Author Archive

19
May

What’s So Special About That Purple Cow, Anyway?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

At this moment in higher education history, when achieving revenue goals has never been more consequential to more institutions, is being perceived as different than your primary competitors all it takes to win?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

11
May

Internationalization of Higher Education in the New Political Climate

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

While funding remains the major obstacle to progress, funding increased for all internationalization activities during the last three years at a majority of institutions worldwide.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

25
Apr

Why We Disagree on OPMs

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The two of us disagree on the online program management industry.

Eddie is OPM critical. Josh is OPM optimistic.

We think our different perspectives on OPMs are a good thing.

The reasons for Eddie’s criticism of OPMs are many, but they are primarily rooted in his belief that universities should develop internal capacities to support their core educational missions. These capacities include instructional design, project management, media production, data and analytics, platform management, and learner support.

These are not just necessary capacities for online courses but for all courses at a school.

Once these core educational capacities are developed, they can be deployed in service of building and running online programs as well as hybrid and face-to-face courses. These capabilities are necessary for the future of higher education.

There are other reasons for developing and managing online programs internally as well. It’s far less expensive, a school doesn’t have to commit to a long-term revenue-sharing contract and courses developed by on-the-ground faculty and staff at the college will more closely align with the intellectual rigor and values of the school.

For Eddie, the ability to create online programs is a powerful reason to be cautious about OPM partnerships.

Josh, alternatively, is OPM optimistic. While he agrees with Eddie that core educational capabilities such as instructional design and project management and analytics and media should ideally reside within the university, he thinks that OPM partnerships can be a catalyst for developing those institutional capacities.

From Josh’s perspective, it is a mistake to narrow our conception of what OPMs are — and what university/OPM partnerships can be — down to a narrow set of arrangements. Instead, he sees room for nonprofit schools and for-profit companies to collaborate in creating shared value.

There may instances where the fixed and opportunity costs for a school to develop a new online program are prohibitively high. A partnership with an OPM provider, if structured around an institution’s long-term educational mission rather than a fixation on short-term revenues, can (if done well) create opportunities where none had existed.

Just as Josh is happy to partner with for-profit companies for many of the core things universities already do (e.g., every technology platform that a modern university depends on to run), he is willing to investigate if partnering with an OPM makes sense in a school’s efforts to build and run new online education programs.

This is where we disagree. Where we agree is a little simpler. We both acknowledge that there are capacities that may well be outside the scope of individual colleges to develop at scale. Marketing, for example, is often cited as one of OPMs great strengths. Rapid scaling is another.

Who is right? How do we know?

We have both have strong opinions. We think there is an opportunity to do more, though, to bring a scholarly lens to the question of the value — or harm — of the growth of the online program management industry in higher education.

How we would even structure this research on the efficacy of OPMs is an interesting question. We lack almost all the necessary ingredients for critical, objective and unbiased scholarship. Not only are the data not available, but we don’t even have a good idea of what data we would need. Student outcome data? Institutional financial data? Can we collect data from similar institutions who have made different OPM choices in their online program evolution — therefore providing something of a natural experiment?

What sort of time frames would be necessary in order to draw valid conclusions? How would a research deal with the heterogeneity in OPM partnerships? What are the theoretical frameworks that need to be applied — or developed — in order to make sense of the OPM data? What academic disciplines are the natural home for this scholarship? Or do we need to develop a new cross-disciplinary field to adequately research the OPM phenomenon?

These are all nontrivial questions that any scholar of OPMs will need to contend with. And our questions just barely scratch the surface of the challenges of studying how schools are moving to launch new online programs.

Where do you see the study of how schools go online occurring?

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Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

17
Apr

Learning Innovation, Scholarship and the Carey Article

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Kevin Carey’s April 1 article, “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education,” in The Huffington Post ignited an intense online debate.

Responses to the piece appeared on Inside Higher Ed (here, here, here, here, here and here), in blog posts (here, here, here, here and here) and in countless tweets.

This article is not another contribution to the debate on OPMs or Carey’s piece, though there is likely much more to say and explore. Nor is it an assault or defense of Carey.

We both tend to agree with much of his criticism of OPMs and the inequities that profit motives are creating in higher education, just as we agree that online education itself has become an underexamined straw man for Carey’s argument.

Instead, we wonder what it means to have this conversation — the conversation about institutional choices and online education that Carey catalyzed — on social media. Is social media a good platform for engaging in meaningful knowledge creation and exchange about higher education?

