Embracing Open Educational Resources (“OER”): The Benefits of an Open Learning Culture

The Current State of Educational Basal Content

It’s no secret that college textbooks are becoming increasingly expensive. While the discount textbook market has seen significant growth over the past decade, the average cost of a traditional college textbook has grown at a whopping three times the rate of inflation since 1978. That means that students are paying upwards of $1,200 for textbooks and supplies each year.  Combined with burdensome increases in higher education tuition costs, 65% of students decide against purchasing any course materials at all.*

Perhaps it is no coincidence that recent years have seen a meaningful shift in the way that educational content is delivered. New distance education technology has given rise to increased availability of what are commonly referred to as OERs.  These platforms serve as a collection of teaching, learning, and research materials, including open courseware and content, software tools, and customization tools, all of which reside in the public domain. Even better, these resources can be used, repurposed, and redistributed completely free of charge and with few limitations.

The Future of OER

Widely considered a catalyst for equalized access to academic content across the globe, OERs are often easily customizable, affordable, and therefore highly tailored to each instructor’s individual needs and teaching methods. Educators are slowly becoming more receptive to the idea of using OERs to enhance their courses, particularly at community and junior colleges, where textbooks and supplies account for approximately 40% of in-state tuition. Large education and technology companies, such as Cengage and Pearson, have also responded to this movement by adding their own value-added services and digital solutions aimed at helping universities better transition towards OERs for both traditional and online classroom environments.

As with any paradigmatic shift, however, the OER movement will require time and some further development before it is commonly adopted by professors and schools on a systematic basis. That said, considerable steps have been taken to improve the quality and breadth of OER content since the term was first coined in 2002. Namely, the introduction of large, open online course and content platforms like Open Textbook Library and OER Commons has paved the way for future developments in content delivery and customization technology. Some content providers have also set their focus on making content more adaptable and compatible across different platform devices, particularly mobile. On an institutional scale, a growing number of universities have begun to establish support systems and workshops for faculty members to encourage use of OER.

It is clear this movement has significant implications for the future of learning. Cengage predicts that the use of OER could triple over the next five years, driven by improvements in engagement and success with the OER experience by educators and students. At the very heart of the movement’s growing acceptance, however, lies the idea that knowledge should be shared freely and without limitation. Accordingly, we anticipate that OER has great potential for reducing the cost of expanding quality education on a universal scale.

* U.S. PIRG: “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market”

Weeds and Plant-Based Food . . . Heed the Weed!

So for all of you fixated on the Snoop Dog (Cheech and Chong for you older readers) interpretation of the last word in the title, sorry to disappoint, we’re talking real weeds here.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Weeds are oftentimes the most abled-bodied plants to occupy a given environment. They have won the Darwinian race by virtue of longer taproots, ability to withstand the elements (drought, frost, etc.) and ability to deter insects and other fauna. While we tend to focus on more succulent and weaker species for our table top, weeds can be a tasty and nutritional addition to the plate. While plant-based food is all the rage these days, I submit, if we’re serious about this movement, and we should be, we should start paying more attention to those varietals in the ditch.

Without further ado, I present our top six “junk food” candidates:

  • Dandelions – An easy “top of the order” addition. Wildly abundant nearly everywhere, if picked early in the spring (before they’ve bloomed yellow flowers), their leaves are mildly sweet (less bitter) and tender. Owing to an exceedingly deep taproot (ever tried to pull a whole dandelion from the ground?), they are also incredibly nutritious as they can pump nutrients deep from within the soil that spinach or lettuce cannot reach. Rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, calcium as well as fatty acids which assist in joint health.
  • Chamomile – A member of the daisy family (and “cousins” of sunflowers), chamomile grows abundantly in the wild in sunny fields, along roads, and astride fence lines from southern Canada to southern California. The German and Roman varietals have for centuries been used for medicinal properties. In the U.S., chamomile flowers are most commonly used in tea, but in other regions of the world the flower is widely used to treat stomach ailments, heartburn, nausea, anxiety, insomnia and skin irritation. Chamomile is rich in vitamins A and C and minerals Zinc and Magnesium. Imports of chamomile into the U.S. range from 750,000 to one million pounds per year (90% of which is utilized in tea) though this trade imbalance could surely be reduced by busy Americans who simply “stop and smell (and pick) the flowers,” on the way to Starbucks.
  • Lambs Quarter – “Famine food” doesn’t exactly conjure up mouth-watering images, but owing to its abundance and mild taste, that’s the name Great Depression citizens gave this hearty plant. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, while older leaves (a bit bitter) are typically cooked and “pair” well with lamb. Lambs quarter grows abundantly in the U.S. and Canada, particularly in nitrogen rich soil, and in my home state, CA, at elevations approaching 6,000 feet. This “weed” is rich in fiber, Vitamins C and A, Calcium, Riboflavin, Potassium as well as Omega 3 fatty acids. True to the adage, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Lambs quarter is the predominant weed among soybeans (a leading domestic cash crop) in the U.S., but is a cultivated, staple food in parts of India.
  • Evening Primrose – Following “famine food”, evening primrose sounds positively proper – though it is also known as hog weed. Native to eastern and central U.S. and Canada, the entire plant is edible, roots to seeds. Depending upon the time of year, the roots and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, or in the case of leaves, used to make tea. The flower buds are considered a delicacy, and the flowers themselves have a sweet flavor. Native American tribes such as Cherokee, Iroquois and Ojibwe used various parts of the plant for food and also for a litany of medicinal purposes ranging from a stimulant, to a topical paste applied to muscles for strength.
  • Clover – Not only symbolic of good luck (and an important part of the 17-time, NBA champion Celtics logo), clover is a delicious sweet treat. A true survivor, clover can run rampant in a yard and because its root nodules generate nitrogen, clover stays green longer than its surroundings and is rich in Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. I used to eat clover by the handful growing up, but had I known what I know now, would have devoured more.
  • Mallow – I saved the best for last. This salad green boasts a mild flavor and its mucilaginous leaves are good for digestion. While numerous mallows exist, including the Chaparral, Carolina and Indian varietals, no self-respecting foodie will vote against one particular, brackish water, swamp-loving mallow. A mallow whose pulverized and processed roots are near and dear to smores lovers the world around, none other than Althea officinalis …or better known as the marshmallow!

