If Change is Inevitable–Is Progress Optional? Four Education Institutions Opting for Progress

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” Tony Robbins

change-architect-sign1The above quote from author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins sums up Dr.  Richard DeMillo’s presentation The Fate of American Colleges and Universities delivered in May of last year at Dartmouth University. Readers might be familiar with DeMillo—professor of computer science, speaker, author of several articles and books including Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities (2011). He currently serves as Director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. His talk carried a similar message that’s outlined in his book— colleges and universities in the Middle will need to change—and if they don’t they’ll be headed for irrelevance and marginalization‘ (MIT Press). It’s been three years since the book’s publication and many of his warnings about higher education appear close to reality.  In the book and in his talk at Dartmouth, DeMillo doesn’t candy coat his message, wrap it up into a more digestible form, but serves it straight.

The system of higher education…is not a sustainable system. I don’t know anyone who has seriously looked at American higher education that can come to the conclusion that what we are doing is financially, socially, pedagogically and morally sustainableRichard DeMillo, Dartmouth University, May 7, 2013

Though the message may be grim, the education sector needs individuals like DeMillo with their extensive experience and knowledge of higher education to tell it like it is. Granted, some will say DeMillo is wrong, is only making predictions and value judgements. However, three years after Abelard to Apple’s release, events described are no longer predictions

Responses to The Message
DeMillo describes leaders’ reactions to what he has to say—some are open, eager to look for ways to adapt to change and move forward, and others are unaware, dismissive, or even defensive.

University leadership in the United States for the most part is unaware that the crossroads is ahead.  […] The obvious question is how so many smart people could miss what seems to be an inevitable crisis?”  Richard Demillo, Abelard to AppleThe Fate of American Colleges and Universities (2011)

But many institutions are listening, are opting for progress, embracing change and striving to remain relevant. Below I share four examples of institutions that are choosing to implement strategies for change. Some projects are complex, are institution-wide, engaging the majority stakeholders. Others are on a smaller scale, yet no less bold.

Readers may question whether all initiatives are progressive, a way forward. Some appear to be going backward, as the University System of Georgia where several institutions are merging, resulting in some institutions names disappearing altogether. Though institutional leaders of these schools might say that it is progress for the long-term, with changes in the short-term that are difficult.

Below are descriptions of the strategies of each, and related links to outside sources with further information.

Four Institutions Opting for Progress

1. Corporate Sponsored Degree Program: University of Maryland, Cybersecurity

Strategy: Universities are beginning to seek funding support for undergraduate programs by partnering with corporations and other private institutions to build infrastructure and curricula for specialized degree programs. Companies are motivated to do so, hoping to fill skill gaps within their own workforce by creating a pool of educated potential candidates. This initiative is part of University of Maryland’s overall plan to remain financially sustainable, and relevant; it has also cut costs by eliminating seven varsity sports teams and forcing faculty and staff to take furlough days.

change_image2. Strategic Planning InitiativeBeyond Forward, Dartmouth University

Strategy:  Dartmouth University provides an illustrative example of an institution seeking to embrace change and prepare for the future by implementing a comprehensive strategic planning effort. Dartmouth’s end goal—’to identify significant opportunities and challenges as we consider an ambitious and forward-looking course for Dartmouth’s future.’  The website describing the program is detailed, sharing many resources, including the recorded talks of experts and scholars as part of the Leading Voices in Education series of which DeMillo was one. The two-year effort involved over 3,000 stakeholders including faculty, administrators, staff, students and alumni, and assigned nine working groups a topic to research, report upon and develop recommendations for. Impressive. To learn more, you can read Dartmouth’s Synthesis report of ‘Beyond Forward‘. Other institutions that have implemented a similar strategic initiative and shared the process are Georgia Tech University, Brandeis University, and Brown University.

Strategic planning is the first significant phase of opting for progress, however putting the plan into action—the execution of the plan requires more than talking about and planning for change, it’s about making it happen. Action.

3. Institutional MergersUniversity System of Georgia

Strategy: The primary motivation for education institutions to merge is to realize costs savings through sharing of administrative expenses common to each, i.e. finance, human resources, facilitation services, IT, etc. Universities merging is not new. There’s been several examples of institutions coming together over the years. Though recent mergers are on a large-scale. Not two institutions merging, but in the State of Georgia’s case, eight in all since 2012. As you can imagine, these actions are drastic, messy, often chaotic and stressful for all involved. Even more so when communication is poor, which it usually is. Though perhaps necessary to remain viable, and may be a way forward, no doubt it must appear institutions are taking several steps back. Successful mergers require a tremendous amount of planning, communication and diplomacy. Merging Into Controversy, Inside Higher Ed (2014).

