The creating of a MOOC at the University of Amsterdam

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Within Larger Ed | Website U


Editor&#39s note: The guest entry beneath was written by Arie K. den Boon (PhD), visiting professor of the Department of Communication Science and organizer of the first MOOC of the University of Amsterdam.&nbspArie K. den Boon (pictured to the correct) is also founder of StartupPush (with Paul Eikelenboom), GfKDaphne, and June Methods. My thanks to Dr. den Boon and the senior leadership of the University of Amsterdam for enabling our readers to greater understand some of the developmental dynamics of MOOCs outside of the US. This entry need to also be viewed in the context of nascent debates about the uneven international geographies of MOOCs — a theme dealt with in GlobalHigherEd by means of &#39Memo to Trustees re: Thomas Friedman&rsquos &lsquoRevolution Hits the Universities,&rsquo &#39Are MOOCs turning out to be mechanisms for global competitors in international greater ed?,&#39 &#39On the territorial dimensions of MOOCs,&#39 and &#39The MOOCs fad and bubble: please tell us yet another story!&#39.&nbsp See, as nicely, Elizabeth Redden&#39s &#39Multinational MOOCs&#39 and the Observatory on Borderless Larger Education&#39s &#39Would you credit score that? The trajectory of the MOOCs juggernaut&#39 (though the latter is behind a paywall).

You can see the MOOC discussed beneath by way of this site and adhere to the linked Twitter feed by means of https://twitter.com/UvAMOOC.&nbsp


The making of a MOOC at the University of Amsterdam

by Arie K. den Boon

The sun is coming out from behind the clouds and tends to make the lake blindingly white. Skaters have come out in huge numbers on the very first tour of the year on normal ice, commencing uneasily but finding out swiftly with developing self-confidence. Skating is 1 of those things you only find out by performing.

Although I am enjoying the gorgeous landscape and concentrate on staying away from the sudden fissures in the ice, my mobile is obtaining mails from the MOOC crew, some 13 people functioning feverously to get their 1st MOOC out to the audience. We started out with two: Rutger de Graaf, lecturer of the course Introduction to Communication Science and me, lobbying and attempting to get individuals help the notion of an MOOC. We never ever anticipated we would have so several colleagues operating on the venture. It appeared very straightforward to set up a program with video.

When I did the Artificial Intelligence program of Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvik in late 2011, I was immediately conscious that this was much more inspiring than any online or offline college I had before. This was so rich, so demanding and gratifying, that I knew this was going to alter the planet. The movies were basic and therefore feeling intimate. They were taken in their garage and Sebastian and Peter had been clumsily shuffling pieces of paper to right handwritten formulas and photos. It looked like they spoke to you personally in a very straightforward set up. But later on I grew to become aware that it took plenty of energy and time to produce the video. Sebastian&rsquos voice was giving away and later on he was absent for a handful of lessons, and I understood he was exhausted of getting ready the MOOC at evening in his garage with standard classes and other obligations in daytime. Now I also saw that the program video clips and quizzes have been nicely orchestrated and followed a cautiously created path that ultimately brought me and my tens of thousands of fellow college students to the last exam. I obtained the certificate and could not cease talking about it this was some thing we had to do at the University of Amsterdam too. My expectations were quite large. It could carry us a lot higher high quality in our education, with a significantly richer experience simply because of the student&rsquos interaction that presented added feedback, with new explanations, examples and references on something in or associated to the course. Maybe it would also be considerably much more efficient, liberating lecturers to do far more analysis and give any amount of men and women around the planet with a browser accessibility to increased education. It would do some very good branding as properly, showing Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam is innovative in education and study.

UvAlogoQuickly I discovered that it was not so simple right after all. We started in Might 2012, with almost no price range, only the believe in that the concept of a MOOC would be so compelling that we would win fans and spending budget holders along the way. And, really, we did the Graduate College, the University, the Faculty and also the best level decision makers at the University of Amsterdam liked the idea and managed to get us funding. The preparing was to get the course out in September, Okay, probably October. We bought a graphical tablet, some computer software and started experimenting. The 1st 30 seconds of the introduction took us a total day just to get proper. The program was a replicate of the off line course Rutger was providing, but a MOOC is various, considerably more compact, and in require of a distinct narrative. It took us several months to find out how to produce a relative efficient process. Peter Neijens, director of the Graduate College estimated we would be working the MOOC in January. I believed that was ridiculous, be I kept silent. Boy, we had been going to present we had been a lot quicker. But quickly I learned far better. Creating a MOOC is like moving a mountain. We now have a production group of 4, an editorial board of four, designers and PR men and women, venture managers, personnel of the College of Communication and the Graduate College, the IT crew with Frank Benneker our MOOC guru, etc. We have inner folks on the job, but also some external people, which I feel is quite healthful for both velocity and thoroughness. We have opened registration and plan to start off with the program on February 20th. I promise: we will. Soon after attending AI and a Statistics course, I now use the MOOC of Steve Blank on Udacity to coach and train pupil startups in a flipped classroom setting. The type of flipped classroom performs very properly, and employing other MOOC&rsquos assists to determine the very best ways to setup a MOOC. 1 essential part of the electrical power of MOOC&rsquos would seem to be the volume of interaction amongst students, not among students and teacher. So what a MOOC should do, especially with smaller sized numbers of students, is stimulate the interaction amongst students. The far more MOOCs we get and the fewer college students per MOOC, the a lot more essential that becomes.

We have made a decision to see if we can join forces with Coursera, but at the identical time create on Sakai as well. Sakai is an open source environment that is produced by a huge group of universities. It has some outdated fashioned quirks, but also some new developments that make it suitable for a pilot like this one particular. Apart from, it is not however clear in which the American ventures like Coursera, edX, Udacity and other people are heading to. What is their business model? What takes place to the information of &lsquoour&rsquo students, how nicely are their private information protected the way we Europeans want it? Probably it is smart to organize a European platform as well a little bit of choice for college students and some competitors would not be hazardous. On the other hand it is clear that the greatest platform will attain the largest audience and will get the most college students. Coursera is developing faster than Facebook and seems to have closed its gates for new universities due to the fact of its tremendous development, at least temporarily. So we are content to produce on our personal platform. The fire is on, other faculties and other universities are interested and want to join the platform and find out from our experiences. The UvA MOOC crew is extremely energetic and dynamic, they know they have some thing new and exciting and want to make it perform. So I really feel a little bit guilty to be on the ice and end now and then to solution mails and hold the speed and spirit up. All goes well. Do I now have distinct expectations from MOOCs? No, except that it is a great deal of operate to make 1. Strange, why is generating a video still so complex and so considerably operate and feels so primitive? Probably this is an chance for a startup. Some 17.000 individuals have joined me on the lake, all understanding to skate again for the very first time this 12 months. It feels like a enormous open outside course!