Want to add some green stuff to your next salad or smoothie? Consider these alternatives, but word of caution, be sure to consult a guide to ensure what you’re adding is helpful and not harmful!

The Potential for Meaningful Augmented Reality-Based Business Solutions

Augmented reality (“AR”) is a technology that in its most basic form many of us have interacted with for years, from head-up display systems (HUD) in vehicles to the Pokémon Go mobile app and Snapchat filters. Unlike virtual reality, which allows a user to completely immerse themselves in a digital world, AR technology superimposes a computer-generated image or real-time information over a user’s view of the real world. This technology has matured rapidly over the past year, thanks to Apple and Google releasing AR-specific developer toolkits (ARKit and ARCore, respectively) and cloud computing becoming ubiquitous (allowing for AR experiences to be shared across multiple users.)

AR is unique in that it aims to seamlessly coalesce the digital and physical worlds, and to date, we’ve just “scratched the surface” on AR business applications. The global AR industry is projected to increase from $4.0 billion in 2016 to $161.0 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 85.4%. For reference, the global VR industry is projected to grow from $2.0 billion in 2016 to $17.8 billion in 2022, a CAGR of 44.5%.

Many industries have latched onto AR’s potential, including utilities, telecoms, and manufacturing, where enterprise organizations have a large, distributed workforce of highly skilled workers. For example, General Electric recently tested AR-enabled glasses across seven business units. These glasses overlaid manufacturing instructions and training videos onto a technician’s field of view while he/she completed complex tasks, both in a factory setting and in the field. During a short trial, technicians using AR technology realized an immediate benefit, increasing efficiency by nearly 20%, reducing defects, and rapidly improving the time it takes for new employees to become skilled. This not only positively impacts a company’s profitability, but it also allows organizations to rapidly scale expertise through remote support, which will be key in industries where highly skilled, veteran employees are reaching retirement age.

Additionally, many companies are using AR software to enhance computer-aided design and computer-aided modeling to prototype new products. For example, Ford uses Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to overlay full-scale 3D design updates onto existing production vehicles. The ability to rapidly make digital design “tangible” allows designers, engineers, and managers to make decisions quickly, augmenting existing processes and increasing a product’s speed to market.

As organizations seek to find solutions to the challenges of putting expert knowledge where they need it, when they need it, or generating meaningful opportunities for collaboration across varied departments, the answer increasingly points to AR-based business solutions – a trend that will likely only increase in years to come.

Source:  https://www.consultancy.uk/news/17876/virtual-and-augmented-reality-market-to-boom-to-170-billion-by-2022

Mohs Knows

Unknown to most individuals outside the profession, a highly specialized medical doctor exists within the realm of dermatology. Mohs surgeons play the part of both skin cancer surgeon and pathologist. Amazingly, in a country of approximately 320 million people, only 1,500 Mohs surgeons (American College of Mohs Surgery Fellowship trained) exist – making their unique skills and services rare and valuable. In layman’s terms, if Mohs surgeons were professional baseball players, they would be left-handed knuckleballers.

Mohs surgery derives its name from Frederic Mohs, MD, who developed the procedure in 1938 while a medical student at the University of Wisconsin. For a couple decades thereafter, the procedure was not widely practiced, but it gained increasing traction starting in 1960s and 1970s, and today is widely accepted as a highly effective, minimally invasive procedure. In a typical Mohs procedure, extremely thin layers of cancerous tissue are sequentially removed and examined under microscope. As the tumor’s roots (their blood supply) oftentimes extend deeper than what is apparent, layers of tissue are removed and examined from the bottom up to detect where roots still extend into otherwise healthy tissue. By sequentially removing thin layers of tissue, and by removing tissue only in highly targeted areas, Mohs surgeons are able to remove only the cancerous tissue, causing less damage to healthy cells, minimizing scarring.

