by Stephen Downes
Aug 28, 2015
Educational Innovation as a Verb, Not a Noun
Inside Higher Ed,
To me this is old news because the model has been repeated frequently inside NRC to describe the organizational changes we've undertaken over the last few years. But it's worth posting this link because it's a lucid account from someone close to the source and because it describes a trend coming to an institution near you. It's based on a "‘triple play’ framework of exploration-experimentation-exploitation seems to me to give us a working criterion for innovation as an overall process:
- Discovering new knowledge or ideas (including both invention and discovering what others may have begun to do)
- Translating and testing the new idea or knowledge as a working artifact (product, service or practice)
- Adapting and extending the artifact for wider use to generate organizational/social value."
The big change at our institution was move down the criteria, to shift from "discovering new knowledge" to "translating and testing" and even "adapting and extending". The view has been that there is no shortage of discovery (especially in Canada) but that there is a greater need to adapt knowledge to create social and commercial value. But I fear this will become a wider trend absorbing all our institutions.
Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Required Reading
I don't see how reading a few pop philosophy business books gives you "a clear-eyed understanding of the world and how it works." So what would I recommend instead of these parochial choices? How about these:
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu - take the time to understand this and distinguish between the trappings we add to our understandding of the world as compared to the very simple reality underlying it
The Art of War, Sun Tzu - this classic is the textbook for competitive environments and makes it clear that being successful is as much a result of discipline and strategy as it is pure power
Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes - there are more modern books on scientific reasoning, but this work is a grounding on the mental approach needed to create aa systematic understanding of the world
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill - Mill writes from the perspective of having thoroughly understood Aristotlean and Kantian ethics, and drafts a model for society based on the happiness of the people actually living in it
The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker - this book faces life's ultimate problem head on and talks about how we find a reason to live in a world that is ultimately meaningless
I could add a dozen of so other essential books that will round out your life (including, yes, Machiavelli). But from the perspective of actually leading life and being successful at it, these are probably key.
How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game
Chronicle of Higher Education,
My long-term outlook for this app is not positive, but I think it's interesting in that it shows the importance of activities outside the classroom for success in college. These activities were certainly importance for me - everything from editing the student newspaper to being a referee in Campus Rec football games. The ideaa of using the game to ultimately pay poor people to participate in these activities by gamifying them probably won't work in the long run, first because the game creates extra overhead, distracting from the activities themselves, secondly, because of the cost of managing the funding, and third, because of disagreements over which activities qualify (I cannot imagine that my participation in campus socialist party politics would have been supported financially). But even though this particulaar app may fail, it will lead designers to think of how to include these extracurricular activities into the online college experience, and that is definitely good.
Research: Technology Is Only Making Social Skills More Important
Harvard Business Review,
This might not be intuitively true, but when you think about it for a bit it becomes more evidence. Technology, far from isolating us, is making us more social. "The days of being able to plug away in isolation on a quantitative problem and be paid well for it are increasingly over." The article suggests at the end that the push from business for social skills is not new. True. But it was not that long ago when the advice coming from the business sector was that schools should drop the 'soft' skills and focus on science, technology, engineering and math - the STEM focus that still holds sway in many quarters. The corporate sector thinks short term, and forgets very easily. That is why they should not design education policy.
Data, Technology, and the Great Unbundling of Higher Education
Ryan Craig, Allison Williams,
Unlike the dull-as-dishwater set of priorities listed by Kenneth Green, this post has some more exciting projections about the future of technology in higher education. But it should be noted that this comes at a cost - a crisis in traditional institutions, a crisis that has been slow to develop but is now approach a crest: "In a survey of 368 small private colleges and midsize state universities, 38 percent failed to meet their 2014–15 budget for both freshman enrollment and net tuition revenue.... Like the retailer and restaurant markets, the middle of the higher education market is being hollowed out from both the top and the bottom."
Let's look at what we can do if we get it right:
- Accessibility - "Yet before digital delivery transformed distance learning to online degrees, accessibility was not universal."
- Affordability - "the real higher education story of the decade is the crisis of affordability. Current and recent students amass unprecedented debt loads by the time they graduate.... online delivery should be a solution to the crisis of affordability." - "Solving for Affordability: Competency-Based Learning"
- Efficacy - "If any product or service should be designed so that a stoned freshman can figure it out, it should be higher education." - "Solving for Efficacy: Adaptive Learning and Gamification"
This is a good article. I don't necessarily agree that competency and cradle-to-job design is the way of the future, but there is no question the 'unbundling' described by the authors is.
"In an era of unbundling, when colleges and universities need to move from selling degrees to selling EaaS subscriptions, the winners will be those that can turn their students into "students for life"—providing the right educational programs and experiences at the right time. This becomes possible when individuals own their competencies and allow institutions to manage their profiles, suggesting educational programs and even employment." Oh - but are universities ready for that?
Beginning the Fourth Decade of the "IT Revolution" in Higher Education: Plus Ça Change
Kenneth C. Green,
For many reasons which are off topic to this newsletter, I don't think productivity is the measure we should use to assess the impact of computer technology. Productivity is the measure of the old economy. And I'm not sure I agree with these priorities as reported in EDUCAUSE Review, but I feel duty-bound to report them (quoted):
- User Support. Colleges and universities across all sectors must commit to major improvements in user training and support.
- Assessment. Opinion and epiphany cannot be allowed to dominate the conversations about institutional IT policy and planning.
