Tag Archives: universities

MOOCs are here. How should state universities respond?

Southwesternuniversity

Here is a short essay on MOOCs that Drs. Steve Vardeman and Max Morris, Statistics faculty at Iowa State University, gave me permission to share. Their essential premises? That MOOCs are going to rock state (and other) universities’ worlds, that most institutions should immediately institute moratoriums on hiring new faculty and building new facilities, and that universities need to focus on clarifying their value proposition in a world of ‘commodity [higher] education.’

The full essay is below. What do you think?

The Inevitable Coming Impact of Online Education on State Universities and Rational Response to What is Coming
Stephen B. Vardeman and Max D. Morris

The recent appearance and publicity of organizations created to provide “massively open online courses” (MOOCs) is a truly revolutionary development in higher education. The free-for-anyone web-based courses offered by professors at select universities, and produced by Coursera, EdEX, and Udacity, were initially offered without traditional college credit. But this is already changing; participating universities are already offering credit for courses delivered through these outlets, at prices (split between the university and the MOOC provider) well below standard tuition levels. It seems clear that in relatively short order, there will be MOOC versions of many of the large-enrollment freshman- and sophomore-level courses taught at most major universities, and that students will be able to acquire transferable credits for these courses at the accredited schools for substantially less money than the tuition now charged for similar on-campus courses. In 21st century America, where many new college students reach graduation only by acquiring a mountain of personal debt, this can be regarded as welcome news. But for the nation’s educational institutions, the changes (which we believe will unfold very quickly) will present massive challenges.

In the following, we outline what we see as the “realities” and “consequences” of this revolution, and “options” that should be considered now for university administrators and faculty. Our particular perspective is in the context of the generic “Well Respected State University” (WRSU), which represents an enormous proportion of the traditional American college system.

Realities

The coming impact of MOOCs is begin made possible by a number of factors. First among these is clearly the technical capability, via the evolving internet, to physically produce courses that can be viewed at little or no expense by a huge proportion of the world’s population. But there are other factors involved as well, including the public perception of the nature and value of higher education, and economic forces. In particular,

  1. The American public now views most of “higher” education (extending through masters level) as a “commodity,” something thought of primarily in business terms, that will be sold primarily on the basis of price and convenience, subject to meeting of a minimum standard of quality (for the given species of product). University administrators have generally adopted this viewpoint as well, often using terms such as “customer,” “stake holder,” and “marketing” to describe how the school relates to students, their parents, and others.
  2. Technology is now enabling mass production and mass distribution of increasingly low cost coursework of acceptable (and increasing) quality. The organizations that produce MOOCs are well-funded and have selectively associated themselves with universities that have the capability of meeting any “quality” challenge that could arise.
  3. The economics of commodity education (as with all other commodities) will always be driven by competition toward increasing efficiency, lower cost, and improved quality. The innovation of combining high-quality on-line education with traditional college credit at a reduced cost can be compared to the innovation of the Model T Ford. Just as mechanization forever changed agriculture and mass production forever changed the making of hard goods, these innovations will change commodity education forever.
  4. Specialty/niche markets can exist where “hand crafting” with relatively high “profit” margins carries on, while commodity prices decline drastically. Highly respected liberal arts colleges will continue to attract the small minority of students for whom the element of personal involvement is important … and who can afford to pay the required fees. The majority of state universities, however, will not be able to continue operating as they have in the past.
  5. To be absolutely clear, in almost every case, WRSU is not positioned to be at all successful competing for commodity sales. The well-funded start-ups and consortia already have huge professional production staffs working with the best academic institutions on delivering very carefully made courses. In contrast, most university “Distance Ed” programs could be carried out as effectively by arming every faculty member with a tablet PC and capture software. Existing (or even improved) on-line courses, produced by most educational institutions, offered at present rates of tuition, cannot hope to compete with the coming alternatives. And there will be no incentive for any of the current MOOC providers to affiliate with more schools than are really needed to support the new system. The inevitable fate of most state universities is that more and more of their future graduates will be taking (and paying for) fewer and fewer of their courses at their alma mater.