4. MOOC-Inspired Initiatives. Penn State, flex-MOOC and Georgia Tech Institute.

Strategy: There are a few institutions seeking to use the MOOC format to seek sustainability for the long-term. Even though MOOCs continue to enroll and engage thousands of students, few higher education institutions have demonstrated how MOOCs will contribute to its sustainability, relevance, and direction for the future (more so when there is no strategic plan for the future). Two schools that are taking a step forward are Georgia Tech with its Online Master of Science in Computer Science and Penn State.

Georgia Tech: “OMS CS officially launches with first cohort Today about 375 students begin coursework as the first cohort in Georgia Tech’s online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) program, offered in collaboration with Udacity and AT&T. The group was admitted from some 2,360 applications…”

Penn State: “A flex-MOOC is a MOOC that offers content in modules that the learner can assemble into a personally relevant “course” and giving learners control over content, the sequence and timeline…creating a learning path that is relevant given learners’ individual contexts, strengths, and leaning needs.”

Closing
Change will happen. It is happening. Examining how institutions handle change, move forward is instructive. Is not changing an option and the right thing to do? Possibly. But making a decision not to change but is backed by a strategy, makes sense, not changing with no strategy doesn’t. How does your institution deal with change?

Related Reading:

Image credits: ‘Time for Change’, by marsmetn tallahasse, Flickr

An Unique Approach to a xMOOC — Learner-Centric Course Design

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Applied Sustainability” Fanshawe College

Not all MOOCs are created equal. I know of one, Applied Sustainability, delivered by a community college in Ontario, Canada that defies what many have come to expect from a Massive Open Online Course offered through a university-sponsored platform such as Coursera, Open2Study or edX. What makes Applied Sustainability offered by Fanshawe College unique?  It’s the learner-centric course design that makes it different, where the focus is on students and their learning. This approach contrasts with an instructor-centric design—an approach which emphasizes content delivered by faculty with a learning strategy that follows accordingly. Though both formats are applicable in given learning situations, few student-centric course designs in xMOOCs exist, which is what motivated me to share a learner-centric design example with readers. It’s a worthy endeavor for educators to explore and consider different approaches to course design for MOOCs, to improve upon what already exists, and bring xMOOCs to the next level.

How Fanshawe’s MOOC is Unique:  Fanshawe’s MOOC takes the form of an educative journey that engages students in the learning process with active, and practical learning assignments that make learning meaningful, relevant and specific to each student.

The interview approach supported the practical focus of the MOOC – as the interviewer was learning along with the student, as opposed to having an expert deliver a presentation.”  MOOCs at Fanshawe

This approach contrasts significantly with the course design model that the majority of MOOCs delivered on university platforms feature.  The pedagogical methods used in xMOOCs  are remarkably similar to the traditional classroom format—course content delivered via the subject matter expert. xMOOCs typically are associated with top-tier higher education institutions, and are led by faculty members, sometimes referred to as ‘super professors‘, or ‘talking heads’, labeled (not so kindly) by MOOC skeptics. The instructors deliver content that mirrors the classroom method quite closely, but without the accessibility and feedback capability that instructors offer. Fanshawe’s format is closer to the original version of MOOCs as its co-creators [Downes and Siemens] introduced in 2008, where the focus was on learning within a network where knowledge is co-created, not from one expert i.e. the super-professor, but from many sources including the learners within the course.

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Image from Presentation Slide featuring student project, posted during Webinar with Contact North, with Wendy Wilson describing the MOOC’s development strategy

“For the students, the most significant benefits they reported on the first offering of this MOOC were the changes they made in their thinking, behaviour, and habits concerning sustainability – for some it was truly life changing.The wide range of students from around the world appreciated the truly applied nature of the course.”

Course Description: Applied Sustainability: The course is designed to emphasize the practical and the personal elements of sustainability, with each of the six modules featuring on-site video interviews in locations and with experts involved with different aspects of sustainability. The themes of the modules focus on: water, waste and wastefulness; homes; streets and neighbourhoods; cities and regions; policies and certifications; and a final section on our community, your community. Applied Sustainability, Desire2Learn

Below is a brief outline the characteristics of Fanshawe’s MOOC that make it unique. For readers interested in learning more, the Pockets of Innovation series on Contact North’s website provides further background and description—Designing and Offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at Fanshawe College.

Characteristics of the Learner-Centric Design

1) Diffusion of subject matter expertise: Rather than one subject-matter expert leading the course, there is an interviewer who travels to visit numerous subject matter experts in the field. The interviewer acts as the ‘host’ of the course, going on exploratory journey along with the students to learn about applied sustainability by conducting interviews with experts in the field.