Kris Olds

Within Increased Ed | Site U


Adobe Connect and the Limits of EdTech Outsourcing

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Technology and Learning

This post is intended to open up a dialogue with the leadership at Adobe. I hope that people at Adobe read this post in the context of a larger discussion that is going on about the merits of outsourcing, a discussion that The Economist captures really well in its recent Special Report: Outsourcing and Offshoring.

Please do not mistake these concerns about outsourcing e-learning product development and support with any negative arguments partnering with colleagues from India. As I've written in other places, I very much believe that India is positioned for a source of strength in e-learning in the years to come.

Further, my experience has been that Adobe Connect is a fine synchronous collaboration / teaching platform, and that the people working in the Adobe Education Division are highly skilled and service oriented professionals.   

However, my years of experience with Connect has caused me to develop serious concerns about Adobe's strategy toward, and investments in, this platform. This concern is largely driven by my experience with the Connect product and support team, a team that has been outsourced to India.   

I would recommend that any of my higher ed colleagues who are looking to adopt a web / mobile synchronous learning platform include an evaluation of the parent company's product and support strategy. In other words, potential customers should ask Adobe leadership questions about the points that I raise below.

Adobe Connect is our platform for synchronous web based (and increasingly mobile) virtual teaching and collaboration.  We chose Connect because it most closely meets the following requirements:

  • Works through a browser, with no software download requirement.  (Connect does have an add-in built on the Flash 11 player that needs to be installed for full meeting tools to be utilized.)
  • Supports multiple webcam views, as we run classes with up to 30 participants.
  • Integration with a landline phone bridge and VOIP for meeting recording and management, with full international toll-free calling support.
  • Meeting room persistence, where uploaded content stays from one session to another.
  • Dedicated mobile apps for iOS and Android.
  • Features such as breakout rooms, polling, whiteboards, and meeting recording.

At this point I have not found another synchronous collaboration platform that meets all these teaching and learning needs.  

We are confident that our students are receiving a premium synchronous learning and collaboration experience with Adobe Connect.

I am, however, actively looking (and would be happy to speak with you if your platform does meet these requirements), as a result of the challenges experienced with Adobe around this platform.

These challenges include:

Poor Communication Around System Downtime and Product Bugs:  Over the past two years we have experienced a number of occasions where our Adobe Connect service degraded (we are on a hosted instance), or that key features (such as video feeds) stopped working. In each case these problems were eventually resolved and corrected. The problem is that Adobe Connect team, based in India, has been less than proactive in communicating when technical problems are occurring. Nor has the Connect product team adequately communicated about server or application issues with Adobe's support professionals or U.S based sales force or solutions engineers.  In my experience, the Adobe Connect team is slow to report problems, and reticent to offer a full technical accounting of the root causes of the issues or steps taken to guard against future issues. This has not been a one-time event, but has occurred multiple times, most recently around the upgrade to Connect 9.

Inadequate Investment in Product Evolution:  The fact that Connect still most closely meets our synchronous e-learning and collaboration needs is testament to the amazing work performed by the original Macromedia Breeze team (which Adobe acquired and re-branded as Connect). I've been using this platform (first Breeze and now Connect) since 2004, and the platform change has been at best evolutionary. Connect is surely a much better platform than it was five years ago, but the full potential of this synchronous learning tool is nowhere near realized. Connect remains overly complicated for inexperienced users, with audio controls and troubleshooting still way too complicated and fragile. Adobe has not invested enough resources in simplifying the user experience, or in making meeting running and management more robust. Nor have basic features, such as the ability for meeting hosts to record and export meetings from within the meeting UI been implemented, and the meeting recording is only available in a less than useable flash (FLV) format.  The location of the product team in this instance, whether in the U.S. or India, is less of an issue than the level of corporate commitment for R&D for the platform.  I wonder, however, if a product team that is closer to both its customers (at least its US educational customers) and the company's leadership team would be better able to understand the market challenges and opportunities.

Lack of Ability to Collaborate with the Product Team: The lack of communication and collaboration with the Connect product team is I think the most significant cost for sourcing this platform to India. Adobe has not provided any channel (or at least one that I've been able to take advantage of) to enable direct feedback and dialogue with the Connect designers and engineers.   It is not clear to me that the Connect product team participates in edtech conferences or events. Nobody that I know from the Connect team is providing any leadership around learning innovation.

Adobe has enormous strengths to build on with Connect. Adobe has a dedicated, experienced, and highly skilled services and sales team. Adobe has a very strong core product with Connect in which it can innovate. Adobe has been a long-term trusted partner within higher education, with products that are widely used by faculty, staff and students. Adobe has considerable resources and a large number of talented engineers.

What Adobe needs to do, in my opinion, is signal a strong commitment to higher education via decision to invest significant resources in its synchronous learning platform.   

It may be possible to make these sorts of investments with its existing product and support team in India, as I am sure they are also dedicated professionals. That sort of investment, however, would need to be accompanied by a commitment to greater openness, platform upgrades, and tighter collaboration with customers.   

I question the feasibility of accomplishing these goals when the product team is 8,000 miles away from the majority of its education customers. 

Adobe, and other edtech firms, should be asking themselves if the savings realized by moving product and support positions outside of its main customer base are worth the costs in communication with customers, innovation, and agility. 

Is anyone in Adobe's leadership interested in examining these challenges, and perhaps working with our community to address opportunities to improve both the platform and the support model?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U



Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Larger Ed | Blog U


We lately uncovered the final results of 1 of our survey queries, “What Stunned You When You Initial Commenced Doing work in Increased Education&rdquo&nbsp&nbsp Following the most widespread response, “the politics,&rdquo following on the checklist was the slow pace of accomplishing adjust in higher education.&nbsp

This sentiment was pointed out by respondents across the board: people new to increased ed, veterans, and by folks in distinct positions. Some responses incorporated:

&ldquoIt is collaborative to a fault, major frequently to paralysis by analysis.&rdquo

&ldquoEven when new techniques/suggestions are proposed for expense reductions, adjust is painfully slow, if at all.&rdquo

&ldquoHow every thing is negotiated and has to be mentioned ahead of a decision is produced.&rdquo

Right here are some adjectives used to describe the unhurried atmosphere:

The reasonably slow fee of change inside of larger education could not be surprising to most inside greater education. It looks that the culture has always been this way. &nbspHowever, how has the far more competitive surroundings influenced this culture, if at all?