Consequences

The realities described above carry with them consequences which will constitute a massive change in the environment in which WRSU must operate. Our belief is that these will evolve more quickly than most people expect, but whether the time-frame is 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years, these consequences are very predictable:

  1. For most state universities, tuition income will drop precipitously, as students do more and more of their courses at their kitchen tables. In addition, the state revenue reductions of the last few decades will surely continue, especially as on-campus enrollments drop and legislators are even more tempted to spend public money elsewhere. Together, these two trends will force dramatic decreases in funding available to state universities. Except at the very best research institutions (and despite the self-images that may exist on campus, very few WRSU’s can claim to be these exceptions), funded research cannot begin to cover these losses.
  2. It will be increasingly hard to justify the expense required to maintain the faculty and physical plants of most state universities. In the worst case, draconian measures will be necessary to reduce faculty head counts, some institutions will simply close down, and university assets, no longer needed to physically educate so many on-campus students, will be sold. In general, pressure on faculty and departments will increase dramatically as the issue becomes one of institutional survival.
  3. Especially for large departments that have, in the past, justified faculty lines with large-enrollment service courses, there will be increased pressure to justify their relatively large departmental budgets.

Options

As outlined above, the rapidly changing environment of higher education will impose severe constraints on most public universities. However, there are choices that can be made. While many of them will be unpleasant (at least in the minds of those invested in the traditional system of higher education), they should be addressed by WRSU administrators and faculty now, because delay will only reduce the number of alternatives available. First of all, current strategic plans, based primarily on pre-MOOC logic, should be immediately reviewed, and much in them modified. In particular:

  1. For most state universities, a hiring freeze should be seriously considered immediately. Even if enrollments have seen recent increases, the evidence that this cannot continue is overwhelming.
  2. For most state universities, serious consideration should be given to radically changed building plans immediately. In place of big lecture halls, testing centers should be built. Physical inefficiencies should be addressed, and the overall strategy of physical plant development should be reoriented toward the idea that less, rather than more, facilities will be needed.

But simple reduction without a strategy for what comes next is not sufficient. WRSU will need to develop a clear value proposition, and put full energy into delivering it:

  1. Institutions and departments must immediately face up to the value proposition required in commodity education. Most state institutions cannot participate in the MOOC movement and do not have the capability to justify themselves by shifting from “education” to “research.” The question that must be answered by WRSU is: What do we have, or can we quickly develop, that is of real value and can be delivered at a price the new market will bear and will support us going forward? And the first step in answering this question must be an honest reflection on the “ground truth” of the institution; these decisions cannot be made with a “Lake Woebegone” mentality that insists on an “above average” self-image.
  2. Each institution will need to come to terms with what its role can be in commodity education. In nearly all cases, it will at best be a user of MOOCs, NOT a provider. One of its major roles will be in offering the kind of assistance that can only be provided personally (e.g. tutoring), and testing/providing credit for what is learned from externally provided course material. It is likely that courses that contain hands-on experience in laboratory facilities (e.g. chemistry), require one-on-one interaction (e.g. music), or rely on group experiences (e.g. engineering design) will be difficult to adapt to the MOOC model – How can WRSU make the most of its ability to continue this kind of education? Specific strategies will vary by institution, but they will all require huge changes.
  3. All WRSU units, both administrative and academic, need to immediately focus on efficiency and activities that deliver unique value to the institution and students. Administrators must become much more responsive to the new, real challenges that face their institutions, focus on what roles their institutions can realistically play, and become much more willing to make well-reasoned hard choices concerning change. Faculty must understand that former cultures of “entitlement” cannot continue, that the concept of “academic freedom” is likely to be reshaped to focus more on the needs of the institution than the individual faculty member, and that these challenges will require substantial sacrifices from everyone.

Almost inevitably, the advent of large-enrollment, on-line college courses will put many colleges and universities out of business, and dramatically reduce the size of many others. In this new environment, there may also be opportunities for some educational institutions to offer new and valuable components to college education (even if much-reduced in scale relative to plans they have made in the past). But this will not happen without serious and realistic thought and planning – of a qualitatively different nature than has ever been needed before — by administrators and faculty.

