listless, they’re going along to get along very passively. College just feels like the right next thing, even though it’s not going to get them the outcome they desire.

The temptation, I think, for an entrepreneur is going to be to build something out of a sense of individuals should do this different thing because it’s a need they have in their life, but unfortunately, that’s a cardinal mistake you can make as an entrepreneur, which is just because someone should do something doesn’t mean they’re actually prioritizing it in their life. The first thing as an entrepreneur that you need to do, I think, is either start a new college so that you’re not working against what these students feel like they need, or you need to somehow convince them that they’re looking for something else brand new.

Tavenner: Wow, Michael, there’s a lot packed into what you just said. The first thing I just want to say that’s coming to me is what I hear you saying as an entrepreneur is if you are going to stand in judgment of who you are trying to serve, you’re not going to be able to serve them. I feel like that’s what was embedded there is, you said very honestly, they don’t have a lot of energy around this, this is listless. People might hear that as disrespect, I don’t think so. I think it’s a really honest, clear assessment of what’s actually happening probably from watching them, because I’m not sure they’re going to tell you that actually.

Horn: No, not at all. They don’t want to admit it.

Tavenner: Yeah, yeah, but if you watch their behavior. That’s not the disrespectful part, the disrespectful part would be imposing your own beliefs on them and then creating something that’s not going to work for them. That was just really profound in what you just said. Then you landed these two really different possible pathways, maybe not, but I’m really curious about which one would you pick? Are you going to start a new college or somehow convince them that they’re looking for something else? Or maybe there’s a hybrid in there. I will say starting a college is not for the faint of heart, as we both know from personal experience, but I love the honesty about what is required. How would you think about it?

Horn: Well, you’re not wrong about anything you just said. My gut is, frankly, that I’d probably try to start up a new college, much like Minerva University has done, you and I are both on the board of that, so full disclosure, but Reach University is another one that’s recently started up, or frankly, I might try to partner with a lot of college to create a dramatically new program so that I could serve students within a college. Whatever I’d create, I’d brand very clearly as a college alternative. That might be the third pathway, just so it has collage it.

Now, I want to be honest, this is not a strongly held view, it’s an assumption that I would want to test out of the gate. That’s the big thing to know about my approach to these things, Diane. To me, the job to be done, it gives you the functional social-emotional dimensions of someone’s struggle and what progress looks like from their shoes. Then it’s your job as the innovator to figure out what are the right experiences that you need to provide to serve that job.

You’re ultimately going to have to test your assumption, as we’ve discussed in past episodes, but my first instinct here, or my first assumption, is that whatever I build should somehow feel like it’s college so that I’m not asking students to do something that they’re not actually looking to do in their lives.

Tavenner: Yep, and there it is. The key is that you aren’t going to go against their natural instincts to go to college or try to change their mind, you’re going to actually move with them. Positioning this as college and something very different presumably speaks to them, that combination of it is the thing you think you need to do, but it’s not the thing that you really don’t have any interest in doing. Say more about what that could look like for them.

Horn: Yeah, but you’re exactly right, I don’t want to swim against their instincts. Now, once we’ve got them, if you will, we’re serving them, then we can do some pretty dramatically different stuff from a traditional college, to your point. The next big set of experiences I think you have to nail is to help students grow by flipping them from trying to do what others or society or these other people in their lives expect them to do to allowing them to dream. What do they expect themselves to do? What do they want?

To do that, my next question I think would be this, “What are the sets of experiences that I need to provide to help students move to and through that flip?” Now, my own instinct is that I’d want to offer a series of short, immersive experiences that really just help students learn about themselves, what they do, and maybe more importantly what they don’t like to do. Then these sets of experiences actually would, I think, look a lot like the Summit Learning Cycle that you all use. I’d have students set goals for what they want to learn about themselves, lay out a plan, dive into a set of immersive experiences and learn. This would be real world experiences, like a 30-day sprint, and have some artifact they’ve created at the end to show some of what they’ve learned.

Then, I think this is maybe the most important part, some time for reflection, where they can think about what they’ve learned about themselves. Maybe most important at this juncture is for them to be ruling things out, like I don’t like that, because humans, and there’s a lot of research on this, are much better at saying what’s out than what they definitively like. If we can get things off the table and say, “That sucked, and here’s the why it sucked,” that’s a big win at this stage.

Now, of course, ultimately I want to move them to the positive. I want this program to help them understand their abilities, where they desire to make an impact, help them build their passions by helping them catalog what they already do and the energy that they get from it, and what they want to explore and how that fits with all the life pathways out there and in-demand opportunities. From there, I want students to repeat this process, setting goals, creating project plans, executing the plans, reflecting and discovering patterns. You get the idea.

Now, I could go much deeper, but at this stage I’m thinking more about what are the experiences that need to be part of this, not every single detail of the program, because to me, a big piece of this experience at the stage has to be speed also, because I don’t want students spending a lot of time and resources, like four years, on things when they don’t even have a clear purpose or passions in mind. I want to give them series of choices, options to explore, help them make choices about what’s out and what’s still in, and then they can explore more, reflect and learn about what’s next.

