Author Archive

02
Jan

Taking Stock of 2019

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Higher education a decade after the dawn of the Great Recession.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

25
Dec

Pro and Con: Combining Instructional Designers and Educational Developers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

At some schools, the educational developers and instructional designers are part of a single campus center for teaching and learning. At other institutions, these learning professionals are homed in separate organizations, with IDs in academic computing units and EDs in CTLs.

Across the U.S. postsecondary ecosystem, there is an active conversation going on about the wisdom of integrating these learning professionals into a single organization.

In this piece, I provide arguments — both for and against — putting EDs and IDs under a single campus learning organization.

Arguments for ED/ID Integration

  • The distinctions in the work that educational developers and instructional designers do on campus have largely eroded. Both learning professionals collaborate directly with faculty on course redesign, both run workshops and faculty development programs, and both read the same learning science research. Integrating these two groups of learning professionals within a single campus organization only matches and mirrors the evolution of the professions.
  • On many campuses, educational developers have historically worked most closely with faculty who teach face-to-face courses. In contrast, the growth of instructional designers has been driven mainly by the development of new online programs. Integrating EDs and IDs into a single group can help ensure that the capabilities developed through creating and running online courses get translated into face-to-face teaching. At the same time, faculty teaching online would benefit from the resources and expertise of campus educational developers.
  • With the growth of flipped, blended and low-residency courses and programs, the traditional dividing line between “face-to-face” and “online” courses is fast disappearing. Almost all education nowadays integrates technology in some way, and every course taught can benefit from being designed around learning science and core instructional design principles. Given the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education, it makes sense to create integrated campus learning organizations that allow faculty to draw on the expertise of both educational developers and instructional designers.
  • Integrating instructional design and educational developer professionals within a single campus organization is a faculty-friendly move, as it provides a one-stop shop for professors to visit. In instances where the learning capabilities are spread across separate campus organizations, it can be unclear to faculty where they should go for assistance in their teaching, or where departments or schools should look to partner.
  • Integrated campus learning organizations can run more efficiently than separate units, as the overhead of both management and support can be streamlined. Rather than needing discrete structures for reporting and administrative support, integrated units can invest scarce campus dollars in learning professionals and programs to support teaching and learning.

Arguments Against ED/ID Integration

  • While there is undoubtedly a growing overlap between the work of educational developers and instructional designers, it is essential to remember that these are separate and distinct disciplines. Educational developers are part of a cohesive community of practice, as instantiated in the POD Network’s professional conferences and resources. Similarly, instructional designers are integrated into their own communities of practice and professional associations, such as OLC, ELI and WCET. Educational developers and instructional designers have divergent paths of training and professional advancement, and the skills and abilities of EDs and IDs should not be thought of as substitutable or fungible.
  • The hands-on, day-to-day and on-the-ground work that educational developers and instructional designers perform significantly differs. At many schools, it is the instructional design team that is the service unit that must be responsive to immediate and urgent faculty requests. IDs work closely with professors on utilizing a suite of learning technologies, from the LMS to classroom response systems (clickers) to lecture-capture platforms. While instructional designers work to meet the objective of building long-term relationships with instructors while giving faculty skills to self-service on the technologies they use to teach, it is also true that much of the work is still responsive and just in time. In contrast, educational developers tend to prioritize deeply planned workshops and the facilitation of faculty learning communities.
  • To the extent that instructional design teams are integrated with campus information technology units, IDs enjoy the benefit of working closely with both colleagues in the campus IT unit. As much of the work of instructional designers is mediated through digital platforms, there are substantial advantages in having close ties with the IT group. Digital teaching and learning platforms must be integrated with campus systems (authentication, SIS, etc.). Campus IT units are also often in the best position to pilot new technologies. A campus reorg that combines the ID and ED groups will almost always entail the instructional designers leaving the IT unit, as educational developers are unlikely to join IT.
  • In theory, joining campus learning professionals into an integrated learning organization sounds like a great idea. In practice, the experience of schools that have attempted this sort of reorg has been messy. Educational developers and instructional designers come from different traditions, have different training and have different professional communities. While there is overlap in the goals and values of these two professions, they are not identical. Merged groups are likely to suffer through a period of organizational imbalance and cultural discomfort. In an environment of growing needs and scarcer resources, the benefits of a reorg are unlikely to be worth the costs.

What do you think? Have you experienced the integration of ED and ID teams into a single unit? How did it go? Are you contemplating merging your campus ID and ED groups? What are your reasons for doing so?

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17
Dec

A Question for Education Historians

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Why is the college year so much shorter than the high school year?

