10
Oct

Is technology driving educational inequality?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Those of us who work in digital learning believe that our work serves a larger social purpose. Our belief system has at its core the idea of education as an engine of opportunity creation. We see digital technologies as a set of tools and methods that can, when properly utilized, be leveraged to expand educational access and increase quality.

Spend time in places where those who work in online learning and educational technology congregate, and you will find a shared commitment to opportunity creation. This belief that technology can be a fundamental force in support of progressive educational values is widely shared across the profession.

This commitment to social justice within the ed-tech and online learning community, however, just may be blinding many of us to the costs of digitization of higher education.

We may be in the situation where technology is driving, rather than ameliorating, educational stratification.

Educational technology and online learning as a cause of educational inequality are not part of our profession’s collective sense of self. It is not supposed to work out this way. Blended and online learning methods, platforms and techniques are supposed to create opportunities for the many, not just the few.

How might digital learning be doing more to concentrate higher education privilege than delivering widespread educational benefits? Evidence for this disturbing conclusion may be found in how both blended and online education are operating across the postsecondary ecosystem.

With blended learning, the idea is to integrate residential teaching with the affordances of digital tools. Traditional courses built around professors teaching students in a room are augmented by the introduction of digital platforms and resources.

These digitally enabled enhancements may take the form of an inverted or flipped classroom, where the professor creates and curates learning materials that the students interact with before coming to the physical class. Professors can then use precious face-to-face time to highlight difficult concepts and to engage in personalized coaching.

The transition from residential-only to blended learning has many other potential benefits. Flipped classes, robust formative assessments and online discussion platforms can help professors create active learning environments. The availability of learning analytics should give faculty visibility into student learning prior to a high-stakes midterm or final, allowing targeted interventions. Simulations and adaptive learning platforms should complement the traditional teaching activities of the professor.

The challenge with introducing blended learning is that it is expensive. The development of blended learning materials and methods increases the number of inputs, mostly in the form of faculty time investment, of any given course.

For well-resourced institutions, the investment in blended learning is feasible. Faculty can be given release time to redevelop their courses. Instructional designers can partner with professors to design a blended course.

At schools with fewer resources, there are fewer supports and incentives to move to a blended instructional approach. Course releases to redesign courses are not available. Instructional designers are not present to collaborate with faculty.

In other cases, less well-resourced colleges and universities may use the availability of digital tools such as adaptive learning platforms and online videos to increase course enrollments. Professors with more students will have less time to provide individual attention. In some cases, the professors may be altogether replaced by technologies and tutors.

The result of all this is that at colleges and universities with more access to resources, teaching and learning are significantly improving. Wealthier schools can maintain small classes while introducing new pedagogical techniques and digital platforms.

The quality of education at institutions with relatively high levels of resources has never been better. Critics of higher education have largely missed this story of improvement in teaching and learning amid all the angst about lazy rivers and climbing walls.

At the same time, the digitally enabled improvements in student learning can get concentrated among the small proportion of institutions that can afford to make these investments. At these schools, digital technology is a complement rather than a substitute for educators.

Similar observations can be made about online education. Anyone who has ever developed or taught an online course knows that more resources, not less, go into creating a high-quality online learning experience. We are at a point where the most fortunate of schools and students can create and experience very high-quality online courses. These are courses filled with loads of faculty engagement, presence and mentoring.

On the other end of the scale, online learning can be a method to save costs by eliminating the most expensive aspect of any educational endeavor — the educator. Professors are replaced by peer-graded discussion boards, computer-graded assessments and self-paced adaptive learning platforms. The quality divide in online education is growing wider by the year.

Those of us in the digital learning profession should grapple with the unintended consequences of our activities. If digital learning is a cause of widening levels of educational inequality, then we should address this challenge head-on.

The digital learning profession, and the associations that represent us, should be placing educational inequality at the top of their research and policy agendas. This may take the form of an elevated level of advocacy for public investment in postsecondary education. Issues of equity should be as present in our convenings and writing as those of progress.

Is it time for those of us in digital learning to discuss inequality?

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01
Sep

Audiobooks for College Students?: A Q&A With the Co-Founder of Libro.fm

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

How should higher education approach audiobooks, and what are the alternatives to Audible / Amazon?

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08
Aug

Do Elite Universities’ New Credentials Threaten Regional Colleges?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The higher ed business model is actually pretty terrible.

Unfavorable demographic trends are causing enrollments to drop, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast. To entice students, schools must discount tuition by an average of 50 percent.