On the 1 hand, some say the rise in administrative positions in response to enhanced competitors may possibly add to the bureaucracy. This Wall Street Journal report cites US Division of Education data displaying that, “the quantity of employees employed by colleges and universities to deal with or administer people, plans and regulations increased 50% more quickly than the number of instructors among 2001 and 2011.&rdquo&nbsp

On the other hand, competitors has led to more dialogue about obtaining efficiencies, cutting through bureaucracy, encouraging innovation, and decreasing expenses.

Offered these trends, what is the net impact on the pace and culture?

Dayna Catropa
Margaret Andrews

Within Greater Ed | Website U


9 Factors We Learn About Understanding From Fitbit

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Technology and Learning

This Hanukkah/Christmas my wife and I gave each other Fitbit Ones, a wearable digital activity tracker that measures steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep.  

Since 12/12/12 I have walked 334,176 steps, climbed 550 floors, and covered 172.19 miles.   

What can we learn about learning (and teaching) from the Fitbit?

1. Learning and Exercise Are Hard: Perhaps the biggest inhibitor of improving our own performance is the belief that other people are "naturals" at a given task. We say that someone is naturally good at math, or that they have a runners body. We can never be as good as they are, so why even try? The truth is that learning and exercise are hard. Nothing good comes easy.  We all need some help. The Fitbit helps me exercise. It motives me to take more steps. Recognizing that exercise, and learning, are difficult tasks can help us look for methods that might help.  We need to think about how we can use technology to encourage learning beyond what is possible with traditional methods.

2. Nudging Towards Better Habits: What the Fitbit does is provide external rewards that hopefully nudge us to adopt better exercise habits.  I run those extra minutes on the treadmill, or take the stairs and not the elevator, in order to reach my daily goal of 10,000 steps.  Eventually those actions should become habit, I'll do then without thinking.  How can we use technology to nudge students towards better learning habits? Can we find ways to provide rewards that foster both internal motivation and better study habits? If the Fitbit is truly successful at creating better exercise habits (something that I think needs verification from experimental research), can we translate the Fitbit's fitness technology to learning technology?

3. The Power of Instant Feedback: The Fitbit provides instant feedback as to how many steps, miles, stairs climbed and calories burned that I've accomplished. All of these data points are tracked in real time on the device, and captured on my own personal web based Fitbit dashboard. I don't need to wait a day or a week to see the results. And Fitbit sends me badges, in the form of e-mail and on the my Fitbit Dashboard, for every time I reach a goal (say 10,000 steps) or a particular milestone (like 500 floors climbed). Fast feedback motivates behavior.   We need to set our courses up so that we can provide fast feedback and periodic recognition of milestones. We all know that a grade at the end of a class, or a week after an exam, is too late.   What is less obvious, and what the Fitbit teaches us, is that we may be better off creating smaller assignments and deliverables in which we can provide fast feedback and turn-around.  We should also be liberal in creating formative computer graded assessments where learners can get instant feedback on their progress.

4. Setting Goals: The Fitbit allows me to set my own activity goals. The default is 10,000 steps a day (and we know the power of defaults), but we can set that goal for anything that we like. Goals can be for calories or miles, steps or stairs.  Setting our own goals is vastly more effective than having someone set them for us. We have done a good job in our course designs of including learning objectives and goals for individual modules. Have we done enough to figure out what our learners' goals are, and then to measure their performance against those individual goals? We talk a great deal about adaptive learning and personalized learning environments, but in my experience these methods remain infrequently practiced.   

5. Tracking the Data: We don't improve what we don't measure. The Fitbit is one example of the emerging Internet of things and a source for all that big data we keep hearing about.   Every minute of every day that I where my Fitbit I'm creating vast amounts of fitness related data that can be tracked, measured, indexed, and I'm sure sold to advertisers and marketers.   All this data is effective in motivating my behavior, as I can see days when I did reach my goals and try to adjust future behaviors to avoid low activity days. We are doing a better job of tracking learning (or at least assessment) data within our courses, but we are only at the beginning of connecting and aggregating learning data for the entire length of a students' higher education career.   (And forget trying to connect K-12 with post-secondary data). The digitization of learning will help us track things like time spent reading, watching course lectures and simulations, participating in collaborative platforms, and of course taking formative and summative assessments. Will we make all this data available to our students?  Will it run longitudinally across courses? Will employers or graduate schools want to see this data?

6. The Social Element: Learning is social. Every edtech company is trying to turn their learning platforms into social learning platforms. Fitbit lets me see the activity levels of my Fitbit friends via the web based dashboard. If your friends or family buy a Fitbit, and give you permission, you can see how many miles they traveled each day. So far, I have 3 Fitbit friends at work, my wife and her sister in my network. Getting crushed each day by these (apparently incredible active) colleagues and family member is amazingly motivating. Social learning may be effective if classmates can share (can opt-in) to display learning inputs. Time spent interacting with online presentations. Numbers of course blog or discussion postings. Utilization of online, computer graded formative assessments. A Fitbit community tends to set norms around levels of activity, just as a social learning community could set norms around levels of learning effort and time.   

7. The Potential of Mobile Devices: The Fitbit works to improve fitness (if it works, again we need some experimental verification), because it is a mobile technology. Clip it on and forget about it. The data syncs automatically to my web based Fitbit account. No need to plug and download anything. The Fitbit device both tracks and displays my activity, so I can check my progress as I go through the day.   The potential of mobilizing our learning is that our students will have their courses and course materials wherever they go. A set of readings, lectures, videos, collaboration opportunities and assessments on a smart phone will be available whenever a learner has a few free minutes. Our existing digital learning platforms have, for the most part, been born on the web – not on the smart phone. Do we have a learning management system that was designed first as an app, and then secondarily as a website?   What would a born mobile learning platform look like?

