College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education

What will education look like 15 years from now?

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What will education look like 15 years from now? This was the first question posed to a group of four leading educators during a recorded panel discussion, College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education with Richard Miller of Olin College, Anant Agarwal of edX, Peter Hopkins of Big Think, and Eric Mazur of Harvard University.  I listened to this recorded session last night and found it enlightening and worthwhile, though it appears that no one really knows what the future holds for higher education. The divergent viewpoints expressed in the discussion no doubt mirror the conversations happening within higher education institutions in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

This session was held at Suffolk University in Boston on June 4, 2013. Kara Miller of Innovation Hub facilitated this civil and intimate discussion that lasted for one hour and forty minutes. Viewing the recorded session was  well worth the time invested and I’ll share with readers the highlights—though for brevity’s sake I’ve included the key points below.

Four Different Perspectives
The discussion was interesting, albeit reserved. Had the four been tasked with creating a blueprint for higher education of the future, it would have been a different discussion altogether. A barrier to productive problem solving discussions in higher ed is the differing beliefs and viewpoints about the purpose of education and how people learn. Though the goal of the panel was not to come up with a solution, it did highlight these fundamental issues. These two issues are significant; it is these beliefs that drive the pedagogy, the curriculum and even the delivery mechanism of learning, i.e. the Internet, the lecture hall, the textbook etc.

Below I’ve summarized responses from each panel member that encapsulates his viewpoint on learning and the future of education.

Anant Agarwal: edX
Anant Agarwal of edX believes that learning via the MOOC platform is a more effective and personal method than traditional instruction and learning—in his words it is “transformative”. He believes that the delivery of recorded lectures, quizzes and discussions forums on an open, online platform is superior to traditional face-to-face teaching.  Though ironically this method is similar in concept to classroom instruction with its recorded lecture. Agarwal also believes the quality of education will improve dramatically with MOOC platforms. Though it did seem to me that Agarwal wasn’t able to look at learning and the future of higher education objectively given his involvement with edX. I also question his reference to ‘quality’ improvements in education with the MOOC format—quality based upon what standards?

Richard Miller: Orin College
On the other end of the spectrum we have Richard Miller of Orin College who stated that education of the future would be about not what you know, but what you can DO.  He is a proponent of design based learning, similar to problem-centered learning, where the student discovers the problem and develops the solution through application, not instruction. He believes this method is essential to tapping into intrinsic motivation. Though I don’t agree with this format for learning, his point about motivation is a good one. 

Peter Hopkins: Big Think
Hopkins’ perspective is different from the other three. More from the outside looking in, given he is not working within higher education institutions, but works with academics to provide un-credentialed learning to motivated, life-long learners through his platform Big Think.  He predicts that technology will have a tremendous impact on the future of education, and it is the technological advancements that will break down the traditional four-year, in-residence bachelor’s degree path. His suggests that learning will happen in many venues, and the buildings of the universities will become innovation hubs, with students converging for short periods of times to work on projects, or study for condensed periods.

Eric Mazur: Professor at Harvard University
Eric Mazur believes that the change that is coming will not be controlled or initiated by the universities, but by external factors—technological influences. Mazur stated that it will be the “demands on the workforce will force universities to change – because the type of skills that are required are changing”.  Rote learning is still prevalent from what Mazur sees in education systems around the world, yet he suggested that this type of learning will change with the external pressures as mentioned above. He is founder of the flipped classroom for higher education and stresses the emphasis should be on learning and not teaching.

After considering the discussion and the various positions of the panel, I would say that Mazur and Hopkins provided a glimpse of what the future may hold for higher education. The message from both was that we cannot be focused on what we think education should be, or what will work, but realize that it is external factors that will drive the change and shape the future of higher ed. An article I read this morning validated the viewpoint, The internet of things and the future of manufacturing, which suggests that another industrial revolution is afoot, Industry 4.0.

The panel discussed other topics including academic motivation, student debt in the US and quality of education. Mazur demonstrated his flipped classroom strategy – his method for making learning engaging and meaningful through application. See below for links and resources.


How-to Remain Relevant in Higher Ed with ‘Active Learning’

Active learning…. the topic frequently polarizes faculty. Active learning has attracted strong advocates … looking for alternatives to traditional teaching methods, while skeptical faculty regard active learning as another in a long line of educational fads.(Prince, 2004)

Is active learning a fad? Flipping the classroom, peer teaching and collaborative learning are active learning methods that appear to be ‘in’ right now. Should educators incorporate these active learning methods to keep up and not become irrelevant?  In this post we’ll address these questions – define active learning as it applies to higher education and examine what it ‘looks like’ in face-to-face settings. I’ll also review how educators can stay relevant by incorporating active learning principles into their own teaching without compromising academic integrity. My next post will be specific to online courses; I’ll provide how-to instructions for incorporating active learning activities into the course design.

What is Active Learning?
Active learning is most familiar to educators in K12 environments given that several learning theorists advocated learning through play [Piaget] and collaborative learning [Vygotsky]. It is through these forms of interaction that children develop cognitive and other higher-order thinking skills. However, active learning is not nearly as prevalent in higher education settings; it is the lecture method that dominates.