We wonder if discussions mediated on social media platforms can succeed in surfacing important ideas and debates.

In this specific case, one concern we have is that all the commenting and tweeting will serve to harden — rather than advance — whatever biases and beliefs that already exist. Further, we wonder if the format of the discussion — again mediated through online articles and blog posts and comments and tweets — will make it difficult for anyone who does not have strong beliefs on the topic at hand to form evidence-based views.

We are not arguing that debates on topics about higher education should not take place on social media. After all, we are ourselves active contributors to those online conversations. Rather, we’re arguing for complementing these social media debates with scholarship. We see value in discussions mediated by social media, but we also recognize the limitations of these platforms. Our goal is to lay an intellectual foundation for an academic inquiry into areas such as the growth of the online program management industry.

How might a scholarly and academic investigation on a topic such as OPMs differ from a conversation mediated by social media? We propose in the following three ways: a) hypothesis driven, b) theoretically grounded and c) evidence informed.

Hypothesis Driven

Scholarship, at least in the sciences and social sciences, is hypothesis driven, in that conclusions can never be definitively reached, only supported or discredited by the available evidence. If an idea cannot be disproved, it is not a candidate for scholarly research in these fields.

This does not mean that the researcher comes into the work as a neutral and dispassionate actor. Scholars, like everyone else, have their biases and beliefs.

What this does mean is that a researcher will energetically search for evidence in their search for knowledge regardless of whether it proves or disproves the original hypothesis. If the evidence ends up countering the initial hypothesis, then the researcher must faithfully report and actively grapple with that result.

What might be different about Carey’s piece and the responses if they were to start from a hypothesis rather than a perspective?

Theoretically Grounded

Theoretical frameworks are models of how the world works that help researchers in the sciences and social sciences develop hypotheses and interpret results. Theoretical frameworks assist in the development of testable hypotheses. In the humanities, theories serve often serve as structural models under which or in relationship to an analysis might be developed. The different approaches to theory between the sciences, social sciences and humanities is worth exploring at some point, as these differences may be illustrative of how we adopt certain perspectives.

Each of these areas, however, provides a framework in which we can situate individual events and discrete analysis. Without a conceptual framework, developments such as the rise of the OPM industry can seem disconnected from other changes occurring within higher education and across the broader economy and society.

One common theoretical lens through which higher education is often viewed today is Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the case that disruption theory serves as a framework in which to test hypotheses. Instead, it more often than not serves as a talking point to help reify one’s general assumptions and opinions.

What is needed is the development or applications of theoretical frameworks that are derived from, or at least sensitive to the context of, higher education’s history and structures. We need to develop our own theories to understand higher education change, rather than retrofit existing frameworks (developed for different contexts) to make sense of the future of our colleges and universities.

Evidence Informed

The third reason that we argue that the debate about Carey’s piece playing out across social media is most likely to reinforce and harden current beliefs, rather than move the discussion forward, is the existence of evidence and data. The arguments made for and against the value of online education to students and schools, on both sides of the debate, have been mainly divorced from empirical evidence. When data are presented, they are shared to support a particular assertion.

There are a lot of data available. Social media tends not to be a great place to share these data.

Social media tends to serve multiple functions in today’s society. In our context, it’s just as (or maybe more) likely to serve as a marketing tool as it is a place for critical dialogue. Because of this complex function, it is not a level playing field for the exchange of data and evidence. Social media is too many things to too many people, and as such may not serve well as a place for disinterested scholarship.

We need better mechanisms to collect, de-identify and then analyze the data related to how colleges and universities are, among other things, moving online. These decisions involve dozens of competing factors, not the least of which include how students are learning and the affordances and constraints of an institution’s history and traditions. The objective of studying these data should be to create knowledge that can be shared widely. The conclusions about the impact the institutions make should be grounded in data, not in the preconceived biases of those who have a stake in the outcome of the research.

The question is who will do this research?

Watching the debate about Carey’s provocative story unfold is one of the reasons that we’ve been calling for a new cross-disciplinary field of learning innovation.

This field would bring together the hands-on knowledge of online program creation with the perspectives, values and methods of scholarly research.

How might we begin to evolve the social media debate on the value of OPMs to a research question worthy of serious, sustained and peer-reviewed scholarship?