8. Ecosystems and the Danger of Lock-In: The Fitbit is not only a souped-up pedometer. It is a website. It is a smartphone app. It even includes a WiFi scale (for $ 129.95) that lets up to 8 people in your household track their weight, BMI, and body fat on the Fitbit dashboard. (I've lost 5 pounds so far!).  The value add for the Fitbit is not the little device, but the way that the ecosystem hangs together and the manner in which all the data populates the Fitbit network. The danger is of course lock-in. My Fitbit data (as far as I know) is not portable, if I switch to say the Nike FuelBand I'll lose all my fitness history. We need to learn how to build our learning ecosystem while avoiding locking our learners in to one platform. Personalized learning data should be accessible across learning platforms, exportable, and ingestible in other platforms. We need to follow Amazon Kindle and Fitbit in creating a valuable ecosystem for learning, but avoid the sins of these companies in making the data (whether e-books or fitness data) proprietary.   

9. The Need for Better Devices:  As much as I love the Fitbit ecosystem, I worry about losing my Fitbit device. A clip on Fitbit is sub-optimal for my lifestyle, I think it will get knocked off, lost or left behind too easily. What I want is a Fitbit watch. Waterproof. Something I can wear all the time and forget. Something that charges by the natural motion of my body. I'm betting (hoping) that Fitbit has this device in development (does anybody know?), until then I live in fear of misplacing the gadget. We also need better mobile e-learning platforms. I dream about Apple or Google or Microsoft putting learning at the core of their mobile operating systems.  The potential to bake in learning applications at the mobile OS level, rather than leaving these apps to the application marketplace, seems to me like the smartest long-term strategic bet that any of these company's could make. Can we imagine what an iPhone, Android, or Windows phone would act like if it was purpose built for learning?

What do you think we can learn about learning from Fitbit?

Are any of you also Fitbit devotees?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Best Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: The Politics of Ed-Tech

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Hack (Higher) Education

Part 10 of my Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012 series

Education is political — inherently so and despite the protestations from some quarters when what happens in our schools, in our textbooks, in our brains “;becomes politicized.” Education is political not simply because of the governmental role — federal, state, local — in school funding and policies. It is political because of the polis — the connections between education and community. Education is political because learning is at once personal (and, of course, “;the personal is political”) and social; it is both private and public.

But I’ll leave a round-up of all that happened in 2012 with regards to the “;politics of education” — the U.S. Presidential Elections, the Chicago Teachers Union strike, the Dream Act — for someone else to write. I’m interested here in the “;politics of ed-tech.”

Of course, if education is political, then ed-tech must be as well. As such, “;the politics of ed-tech” isn’t really a trend; it’s a truism. (And wait, “;what is ed-tech?”) So why frame this as the penultimate trend in my year-in-review series? I think it’s because, much like the first trend I examined — the business of ed-tech — we witnessed in 2012 the (education) technology sector discovering, seizing, wielding its power and influence.

The year began with the Internet’s protests against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect IP Act). The proposed legislation would give U.S. law enforcement more authority to crack down on online copyright infringement, allowing them to ban search engines from linking to “;infringing” websites and require Internet service providers to block access to these sites as well. The technology industry was very vocal in its opposition to SOPA and PIPA (except GoDaddy. I hope you all changed domain registrars!), arguing the laws would “;break the Internet” — in technology and in spirit. Internet co-founder Vint Cerf penned a letter to the author of SOPA, Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), stating that "Requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented ‘censorship’ of the Web.” On January 18, the English Wikipedia, Reddit, Wired, and thousands of other websites coordinated a protest, “;going dark” to express their opposition to the bills. Access to pro-SOPA websites was difficult as Anonymous called for DDOS attacks against them. Rep. Smith put work on the legislation on hold 2 days later.

The Internet had won.

The (Ed-)Tech Lobby

The Internet — whatever we mean by that — isn’t a new political force, by any means. But in 2012, at both the grassroots and the corporate levels, the Internet flexed its political muscles. Major Internet/technology companies increased their lobbyist presence in Washington DC. According to Opensecrets.org, Google had over $ 14.3 million in lobbying expenditures this year (it was the fifth highest spender). Microsoft spent $ 5.6 million. Facebook spent $ 2.5 million, almost twice what it had in 2011. Apple spent $ 1.4 million. Compare that to $ 790,000 spent by Pearson Education, the $ 540,000 spent by the Apollo Group (parent company to the University of Phoenix), the $ 5 million spent by Ford, or the $ 9.8 million spent by Exxon.

What, if anything education-related, did these tech companies get for their efforts? For starters, an updated COPPA, just released today. The updated version of privacy law reflects changing technologies, adding geolocation data and photos to the types of “;personal information” that sites cannot capture from those under 13 without parents’ consent. The new rules also state that platforms like Google Play and the Apple App Store are exempt from liability if they sell apps that violate COPPA. Facebook had protested some of the proposed changed that would have required the “;Like” button (and similar social media plug-ins) to comply with COPPA. That language didn’t make it to the final version, which will allow sites to collect data without parental consent

”for the sole purpose of supporting the website or online service’s internal operations, such as contextual advertising, frequency capping, legal compliance, site analysis, and network communications. Without parental consent, such information may never be used or disclosed to contact a specific individual, including through behavioral advertising, to amass a profile on a specific individual, or for any other purpose.”

Allowing contextual advertising has led several blogs to speculate if this means kids under 13 can join Facebook (I don’t think it does, but I’m neither a lobbyist nor a lawyer so I could be wrong.)

Lobbying doesn’t just happen at the federal level, of course. Salon recently reported on the lobbying efforts of the University of Phoenix to defeat proposed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.

And it’s at the state level where the efforts of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) are focused. As I wrote in October (as part of yet-another series I penned this year — this one on “;What Educators Should Know About Tech”), ALEC is

a powerful non-profit organization whose membership is comprised of corporations and conservative politicians. This isn’t merely a lobbying group, as corporate members craft legislation introduced at the state level that promotes free-market and conservative ideals — all behind closed doors.

While ALEC has been in existence for decades now, it’s only recently found itself in the spotlight, in no small part because of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the invocation of the ALEC-sponsored Stand Your Ground Law as a defense by his shooter George Zimmerman. Other legislation that the organization has promoted include the spate of voter ID laws that some argue prevent voter fraud and others say are an organized campaign of voter disenfranchisement.

