As California Goes?

Paul Fain, Ignatia Webs, Inside Higher Ed, Jan 16, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

California has taken centre stage in the discussions around online learning and MOOCs in recent weeks, prompted by passage of tax increases (see more and more) to cover rising deficits in the state's higher education system. An organization called 20 Million Minds (20MM) organized a conference to discuss proposals. E-Literate provided very good coverage of the event, which was called Re:Boot California Higher education - a post listing statements made before the conference, some opening thoughts from Michael Feldstein, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's introduction, and bottleneck courses. At WCET, Phil Hill describes the state's increasing rolein the governance of the system.

What will the future hold in the rethought California system? Tanya Roscorla summarizes three major points:

  • One idea or technology will not solve higher education's affordability problem.

  • An adversarial relationship won't work within or outside of higher ed.

  • Education leaders must look forward and think creatively to make higher education relevant.

These are addressed especially at the introduction of MOOCs, but other voices are speaking of an expanded role for MOOCs in the system. The NY Times reports on a big push for the open courses.  The system will experiment with offering credit for MOOCs - see coverage by Audrey Watters. But there is pushback. Some argue it will only help companies selling software. And there are alaso calls for clickers and peer instruction (in a post that seems curiously out of touch).

Tony Bates observes, "California appears likely to be a key battle ground regarding the role of the private sector and online learning in post-secondary education." Maybe, but there are other issues at stake as well. As Feldstein writes, Part of the problem, I think, is that we have grafted modern ideals onto what is essentially still an aristocratic model for education." The problem, to my mind, is that the aristocrats - the professors - fundamentally don't care whether the sysem is accessable or affordable. Tha's what has to change. Feldstein proposes:

  • aggressive program of experimentation and evaluation

  • a data-driven and public conversation about the cost and sustainability models

  • personas and use cases that help the stakeholder groups have focused and productive conversations

I think the initiatives have to reach beyond mere planning (there's always the clarion call from  professors for "more research" and a "coordinated program" and an "emphasis on quality", but at a certain point it becomes more important to do than to plan, to try a bunch of things on a larger scale and take notes about what worked and what didn't).

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