by Stephen Downes
Sept 20, 2016
Discussion of quality standards proposed by CHEA, the US Council for Higher Education Accreditation. You can find a PDF (28 pages) of the quality standards on the CHEA website. The focus is on "combatting corruption and enhancing integrity" and it was authored by Daniel. He writes "the discussion naturally began by looking at the crucial role that quality assurance should play in combatting corruption and enhancing academic integrity" but that quality control cannot address this alone. The first of the seven principles states "Assuring and achieving quality in higher education is the primary responsibility of higher education providers and their staff." They would have meant "primarily the responsibility of", not "the primary responsibility", wouldn't they? Slides from the presentation in Namibia are also available.
I think this is really clever but I also think it's dangerous. The argument is that traditional 'liberal arts' education was intended to create a 'T' - in other words, the graduate would have deep knowledge in one area (that's the I part) and broad but superficial knowledge in others: "depth in a particular discipline like History or Literature was complemented by breadth of understanding and by “transferable skills” that enabled graduates to apply multiple knowledge perspectives in the workplace." The 'K' replaces that "through exploring epistemic fluency in particular workplace knowledge practices rather than particular professional knowledge domains:
thus "complementing the knowledge and skills developed in their liberal arts majors and in the institutional essential learning outcomes expected of all students." I don't think the liberal arts are supposed to be about business needs. But like I say: clever, but dangerous.
When we pose a dichotomy like "culture versus institutions" most people will say "well it's both". But my point was that institutions are not necessary for openness. There's no middle ground between 'necessary' and 'not necessary'. You have to choose. Tim Klapdor takes an approach to this issue based on the question of cost. "The idea of asking who pays, and maybe more importantly – who should pay – is no less valid." But if there are costs, I think, you begin to tilt the balance in favour of needing institutions. That's why it's such a good business strategy to ensure that openness creates costs. Thus we see Berkeley forced by the Department of Justice to remove their open content from the web.
Where there are institutions, where there are costs, we begin to produce inequities. That's why openness needs to join that set of things that belongs to culture. What sort of things? Think of what we all own and what costs each of us nothing - our language, our music, our ways of preparing food, our dances, our stories, our history and geography, our religion and philosophy. These belong to no one. We can pass these to each other free of charge. That doesn't mean you can't make money off any of them - in fact they're all big business. But it means you don't have to. And that's the status our learning resources should have. That's the status our science should have. Our academic literature. Our ideas and algorithms. Freely created. Freely shared.
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