ALEC currently runs 9 initiatives to impact legislation at the state level, including one specifically devoted to education reform. “;The mission of ALEC’s Education Task Force,” according to its website, “;is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed.”

ALEC’s legislative efforts in education include legalizing and expanding charter schools and vouchers, passing parent trigger laws, eliminating caps on virtual school enrollment, penalizing students who take longer than 4 years to graduate college, breaking teacher unions, weakening teacher certification requirements, and eliminating tenure. In short: dismantling and privatizing the U.S. public school system.

The list of education and tech-related ALEC members includes AOL, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, AT&T, Comcast, the Entertainment Software Association, the Foundation for the Excellence in Education, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, K12 Inc, Kaplan Higher Education, Microsoft, News Corp, Reed Elsevier, Scantron, Verizon, the Walton Family Foundation, Wireless Generation, and Yahoo.

Politicians, Policies, and Pundits

2012 was an election year, but education wasn’t much of an issue in the Presidential Presidential campaign (compare Republican and Democrat Party platforms to gauge why). Education technology, even less so. Similarly, education was important in a number of state-level races (see Education Week’s Voters’ Guide for edu-related campaign results), but ed-tech was a question at stake in just one — in Idaho where voters rejected 3 measures dubbed the “;Luna Laws" (so-called for their connection to State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna).

Voters rejected a proposition that would have required students take 2 online classes to graduate and mandated they all lease laptops. They also rejected a law that would have linked teachers’ pay to standardized test scores and one that would have curbed teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

This trio of “;Luna Laws” should make it clear why it’s hard to extract the politics of ed-tech from the politics of education and/or the politics of tech. Online classes. Mandatory laptops. Performance pay. Standardized testing. Anti-union measures. It’s all part of the education reform agenda, and as such it’s near impossible to just talk about the ed-tech and not situate it in politics/policies/practices.

Five more points of interest:

New Jersey: Until December 14, and the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut I would have said New Jersey was the site of the most devastating stories of the year: Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the storm, I think folks saw a different side of Chris Christie. I think they saw the massive vulnerabilities we face in light of climate change. And John Merrow, in a PBS NewsHour segment, highlights why in light of all this “;schools matter” — as teachers and principals help maintain the safety of their students.

Hurricane Sandy wasn’t an “;ed-tech” story per se, although there were elements — thanks to social media — of its being a “;community tech” story, particularly with real-time, crowdsourced news via mobile devices and via Twitter.

Bonus points for New Jersey for Newark mayor Cory Booker, avid tweeter, friend of Mark Zuckerberg, teen media startup founder, and part-time superhero. Also not an ed-tech story. Still somehow relevant.

Lousiana: Louisiana’s story isn’t particularly “;ed-tech-y” either, unless you link, as some folks do, charter schools to ed-tech. (There’s a sense — in some quarters at least — that charter schools, less encumbered by district bureaucracy, are more apt to adopt new computer technologies, more willing to experiment with “;blended learning” (that is, a blend of face-to-face and computer-mediated instruction), more interested in data and learning analytics.) Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has had to rebuild much of its infrastructure, including its school system — and charter schools have proliferated. (About 80$ of New Orleans schools are charters.) New Orleans is also the site of a thriving ed-tech startup community, with the 4.0 Schools lab helping to support some of that innovation. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also expanded a voucher program this year that allowed public funding to be used for almost any sort of “;school.” This has since been found to be unconstitutional. Phew, because if you see the list of the “;14 Wacky “;Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools,” it’s pretty clear that this was the anti-STEM initiative of the year.

Virginia: Virginia made the “;Politics of Ed-Tech” news this year with the decision at UVA to fire president Teresa Sullivan. In June, the political appointees who make up the university’s Board of Visitors (none of whom were educators) ousted Sullivan (long-time educator, sociologist, administrator), in part because they felt she was slow to hop on the MOOC bandwagon. Massive outcry from alumni, professors, students, academia followed. Sullivan was reinstated. And a few weeks later, the university announced it was joining Coursera (it had already been in discussions to do so when Sullivan was fird.) Ell Oh Ell,.

Minnesota: Insisting "this has been a longtime requirement in Minnesota (at least 20 years)” the state informed Coursera this summer its residents were not allowed to take MOOCs, prompting the startup to clarify its Terms of Service:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

After much pointing and laughing from the Internet (and suggestions that entrepreneurial-minded folks set up coffeeshops just across the state line where Minnesota folks could legally MOOC), the state said it would revisit the law. “;Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning,” said the Office of Higher Educaiton. I mean, obviously.

Florida: See also: Jeb Bush.

(Note all the names here that come up as possible contenders for the White House in 2016.)

Plenty of ed-tech is clearly tied to education policies. You can see it in the Race for the Top competition and its requirements that states and districts comply with the administration’s demands for more testing, more data-driven decision-making, more tech. And you can see it in the Common Core State Standards — the new curriculum and the associate development of new, computer-based assessments. (It’s worth noting here too that one of the creators of the CCSS, David Coleman, was named the head of the College Board this year. You know, the highly profitable “;non-profit” that handles the SAT and AP exams.)

All this — the testing, the RTTT, the Common Core — necessitates new procurements, new technology, new apps, new (digital) textbooks, new hardware, new tests, kaching, kaching, kaching — link the business of ed-tech to the politics of ed-tech.

Workers versus Machines?

Will computers replace teachers? Can computers replace teachers? Should computers replace teachers? Folks keep asking these questions — and not just as link-bait-y blog headlines either. I think that people are genuinely concerned. Are their jobs in jeopardy? Are their relationships in jeopardy? Will education be cheaper? Better? Faster? Do we just need a handful of "superstar professors," some webcams, and an Internet connection and we can ditch everyone else?

Oh no no no, we have no plans to replace teachers, most ed-tech companies say reassuringly. But sometimes it feels like they doth protest too much. (Khan Academy, I’m looking at you here.) But then there are the folks who make that agenda overt: “;Why the Chicago Teachers’ Strike Will Help Education Entrepreneurs,” read a headline in Inc Magazine. “;If there’s a bright side to the Chicago teacher’s strike as it continues to victimize (for no good reason) hundreds of thousands of kids and parents, it’s that it will provide an opportunity for many Chicago-based entrepreneurs and education start-ups.” Or take former DC mayor Adrian Fenty who told the crowd at the Education Innovation Summit at the ASU campus in April, “;if we fire more teachers, we can use that money for more technology.”