“Three short videos (8 to 10 minutes) highlight three specific themes through visits to facilities directly related to waste and water such as the Greenway Wastewater Plant and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (pictured below). Staff interviews, facilities tours, and demonstrations of their ongoing work are presented.  The interview approach supported the practical focus of the MOOC – as the interviewer was learning along with the student, as opposed to having an expert deliver a presentation.  Topic-related links are provided to articles, report summaries, videos, TED talks, and other resources.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 7.22.07 AM

Presentation Slide posted during Webinar with Contact North, featuring Wendy Wilson describing the MOOC’s development strategy

2) Reliance on open resources, with a collection of curated resources. Students accessed content on the course topic (sustainability) primarily from the experts in the field, on the field trips with interviewer, and by exploring list of curated resources provided on the course site. The resources are from a variety of sources, with very few coming from scholarly or peer-reviewed sources.

3) Customization of learning experience. The Fanshawe MOOC provided options for students to customize their learning by offering four options for course participation. The four levels of achievement—Green, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

“… At the Silver level, students take part in weekly discussion on such topics as the use of rain barrels and antibiotics in agriculture.  The Gold level involves completion of a weekly task, such as undertaking a three-day waste audit at home, posting a photo of the accumulated waste, and reflecting on personal consumption and disposal habits. The Platinum level of achievement requires the completion of one project over the length of the course, assisted by a project manager from Fanshawe. The project-options include creating a Green Gaming Journal by using a blog, Tumblr, YouTube, or a podcast to comment on the green elements of a video game with ecological themes, such as SimCity. Another choice involves using QGIS, an open source geographic mapping system, to map a neighbourhood and analyze issues such as park vs residential space usage.”

Conclusion
We can credit MOOCs for generating discussions among educators and stakeholders about technological advancements and education, specifically how technology can be used to improve access, quality and cost. Yet we need to move discussions about online education forward, and one dimension which needs attention is how to create learning experiences for students that are relevant and meaningful. The current format of most xMOOCs are not much different from the traditional instructor-focused model, yet student-centered course design is a viable option very worthy of our time and energy.

Update: After this post went live, two other institutions reached out to share MOOC, learner-center models.  Open2Study, customizes courses for the MOOC format; you can read more from the comment posted. Another, Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning is developing a ‘flex-MOOC’ framework, which appears to have much potential.

Further Reading:

Why Educators Need to Know Learning Theory

This is the second in a three-part series about Learning Design. The first post introduced the Learning Design Framework; a guide for educators to create optimal learning experiences for students by leveraging: 1) content resources, 2) collaborative web resources and 3) human resources. This second post focuses on learning theory and how it applies to not only course design, but educators’ role in creating excellent learning experiences for their students.  Note: this is a revised version of a post that appeared on January 19, 2014. 

800px-Theory_(Clothing)_Logo

We need to study learning theory so we can be more effective as educators. In this post I bridge the gap between learning theory and effective educators; describe why we need to start at A to get to B.  I also describe how a grasp of learning theory translates to knowledge of instructional methods, that moves educators towards creating optimal learning environments.  Post one of this series described optimal learning environments in the context of a framework that includes three dimensions of resources. Post three will include scenarios of institutions applying the principles of the framework, and in this post we take a step back to examine briefly the underpinnings of pedagogical methods.

This article covers three categories of learning theories, objectivist, constructivist, and connectivist.  Connectivism is relatively new [2004].  Its theoretical principles describe how learning happens within a networked and connected society. Objectivist and constructivist theories have, and continue to have, significant influence on teaching methods and practices in K-12, higher education and professional development programs. Connectivism on the other hand, is associated with learning in an open virtual space on the web, typically in massive open online courses or MOOCs.

The theories differ significantly in the perspectives on learning, though each has influenced and shaped instructional methods and practices to some degree. An example is assessment practices using standardized tests. This method is based upon principles of the behaviorist learning theory: instructor delivers content → student studies to commit knowledge to memory → completes an assessment → feedback is provided on his or her responses. This is one example I use here to [try to] emphasize the point that educators are better equipped to handle a variety of learning situations with an understanding of how these theories affect teaching methods.

Theories of Learning

Objectivist Theories
The objectivist learning category includes both the behaviorist and cognitivist theories. Each views knowledge as existing as an entity ‘outside’ the mind of the individual. Behaviorists’ suggest knowledge is transmitted to the learner without any interpretation or contextualization by the learner. Learning is reinforced in the memory through drill and practice. The founder of the behavioral learning theory, B.F. Skinner, conducted extensive experiments in the 1950’s of which several were dedicated to learning methods research. Skinner theorized that learning could be shaped by reinforcements that followed learner behavior; the principles were foundational to Skinner’s behaviorist learning theory.