Image credit: South Western (sic) University, Dallas, Texas

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

‘Rock star’ professor lectures + Lower-cost instructional facilitators = The future of higher education?

if Harvard is offering online courses with world famous professors, what exactly is the justification for offering an inferior product at a much higher cost? It is not at all clear why the “research university” model, with its extremely high costs and inflexible structure, should be the delivery system of choice for postsecondary education across the whole country. Many students might be much better served with a system in which a “rock star” professor delivers lectures online, while specially trained and qualified (but quite likely non-PhD) instructors lead discussions, work one-on-one with students, and grade papers.
A school set up like this would likely offer a much better quality of undergraduate education than lower-tier research universities offer today, with more individual attention and a much, much lower cost.

This kind of change would have to come almost literally over the dead bodies of the current faculties in many schools. . . .

These changes will ultimately be beneficial, though the costs will be real. Society simply needs more education than the classical research university can provide at an acceptable cost. Cheaper, better, more convenient and more democratic: it is hard to win a fight against an alternative that offers so much to so many.

In an ideal world, university professors and other intellectuals would have been thinking about these problems for many years. They would be the pioneers in innovation and experiment. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. The intellectual establishment is fully on the defensive. It is circling the wagons. It instinctively identifies attacks on the existing model with the worst kind of populist ignorance and bigotry. Nobody is angrier, nastier or more self-righteous than an intellectual whose livelihood is under threat.

Walter Russell Mead via http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/06/26/university-of-virginia-only-the-beginning

Where new learning models will thrive

There is incredible diversity within our higher-education system. I have personally witnessed a class taught by a full professor to two (2!) undergraduates at a wealthy liberal-arts college and read senior theses produced in close collaboration with full-time research faculty that would put most graduate work to shame. Online higher education can’t touch that. But I’ve also seen—and participated in—big lecture classes that are worse than well-designed online courses. The difference between what higher learning should be in theory and what it really is in practice (and what’s feasible given the current economic and funding environment) is vast. And it’s in that space that new organizations are going to thrive.

Kevin Carey via http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/freemium-higher-education/45333

#MobilityShifts – Day 4: Open Access, Mobile Devices, and Connected Learning [guest post]

Mimi Ito speaking at #MobilityShifts

This conference gets better and better. Given the quality and pace of thought coming from some of the speakers, I’ve been severely challenged (even at my reasonably rapid touch-typing speed) getting down some of the ideas to share here!

I attended three sessions today:

  1. Does What We Know Belong to All? The Intellectual Property Principles (John Willinsky)
  2. Mobile phones in learning (Various)
  3. Learning with Social and Mobile Media (Mimi Ito)

Does What We Know Belong to All? The Intellectual Property Principles

I hadn’t come across John Willinsky’s work before today, but having heard him speak I’m now a big fan. I think he and Mimi Ito are perhaps two of the best speakers I’ve ever heard – and I saw them both in the same day! John teaches at Stanford and is both engaging and persuasive.

His argument is a straightforward one: academic research should available to all. John began by highlighting something that’s a huge problem for professional people all over the world, something that he highlighted with a very graphic example. In the graduation ceremony for trainee teachers at his previous institution they used big scissors to cut up the (now ex-student’s) library card. What kind of message is this he asked? We need to give teachers access to the latest research, not tell them that they no longer need to engage in such activities.

I attempted in the Q&A session and the workshop that followed John’s talk to provoke him into saying that we don’t actually need academic journals. He was very careful, with a twinkle in his eye, to say that is not his aim. What he’s trying to do is make journal articles open access or, in other words, make sure that a Google Scholar search gives those outside the walls of the university access to full-text PDFs.

Delving into the philosophical and legal past, John showed how treating research differently from commercial interests has a long history. I won’t go into that here (it was mainly around Locke’s ‘On Property’) but suffice to say it’s difficult to argue against his contention that the wider our work circulates, the more it increases in value. Although I have slight reservations about trusting Google to serve up the world’s academic articles, I do use Google Scholar extensively and it’s a potential stepping-stone to a Wikipedia-like non-profit aggregation platform.

I’ve already demonstrated my commitment to open access publishing by not only sharing my thesis online as I wrote it but, now that it’s submitted, donating the text to the public domain under a CC0 license. Many other academics have released their work under other Creative Commons licenses. Ideas want to be free!

Mobile Phones in Learning

I ended up walking out early of the second session, unfortunately. The first of the three speakers, Bob Klein was excellent, clearly articulating his attempts to bring the book ‘up to date’ and make rich, multimedia publishing tools available to all. Bob is well known for his work on The Future of the Book and technologies such as CommentPress (now Digress.it) that allow readers to comment on individual sections of a work such as paragraphs.