Some trade-off.

Education Politics and Internet Culture

But remember: the Internet stopped SOPA. Not just the big tech co’s. The Internet. Us. I think about that a lot in relation to the politics of ed-tech: whither the Internet?

What role might the Internet play in demanding better education? More access? More opportunities? Will the Internet be interested in protecting user (learner) data? What does Internet culture have to say for and about education politics? There are some profoundly anti-teacher and anti-school narratives being told (particularly in the tech industry, I think): how do these shape our tech, our ed-tech? Are these narratives being spread or being countered by the Web? What stories do we tell about learning and learning online? I mean, we the Internet, not just the corporate voices.

And how do "the politics of ed-tech" run through of the trends I’ve looked at in this series: data, platforms, DARPA and the Maker Movement, MOOCs, open textbook initiatives, startups, investment, and so on.

Sure, there weren’t a lot of great education-related memes this year, I lamented at one point, in a year rich with political meme-ry. A couple of Sesame Street-related GIFs popped up after a presidential debate, but not much more. But I'd wager education had its fair share of viral TED videos, a viral Clay Shirky blog post for good measure. PBS autotuned Mr. Rogers. And somewhere along the way, a Web of teachers and techies and movie critics convinced the world not to go see the pro-“parent-trigger” education reform movie Won’t Back Down, which can now boast the worst box office opening in history. So we have the Internet to thank for that.

One final note: in April, education historian Diane Ravitch started a blog. I know, right? A blog? In 2012. Heh. But also, wow. Ravitch posts incessantly — on average 10 post a day. Commenters flock to it. While Ravitch is not much of a fan of education technology, she has certainly embraced Web 2.0 tools — the blog, the Twitterz — as a platform for her message. She noted just this week that her site has already seen 2 million pageviews since its launch, invoking just the sort of metrics that the tech industry loves to hype. And really, her blog's become quite the year’s big political ed-tech thing.

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And Now For Some thing Fully Different

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Mayan predictions for the end of the world aside, the years ahead are likely to be quite different for higher education than the past 100 years.  As our holiday gift to you, we have put together this anthem for the end of higher education as we know it.  Sing along!

Please sing to the tune of The End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.  If you’re not familiar with it, you can see a video of R.E.M. singing it and/or read the original lyrics. 


The End of Higher Ed As We Know It

That’s great, it starts with a MOOC quake.

Talk and tape, cost defrayed, and Science Guy is not afraid.

Eye of a hurricane, it’s unclear who will reign.

We want it for free, budgets stretched wildly.

Go online faster now, get more know-how.

Ladder start to clatter with fear that adjuncts matter.

Fire in a wire, course gurus need to hire.

Creativity sparked, new funding earmarked.

Seems blurry and coming in a hurry

With the provost breathing down your neck.

School by school dive in now, edX, Udacity.

Liberal arts in the dark? Fine, then.

Uh, oh, overflow, class askew, TA new, but it’ll do.

Save yourself, education, improve the nation.

Present seems absurd, students with dreams deferred.

And the left and the right.  Right.

You technologic, patriotic, change, strange.

Bubble here?  Not quite so clear.


It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

And I feel fine.


Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year!


All the best,

Margaret and Dayna

Dayna Catropa
Margaret Andrews

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The Library as a Free Enterprise

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Library Babel Fish

Mita Williams, of the University of Windsor, recently posted her slides from an amazing talk that she gave last month. Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have noticed my ALL CAPS enthusiasm for what she had to say. It was a wide-ranging talk, but it projected the kind of future we can have if we pay attention to what’s going on and keep hold of one important idea: the future of the academic library is free.

Free as in freedom.  Free as in access to ideas without gatekeepers or tolls. Free as in enabling the creation of new things, of bringing the community to the world instead of the other way around. Free as in . . . well, libraries.

She points to our increasing dependence on corporations for both proprietary content and for access platforms. Library software providers are dwindling in number, being bought and sold like pork bellies by private equity firms, and in spite of all that market fermentation, the catalog still sucks. If academic libraries pooled their funds, instead of each being a customer individually negotiating with a limited number of vendors, we could do so much more. We have let the idea of libraries as nodes in a world of idea-sharing lapse in the face of license agreements and defining our hyper-local value propositions.

We’re also frantically trying to spend our way into making our websites look and act more like Google, which is really hard when we don’t have Google’s deep pockets for R&D investment or its enormous scale. Its stated mission, “;to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is what libraries used to aim for. Now each library is more or less on its own, each one trying to recreate a Google experience by buying expensive discovery layer software that searches multiple databases and the catalog at once, spending countless hours making it work, then pleading with users to use it. From what I can gather, most libraries are marketing it to lower division undergraduates, even though we know students don’t want more results; they are already overwhelmed by choices. So why, exactly, are we doing this? 

So we license our content, we license tools to connect our databases, we license layers to hide all the messiness, and managing all that is messy, too, and while we talk about preserving the past and curation and enabling discovery, it turns out we’re really not doing much of that at all. But we could, and we should.

At about the same time that I read Mita’s post, I read about another talk given by the representative of a major publisher on how publisher and librarians can work together.  We both serve science, she said, publishers by getting reports of scientific research peer reviewed and organized for public consumption, libraries by helping scientists get their hands on it. As publishers’ revenue streams shift from subscriptions to author-side fees, librarians will still be useful because . . . well, we could license software to document our local scientists' productivity, which will help bring grant dollars to our institutions. Also, we can explain everything to students. 

Mita’s expansive vision of the future of academic libraries was exhilarating. In contrast, this felt like being told publishers will do the important work while we can try to make ourselves useful and take a seat at the children’s table because we’re so good with kids. 

No wonder non-librarians have trouble envisioning a future for us. We don’t really enable discovery; people turn to their local library to procure things they identified elsewhere. We don’t curate or organize knowledge; we license packages of it curated and organized by others. We do help students navigate it all, but it’s misleading to say we’re promoting information literacy. We’re teaching college literacy, helping students compete assignments by showing them how to find content that will become unavailable the minute they graduate. This is why Mita's alternative sounds so much more exciting. It's a return to what we originally cared about.

Around the same time I also read a piece by Cathy Davidson about technology and the thirst for education, and that led me to a Forbes article about MOOCs and the potential they have for new kinds of revenue generation by disaggregating education and selling it through giant global corporations, and I thought about Cory Doctorow’s warning about the war on general-purpose computing and all of these things seem strangely connected. We can let others take control of the things we value and hope we can afford to play, or we can do it ourselves, openly, and share it.