The cognitive learning theory built upon the principles of behavioral learning theory. Cognitive psychologists focused on internal thought processes of the learner, not just the observable behaviours as the objectivists did. This theory emphasizes internal thought, focuses on mental structures and processes of the learner and its application to learning. Robert Gagne is an influential educational psychologist who developed the cognitive-behaviorst theory, which suggests learning is shaped by providing optimal conditions for learning. He developed the theory of conditions of learning and the nine events of instruction.

Constructivist Theories
The constructivist perspective took the cognitivist principles one step further by asserting that individuals construct knowledge from within, by engaging in problem solving, experiential and/or social learning experiences. Constructivism puts learners in the center of the learning process, and suggests that learners contribute to knowledge construction by activating prior knowledge and personal experiences. Learning is viewed as adapting one’s mental models to new experiences and knowledge. Several theorists that were part of the constructivist movement include John Dewy, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, and Jerome Bruner.

“Network”

Connectivism Theory
The very new learning theory, connectivism, developed by Stephen Downes and George Siemens is a response to society’s connectedness within a network of digital infrastructure. The connected approach views the student as the driver of learning; where the learner connects with, and builds knowledge via the connections [nodes] made within a network. Nodes can be resources or people. Connectivism is “driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital” (Siemens, 2004).  Connectivism is the theory behind massive open online courses, MOOCs. But MOOCs with a ‘c’ for cMOOC, which incorporates the connectivist theory, in contrast to xMOOCs offered through higher education platforms such as edX and Coursera that offer MOOCs that follow more of the objectivist, and some the constructivist approach.

Conflict in Theories
Constructivists’ and objectivists’ have different views on the conditions that contribute to learning, but of most significance is the difference in viewpoints of how (and where) learning happens—one views that knowledge is transmitted, the other that knowledge is constructed from within. The conflict between the two theories is ongoing. However, the root of the differences between the theories of constructivist, objectivist, and connectivism, is best described as a difference in epistemology—the nature, scope and development of human knowledge.

 Learning Theories and Instructional Methods 
The learning theory’s philosophy of how learning transpires as reviewed, does translate into a set of instructional methods. Below are characteristics of each of the three described above. Readers will likely be very familiar with most if not all.

Characteristics of Instructional Methods Associated with Objectivist Theories

  • Instruction is directive
  • Instructors transmit body of knowledge/skills to learners
  • Assessments: multiple choice, short answer tests, or essays and projects graded by rubrics or checklists
  • Students require prerequisite skills for advancing through curriculum
  • Instruction is sequential, linear, standardized
  • Efficient

And Characteristics with Constructivist Theories

  • Universal goals such as problem solving and critical thinking
  • Students generate knowledge through collaborative group work
  • Learning is not linear, often exploratory in nature
  • Prerequisite knowledge not always required or considered
  • Instruction emphasizes learning in experiential contexts
  • Learning is social
  • Assessment varies

And Characteristics with Connectivist Theory

  • Learning is primarily online, open, learners engage within network
  • Learning objectives are not pre-determined, emerge throughout the course, determined by learners’ needs
  • Variety of content sources on web, extensive, accessible
  • Learners are self-directed, independent, know how-to-learn
  • Prerequisites not required
  • Learning is often disorganized, chaotic

Implications for Creating Optimal Learning
Is one set of instructional methods better than the other? No—and this is the crux of the post, that there is a variety of methods that serve different learning needs. It’s the skilled and intuitive educator that analyzes a learning situation, leverages the resources at his or her disposal (as per the Learning Design Framework) and is able to analyze the situation and design the very best learning experience for his or her student.

“[Learning theories] outlined [above] suggest a set of instructional principles that can guide the practice of teaching and the design of learning environments. It is important that design practices, must do more than merely accommodate the [theory's] perspective, they should also support the creation of powerful learning environments [specific to the student]” from Constructivism, Instructional Design, and Technology: Implications for Transforming Distance Learning, Tam, 2000

Stay tuned for part three of the Learning Design series.

References

  • Tam, M. “Constructivism, Instructional Design, and Technology: Implications for Transforming Distance Learning”, Educational Technology & Society 3(2) 2000
  • The Learning Design Framework, Online Learning Insights

Image credit: Theory clothing logo, by WestportWiki. Used under the Creative Commons share alike license.

Online Learning Insights Blog: 2013 in Review

New year 2013Happy New Year!  After reading several year-in-review blog posts and two from blogs I follow closely [e-literate and Hack Education], I was motivated to write a similar post. I’m also writing this post in hopes that it will overcome my writer’s block [I've struggled with writing a post for three days now]. Let the words come forth!

I’ve included below the top five posts for Online Learning Insights in 2013 and close with thanks to readers and specific individuals that have commented consistently here.