Yet the lecture method is proving to be problematic in today’s digital culture. It is not uncommon for instructors to cite disengaged students surfing the web, checking Facebook and sending text messages during class. The problem is a nagging one, how can educators engage students and appear relevant without compromising academic rigor?  Bonwell and Eison authors of Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (1991), describe active learning this way:

When using active learning students are engaged in more activities than just listening. They are involved in dialog, debate, writing, and problem solving, as well as higher-order thinking, e.g., analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

The words, ‘involved’ and ‘problem solving’ are worthy of emphasis; active learning is not busy work, but is purposeful instruction that guides students towards learning outcomes. In recent years, numerous educators have studied and measured the effectiveness of the traditional lecture method. Results consistently show that students retain far fewer course concepts when sitting passively listening than when they are actively engaged in the learning process.

These findings are consistent with Harvard’s Professor Eric Mazur, a pioneer of active learning who developed a method called Peer Instruction. Mazur has conducted his own research since implementing his method in the mid 1990’s, proving that active learning is more effective not only in retention of knowledge, but for developing critical thinking skills.

Active Learning in Higher Ed
Before examining instructional techniques, we need to define the role that lecture plays in active learning. The lecture is not eliminated entirely from active learning, rather the instructor ‘lectures’ for a shorter time, in ‘chunks’, and usually for no more than twenty-minute segments. Anything longer, research finds, student attention drops off dramatically.

I think the answer to this challenge [reaching students] is to rethink the nature of the college course, to consider it as a different kind of animal these days… Students now tap into a course through different media; they may download materials via its website, and even access a faculty member’s research and bio. It’s a different kind of communication between faculty and students.  Eric Mazur as quoted in The Twilight of the Lecture, by Craig Lambert

Peer Instruction Method
Outlined below is an overview of Professor Mazur’s Peer Instruction teaching method:

  • Students complete work prior to the lecture by reading lecture notes and assigned course readings, and then answer questions individually by logging onto the course website to record their answers. This method builds in student accountability.
  • Mazur begins his class with a student question [which he obtains from the course website after reviewing student answers and/or questions] to test comprehension by asking students to think the problem through and commit to an answer. Each student records his or her answer in class by using either their smart phone or laptop. Student responses are compiled and delivered instantaneously. Mazur is then able to see the collective results on his laptop (click here for an example of a class polling tool).
  • If between 30 and 70 percent of the class have the correct answer [Mazur seeks controversy], he moves on to peer instruction. Students find a neighbor with a different answer and make a case for their own response. Each tries to convince the other.
  • After two or three minutes, the students vote again, and typically the percentage of correct answers dramatically improves. Then the cycle repeats.

The Flipped Classroom at Yakima Valley Community College
Two professors at Yakima College re-designed their face-to-face course when they determined students were arriving at class unprepared, appeared disinterested during lectures and were unable to synthesize the course material effectively. The result was a revised course that included a weekly schedule that involved collaborative learning activities. Professors designed the course ensuring that students played an active role, and were responsible for their own learning. Below is an image of the weekly class schedule from the revised course (click image to expand). For more details about the course development phases and how the class schedule works, click here.

How-to Remain Relevant with Active Learning
Incorporating active learning into current instruction begins with revising the instructional plan for a selected course. To begin the planning process start by:

1) Reviewing the expected learning outcomes of a given course.
2) Identifying potential pedagogical methods to achieve the learning outcomes.
3) Selecting the method (learning activity) which is feasible and appropriate for the learner and the learning environment (context).
4) Developing a strategy to implement the method into the class.

I use the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional design model for course design, and according to this model, one important component of instructional planning is analyzing the instructional options that are available [learning activities] that support the achievement of the course objectives. The next phase involves choosing from the options, an activity that is appropriate for the learner and learning environment. Here is where relevancy comes into play – choosing a learning method that is relevant to the learners’ context [in our case young adults who are engaged with technology] and the learning environment [lecture or classroom setting, or the online environment].

Categories and Types of Active Learning
For those educators planning a revision to the instructional strategy, it will be helpful to identify the type of active learning that will fit in with the course plan. There are three broad categories of active learning listed below. Following the categories are links to websites that provide helpful resources for active teaching activities in higher education settings. In my next post I elaborate further on each type, providing examples of learning activities in the online learning environment.

  1. Individual
  2. Collaboration
  3. Cooperative

Moving Away from the Sage on the Stage, Minnesota State Universities and Colleges
Mid-course Adjustments: Using Small Group Instructional Diagnoses to Improve Teaching and Learning, by Ken White
Active Learning for the College Classroom, Paulson D. & Faust, J.

Closing Thoughts
Active learning is not a fad, but a dynamic alternative to passive learning; learning where students are actively part of the process. Educators today are more important than ever – we are the experts in our chosen areas, the leaders and the role models for our students. It is up to us to ‘reach’ students with relevant and current methods, set the standards high and teach students to be life-long learners. For the next post in this series, Learning Online is not a Spectator Sport: How to Make it Active, click here.


Photo Credit: No Lecture. UC Berkley, jasonjkong’s photostream Flickr, Creative Commons