Need-to-Know News: A Degree-in-Three, Future of Education at MIT, & Robin Hood’s Semi-finalists

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.

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A three-year degree coming soon to an institution near you

1) Purdue’s three-year degree: “Think 3 Years!
Purdue University announced a new degree program this week that will save students time and money when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The program is completed in three instead of four years—hence “Think 3 Years!”.  The new program is a result of a challenge put forth to all Purdue faculty and staff by Purdue President Mitchell Daniels in January of this year (2014).

To encourage such leadership, I am offering a million-dollar prize for innovation, divided between these two areas. The first department or program to fashion a three-year degree, and the first to create a competency-based degree, will each be supported with $500,000 from the presidential discretionary account. Any funds left over after costs of transition are the department’s to keep.  (Open Letter from Office of President at Purdue University, 2014)

That’s a considerable chunk of cash indeed—$500,000, and was awarded this week to Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication for their Think 3 Years! program. It’s an accelerated degree (with the same number of credit hours as a four-year program), not a competency degree which the other half of the million dollar prize will go to. Nothing has been disclosed from Purdue on this degree yet.

The estimated savings for students enrolling in the three-year program is $9,290 for Indiana state residents and $18,692 for non-residents.

Insight: It’s quite likely we will see more institutions offer similar programs in the next year or two in an effort reduce costs and reduce pressure from the Federal Government to do so. We’ll also likely see competency degree programs that could include a prior learning assessment component, and/or competency-based assessment. Though the latter programs are far more challenging to develop, the Department of Education (DOE) is fully supportive of competency-based initiatives, offering incentives to institutions to create such programs to address the cost and access issue. The DOE endorsed such programs back in 2013 (Fain, 2014). More to come.

2) MIT and The Future of Education
429px-MIT_Seal.svgPurdue is not the only institution thinking about how to save students time and money. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the same institution behind edX, launched the results from an institution-wide task force on the “Future of MIT Education”. The report is impressive; it lays out a vision for how MIT will adapt and move forward to proactively address access, cost, changes in pedagogy due to technology, reaching global students and more. What is impressive about this report is not only its depth and breadth, but the commitment to change, to be proactive and adapt in order to continue to deliver excellence—part of MIT’s mission. I realize I’m giving a hard sell here, but I read pages 1 through 30 of the report and it’s hard not to be impressed.

Quick Snapshot of the report: There are 16 recommendations in total around four themes:

  1. laying a foundation for the future, by creating a proposed Initiative for Educational Innovation
  2. transforming pedagogy, largely through “bold experiments” sponsored by the proposed new initiative
  3. extending MIT’s educational impact, to teachers and learners well beyond its own campus
  4. enabling the future of MIT education, by cultivating new revenue streams and envisioning new spaces to support learning at MIT.

I found the section on pedagogy of most interest. What’s intriguing is the idea of an “ecosystem that promotes educational connections across the Institute and provides an educational innovation hub, or a ‘sandbox,’”.

Insight: There are leaders in the education field worth watching over the next few years, such as Purdue and MIT for several reasons. Not to copy or mimic, but to be inspired by how change is handled, how visions are communicated and people engaged.

3) Robin Hood’s College Success $5 Million Contest: Semi-Finalists Announced
A few months ago in this Need-to-Know series, I wrote about a competition sponsored by the non-profit organization Robin Hood, based in New York. Robin Hood is dedicated not only to poverty-fighting but to finding, funding, and creating programs and schools that generate meaningful results.  The competition is for $5 million and awarded to individual(s) that develop a successful intervention – a smart phone app, computer application, and/or web-based tool aimed at supporting community college students that ultimately leads to their success—measured by completing a higher education program. There are more details and conditions, but that’s the gist.

This week the semi-finalists were announced—seventeen in total. Results are in the form of an app or web-based application, and they all look quite promising. Many are available now for free. Sign-up with an email account is required for most that I viewed. One that I found quite interesting is Core Skills Mastery, “Preparing people for high performance in college, work and life…”

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

The Future of MOOCs according to Sir John Daniel, Tony Bates, Anant Agarwal & Sanjay Sarma

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The Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) June 16th – 19th, 2013

Earlier this week I watched a selection of the proceedings from The Learning International Networks Consortium’s (LINC) two-day conference held at MIT that hosted 300 participants from over fifty countries. The four scholars featured in the panel discussion collectively shared a breadth of experiences in open and distance higher education. The panel of four included Anant Agarwal, President of edX, Sir John Daniel, former Chancellor of the UK Open University, Tony Bates, Research Associate of Contact North, and Sanjay Sarma, Director of MITx.