Top Five Posts of 2013 on Online Learning Insights

  1. How Not to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix It, posted on February 1. This post generated robust discussion—heated and charged discussion occurring within 145 comments in total. The traffic on this post is a reflection of MOOC-mania that was in full swing in early 2013.
  2. Five-step Strategy for Student Success with Online Learning, posted on September 28, 2012, which struck me as odd given the post generated very little traffic at all in 2012. However that’s inconsequential—all that matters is that the post provided support and help to online students in some way in 2013 [and continues to do so].
  3. The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity posted three days after the How Not to Design a MOOC post.
  4. How to Create a Personal Learning Portfolio: Students and Professionals, posted on January 30, 2013.
  5. Why Online Courses [Really] Need an Instructional Design Strategy, posted on May 7.  Since instructional design is what I do, I’m relieved at least one of the posts I wrote on instructional design made the top five list.

Thanks to Readers, Tweeters and Commenters
Thank you readers of this blog; I am grateful for all readers whether occasional or regular. Special thanks to followers, and to readers that Tweet, link to, and share posts. I also am grateful for all those that take extra time to comment in response to posts—each furthers the dialogue by engaging, sharing resources which ultimately contributes to the learning community. Special thanks to the top commenters of Online Learning Insights listed below. I’ve also included a link to his or her blog, or Google + page.

Also thanks to Paulo Simoes [@pgsimoes] for always Tweeting my posts consistently and soon after I’ve hit the publish button! Thank you Paulo!  Paulo is a Portuguese Air Force eLearning evangelizer.  

I look forward to another year of blogging, learning and writing in 2014. Happy New Year!

Need-to-know News: Udacity’s New Direction, a MOOCjam and Competency Learning to Get Big Boost

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it. 

direction signs

direction signs (Photo credit: emreterok)

1) Udacity’s New Direction
Making headlines in education circles this week is Udacity’s about-face, its change in direction, and new reason for being. Thrun interviewed for a lengthy article in Fast Company magazine published last week, shared his new [and apparently improved] direction for Udacity—no longer is it higher education, the employment sector according to Thrun is the best market for Udacity’s MOOCs.  I shared my initial thoughts in a post earlier this week—my aim here is to share with readers the specifics of Udacity’s re-branding.

Udacity as readers will remember was heavily involved in higher education as recently as a few months ago. Udacity’s pilot program with San Jose State University was a significant investment for SJSU, however was a failure overall. Sadly, the majority of the students, including those requiring remedial support, failed the MOOC classes. In the Fast Company interview Thrun was dismissive of the pilot, and the students’ failures. Udacity apparently has found a more compliant market, (and more profitable) and is partnering with companies or what Thrun calls “industry partners”. Udacity’s partners according to Udacity’s blog:

Cloudera, the industry leader for enterprise data management software

As Mike Olson, Cloudera’s Chief Strategy Officer and Chairman of the Board, shared, “We believe in Udacity’s vision to democratize education by making professional training affordable and accessible to everyone, and believe this model will enable us to more effectively reach aspiring Big Data technologists around the world who want to expand their skills into Hadoop. Together, Cloudera and Udacity are leveling the playing field, empowering anyone with the desire to learn to get the necessary skills to succeed in the modern data economy, regardless of where they live or what their socio-economic background is.Udacity blog, November

Salesforce.com for app Development

That’s the whole premise of our Open Education Alliance and we’re really fortunate to be able to collaborate with salesforce.com and other industry leaders on this mission. Whether you’re looking to become a Salesforce developer, hoping to use Salesforce more effectively to get your work done, or just looking to build something, this course is a great first step.Udacity blog, November 18, 2013

Insights: Quite concerning is the power and influence the for-profit MOOC providers (Udacity and Coursera) hold—not only with coporations, but with some higher education institutions, state leaders, and even the Department of Education. Worrisome.

2) MOOCjam with George Siemens
This past Wednesday, George Siemens hosted a MOOCjam, an online day-long discussion about a conceptual framework consisting of “nine distinct components rooted in an underlying foundation of technology and systems support and evaluation”—developed for examining Massive Open Online Course experiences. Among the nine elements are design, learner profile and pedagogy.

The jam was part of the MOOC Research Initiative, led by Athabasca University and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal for the session was “to gain perspective and solicit ideas that inform the community”. Siemens shared that the revised framework will be introduced at the MOOC Research conference happening in early December of this year.