Tavenner: Totally. There’s, again, so much in what you just said, a couple threads that I want to pull on. The first is this idea that you talked about, you want them to feel like the choice they make to get in is familiar, so it’s college-like, although different because that’s not where their energy is, but you’re not leaving them just sitting there not having an opinion. Then the experience you’re going to create is designed to help them develop their own opinion, which is something that they’ve been missing. Not surprising, because our system sort of beats that out of kids and doesn’t let them have their own perspective. I just love that idea, that it’s not like you’re going to leave kids where they are, you are going to help them move to a place that is potentially more productive.

Then just second, this idea of all the ideas you’re sharing right now, Michael, you don’t actually have to have a college to test them. The little ideas that you’re taught, and I think sometimes people don’t realize that, you could be doing these tests very short cycle, very small with partners or in a variety of different ways to just see if your assumptions are correct or not of what’s working and what’s not working.

I have to confess that this is the part of innovation that is one of my favorites. My brain is overflowing right now with ideas and connections, and I’m going to try to control myself, but there are just so many ways you could design what you’re describing. That’s the other thing I want to point out. You just went down one pathway, there’s so many other ways that you could tackle what you’re thinking about here. It’s just really exciting to think about how those different approaches could be so impactful to the students that you’re trying to serve.

OK, but let me stay in my role for today and just recap a bit. I think it’s fair to say that what you’re describing here is speed, exposure to different options, opportunities to reflect and learn, something that fits within the college frame of mind for these students, and things that will help students move away from trying to please others and to thinking about what is really that they want and to develop a deeper sense of the thing we really want is their own purpose. I imagine your next step is starting, as we just talked about, you mentioned, building prototypes and minimally viable products, and to actually test these assumptions you’re making and learn more about them.

This connects back to where we were at the start of this season, with these if-then statements, so if we do X, then we think Y will happen. It’s, build a fast light version, test it, analyze the data, learn if your hypotheses were correct, and then either integrate it and iterate or pivot, right?

Horn: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I like you in the role of theorist instead of me, but that’s exactly right. I want quick tests, I want to learn, I want to learn where I’m wrong on what I think the experiences should be, where’s the nuance in particular, and what does it really look like in the real world, not in my ivory tower. This is where we start to get to dig into the features, the what we provide, if you will, and how it all snaps together to create this coherent experience.

I’ll give you one quick example, by the way, Diane, that I think encapsulates my approach and how it really breaks out of what traditional college looks like, which is when I was describing this job to be done to the president of a community college some years ago. I said something like, “You want really quick experiences up front before they code too deep so that they can learn a lot and opt out or go deeper,” and she said, “Oh, we do that with phlebotomy.” Phlebotomy is people who draw blood. She said, “We have a course up front in which students learn if they like to draw blood or not, because some people just freak out when they see the sight of blood and they’re done.” I thought to myself, “That’s great, but do you really need a whole 13-week class to figure out if you like the sight of blood or not? Because I can ask that in about five minutes, that’s not a course.”

I think part of this is to really get out of the mindset of courses and Carnegie units and credit hours, really trying to think through, OK, if we’re just doing immersive experiences and we’ve done this learning cycle, there’s a lot more we can do than fitting into the box of the structures that have been there before.

Tavenner: Oh my gosh, I love this story. I think the key thing you’re saying there is one of the things that you need to have as an entrepreneur, I think, is this mindset that the existing frames or structures, you can break them or they don’t have to be there. I think that that’s really hard. In school, one of the things that I’ve encountered a lot is when you go in and ask people, “Well, could we do this differently,” for example, have mentors and have times of the day where adults are mentoring students and whatnot. Inevitably, people are like, “Well, we can’t do that.” When you ask, “Well, why?” “Well, the ed code won’t let us.” Then we dig in, “Really? Which ed code won’t let you do that?” “Well, the board policy won’t let us do that.” “Oh really? Which board policy?”

We can go down, down, down and finally discover, there actually isn’t anything blocking it except for our own mindsets about the constraints we live in. In this case, most people in education live in these semester or quarter or yearlong timeframes and we want to put something that should take 10 minutes into 13 weeks. So crazy.

Horn: Completely crazy.

Tavenner: I’m doing it again, I’m sorry again. OK, let’s see, how about can you start to think now, and just this is white page brainstorming, but give us an example of your ideas of what they might look like at this new startup university or program? We know it’s not going to be a 13-week course to figure out if I’m afraid of blood, what might it look like?

Horn: Yeah. In many ways I think it would look like what I’ve come to think of as, people call it a gap year, but I think of it as a purpose year. There’s actually a company called Verto Education that does this with colleges, where they have the gap year be the first year experience for the students. You go abroad and the purpose is to be enmeshed in a different community, have time for reflection, and take on some real internships and apprenticeships in the context of the year itself. That’s really what I would do, is partner with different employers, allow people to get real work experience and then have those reflection opportunities as part of it.