Productivity gains are hard to come by in a people-centric business that is more craft than platform. The cost disease is real, and it hurts.

The one higher ed bright spot has been the master’s degree. Particularly professional master’s degrees.

Should colleges and universities be worried that alternative credentials, including professional certificates, are set to crack the golden master’s degree egg?

Will platforms that offer low-cost alternative credentials, such as Coursera and edX, end up cannibalizing the master’s programs that so many schools depend on to balance the books? Are we going to see a movement away from demand from entry into master’s programs from regional institutions, and toward enrollment in nondegree online programs from institutions with the most recognizable brands?

First, some background:

In my lifetime (I was born in 1969), the number of master’s degrees conferred every year by U.S. institutions has gone from just over 200,000 to almost 800,000 today. The most popular master’s degrees are in business (24 percent), followed by education (19 percent), health professions (14 percent), engineering (7 percent) and public administration/social services (6 percent).

As Jon Marcus details in an article for the excellent Hechinger Report, master’s degrees have “become a cash cow for struggling colleges.” The amount of tuition discounting and financial aid that schools offer for master’s programs is much less than for undergraduates. Only about four in 10 master’s students receive any institutional financial aid, half that of undergraduates.

So master’s degrees matter a good deal for both tuition-dependent private institutions and state schools that are navigating public disinvestment.

We are also witnessing the acceleration of the transition from residential to online/low-residency master’s degrees. Graduate students are more than twice as likely to be enrolled in fully online programs (26 percent) as undergraduates (12 percent). While total enrollments have declined since 2012, from about 21 million to 20 million, graduate enrollments have remained more stable. (At least up until 2016.) The number of graduate students — mostly master’s students — whose program includes at least some online learning has increased from 865,000 to 1.1 million.

A few top 20 name-brand master’s programs will persist in being able to stay residential. The rest will move toward online. This is not a question of if, but when.

What is going to happen to all those business, education, health, engineering and public service master’s programs when a prospective student can get a professional certificate from an elite university? Are we headed toward a time when employers value the signal of an alternative credential from a top school as much as they do a master’s from a regional institution?

Does this mean that the master’s programs from schools without a fancy brand name are doomed? Will elite institutions be able to offer a compelling nondegree learning experience, as these schools begin to achieve mass customization through new AI-driven adaptive learning platforms?

Will the entry into the nondegree space of deep-pocketed OPM companies such as 2U, after their acquisition of GetSmarter last year for $ 103 million, accelerate the move of top institutions toward the nondegree space?

The answer is that if colleges and universities wish to keep relying on master’s programs to fund everything else (meaning undergraduates), then they will need to change how they think about graduate education.

The best road map that I’ve read recently about making that change comes from Chris Dellarocas, associate provost for digital learning and innovation at Boston University, in his piece on this site entitled “Higher Education in a World Where Students Never Graduate.”

Chris’s piece is so well written that it is worth extensively quoting:

There is one fundamental difference between news and education. Whereas news is based on content, education is fundamentally a complex set of relationships that encompass content/knowledge, mentoring and community. Whereas content can be commoditized, good relationships tend to be sticky and hard to replace.

A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students — through our faculty, guidance counselors, student activities organizations, corporate partners, career counseling consultants and alumni organizations. These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks. We do a reasonably good job of offering such a multifaceted life-changing experience to our undergraduate students.

At the graduate professional education level, however, many universities seem to forget that we are in the relationship business and behave as if we are simple content/knowledge providers. We charge students for course credits. We advertise our graduate programs essentially as if they were products. When our students graduate, we bid them farewell and subsequently contact them primarily for donations. This transactional way of thinking and acting leaves universities vulnerable to disruption.

Relationships will be the one thing that even the best adaptive learning platforms (personalization and scale), from the most well-known institutions, will not be able to scale. The future of a master’s degree will be more like a lifetime passport than an a one-time credential. Master’s graduates will need to have access to educational opportunities, mentoring and career coaching throughout their working lives.

Colleges and universities can no longer think of a master’s student as someone who comes for one or two years online or in person to get the degree. They will be more like offspring. Chris calls them foster children, which is what the Latin “alumnus” means. Who knew?

The challenge will be evolving our schools so that they are about relationships rather than content, and then communicating that new value proposition to potential students.

Relationships will be the most important idea, concept and challenge for higher education in the 21st century. Forget big data. Forget analytics. Forget AR and VR. Think about relationships.

Is your school or program moving toward a lifetime education model for your master’s students?