Mohs is frequently used to treat basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, the most prevalent forms of skin cancer, and to a lesser extent, melanomas, in areas where cosmetic considerations are highest (e.g., sensitive, highly visible areas such as the face). Cure rates are in the mid-to-high 90th percentile range depending on, among other things, whether the effected areas had been treated previously. With over five million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the U.S. and growing, due to aging demographics and climate change (ozone depletion), the need for Mohs surgery will only increase.

Given the efficacy of the procedure, and the scarcity of practitioners, Mohs surgeons are in high demand, and their compensation reflects this dynamic. In an age of production-based compensation, Mohs surgeons can command 50% plus of their collections, and can make well in excess of seven figures.

From a healthcare investment bank “transactional” perspective, in a rapidly evolving and consolidating dermatology industry, the presence of Mohs capabilities is a differentiator among practices and one that accretes significantly to financial performance, partner interest and ultimately, valuation.

The Evolution of Personal Care Companies

What do Harry’s, The Honest Company, Dollar Shave Club (acquired by Unilever in July 2016), Native, Schmidt’s, Lola, Hello, Brandless, and Quip, have in common? They’re all upstart personal care companies that are disrupting traditional Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands and upending the status quo, not only in e-Commerce shopping carts but on retail shelves as well. These new brands have gained rapid market share by launching savvy digital marketing campaigns, offering free trials, and enlisting consumers to subscription services.

Beyond these progressive marketing tactics, many of these upstart brands have also latched onto a key trend. Consumers are increasingly focused on ingredients, emphasizing the quality of ingredients is not just a trend in food and beverage. Consumers have voted with their wallets in the personal care category as well, seeking products with ingredients that are sustainable, fair trade, cruelty free, naturally derived, and recognizable. This “clean” approach to product development can make it difficult for established brands to maintain a product’s appeal or effectiveness after being reformulated.

In short, the rules are changing quickly in the CPG universe and smaller, nimble brands have recently proven to be better at adapting more rapidly than traditional CPG brands, which are struggling to keep up. The largest CPG brands are still able to lean on their relationships with retailers, where outspending others on slotting fees to dominate store shelves and sometimes gain category captaincy works in their favor. But as more private equity and venture capital groups inject substantial amounts of capital into upstart brands, that dynamic might change as well. Some of the recent, more aggressive investors in the space are able to wait years for companies to become profitable; think Brandless and The Honest Company.

It will be interesting to see how this dynamic evolves over time – will CPG companies adapt more quickly or will smaller brands continue to take larger bites of market share? Just as e-Commerce began to cannibalize sales in brick and mortar retail a decade ago, we may be on the verge of the status quo becoming permanently upended once again as smaller, upstart personal care companies disrupt major brands. Regardless of who emerges victorious from this David vs. Goliath struggle, consumers appear to be the ultimate winners with more choices, products with better ingredients, and more targeted and convenient shopping experiences.

Private Equity-Backed Specialty Physician Platforms – Where do we go from here?

Over the past five years there has been a tremendous amount of private equity investment in specialty physician groups. Seemingly every middle market sponsor with an interest in healthcare has sought or bought a specialty physician practice, be it in dermatology, dental, or ophthalmology, with the intent of building a platform by executing a “roll-up” strategy. Notably, many of these investments, through prodigious amounts of work, have succeeded in creating regional platforms of scale, with strong leadership and meaningful infrastructure.

However, this success has resulted in what some consider a cluttered market. Take, for example, the dermatology sector, where private equity is heavily invested. Presently, there are no fewer than 15 sponsor-backed, mid-sized dermatology platforms. With rival platforms competing for talent (both providers and administrators), acquisition opportunities, and market share, and given the fact that several of these companies are now nearing the end of the traditional five-year horizon that most private equity groups set for investments, a natural question to ask is: “How much longer do we think it will take before we start to see regional platform consolidation?” The answer is nuanced. In specialties that are recent arrivals to the “platform game,” such as gastroenterology and ophthalmology, it feels like we are perhaps eighteen months away from larger consolidation events. However, in more mature specialties like dermatology, it is increasingly likely that we’ll see meaningful platform consolidation in the next six to twelve months.

Consolidation is by no means the only possible outcome for regional specialty physician platforms. To this point, a large portion of investment in the sector has come from middle market PE firms. As several of these assets reach “scale,” and hit the market, another tier of private equity investors become candidates for buyers. PE firms that need to deploy significantly more capital to opportunities, given the size of their funds, are likely to carefully evaluate many of the specialty physician platforms we expect to come to market in the next twelve months. For those groups who love the original investment thesis around demographics, increased leverage with payors, and economies of scale, but were constrained by check size, this anticipated wave of deals could represent the opportunity to invest in an attractive space.

We’re excited to see how these dynamics play out, as sponsors consider strategic alternatives for their investments in the specialty physician space. The next six to twelve months should be active and interesting to those who’ve followed the histories of these platforms.

We’re here to help
Working with financial sponsors and specialty physician practices as they evaluate strategic alternatives for their businesses represents a significant portion of our work in the healthcare space. As a healthcare investment bank, MHT is extraordinarily active in the market, recently completing anesthesiology, dermatology, hospitalist, and emergency physician deals. We would love to be a resource for you as you consider the rapidly evolving healthcare landscape and the implications for your business.