The main discussions focused on three areas related to the MOOC format, ‘the course’, ‘the learner’ and ‘the medium’. In the closing discussion that I participated in along with ten or so contributing participants, I discussed the Framework from the perspective that primarily it would be used as a guide for designing courses, (from my narrow instructional designer lens). Yet there are other perspectives to consider for its application which Siemens summarized into three themes, what form?, for whom? and for what purpose? [summary paragraph below]

“What purpose? There was much discussion about the Framework being used or misused to design courses, turned into a powerpoint as the “way” to MOOC, or being misconstrued. Brenda Kaulback viewed it as a conceptual framework, George Siemens as a way to reflect the experiences, Debbie Morrison as a way to help people know where to start when designing courses.”

Insights: The Framework and research coming from MOOC Research Initiative will likely evolve not just from these type of discussions, but will be influenced and shaped by external factors—debate and discussions about  MOOCs, and the institutions and organizations supporting them. The Framework has great potential, though I’m not sure what kind of  impact it will have in the MOOC community, given the mighty weight and influence of the for-profit MOOC providers. For the most part they seem to disregard much of the research about online learning that has evolved over the last few years.

3) Department of US Education’s Push For Competency Learning
The United States government is apparently gearing up to announce another push for competency based learning according to Hal Plotkin Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education (OUS), United States Department of Education. Mr. Plotkin led a keynote address, The Role of Online  and Technology-enabled Learning in Meeting Obama’s 2020 Graduation Goal at the Sloan Consortium’s annual conference on online learning going on this week in Florida.

Plotkin said the department “can waive substantial sections of existing regulations that govern access to Title IV financial aid” for programs — both residential and online — that base student progress on “demonstrated levels of mastery rather than the tick of a semester or quarter clock.” The department will formally announce the initiative in the coming days, he said.

“Competency-based stuff would fit under that umbrella, but we don’t want to dictate how people might approach it — and maybe people will have ideas for us that are innovative but in a different area,” Plotkin said.  Inside Higher Ed

Next week will likely be another interesting and eventful week. Stay tuned.

Sebastian Thrun: MOOCs Not Effective for Undergraduate Education After All…

“I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial,” Professor Sebastian Thrun tells me when I visit his company, Udacity, in its Mountain View, California, headquarters this past October. “But the data was at odds with this idea.” November 14, @FastCompany

The cat-is-out-of-the bag—Sebastian Thurn, founder of Udacity the MOOC provider that started MOOC mania two years ago states that MOOCs are not an effective modality for teaching undergraduate students after all.  Seriously. To most of us, this is not new news. I find Thrun’s admission most disturbing, not because the statement isn’t true—but it’s all that’s happened over the recent months that Thrun’s company has been responsible for including, the vast amount of funds spent on a pilot project at San Jose University, the students that failed their courses in this Udacity project, the sweeping statements about the power of the MOOC model to transform higher education, etc., etc.

The announcement, (or perhaps it’s more fitting to call it a confession) came last week in an article published in Fast Co, Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course. The story features an interview with Thrun  [most of which was conducted during an intense bike ride] and is getting much press in the blogosphere. Many deride the fact that the article’s author Max Chafkin, doesn’t appear to have challenged Thrun’s sudden change in his core beliefs about MOOCs, nor his shift in views of higher education, which now appears to be as a vehicle for career preparation.

“We’re not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you,” he [Sebastian Thrun] says. He adds that the university system will most likely evolve to shorter-form courses that focus more on professional development. “The medium will change,” he says.” November 2013,@FastCompany

Admitting mistakes, changing direction and re-focusing  efforts in times of rapid change is not a negative, but a necessity. One could argue that Thrun is doing just that — demonstrating adaptability and responsiveness.  However Thrun’s statements go beyond changing direction, they are disturbing, primarily because it appears it’s the pressure of being a CEO of a for-profit company that is behind his flip-flopping. Udacity is a for-profit venture, with venture capitalist behind it expecting a return on their investment, and sooner rather than later.

As recently as three months ago, Thrun said this…

“The thing I’m insanely proud of right now is I think we’ve found the magic formula,” he said in an interview last week. “Had you asked me three months ago, I wouldn’t have said that. I’m not at the point where everything is great. There are a lot of things to be improved, a lot of mistakes we’re making, but I see it coming together.”   August, 2013, Udacity CEO says Magic Formula Emerging

And this statement made four months ago in response to a question asked during an interview with MIT Technology Review IT Editor Rachel Metz at Udacity’s office in California:

Where do you hope Udacity is five years from now?

I think we’ll be just like a university, but we’ll be a university for the 21st century.   July, 2013, Sebastian Thrun on the Future of Learning

Closing
I stop here, as many other fellow bloggers and educators have shared their insightful thoughts and perspectives on this most startling announcement (links below). Though I’ll close with one of Thrun’s most revealing statements that demonstrates his shift from an academic perspective on the value of education, to a CEO-perspective of a for-profit company.