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Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

09
Apr

Sustainability Value: What Have You Done for It Lately?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

This week our team encountered a sustainability win for a major consumer brand, and an ironic fail for a respected higher education icon. The resulting inspiration is too good not to share.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

17
Mar

Higher Ed and the Shifting Life Course

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Rethinking higher education in light of the changing contours of young adulthood

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

09
Mar

The Maturing MOOC

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

In the summer of 2011 we produced eduMOOC — a constructivist massive open online course about online learning with the help of a small group of talented and expert professionals at the University of Illinois Springfield as well as colleagues around the country who were then, and continue to be, among the leaders in our field of online learning. By the time it concluded in August, eduMOOC had reached 2,700 learners in 70 countries — making it among the largest such classes produced up to that time.

Some of the most successful early MOOCs were produced by a couple of Canadians, Stephen Downes and George Siemens. They were groundbreaking. Many early MOOCs were largely low budget (compared to today), noncredit, interactive, volunteer efforts. Moving outside the institutional structure, they reached beyond the campus, beyond the country and into many languages and cultures. Just one month after eduMOOC, Sebastian Thrun of Stanford and Google launched a massive-scale MOOC on artificial intelligence surpassing 150,000 students. And the X-MOOC era had begun. The year 2012 was declared “the year of the MOOC.”

Over time these freestanding classes were collected and hosted by the likes of Coursera, Udacity, edX, FutureLearn and XuetangX. They offered certificates and degrees.

And soon, some commentators declared MOOCs “dead” or “failures.” The newer generation of MOOCs were massive and online and courses, but they were not open in the purest sense. Some had prerequisites and others had fees.

Certainly, MOOCs have changed. They have matured in scale and sophistication. While many are now not truly “open,” as in free, without prerequisites, they are more massive than before and are far less expensive than the cost of on-campus offerings. There are now more than 5,000 recognized MOOCs generally available. Some are self-paced and can be started and completed on your schedule. Class-Central keeps a roster of available MOOCs.

Just a few weeks ago, I took a short MOOC offered jointly by McMaster University and the University of California, San Diego, through Coursera: Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects. Some two million people have taken the course. It was refreshingly engaging and useful to sharpen my learning and retention skills. As with many such courses, it was free to take and only required $ 49 for a certificate of completion. I got the certificate and put it in my LinkedIn profile.

In the past couple of years, certificates and entire master’s degrees have become available through MOOCs. There are now 45 online at-scale master’s degrees, with many more on the way.

As highlighted in a previous posting, Georgia Tech is among the leaders in the delivery of affordable at-scale degrees, including the master of science in computer science program — the largest online MS in CS in the world. The University of Illinois offers four master’s degrees through Coursera. The University of Pennsylvania is offering an at-scale baccalaureate to begin this fall. There certainly will be many more. What began as largely volunteer, noncredit efforts have now matured into full-blown master’s and baccalaureate degrees that are changing the landscape of higher education. The trend promises to capture a sizable portion of all online degree-seeking students in the coming few years.

MOOCs will continue to evolve. The groundbreaking work of Ashok Goel at Georgia Tech in developing a virtual teaching assistant is a key milestone in enabling these large-scale classes to engage students and to potentially personalize learning. In the meantime, the essential online, at-scale characteristics will make them affordable and attractive to students around the world.

The MOOC did not die. Rather, it grew up into a mature, fully-functional degree platform that is serving millions of learners globally on a daily basis. At-scale learning is too large to ignore. It is changing the learning environment worldwide. In less than a decade, this phenomenon has moved from the fringes of education to the fastest-growing format for certificates and degrees, having just passed the 100-million-learner mark last year.

Are you delivering at-scale learning? Have you noticed the impact of large-enrollment programs on enrollments in your “traditional” online degree programs? How are you adapting your offerings to make them competitive? These are questions that we should all be asking in the changing environment of online learning.

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Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

01
Mar

Thinking About ‘Massification of Higher Education Revisited’

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Why we may be at peak U.S. college, but we are decidedly not at peak global higher education.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

21
Feb

When Educational Leaders Invoke ‘Safety’

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

In a diverse democracy, education ought to be about learning and building relationships across lines of difference. Does invoking the concept safety help facilitate either of those goals?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

13
Feb

Does Elite Higher Education Function Like White Privilege?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The multicultural meritocracy gives its own a leg up, just not quite in the same way that it used to be done.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U