David Weinberger has written about the library as platform, as a real-and-virtual place where interactions happen and new things are made and shared. Yochai Benkler has written about the wealth of networks and the potential of "commons-based peer production.” We’ve seen endless hours of labor voluntarily contributed to Wikipedia, a project that hews to old values of providing sources, even-handedness, and the value of making knowledge accessible to all.

We have the capability of deciding for ourselves what we want out of libraries, or education, or technology, but we won’t be free to do that unless we are free to make our own choices. There isn’t an app for that.  


Barbara Fister

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Access: A Resounding Theme

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Law, Policy — and IT?
Access to medical journals so that inventors, including high school students, can innovate to save lives.
Access to copyright materials for the purposes of not-for-profit education as an expanded understanding of the fair use exception in statutory law and further embellished in the doctrine of transformative use in current case law.
Access to higher education, new models for determining credit and programs to encourage completion, or, access to graduation notwithstanding the formidable challenges that contemporary students face.   
Web accessibility for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Access Denied:  the results of Berkman Center research into how governments control the Internet, and more recently, courtesy of the United States Senate, for a signature on a U.N. Treaty to include disability rights as a human right, with former Senator Robert Dole, 89 years old, sitting in on the vote from his wheelchair, hopes dashed by the political bug-a-boo among his fellow Republicans about abstract notions of U.S. sovereignty.
Over the course of the next few blogs, I will explore this theme of access and how it resonates in technology and higher education.  As I suggested about the term "privacy," terms such as access gain a transcendental currency often in defense of that which is being lost as it does for that which is hoped.  What does access mean?  Why does it resonate with so many particular issues?  And what policies: global, national and institutional, can help us achieve goals future generations will look upon with admiration.

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On-line Teaching: For Naught or Skill to be Sought?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Rob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Rob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/collaboration-experimentation-and-solving-worlds-problems#ixzz2DThNT65s
Inside Higher Ed It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

I'm inclined to leave the technical aspects of online pedagogy and teaching tools to those who, like Zellner and Katherine O'Flaherty (whose piece on Blackboard you can read here), have greater experience and expertise than I.  What I want to talk about here is whether or not online teaching makes sense for you as you strategize your trajectory through graduate school and into whatever professional future compels you.  So this is not about how to do it better, this is about whether, as a graduate student, to do it at all.  As with most questions you encounter in this business, there is no definitive answer—merely a disjointed collection of more questions and things to think about.

Online Teaching in Theory

Despite what critics would have you believe, there is a vast spectrum of online teaching, and what it looks like in practice varies dramatically from one learning management system to another, one institution to another, and one discipline to another.  One thing most experts and probably most students would agree upon is that courses that are created by merely making face-to-face course material available online are among the least successful.  Course content, approaches to instruction, assignments, and assessment and feedback all need to be completely reimagined in order to succeed in an online format.  This means that the work load of delivering an online course may (depending again on the system, institution, and discipline) be wildly out of step with what you've grown accustomed to either as a TA or instructor for more conventional courses.

For starters the semester's timeline will look very different.  While much of the time commitment to a conventional course falls during the semester itself as you write lectures, prepare lessons and activities, and generate and ultimately grade assignments, much of this type of preparatory work in an online context needs to happen before the semester begins.  In my own experience I would take the time spent writing a syllabus and choosing texts and multiply that by, say, 15x to 20x.  Certainly these figures would ease a bit for courses you've offered multiple times.  Additionally course evaluations from online courses demonstrate that students report the best experiences when their instructors are highly visible.  Just as you can't simply transplant content, you also can't transplant the concept that you only need to appear before the students one to three times a week.  You need to carve out time to be active and visible to your online students EVERY day.  Your daily time demands may not be large, but may require different approaches to time management than you're used to. Consider this and be prepared to adapt if you opt to undertake online teaching.

Online Teaching in Graduate School

Generally speaking, I would say that the greater breadth of experience and skills you can amass during graduate school the better.  If you're interested in online teaching there are a number of things you can do to get started.  If your institution offers online courses at any level, they likely also offer faculty development seminars that you can take for free to get some orientation to the learning management systems supported.  Even if you don't seek to teach a course, being able to list these completed seminars on your CV and honestly claim you have some familiarity with them can be a positive step.  You can also seek out faculty members in your department or college who teach courses online and offer to TA or help with grading in exchange for some orientation to the process of online teaching.  Given the need for visibility and frequent contact, many instructors would be overjoyed by such an offer—and may even be compelled to reciprocate with a nice recommendation and/or teaching evaluation, which will come in handy down the road.  Armed with this experience you can develop a course of your own, either for your own institution or for others that may have a broader commitment to online teaching and learning.

A number of institutions also have pre-packaged online courses—not unlike courses at community colleges or business schools where you inherit your syllabus and textbooks when you get hired.  Here you will need to be familiar enough with the delivery platform to maneuver in the course and provide content instruction and feedback, but the development work has been done for you.  While not ideal from a variety of perspectives, these can be a means to some valuable experience, and may yield opportunities to develop curricula and course content down the line.  We can have the philosophical debates about promoting the use of adjunct labor and relocating more teaching away from content experts another time—the fact of the matter is the job market it tight, both inside the tower and out, and if you can position yourself as someone conversant in the issues and technologies germane to your chosen industry, I think you probably owe it to yourself to do that.  And if in the process of doing so you can rake in a little extra gas money (assuming you don't drive much) then that doesn't hurt either.

Online Teaching in the Job Market 

As I've said, experience teaching online, knowledge of the tools, and some sense of pedagogical issues at play are all good things to bring with you into the job market. What you inevitably find when you get there though is that the academy is a far wider and more diverse place than your experience of two or three campuses would ever have led you to imagine.  You may be applying for jobs outside of the discipline in which you were trained, and you may also find that your own discipline is imagined in dramatically different terms, such that prospective colleagues are compelled by a whole different range of issues and priorities than what you've grown accustomed to.  You will find some places very interested in your online teaching background.  You will find other places very NOT.  Try to discern this up front when crafting your cover letters, but certainly take steps to find out before engaging in a phone or campus interview.  A search committee may be interested in your online teaching background because it jives with their own commitment.  They could also believe that online education is the bane of their existence, the origins of their exploitation, or merely the topic of unsavory discussions with their administration.  If they take no interest, ask yourself how important online teaching is to you and if you'd be satisfied to see it relegated to the less active regions of your CV.  If they are interested, ask yourself (hell, ask them) if it's because it is reflective of their institutional mission, orientation and interests—meaning, you'd be joining a team of like-minded professionals—or if it's because someone has told them they need to begin to embrace online teaching and rather than comply and do so themselves, they've opted instead to merely hire someone who will.  If that be the case, ask yourself if you're willing to teach every online course the department offers.