What does a shift to thinking about providing access to relevant educational, networking and community opportunities for graduates actually look like in practice?

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16
Jul

How ‘The Efficiency Paradox’ Gets EdTech Right

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Why education is expensive, and why technology will not be the solution.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

02
Oct

Advancing Employability Through a Labor Market Information System

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Producing the right number and mix of graduates the labor market can absorb remains one of the major challenges of many higher education systems.

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16
Aug

5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

What do universities want from online program management providers?

I have no idea.

Ask me what I want in a potential OPM partner, and I’ll talk your ear off.

But search for any research on how universities evaluate the decision to partner with a for-profit company to build, market, launch and run a new online degree program — and you will be mostly searching in vain.

The growing phenomenon of nonprofit/for-profit partnerships in postsecondary online learning needs research attention. We need to move OPM analysis out of the world of for-profit consulting companies and higher ed blogs. We need to investigate the changing way in which higher education programs are financed, including the OPM partnership model, involving scholars who are committed to independent and sustained research.

For now, lacking the research, I’ll share some of my own OPM opinions. You can let us know if your thinking, and the thinking at your institution, aligns with my own.

Here are five things that I want to see from OPM providers:

No. 1: Higher Ed People

Higher education is a business built on relationships. We are more like an ancient guild than a modern industry. The decision to make a life in higher education is not a rational one. Nobody in their right mind would choose a higher ed career on a pure cost/benefit calculation. Higher ed people are, above all else, mission driven. They are true believers in the potential of higher education to improve the lives of our students and to contribute to the making of a better world.

It would be great if more people who worked in online program management companies came from higher ed. If they built their relationships and networks while working for a university. It is not that we don’t trust people from outside academia. It is just that we don’t trust people from outside academia.

This might be our blind spot. Higher ed people don’t have a monopoly on being mission driven. Still, too few professionals in the OPM business seem to have previously been in higher education leadership roles. If partnerships with OPMs really do benefit our institutions, our students and our faculty, then more higher ed people should be wanting to work for OPMs.

No. 2: Flexible Unbundling

The only reason that a university would partner with a company to do an online program is that, for some reason, we can’t do it ourselves. What we can’t do ourselves varies from school to school, and surprisingly even within schools.

In some places we need the whole enchilada. We need the start-up capital. The instructional designers and project managers and video educators. We need the marketing and outreach to a population of online learners that we are not experienced reaching. We need the learning platforms. The student support.

Mostly, however, we don’t need all that. We need some but not all of those things. And what is needed might be different for different parts of the university. One division, school, program or major might be really good when it comes to instructional design. What they need most is marketing. Another area of the institution may not have the instructional designers, but it is well set up to support enrolled students.

A good OPM will be flexible in their partnerships. It will have options between revenue share and fee for service. It will unpack the partnership in a way that can work best for the institution.

No. 3: Capacity Building

Too often, OPM providers lead with money. How much revenue the new programs might deliver to the schools. Money is good, but it is only one part of the equation.

What we really care about is the long-term resilience of our institutions, and our ability to meet our strategic goals and to support our larger institutional missions. Online education is integral to how education is changing. Online programs provide opportunities to not only bring in new (much needed) dollars, but also to build new institutional capacities.

Online programs can serve as amazing opportunities for faculty development. Pair a professor with an instructional designer and watch the magic happen. What faculty learn in developing and teaching online courses can be translated into residential teaching and learning.

Outsourcing the core functions of an organization is always a bad idea. Outsourcing the teaching and learning function of a university is always a bad idea. OPMs need to learn to work with universities to use any partnerships around online programs to advance all learning.

No. 4: Transparency

One difficulty that schools have in even thinking about investigating a partnership with a company to start a new online program is our lack of information. We just know so little about how past OPM partnerships have played out. There is no good source of independent data — even if the data are anonymized.

There is no database that aggregates all OPM partnership arrangements across all the different schools and that would allow for a data-driven analysis of how well these arrangements work and which OPM might be a good fit.

Beyond a lack of outcome data, our ability to examine the contracts between peer schools and OPM providers is limited. We don’t really know how to negotiate a fair deal because we don’t understand how other schools have gone about setting up these partnerships.

The lack of data leaves us to rely on conversations, snippets of information and what the various OPM companies tell us. This inability to make data-driven decisions hurts everyone. It slows down the process. It makes schools that should consider an OPM partnership fail to even begin a project to look at options. A lack of data makes it less likely that partnerships that are begun will work well for both parties.