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02
Dec

Why We Will Not Use the Term ‘Internal OPM’ in 2020

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

OPM — the terrible three-letter acronym for companies in the online program management space — is something of a dirty word within higher ed. The brand tarnishing of the OPM concept reached its apogee on April 1, 2019, with the publication of Kevin Carey’s Huffington Post piece “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education.”

The arguments about OPMs (which we have gleefully participated in) come down to four main objections. They can be summarized with the idea that online degree programs (particularly master’s degrees) developed in partnership between nonprofit universities and for-profit companies are, among other things:

Bad for Students: As tuition costs are as high as residential programs, and the OPM deals may, in fact, be raising student costs due to the arms race of marketing.

Bad for Faculty: Support for course development is isolated to online courses, distributed to disconnected partners and rarely consistent with the ethos, values and goals of individual faculty.

Bad for Schools: Revenue-share agreements and long-term contract lock-ins can result in lower-than-expected revenues, hidden costs and no way to gracefully exit the relationship.

Bad for the Higher Education Ecosystem: Colleges and universities give up fundamental intellectual pedagogical skills, expertise and experience that diminishes their ability to do the very work of teaching our students.

Defenders of university/OPM partnerships, and the OPM industry, point out that: a) OPMs serve to increase access to online programs for working adults, as they provide the up-front capital and absorb the risk that allows schools to develop online programs that they would not be able to launch and run without a partner; and b) universities retain full academic control of the content, faculty and admissions process in the online programs designed with an OPM partner.

Perhaps nowhere has the OPM debate raged more strongly than between the two of us (Josh and Eddie). See “Why We Disagree on OPMs.”

Very, very broadly — Eddie is critical of outsourcing core intellectual, fiscal and pedagogical capabilities in service of for-profit partnerships. Josh thinks that OPMs may be able to serve as a catalyst and partner in the effort of higher education for access to low-cost degrees.

What we do agree about is that we both hope that the OPM discussion in 2020 is more nuanced and more engaged than it was in 2019.

In particular, we hope that when higher ed digital learning leaders gather to talk about the pros and cons of working with for-profit companies to develop online programs, everyone moves beyond the language of “the internal OPM.”

Here we need to pause for a brief mea culpa. In our upcoming book, Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education, we are also guilty of using the language of “internal OPM.” (Eddie blames Josh for that one.) The good thing about writing a book is that it forces you to think deeply about the topic.

While one of us (Eddie) was never a fan of the language of the “internal OPM,” both of us have decided not to use that naming shorthand to describe what is involved in using in-house university resources to develop and run an online program.

The reason is that the services offered by an in-house unit for schools/programs that wish to go online differ in both form and function to an external OPM partner. Working with a university resource to develop and launch an online degree (or nondegree) program is qualitatively different than working with an external OPM to market a program. The two options — in-house university team or external OPM — are not alike.

Many, if not most, internal academic entities that work on online learning bring a different set of priorities and goals to the table than a for-profit OPM.

Internal academic units may have all the requisite capabilities necessary to enable a school or a department to launch an online program. Likely, this internal academic unit has instructional designers, project managers, media educators and other nonfaculty educators who partner with faculty to develop online programs.

Where the internal academic unit will differ from the OPM is that it will approach the work of partnering to create and run online programs in a manner that is aligned with the larger goals and values of the institution and is informed by the depth and breadth of work happening in the campus learning organization.

These goals and values may include a focus on aligning the educational operations of the university with the research on how people learn. An orientation that prioritizes learning science and the contribution to the scholarship of teaching and learning may be accompanied by a commitment to supporting the educators at the institution.

Few OPMs will put in their mission to invest in the career success, wellness and expertise of professors. But this is central to the mission of many of the internal campus organizations that will partner on online learning initiatives.

Who are these internal academic units that partner with departments or programs or schools to build online programs? If they are not “internal OPMs,” what are they?

At some schools, it is the center for teaching and learning (CTL) that is able to work with institutional partners to develop online programs. The growth of the integrated CTL, formed by merging previously distinct CTL and academic computing units, has catalyzed the ability of internal groups to support campus online learning programs.

At other institutions, there are stand-alone online learning units that work across the campus on new online programs. Sometimes, that capability to develop online programs resides in schools of continuing and professional education. In other places, separate schools (such as the business school or medical school) have internal capabilities that enable the development and running of online programs.

Our point is that internal academic units involved in online education should not be thought of as the “in-sourcing” analogue to an OPM. Nor should what OPMs do be understood as simply outsourcing the work of internal online units.

These different organizations, one internal and the other external to the institution, have different cultures, different missions, different values and different goals.

Choosing to work with an external OPM to develop an online program is a different choice than outsourcing what is done internally. The relationship between the department, program or school that is creating the online program will be different with an OPM than with an internal unit.

