Posts Tagged ‘University’
“Education is the cartel that technology is going to break next” “Higher education is just on the edge of the crevasse … I think even five years from now these enterprises are going to be in real trouble”. So where once you chose one college or university and hoped that each semester there would be an interesting subject available to you, the availability of MOOCs means that anyone with an internet connection can choose a course from the world’s top universities. For the remote and distant learners I work with, or those in developing countries where university-level education is not universally accessible, it means something even more – being able to study at all, and world-class courses at that. The other example of Education defying its ‘slow to adopt’ past has been the rise of mobile devices and the increased access to content they engender.
A world where online learning is generalised and ends up replacing other education delivery modes could seriously impact the original purpose of a university. The development of online courses in lieu of university-based teaching also poses a more practical problem for the humanities. More than other university areas, the humanities depend on public funds for teaching students. If students can access online modules for free from Ivy League universities, they may not want to spend tens of thousands on a degree at a traditional university. The hard sciences can seek industry partners for research funding, while the humanities largely depend on government grants. In a system where ‘impact’ is increasingly driving research, this would be the death knell for many departments who would struggle to make a case for the short-term practical relevance of their research in a free-market economy.
Overall, I think it’s very clear that people will have more opportunity to access education, but much less clear how that education will translate into opportunity, particularly for those who weren’t born to successful, educated parents. And except for a few superstars, I think the shift would be unequivocally bad for tenured professors. The corollary, however, is that it would be unequivocally good for the legions who are lured into grad school by the chimera of a tenured professorship.
Would it be good for society as a whole? I tend to think that it almost always is when things get cheaper. But we will have to rethink how we fund important research, and quite possibly, about what the engines of mobility will be for strivers who start out in the bottom quintiles.
On average, students pay $35,000 a year for the privilege of being educated at a private nonprofit American college. In December of 2011, indebtedness among college graduates reached an all-time high of one trillion dollars. But with unemployment among 16 to 29-year-olds also sky-rocketing, many young people are wondering whether a degree from a prestigious university holds the same value today as it did for their parents’ generation.
“Americans are hungry for better alternatives, yet fearful of leaving the tried-and-true path,” wrote Think Tank blogger Jason Gots in a previous post. Andrew Rosen, chairman and CEO of Kaplan, believes passionately that online universities could fill that role.
Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.
The traditional university, in his view, serves a fortunate few, inefficiently, with a business model built on exclusivity. “I’m not at all against the on-campus experience,” he said. “I love it. It’s great. It has a lot of things which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely uneconomical.”
I’ve been following the development (at a distance) of the OERu, and here’s my understanding of what it’s trying to do. The OERu (the Open Educational Resources University) aims to provide a route to formal accreditation through study of free open educational resources in the form of free courses and materials developed by accredited universities. To quote:
It does not confer degrees, but works in partnership with accredited educational institutions who provide assessment and credentialisation services on a fee-for-service basis
There are two aspects here: the provision of free open educational resources specifically designed for independent study by institutions offering accredited online programs; and the provision of assessment for qualification from one of the accredited partner institutions, or from the Network itself, presumably through a challenge exam or possibly through some process of prior learning assessment.
Thus while access to study materials is free, you have to pay an exam fee or fees in order to get the accreditation. What you don’t get is the online academic support you would get if you enrolled in the partner institutions and paid full fee. Thus while not completely free, the OERu would lead to substantially lower costs for learners (provided the exam fees are set at a reasonable level).
Open Educational Resources (OER) have become an unstoppable development since MIT started publishing educational resources online as OpenCourseWare (OCW) in 2001. Four years ago, the OCW Consortium was founded, and more that 250 institutions have since joined. The OCW Consortium is the largest international OER organization, but there are many other OER initiatives and organizations. At present, hundreds of higher education institutions worldwide produce, reuse, and remix educational materials. The fact that educational content is becoming more widely available—free and online—leads to the question: What role will colleges and universities play in the future? Some in higher education fear that when institutions “give away” their content, the only added value they have left is certification, turning colleges and universities from institutions of knowledge into educational certification factories.
Colleges and universities have no reason to view OER as a threat. On the contrary, OER can help institutions provide higher education to rapidly increasing numbers of students and lifelong learners. Traditional colleges and universities, with their experience and reputation, are in a good position to further develop online teaching, testing, learning communities, and certification. Those that produce high-quality knowledge, teaching, and students have little to fear, and much to gain, from Open Educational Resources.
“Software, technology, knowledge and culture should be free!” summarizes the battle cry of the activists of “free”. It’s only by by putting free technology in the hands of free and empowered people that one can achieve wider freedom in the 21st century, according to Benjamin Mako Hill. But this situation can only be achieved by realism, hard work and training. “An education in free technology means an important step toward being able to realize ones autonomy as granted by free software” says Hill, who was a guest lecturer in the inaugural year of the Free Technology Academy (FTA). The FTA wants to provide university-level training to IT-professionals, educators, decision makes and IT-students. Is it possible to move beyond free activism and provide real-world training that appeals to university students and graduates and the market place? Is there a future for the Free Technology Academy? In order to answer this question, Jan Stedehouder, journalist and Dutch open source activist, looked into the first year results of the FTA and interviewed current students and the 2010 guest lecturers Benjamin Mako Hill and John “Maddog” Hall.
Current conversations on the state of academia contain a broad sense of crisis over changes in the body of university knowledge—the decline of literature, the unbridling of ethnic studies, the growth of various applied programs, and so on. Much of the concern revolves around a perceived deterioration of the academic core in which, the thinking goes, the university’s teaching and research priorities are increasingly compromised by external financial and political interests.
With data on faculty and course composition over the twentieth century for a global sample of universities, this book provides an examination unprecedented in scope and scale of changes in academia. The authors document the changing emphases accorded the branches of learning, the applied and basic divisions, and the disciplinary fields. They find deep transformations, as anticipated, but offer a new explanation for these shifts. Changes in academic focus are less the work of outside interest groups, but instead are cultural maps to the altering features of globally institutionalized understandings of reality.
Even with backers among the faculty, e-portfolio initiatives can be slow to take hold across university and college campuses. What does it take to encourage adoption? One professor who’s championing a faculty-driven e-portfolio initiative at the University of Cincinnati shares some of his insights.