The only entities that can solve this lack of data are the OPM companies. I would love to see an OPM association that is built around helping higher education make data-driven decisions. This would require a commitment to transparency that I don’t think the OPM industry has prioritized.

No. 5: Diversity

This really should not have to be said in 2018, but judging from what I see in the OPM industry, I’m going to say it anyway. Higher ed people really do care about diversity, inclusion and opportunity. We believe that diverse perspectives are necessary for healthy teams and well-run organizations.

Our students are increasingly diverse across every demographic and social dimension. A potential OPM partner whose work force is not diverse is a demonstration of the values of that OPM company. We are unlikely to partner with anyone who does not share our values.

Again, these are the five things that I’d like most to see from a potential OPM partner.

What would you like to see?

How do we get the research started that would help us make some more definitive and representative statements about how schools and OPM providers might better work together?

Where do you get your OPM information?

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24
Jul

Only Education Can Save Brazil

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The current political moment contextualizes the fight against corruption that exists throughout basic and higher education

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

30
Jun

7 questions for the CEO of Emeritus

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Ashwin Damera is the founder and CEO of Emeritus, an online program management company.

He graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: What is Emeritus? How come the Emeritus name is not so well-known in the U.S.? And why should higher ed people know about Emeritus?

A: Emeritus offers online certificate courses in collaboration with leading universities. We follow a SPOC model (small, private online course) with a high-touch student experience. In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students; our courses saw an 87 percent completion rate. In the next 12 months, we will triple our enrollments to 30,000 students.

Seventy-five percent of our students are non-U.S. and this is perhaps why we are less known in the U.S.

As more students learn online, there is a huge opportunity for higher education institutions to reach global audiences through a platform like Emeritus. We can provide a 360-degree solution to our partners — course creation, marketing and enrollment, tech platform and student success.

Q: What universities does Emeritus currently partner with? What courses and credentials does Emeritus offer?

A: We partner with MIT, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Wharton and the University of California, Berkeley, to offer online certificate courses in areas such as management, digital business, design thinking and entrepreneurship.

Q: How many learners have received credentials from Emeritus? Where do these learners live?

A: In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students from the following regions:

  • U.S.: 25 percent
  • India: 14 percent
  • Latin America: 16 percent
  • Europe: 22 percent
  • Southeast Asia: 18 percent
  • Middle East/North Africa: 5 percent

Q: How does Emeritus differentiate itself from players like GetSmarter, 2U’s recently acquired nondegree program partner?

A: Emeritus is far more global in its enrollments. We will soon launch courses in Spanish and Portuguese. Also, we enroll students via both B2C and B2B channels. We have B2B sales teams based out of Singapore, India and Dubai. On the teaching front, most courses we offer have live teaching with either the university’s faculty or industry experts.

And we remain a private company without the worry of quarterly earning reports. This means we can have a long-term view on everything we do.

Q: My sense is that many higher ed people don’t like the online learning partnership model, as they dislike having the majority of revenues go to the companies (not the schools) and the long contract lock-ins. They also dislike outsourcing core competencies like instructional design. How does Emeritus answer these objections?

A: Emeritus bears all marketing costs. If you think of the revenue share as net of marketing, our partners keep nearly two-thirds. In addition, we make investments in technology and in course creation, which are up-front costs.

We don’t seek long-term contract lock-ins; we are far more reasonable on this front.

I think of ourselves as trusted collaborators. We regularly share our learnings with our partner schools. We have no issues if a school wants to do the instructional design and develop those capabilities. The online education space is still in a nascent stage. There is so much to learn. In our collaborative approach, we like to create — best practices and next practices — along with our partners.

Q: How much does a certificate from Emeritus cost? How does this compare with other options, such as a certificate with 2U?

A: Certificate costs vary from $ 1,200 to $ 3,750. These are much more expensive than MOOC courses, but then, the learning outcomes are far better.

Q: How is Emeritus funded? Is there an exit strategy for Emeritus to be purchased by a large, established OPM or publisher (such as GetSmarter was with 2U)?

A: Emeritus raised $ 8 million from Bertelsmann in 2017. We continue to make significant investments in course creation, learning technology and marketing tech. We intend to remain private. This gives us the ability to take a long-term view. Our university partners have established their reputation over many decades. By having a long-term view, we can ensure that we always think of what’s right for them and for the students.

What would you like to ask Ashwin? Did you know about Emeritus? What other OPM companies would you like me to ask these questions of? What are your thoughts about the OPM model?

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