“At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment,” Sebastian ThrunNovember 2013, @FastCompany

References:

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Beyond the Buzz Words: Highlights from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario Conference

Buzzwords …Game-changing …..Paradigm shifts….Disruption…Innovation….Technology in the Classroom….MOOCs….Massive Open Online Courses…..Student-centered….

I attended the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario [HEQCO] two-day conference “Re-thinking higher ed Beyond the Buzzwords” last week on November 7 and 8th. The conference made the journey north to Toronto worthwhile; the keynote presentations were outstanding, each provided a unique perspective on the future and potential of higher education, as did the concurrent sessions.

The conference was introspective, forward-thinking, and uncluttered. Acknowledging the buzzwords upfront, putting them on the table had the effect of clearing the air. It felt similar to peeling back the top layers of an onion—allowing participants to get to the core discussions on the issues facing higher ed.

BtheB_Banner_ENGKeynotes of the Conference
The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, a graduate of Harvard University, long-time educator and supporter of higher education, opened the conference. Another, Dr. David Helfand, physicist and professor of Columbia University described Quest University—an unconventional model for a new liberal arts university based in British Columbia during Thursday’s lunchtime keynote. And Da Hsuan Feng, Senior Vice President, Tsing Hua University delivered a presentation The Ascension of Asia-Pacific Higher Education on the rise and rapid expansion of universities in Asia [which will likely affect Western education institutions in the very near future].

Highlights of Keynotes:
Opening Keynote
Governor Johnston has a deep passion for education; he started as a professor of law, become a dean, then vice-chancellor of McGill University, and finally a president of the University of Waterloo in Canada. Highlights his advice to educators and administrators:
1. Reach out to other educators within and outside the institution
2. To department heads: encourage work and collaboration with outside institutions
3. Reach out to other countries—make connections outside of one’s institution
4. Leverage technologies
5. Create chaos in classroom stimulate students to think beyond the credential

Day One: Lunch Keynote
David Helfand is former president of the American Astronomical Society, an astronomy professor of  Columbia University [currently on leave], and is now the president and vice-chancellor of Quest University—Canada’s first independent, not-for-profit university founded in 2002.

quest_foundationprogram

Quest University’s foundation academic program built around a block system.

Helfand described how Quest University began, which was with a blank piece of paper. A new model for a 21st century university, created for today’s multi-tasking, connected student.
1. Goal of QuestU: create most engaging undergraduate education
2. Structure: Quest in stark contrast to traditional university—it has no departments, professors are called  tutors—every class sits around a table with a maximum of 21 students. There are no majors.
3. Curriculum: Liberal arts education, all students complete the same 16 courses. Each student picks a question to solve and takes two years to research, analyze  and present the problem as a capstone project that is delivered to a panel in his or her fourth year.  Based on Colorado college, block system. Take courses in a series. Students have one month to explore one subject—are able to delve deep into each topic.

Day Two: Lunch Keynote
Dr. Da Hsuan Feng of National Tsing Hua University gave a compelling talk on the emergence and future of Asian Universities. This talk was quite incredible, requiring a post all its own, though in summary intellectual courage and academic agility were its core themes.

Session Themes
Entrepreneurship
Technology in the classroom
The skills gap—perception or reality?
New graduates in workplace
New models for higher education

Concurrent sessions were run as panel discussions on topics specific to higher education with selection of individuals to provide a breadth of perspective that included faculty, employers, students and administrators, addressing pressing topics in higher education.

Though the conference presenters and participants were primarily represented by Canadian institutions and organizations, there were a numerous faculty, administrators and journalists from the United States. Though there are cultural differences between Canada and USA’s higher ed systems, viewing challenges from another’s perspective proved to be instructive. Over the next couple of posts I’ll delve into at least two of the themes that may be of interest to readers, though I’ve highlighted key takeaways.

Takeaways:
1. Institutions and its educators will need to be academically agile and intellectually courageous to thrive in the current climate of change and digital chaos.
2. New and innovative models of higher education will emerge in response to the pent-up demand for life-long education.
3. More pathways to alternative forms of higher education will develop, offering accessible and viable options of education for post-secondary students.
4. Education institutions in North America will change in ways yet to be determined as universities in Asia and other parts of the world grow, expand and educate millions of students.

Further Reading:

How Educators Can Make Time for Professional & Personal Development

Time business concept.What better time than the week after Labor Day, the traditional back-to-school kick-off, for educators to embrace opportunities for professional and personal development (PD). Though for some just the thought of beginning a PD course of any kind is overwhelming, even stressful. The most frequently cited barrier to engaging in extracurricular learning activities is time; not having enough of it, not being able to find it, and wishing for more. Warranted too, given the frenetic pace of our current culture. This post explores why embracing an online PD experience, whether an un-course, a MOOC or other, is enriching, fulfilling and motivating. I also address the time factor, and suggest how to approach investing time for PD learning with a different perspective so it becomes stress relieving, not stress inducing.