If this is an accredited college and we need to call that work experience your homework and then we can have a course to analyze how you think about it, that’s fine, that’s how we’ll get around those requirements, but I really want those short-cycle in the real world, not simulations. I want them in the community, frankly, much of your expeditions are, but it’s, as you would call it, the main course of the experience, not the dessert.

Tavenner: Yes, not the dessert. The pairing with the reflections is imperative. One of the things we know is if you don’t do the reflecting, you actually don’t get the benefit from the experience. That’s awesome. Okay, let’s pretend that you nail it and you get this right, and it’s working and you’ve met this particular need. You know me, I like solving multiple problems. Can you tackle another job to be done? Is that allowed?

Horn: Good question. Yeah, good question. You’re not alone, like a true entrepreneur you want to do lots of different things and you look at the world and you ask, “Why not?” I think the answer as a company or organization is, yeah, you can tackle multiple jobs to be done, but I think your individual product or service should really nail one primary job to be done well. What I think about that is the “big hire,” we call it, so the “why” they come. Then once they’ve hired it, then all these “little hires,” we call it, start to crop up. It’s like you buy the iPhone and now what can you do with these different apps, or you buy a new shirt, when do you wear it? These are the little hires, if you will, after the big one.

But I think the big thing to know is for that one service, you should really focus on one job to be done and intentionally suck at the others by choice. Sometimes I think colleges are scared of that. They want to be all things to all people. They’re like, “Well, we’ve got to have that department. We’ve got to have that one too. Oh, it can’t be a college if we don’t do…” Frankly, if you do that, you’re competing against yourself, you’re watering down what you’re doing. To me, nail one thing and then launch separate offerings so you can nail other offerings.

Tavenner: So smart, it really is the wise way to go. I would argue K-12 is the same way, we call it the comprehensive high school for a reason. Literally, it tries to be everything to everyone, and then you’re nothing to anyone when you’re doing that. That discipline and patience is what I hear you to say, be patient, nail the job to be done. It’s not a strength of mine, but I do appreciate how it’s really needed in certain times.

On that note, Michael, it feels like we’ve covered a lot today. Perhaps I’ll be patient and wait for our next conversation to tackle some of the million ideas that are ping ponging around in my head after listening to you in this conversation. But before we go, what are you reading, listening to or watching?

Horn: Well, first, I hope the audience comes in with all the things that they would do in this job to be done, that would be fun. But speaking of the audience, hopefully half of them won’t hate me on this one. I’m actually not sure which half will hate me, so be it. But to connect back to the climate change thought from the beginning of this episode, I’ve just finished reading the book that’s called Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. It’s by Steve Koonin, who was the undersecretary for Science in the Department of Energy in the Obama administration.

Diane, he basically unearths a bunch of anomalies, and you know I’m a sucker for anomalies, in the climate science research that we rarely hear about, stuff like how none of our climate models that we’ve constructed really predict the future, past warming with much accuracy or some myths we hold, like extreme weather events are increasing relative to past time periods, or the importance, frankly, that I think a lot about is grappling with the very real trade-offs as we think about how to deal with the change in climate around us, because it’s going to impact us in different ways depending on where we live in the world.

Now, to be clear, Koonin, he’s not a denier, that is he’s crystal clear that climate change is happening and that humans are responsible for some of that change, but I found his take a more sober analysis of a lot of the features that I think get swept aside, particularly in the media as they report about “the science,” which in my mind isn’t just a statement of truth, but really the statements of what the best evidence currently tells us about the truth and our process of continuing to hypothesize, test and improve our understanding.

What about you?

Tavenner: Well, that’s fascinating. I hope no one hates you, because it seems to me that considering all of the perspectives is really important. I think that’s what we try to do here. I’ve got what I think is a fun one this week, Michael, I am watching/taking a master class from the online platform MasterClass on flower arranging. I see your face. Perhaps you’ve picked up because you’ve been watching my office now for years at this point, I always have fresh flowers here. I love fresh flowers. I got really curious about how I might arrange them more than just buying a bunch and sticking it in a vase, how could I actually do something with them.

MasterClass, it seems to me to be prototyping or testing a format that’s more interactive. Their standard model is lecture based, if you will, and this one has a community component and a reflection component and a homework component and a bit of a hands-on piece. I’m just curious how they’re going to translate the experience that they’ve gotten really good into this new version that maybe is a little bit more inclusive of the science of how people learn. That is what I’m up to.

Horn: I like that. I hope that they move from edutainment to some education, that sounds like the process you’re describing. We would all be better with more beauty in our lives from those flowers, so I’ll look forward to watching the office to see what changes I notice. To all of you who don’t get to watch, thanks for joining us and listening to us on another episode of Class Disrupted.

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