Bob’s latest project is SocialBook, the private beta for which is due in November. I’ll certainly look out for that as I really liked the way in which Bob talked about how the book is a place’ where readers, and sometimes authors, gather in the margins. Changing the nature of the book, however, means rethinking the whole ecosystem. Just as with Amazon’s Kindle, you can highlight and comment on sections of the book, but SocialBook is entirely browser-based and based on the ePub3 specficiation. I think its got real potential in education.

Bob closed with a clip of Marshall McLuhan talking, over 40 years ago, about the ways in which we try and fit old ideas into new forms of expression. Instead of doing that, argued McLuhan, we should be thinking about the affordances of those new forms of expression. I think this applies partcularly to mobile learning.

Unfortunately, the second two speakers weren’t great. Giselle Beiguelman subjected us to about four minutes of video which was accompanied with a cell-phone generated ‘music’ soundtrack that eventually made me stick my fingers in my ears. Note to presenters: you only have to play clips of videos to make your point! I walked out shortly after Tomi T. Ahonen started. I couldn’t stand the self-promotion, generic presentation, lazy statistics and technological determinism. I wasnt the only one to leave.

Learning with Social and Mobile Media

Mimi Ito has two PhDs and is possibly the most eloquent speaker on the planet. She started with a conversation she had with her 13 year-old daughter in the car recently. “I wonder what it’s like to be a typical teenager” said her daughter, meaning those teens who are always on Facebook and texting. Mimi pointed out that conceiving of a ‘digital generation’ has a flattening effect with common-sense telling us that young people’s media use is as stratified as ours. It’s a technically determinist frame that ignores the diversity of young people’s experience of new media.

What’s more interesting than focusing on the outcomes of engagement, argued Mimi, is focusing on who gets to have those experiences. In other words, we need to close the equity gap. Mimi is well known for a book to which she heavily contributed, ‘Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media’. This shared the findings of MacArthur-funded fieldwork between 2005 and 2008, that found:

  1. There is a profound and resilient gap between young and older people’s attitudes toward online media.
  2. There are a variety of learning outcomes, such as baseline literacies/competencies, and technical skills, that result from immersion in new media.
  3. A minority of young people are doing truly extraordinary things with new media.

Mimi is particularly interested in this last group in the follow-up work she has started. Why, if anyone has the ability to broadcast to the world through YouTube, do more teenagers not have videos with 1 million+ hits? The answer, Mimi suggested, is the difference between friendship-driven and interest-driven participation. The former is the digital equivalent of hanging out and flirting, whereas the latter involves participation in ‘affinity spaces’. I should have taken a picture of Mimi’s venn diagram, which consisted of the following circles:

  • Interests, Affinity
  • Friendships, Community
  • Reputation, Achievement

The centre of all this is ‘Connected Learning’, something that YouMedia, the Quest to Learn schools and Mozilla’s Open Badges are trying to help facilitate. Mimi’s work now is looking at what it takes to take the learning from online communities and make it consequential in the offline world. Her research found that, for most people, becoming a really good gamer or fan fiction writer has little impact in other areas of power. Mimi wants to find a way to make this experience “relevant, visible and connected.” We need to find opportunities for young people to exploit what it takes to advocate for their own interests and passions in adult life.

Interestingly, in the Q&A session, Mimi indicated that her hunch for what it is that helps bridge the gap from the ‘Interests, Affinity’ bubble to the ‘Reputation, Achievement’ bubble is a caring adult who helps mediate between the two worlds. We need to focus on the quality of the social relationships. I wonder if she’s seen Sugata Mitra’s ‘Granny Cloud’?

Conclusion

I was inspired by the passion and enthusiasm of John Willinsky, Bob Stein and Mimi Ito today. All three are doing fantastic work in making this world a better place through opening up research, making books more social, and finding how to build on young people’s interests and talents. It would be a tragedy if their ideas are ignored, neglected or overlooked because of convenient excuses such as the financial crisis. I look forward to following their work more closely in future!

Three random things I saw in New York today

  1. Someone (seemingly asleep) in a shopping trolley
  2. A taxi driver jump out of his car and punch someone for jaywalking
  3. A coat hook that someone had turned into an octopus (see below!)

Coat hook Octopus



Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf


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