- Productivity. It is now time for academic leaders, including higher education's IT leadership, to have frank, candid, and public conversations about productivity
- Online Education. Institutions must commit to significant and sustained efforts to evaluate their online efforts.
- Recognition and Reward. We must move to an expansive definition of scholarship in order to value the efforts of faculty.
- Data as a Resource. Higher education institutions must stop using data as a weapon against students, faculty, and programs.
- The Value of Information Technology. Institutional leaders must do a better job of conveying the value and impact of higher education's investments in information technology.
Honestly, none of this excites me. None of this has anything to do with making people's li8ves better or making society better. It's a list of priorities for accountants. Maybe if the author weren't so ambivalent about education and technology (and maybe if the presidents, provosts and CIOs surveyed had more of an investment in it) we'd see something more exciting. But this just leaves me empty.
Designing Personal Learning Environments
This is the outline I used for the 'Designing Personal Learning Environments' workshop we held at the University of Guadalajara today. We fit the exercises into a four hour period which made it very fast-paced and intensive. I think it went pretty well. So I have two requests: first, if you have comments or suggestions on how to improve this process, please add them to the document (it's in Google Docs). And second, if you use this model (or something like it) for an activity of your own, please share with me the persona sheets created by participants. If you can (it's not required, but would be nice).
Far from bust: five ways MOOCs are helping people get on in life
Lisa Harris, Manuel León Urrutia,
According to the article, "Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – free, short courses made available to everybody online – were expected to herald the end of higher education as we knew it when they began. But the hype soon died away and critics bemoaned the fact that learners quickly lost enthusiasm and dropped out in large numbers." But with MOOCs receiving so much criticism recently, it is worth pointing to the very substantial ways they have improved education over the last half-dozen years or so (quoted):
- Many institutions, are using MOOCs to develop high quality online learning materials
- learners are using MOOCs to enhance their attractiveness to employers
- in-campus programmes that have a MOOC versions running alongside
- MOOCs are making learning more engaging
- MOOCs are opening up educational access
If someone had said to me that these could be achieved in the six years following CCK08, I would have been enthusiastic and pleased. I still am.
Responding to Free
Ashley A. Smith,
Inside Higher Ed,
Who is surprised that a free college education would be popular? This article is about the Tennessee Promise program, suddenly flush with students, that is one of the standard-bearers for the new free college program in the U.S. "Tennessee has been hailed for its statewide initiative and is the basis for President Obama's America's College Promise ... Oregon will become the second state to offer a similar statewide program." Free education and affordable health care? Blame Obama.
Online and Open Learning for Social Change
This post is subtitled "What We Can Learn From The Gűlen Movement" and I confess, I have not heard of the Gűlen Movement before. The Gűlen Movement "is a worldwide civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic traditions of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Mr. Fethullah Gűlen – named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world in 2013." And it's another one of those movements founded around character: "Education is not just about learning a concept. It’s about learning values, to be a person… and betterment of the individual toward a positive change in society." Sorry, no. No matter how ideal the values, a movement based in making everybody somehow the same is to me a non-starter. I personally believe in the value of things like social action - but it should be a choice, not a requirement; a mechanism, not an outcome.
Can Pearson, Flush With $2 Billion in Cash, Buy Trust?
Education : NPR,
Pearson is flush with cash after having sold off the Economist group and Financial Times. In a well-written and informative article Anya Kamanetz suggests that Pearson may be looking to rebuild trust. As Audrey Watters says, it's not exactly a beloved brand. And how to rebuild trust? "What might really improve perceptions of the company and conditions for learners is more good old-fashioned market competition," writes Kamanetz. Maybe. But if Pearson sent a few million of its newly found billions my way I would give them another alternative: neutral broker. Instead of trying to succeed in the marketplace, be the marketplace.
Head back to school with new features in Google Classroom
Google for Education,
Google has upgraded its Classroom tool, squeezing LMS vendors just a little bit more. It includes question-driven discussions, reuse of posts, calendar integration, and more. Best of the comments: "Teachers cannot open this site on campus; blogs are blocked by filter." Motivation, maybe, for Google to keep developing its classroom platform.
Open education the sustainable way in the knowledge age
University World News,
Interview article with Wayne Mackintosh on open educational resources and the history of OER University (OERu). The section on MOOCs is interesting: "Open education advocates do not believe that commercial MOOCs provide a sustainable way to widening tertiary access. 'There are significant points of difference between the commercial MOOC provider model and the OERu model,' Mackintosh said. 'First, we provide real academic credit towards real credentials, whereas commercial MOOC providers do not provide formal academic credit. Second, commercial MOOC providers will not be able to compete with the cost efficiencies of the OERu model, where courses are based entirely on open access resources.'"
6 concerns students have about MOOCs
So here we have yet another instance of the classic survey study featuring "84 undergraduate students recruited from a variety of courses at a large, urban Midwestern university" being published in an academic journal and (even worse) being treated as real news. More, this survey is about MOOCs - and I have to ask, why would you ask people who are already in university what concern they have about MOOCs? For example, consider this result: " Many students feel the information available through MOOCs, in particular c-MOOCs (peer-based MOOCs), is not of the same quality as the information they receive in a formally structured, traditional college course." I wonder how many of them have even taken a cMOOC (which is not a 'peer-based MOOC') and how they are in a position to judge. More, I wonder whether the fact that they have already paid tens of thousands for a traditional education may influence their perception of what others are getting for free. This could be (and probably is) an example of the sunk costs fallacy.
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