Choosing which approach is a judgment that should be made based on the goals, constraints and other variables. What should be understood is that the two approaches are fundamentally different.

What differences and similarities do you see in developing and running an online program with an internal unit vs. an external OPM?

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16
Nov

The Trend of Academic Isolationism in the United States

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

There are signs that parts of the American higher education establishment would like to construct a barrier on the northern border to separate the U.S. from Canada.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

08
Nov

Lessons From Disruption

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

I coined a phrase several years ago about change — “if you want to surf, you’ve got to get ahead of the wave.” And that time is now for higher education, as its moment of truth approaches.

I want to acknowledge the current situation from the perspective of existing institutions. But I also want to get beyond the fact and the fear of disruption to focus on the potential that it brings; services and applications can change the face of opportunity in America — economically, socially, civically and personally. Coincidentally, the forces driving disruptive change also contain solutions to the problems of access, persistence, success and the very quality of learning and assessment that have eluded us for decades. So, not only will higher education’s economic and organizational models be upset, but our ability to also achieve consistent quality across an ever-more diverse population of learners will be deepened.

First, let’s examine some important lessons regarding disruption. As he defined disruption, Clayton Christensen used the example of collapsing computer companies in the late 1990s. He identified one company that survived, IBM, and suggested the reason why. A decade or more before the collapse, IBM peeled off employees and money, sent them to a new location, and directed them to explore alternatives for the future that were fundamentally different from their existing business model. IBM’s leaders sensed that big change was coming, and they wanted to prepare for and adapt to it.

In so doing, they created an alternative business model and future, which saved IBM in the late ’90s as its competitors went out of business. There are many generic lessons to be learned from Christensen’s analysis, but two stand out for me.

First, the companies that failed, Wang and Digital among them, failed to anticipate and recognize that their historic strengths, the very sources and drivers of their enormous success, would become lethal liabilities, the seeds of their failure, as the technology and marketplace changed. Their customers and stockholders were happy and life was good. Simultaneously, vastly cheaper, yet ultimately more powerful and adaptive products came upon the scene in the mid- to late ’90s. And with them came the demand for different and new services and supports. By the time the established companies saw the threat, it was too late to adjust to the changing marketplace, and they failed.

IBM, by taking the long view, gave itself the time to analyze the changing marketplace, evaluate the new forms of competition, conceive new approaches and develop a new business model that would thrive in the changing world.

Second, by separating its developmental work from its core business, IBM gave itself the protection to continue its core business unimpeded while developing a new business model on a parallel track. So, the core business was protected from any problems generated by the invention. And the invention was not compromised by the mother ship’s way of doing business.

Understanding the extraordinary importance of these two lessons is a critical beginning point to charting the future for education and employment in America.

Aging academic traditions, long our sources of strength, are being challenged by emerging competitors, services and capacities. These newcomers have the potential to bring equal or greater quality, improved effectiveness, new solutions, a more responsive customer experience, and lower prices to the table. In short, the disruption has the potential to bring new and better solutions to the problems that colleges and universities have been working on since the GI Bill was passed.

Our historic strengths are becoming liabilities in a changing marketplace. And this situation is not coming soon. It is already under way in its early stages, a slow-motion train wreck of traditional practices and economics characterized by declining external support and a dwindling base of traditional customers within a societal context of innovation, change, increasing need (demand) and redefined services from new providers. And the time needed to prepare for the new environment is short while the consequences of inaction are extreme.

We must take stock and act quickly.

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31
Oct

Is U.S. International Education Building a Wall?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The 2019 Conference of the Americas on International Education attracted a record number of almost 1,000 participants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, China and New Zealand, but little participation from the U.S.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

23
Oct

Educational Opportunity in the Age of Disruption

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Since the publication of my book, Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age: The Emerging Revolution in College, Career, and Education, in mid-2018, and after a year of listening, learning and reflecting, I would like to explore and look at the future of learning and work with refreshed eyes and new understandings. I am writing not as a critic but as a friend and longtime observer of higher education, learners, learning and opportunity.

I have, however, been fundamentally changed by the book and its aftermath. Looking past American postsecondary education’s amazing achievements, I now want to focus on those people who have not benefited, those who have remained marginalized and underserved, and to look for ways that disruption in the education and work space can be harnessed to bring them opportunities that have, heretofore, been beyond their reach.

That will be the theme running throughout this series. Disruption of the campus-based model brings with it the potential to fundamentally reframe education and employment opportunity. The development of “opportunity pathways” through higher education to good jobs has been very successful in the years since the GI Bill was passed. A majority of Americans, however, are still denied the higher education opportunity by campus models, traditions and values coupled with broader societal norms. For them, the higher education opportunity pathway was, in fact, an opportunity monopoly that operated beyond their reach.