My original plan for this post was to share two PD learning opportunities that begin next week, Open Education Experience 2013, and How to Teach Online with Leeward College [both cMOOCs], but I decided to share first a viewpoint on PD that may be helpful for readers. I’ll will conclude though, with details on the two learning opportunities.

For an overview of MOOCs, and the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, read The Ultimate Student Guide to xMOOCs and cMOOCs from MOOC News & Reviews.

Integrated Learning
The beauty of engaging in learning online within a community, in a MOOC format for instance, is that it’s driven by individuals’ learning goals, their contributions, and provides learning opportunities beyond what could be experienced solely in a face-to-face space. There’s also the added bonus of the opportunity to create a network of people to learn from and with, often referred to as a personal learning network. Yet learning this way should not be viewed as an extra activity on a to-do list. What makes PD successful is when learners choose to engage in experiences that inspire, that spark interest and motivation. Learning is not a chore when integrated within—with what you do, what you are passionate about.  I’ll provide an example here from my experience to illustrate the point.

This month I’m learning through Statistics in Education for Mere Mortals, from Canvas Network.  I’m not taking this course because I love statistics, and I’ve already completed several statistics courses. But I chose to take the course because of a work project I’m involved with. I’m in the process of researching pedagogical methods and principles that are applicable to online learning environments, and at the same time studying participation patterns of MOOC learners. The course [which could be classified as a xMOOC], coincides time wise and content wise with what I’m working on now. The professor is not only teaching theoretical concepts associated with educational research, but is using the course participants for a research study about MOOCs. He’ll be sharing the results with the participants of the course. I benefit in two ways, 1) by experiencing the instructional methods used within the course which allows me to study pedagogy used in a given online course, and 2) by being able to review and analyze the MOOC research results. Thus, I find myself making time to invest in the course.

I’ve also completed a few cMOOCs, connectivist MOOCs, which is a different experience from an xMOOC altogether. To clarify though, one experience is not better than the other, they are merely different. My cMOOC experiences have been expansive, social, even organic in the sense that my learning was developed through a series of varied connections that fit together to produce sometimes unexpected [learning] results. Each of the learning experiences I’ve described here work for me at a certain time within a given year. Though I invest in personal and professional learning for the most part year-round,  it’s the type and level of participation that varies, and is dependent upon numerous factors including current work projects, personal commitments, etc.

How to Make it Happen
Professional development is most successful, when time is devoted to learning that aligns with one’s work, personal projects, interests, and/or passions. The result is, that rather than having to find the time for PD, it happens because we make time. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that even with the best laid plans for PD, it can’t always happen. ‘Stuff’ can get it in the way—life happens. Having a strategy for learning though does support success with PD in the long run.

Tips for Making Time for PD
There is a learning curve to learning effectively in an online environment — how to discern what to engage with, when and how. Even how to use technical tools associated with online learning, whether it be the course site, Twitter, a blog platform, etc requires time to learn. I could devote a whole post to this topic, and I will do so in the #OOE 2013 course, during a webinar I’m facilitating, “Success in OOE 2013: How to Make the Most of your Learning Experience” on September 18, 2013 (OOE 2013 calendar here).

In the meantime, below are three quick and dirty tips:
1) set aside a set amount of time each week for your own learning, block the time in your calendar
2) find a course or learning experience that interests you, and register. Check out mooc.ca to find a calendar of upcoming MOOCs in a breadth of topics
3) write about what you are learning: blog, write articles, or keep a personal journal (though usually you learn more when you share). That’s only the beginning. I’ve included some resources to move beyond the quick and dirty at the end of the post.

Two Learning Experiences
cropped-Gweb_Logo211) Open Online Experience 2013 is a 10-month long learning experience that aims to provide participants with a rich, immersive experience into the study and use of educational technology in teaching and learning. It is a professional development program with a difference: it is open to any teacher or faculty member who has internet access, and it has been designed on a “connectivist” model. To register, click here.

2) How To Teach Online” is a massive, open, online course (MOOC) that takes a broad view of teaching online. This five-week MOOC is for instructors of all experiences who teach online. Whether you are new to online teaching or want to improve your craft of teaching, “How To Teach Online” is a great place to share, connect, and learn from others around the world.

This is an open-access MOOC – no fees are required to join and participate. For this MOOC to be successful, we emphasize and are dependent upon, participant contributions and discussions as a means of exploring how to teach online. Your contributions are what makes the MOOC a success. Click here to register.

Resources