Each shared his convictions on the direction higher education, but there was an intense focus if not preoccupation with xMOOCs. And because the conference was hosted by MIT, the discussion focused on the edX platform. However the scope expanded considerably with the participation of Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates. Both of these scholars have a depth of experience in open higher education that reaches outside of the United States in developed and developing nations.

I watched the highlights of each speaker’s presentation [courtesy of Jim Shimaburkuro’s blog post] and the first hour of the opening of the conference via the webcast, which provided a thought-provoking range of perspectives on the direction of higher education in the context of the MOOC movement. I’ll share the highlights in this post that I hope will give interested readers a snapshot into the panelists diverse perspectives on MOOCs—as a threat or opportunity, hype leading to disillusionment, or the misguided direction of resources to the MOOC movement by institutions.

Background: What is LINC?
Important to note, is that the sponsoring organization LINC has been around longer than xMOOCs—even cMOOCs. Founded in 2003, LINC is a non-profit group with International university partnerships.  The organization’s primary goal is to improve education opportunities globally with distance learning supported by technology.

“Their [participating institutions] goal in collaborating through LINC is to help build on-the-ground expertise and virtual distance learning communities in each of the respective countries seeking such assistance. Their focus is not on the narrow engineering aspects of technology but on pedagogical issues, educational content, financial planning, political constraints and organizational issues. Technology fits into this in a natural way – as defining what can and cannot be done in various regions”.

Stakeholders vs. Shareholders
The opening presentation of the conference led by Sanjay Sarma focused on the future of education with MOOCs as the focal point. He emphasized MIT’s role in educational research and commitment to advancement of education, the history of MIT’s successful Open Courseware initiative.

One of his statements did resonate with me—Sarma made it clear that MIT is using its MOOC platform to “bring stakeholders to the table [with edX] not shareholders.”  He emphasized the not-for-profit versus the for-profit motive, alluding to the “others”, obviously Coursera and Udacity [both for-profit companies] that operate on a different premise.  The non-profit aspect does have significant implications that run deep, encompassing values that include, the concept of traditional, non-profit education institutions versus for-profit providers, the purpose of education, and the motives.

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From the blog post “MIT LINC 2013: Consistent but Stupid”. The 3:42 video captures the exchanges among the panelists.

Though it was clear that not all the panelists see MOOCs as a panacea for higher education or for educating learners in developing nations; Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates both see MOOCs as a barrier to moving education forward. Yet Daniel did describe MOOCs as a catalyst for highlighting the potential of online education.

Key Take Aways
Below I’ve condensed further the key takeaways from three of the panelists. To view the video highlights of each panelist, visit this blog post from education technology & change [etc].

1)  Sanjay Sarma: The Magic that Happens on Campus”

  • Dr. Sarma drew a hard-line between MOOCs and campus experience. He stressed that ‘magic’ happens on campus, not just in the classroom, but in the labs, during water cooler conversations, the ‘back of envelope’ meetings, the infinite corridor and the robot lab.
  • He encouraged faculty to view MOOCs not as a threat to their jobs, but as an opportunity for advancing and enhancing education.
  • Even though Sarma is passionate about the effectiveness of MOOC pedagogy, he does highlight the value of the on-campus experience. Yet he believes MOOCs fit a niche, that brings education to students that would never be able to have an on-campus experience.

2) Sir John Daniel: “MOOCs: What Lies Beyond the Trough of Disillusionment?”

  • Sir John Daniel, on the other hand, sees MOOCs as creating “confusion” in higher education, and suggests that “what lies beyond is a trough of disillusionment”.
  • He believes MOOCs are a source for inflated expectations.
  • The year 2013 will be the peak of MOOCs, there will be a slide as  institutions begin wonder how deep their pockets can be. The ‘slope of enlightenment’ as per technology adoption cycle supports this premise.
  • However he believes what will follow after the decline of MOOC popularity is the ‘year of online learning’ as institutions gradually move their teaching to online—or to hybrid [blended learning].
  • He does not believe that MOOCs are the best route to advancing education, but hopes that we can reach the slope of productivity with online learning.

3) Tony Bates: “How to Make MOOCs Really Effective: Lessons from 20 Years of Research Into Online Learning”

  • Students want to feel that the teacher is ‘there’.
  • Teaching an online course is a team approach, not an individual one.
  • We need to re-think the cost of MOOCs. Rather than spend time on development i.e. video production, the focus should be on learner support. And, how can support be effectively outsourced? Quality is critical.
  • We need to re-think MOOCs as a strategy, and focus on increasing learner activity and engagement.
  • MOOCs are not a viable vehicle to educate all global communities given lack of Internet access, devices and cultural differences.

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