With that in mind, there are five distinct topic areas that I want to address:

  • First, I want to examine how we got to where we currently are regarding the role of higher education and its contributions to opportunity and work. In these blog posts I will discuss the stages of development that higher education, as a driver of opportunity, has gone through since the passage of the GI Bill and where we are, roughly, in 2019.
  • Second, I want to discuss some of the essential lessons we can learn from Clayton Christiansen’s theory and examples of disruption. Much has been written, and more said, about Christiansen’s theory. I believe that Christiansen’s analysis contains two to three critical lessons that, if we harness their power, can reframe the education-opportunity debate.
  • Third, I want to evaluate the current state of postsecondary education and lifelong learning as the core opportunity driver in America. We have had notable successes. But there is much work left to be done. I will describe the hidden social and economic costs of our current “opportunity structure” in higher education. Yes, it may be the best ever, but is it the best it can be?
  • Fourth, turning to the solution side of the coin, I will discuss how disruption can add value to the opportunity proposition and redefine great teaching and learning in the process.
  • Finally, I will present examples of new practices and new knowledge that are contributing to the redefinition of opportunity through disruption. There are myriad new services, practices and applications, all technologically enhanced and data driven. Using current examples, I will describe how some of those innovations, riding the crest of the disruption wave, can change the world of learning and work opportunity for the better.

As I write, this seems like a tall, indeed daunting, order. And these will be blog posts, not academic articles or whole books. This is my effort to make sense out of where we are and where we need to go. I hope it will be a conversation that you will join as it unfolds.

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06
Sep

Adaptive Learning to Personalized Learning

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Computer-driven adaptive learning has been around for decades; in its most basic form, it is simply the computer program branching the learning path based upon responses the student makes. Some learners may be best served by materials delivered in a different format — for example, case studies rather than theoretical study. Others may need refresher learning for underpinning skills, principles and theories upon which more advanced learning is built.

Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) has enabled this kind of learning program for half a century and more. I recall working with others in the 1970s as we programmed simple lessons that would quiz students and branch their learning path based on right answers as well as wrong answers. Simple coding in the PLATO TUTOR language would allow programmers to branch to different review or new materials based upon which answer was selected.

More sophisticated adaptive-learning programs that have been developed recently aggregate much more data from the learner to better adapt the learning path. These data can include stored prior learning experiences and performances; self-expressed student preferences in modes of delivery; analytical prediction of likelihood of success for the individual student through different modes of delivery; and much more.

For the past half dozen years, Khan Academy has developed and enhanced their flow-of-learning model. These and other like programs can more finely and accurately identify and address gaps in learning. Coupled with effective support modules, they can fill in the gaps on an individualized basis. “Particularly in high-enrollment classes, adaptive learning can provide tailored support and guidance to all students,” says this primer from Educause. Adaptive learning has effectively been used by many publishers for their online homework and supplementary materials.

Adaptive learning, while it has provided an important step forward in helping to assure that all learners get the material that they need to achieve learning outcomes, has fallen short in cultivating full engagement with the individual student. That’s where personalized learning takes the next step. It is defined by the Glossary for Education Reform as:

The term personalized learning, or personalization, refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. Personalized learning is generally seen as an alternative to so-called “one-size-fits-all” approaches to schooling in which teachers may, for example, provide all students in a given course with the same type of instruction, the same assignments, and the same assessments with little variation or modification from student to student.

This takes student-centered learning to the next level. It goes beyond simply responding to requests from students. Instead, students become part of the process of defining the learning outcomes, pedagogy and practices of the learning experience. Until recently, it has not seemed feasible to meet student needs in this way. To customize learning for each of 30 or 40 students in a class, monitor their individual progress and provide meaningful feedback just is too time-consuming.

Now, machine learning can synthesize the huge volume of data needed to more fully deliver student-centered learning. It can assemble the background, take input from the individual learner regarding their self-determined needs and expectations, identify learning deficits and needs, and produce and present the learning path to best accomplish those goals.

In this case, the role of the faculty member shifts from directly delivering materials and grading based on a single syllabus to advising, assisting and assessing personalized learning that meets the needs of both the individual and the prescribed outcomes of the program. Certainly, this is a change for the faculty member. It is no longer administering a one-size-fits-all class. Instead it is a much more personal, individualized mentoring of each of the students while AI assembles the learning stack for each student.

Have you incorporated any of the adaptive-learning tools in your classes?

Are you preparing for the next step of personalized learning?

Are you preparing your faculty colleagues for this process?

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