More and more academic job ads feature references to online teaching.  In some cases they make clear what the job will actually look like in that respect.  In most cases though, the reference is vague and underdeveloped—almost as though someone else edited the words in there!  It's the 21st century and regardless of what we might think of its merits or shortcomings, I think we owe it to ourselves to be the strongest job candidates we can be, while recognizing that those jobs, while not as plentiful as we'd like, are actually tremendously diverse.  You do not need to dedicate your life to online teaching, but some familiarity with the tools, and even just the ability to carry on an informed conversation about the future of technology and approaches to higher education may serve you very well—both in thinking about your own research and development of course content and in preparing for your next step.

What's your approach to online education? Let us know in the comments below.

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Producing the Most of MOOCs

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Higher Ed Mash Up

Let’s begin with an old story about using technology to innovate in the classroom. In the 1990s, when the Internet was coming into its own, Professor Antonio Gonzalez at Wesleyan University found an early way to utilize this technology to enhance his class. He recited and recorded a poem, by early 20th century poet Antonio Machado, that students would listen to over the internet while they looked at the text of the poem. At a particular place in the poem, students would click on highlighted text to find a picture and explanation of a “noria,” a water well used traditionally in rural Spain, whose circular imagery and use of water are key to the understanding of the poem. When students arrived in his class, instead of listening to Professor Gonzalez read the poem and needing to imagine the symbol’s image and context, students were ready to dive into a discussion of its meaning.

Today more than ever, Inside Higher Ed and other daily higher education reports are replete with new ways of using technology that purportedly will transform colleges and universities.  Truth be told, many are not so new, others are not really scalable, and most are not transformative. As Alexandra Logue argues in her recent essay in Inside Higher Ed, “;it is not the existence of the latest technology or its potential uses that will help us to maximize student learning, but using what we know and have.”

To be sure, there will be major technological innovations that contribute to the shape of higher education.  The expanded use of MOOCs (massive open online courses) may rise to the top of the new ideas and have a very significant impact on higher education.

In the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered a MOOC on artificial intelligence and 160,000 people signed up.  While on-line learning is certainly not new, this course caught people’s imaginations given the large number of enrollees and the fact that the instructors came from Stanford.   Since that time, Thrun announced that he would leave Stanford and form Udacity, a company that specializes in MOOCs.

Within the past year, many prestigious institutions have jumped on the MOOC bandwagon. MIT, Harvard and, subsequently, Berkeley and the University of Texas, formed edX. Coursera was formed with a dozen or so high profiles institutions, Princeton and the University of Michigan among them, and now has 33 colleges and universities on board. Beyond the “;big three” of Coursera, Udacity, and edX, it was recently reported that course management systems, including BlackBoard, will incorporate MOOCs into their platforms. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the MOOC phenomenon is that there is no clear business model for how this mix of for-profit and not-for-profit entities will generate income.

This rapid rise of MOOCs and their endorsement by the most prestigious institutions in the country suggest that all institutions of higher education need to examine whether and how this innovation will change the way they operate. The question for Mash Up is: what impact does the growth and broad institutional acceptance of MOOCs have on institutions which blend the liberal arts with professional training?

The initial reaction of many of the institutions which strategically provide both liberal arts and professional degrees will be to reject the incorporation of MOOCs into their planning. After all, such institutions would claim that the liberal arts curriculum is about learning higher order skills like critical thinking which cannot be engendered in a class of thousands. They would add that professional training also requires interactions between professor and student as well as between student and student in a way that will build problem-solving skills for the workplace. MOOCs will be beneficial to some students and some institutions, but not ours.

There are many reasons to think again about the value of MOOCs.  All students, especially younger ones, are tech savvy and ready to utilize on-line learning resources.  MOOCs, TED talks, the Khan Academy, and related ventures offer exciting, current content that is difficult to match in a campus lecture hall.  And, most importantly, these on-line resources offer institutions the opportunity to realign their costs so that they can apply resources to strategic priorities.  

It is this last reason that is critical to the future of many institutions of higher education, including those trying to prepare students who are career ready and prepared for life.  Doing so is an expensive proposition.  It involves providing intimate settings where faculty, students and even staff interact and learn from one another.  While these settings are the opposite of a MOOC, they do not need to be in opposition.  Faculty and staff should be asking themselves how students can utilize MOOCs and other on-line resources to enhance the classroom experience. 

The answer could be as simple and elegant as recording a poem and linking to images that add visual meaning or as complex as linking an entire MOOC to a semester of activity in a traditional classroom setting. The goal should be to reserve classroom time for activities that can only be done in the classroom.  Similarly, instead of preparing and giving lectures, faculty time can be reallocated to the more intimate experiences that achieve instructional and institutional goals.  At Educause, Daphne Koller, of Stanford and Coursera spoke about utilizing MOOCs to get the “;mundane content” out of the classroom. She states as a goal to use precious classroom time for activities that can best be conducted in the classroom, for example, “;just-in-time teaching, real-world case studies, and team problem solving.”

Institutions should take stock of their mission and current strategic planning initiatives to ensure that they are not simply chasing after the newest trend in higher education.  It also is critical that they involve faculty and students in the process of determining how to incorporate MOOCs into their specific institutional culture.  If the planning is done in a strategic and inclusive manner and then communicated well to the outside, institutions stand to gain a competitive edge.

Historically, higher education has incorporated technology into the classroom -; e.g., slide projectors, video tapes, computer projection — at a snail’s pace. Because events are moving faster than ever and many institutions are facing existential threats, analyzing the value of an innovation too slowly puts an institution at risk. While at first glance MOOCs may not appear to be useful to you, looking more closely to see where they might be of use is a timely question.

William H. Weitzer is currently a Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. After completing his Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology, he has served for thirty years in administrative positions at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Wesleyan University, and Fairfield University.

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