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.
1) Group of Seven Universities Collaborating on ‘Alternative Credentialing’
“The idea is to create an “alternative credentialing process that would provide students with credentials that are much shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees” — David Schejbal, Dean of Continuing Education, Outreach and e-Learning at Wisconsin Extension.
A group of seven universities are in early stages of collaboration on a joint platform that will offer skills assessments, services including tutoring and advising to students online—though the platform’s primary purpose will be to provide ‘alternative credentialing options’. This is significant. It’s the first time a group of brand-name universities (that include Northwestern and Georgia Tech) have formed their own consortium in the micro credentialing market at this scale. Up until now it’s for-profit platforms such as Udacity with their Nano Degrees partnering with corporations such as AT&T, Coursera with their Specializations offered as a ‘pathway to expertise’, and edX (non-profit) with their xSeries programs.
These programs are vocational in nature, with a focused sequence of courses that provide students with a set of skills in a specialty area. This type of credentialing differs significantly from undergraduate education—the undergraduate degree focusing on breadth rather than depth, emphasizing critical thinking with applicability to a range of career pathways. Yet recently there’s been discussion in far-reaching media outlets including the New York Times, that micro credentials are a viable alternative to traditional higher education—“it [nano degree] may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream”. Even Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity was quoted as saying, “It [nano degree] is like a university…built by industry” (2014).
Insight: The fact that micro credentials are viewed as an alternative to or even replacement for an undergraduate or an associate’s degree is concerning. Even more so now with universities coming on board and (potentially) promoting this option as ‘shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees’. Micro credentialing serves a different purpose than undergraduate education, targets a different and expanding student population—working adults looking for professional development and a route to enhance job-related skills. Though there is need for higher education institutions to transform and adapt to the complex challenges the higher education sector is facing, offering a ‘mini-degree’ as a replacement to the rich and diverse education that an undergraduate degree can provide is misguided and deeply troubling. Alternative learning pathways such as micro-credentials is a positive outcome of digital innovations, yet using it as an alternative to ‘fix’ undergraduate education is not reasonable or responsible.
- Establishment goes alternative, (Inside Higher Ed) Paul Fain, August 14, 2015
- A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job, (NYT) Eduardo Porter, June 14, 2014
- Nano-Degrees as a New Model to Integrate into Higher Ed, (Forbes), January 19, 2015
- Goodbye MOOC, hello microcredentials, Alastair Creelman, August 16, 2005
2) New MOOC Report Highlights Current Issues
This week UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for higher education released a concise, informative report “MOOCs and Quality: A Review of the Recent Literature” that highlights topical issues with useful, current references. It’s instructive, informative and provides a summary of key areas of concern specific to MOOCs that are also applicable to higher education including non-completion rates, quality, instructional design, and data use for analysis of student engagement. What’s most instructive are the issues highlighted—it draws out for the reader the most pressing issues worthy of consideration going forward.
As with each new learning innovation, MOOCs present the possibility of new approaches to education, but the promises now need to be evaluated to see what can be delivered in the longer term, on a sustainable basis and with what implications for HEIs and for the assurance of quality (Creelman et al, 2014).
Insight: Discussions should be moving from MOOCs as disruptors to deeper issues such as how can MOOCs help us improve teaching and learning, reach more students with quality education, and support change within the higher education sector. This report can be a catalyst for such discussions, providing a starting point with its reference list of recent research that provide a foundation for informed discussion.
- MOOCs and Quality: A Review of the Recent Literature, QAA MOOCs Network, Dr. Sarah Hayes, July, 2015
3) New App Gives Points to Students for Not Using Personal Tech Device
A mobile app targeted to high school and college students called ‘Pocket Points’ gives students rewards for not using their phones during class. Students gain points by opening up the application and locking their phone. It works when the school signs on with Pocket Points and sets up the software and the rewards program. Students can use points to get discounts at local and online businesses—primarily for food. Currently Chico State and Penn State University use the program.
Insight: A unique idea, though I see more potential for this application with younger children, for parents to use with their children ages 9 through 13—helping kids learn how to manage their screen time.
- Pocket Points
- Put Your Phone Away in Class and Earn Free Food, Rewards, Onward State Newsletter, Mindy Szkardnik, January 30, 2015
- US colleges offer free food to students who ignore their phones in class, The Verge, Rick McCormick, February 4, 2015